This episode follows up on earlier discussions on the podcast about how we manage privilege. Our exploration of cancel culture — specifically that part of it that is really a form of horizontal violence — isn’t motivated by any shift to the right, but by a desire to unpack the rhetoric, jargon, and performative behaviours, that, so often in the reductive rhythm of social media, serve to shut down learning, and polarize progressives that might otherwise work together.
Here, I focus on how a rhetorical device in social justice relates to our project: what it means, in both helpful and unhelpful ways, to be named as or reduced to “cis white men”.
It might seem like a small, petty, even fragile point. The core concern is that reduction and essentialism are key aspects of the meme-ification of our politics, and potent weapons in the arsenal of conspirituality. None of the influencers we study on this podcast would have gained their social power without labelling and essentializing their opponents in black-and-white terms, without taking black-and-white positions on things like vaccines, big Pharma, and whether or not a person is “awake”.
Both conspirituality and social media influence are driven by the tag, the hot take, the keyword, the avatar, and the speed of emotional reactivity. And cults are glued together by intense, non-negotiable emotional demands on participants. So far we’ve shown how all of these elements degrade our chances to evaluate evidence and resist being conned by charismatics or cult leaders. Our hope is that we contribute to a slower and open-ended exploration of how to balance the rhetoric of crucial social change with the nuance of interpersonal empathy.
When I first started working on this podcast with Derek and Julian, someone who was a friend at the time sent me an email that basically said: “Why are you working with two other cis white men on this project?”
The question took me aback. I froze. Because, according to certain cultural rules — not necessarily the rules of friendship — I couldn’t answer it without being wrong, or without appearing to be defensive. Or fragile.