Motivations of the Cancel Culture

The ‘cancel culture’ is so ubiquitous, so pervasive, that it needs no description. It is today’s ochlocracy. The two questions it raises are: what to do about it, and why it happens at all. The former has been discussed elsewhere. The latter is more interesting.

Apart from a few half-hearted hits back (or state interventions from Peking and its friends) campaigns to cancel, ban, or sack chosen targets are associated with the radical left. There is something about that psychology which encourages it.

I am indebted to Rob Henderson, who penned a piece of Psychology Today about the motivations driving the Cancel Culture.

A successful ‘cancel’ attack is an exercise of power of the collective effort against an individual or institution. Hobbes looked at motivations that drive our apparently inexplicable actions, observing:

“The Passions that most of all cause the differences of Wit, are principally, the more or lesse Desire of Power, of Riches, of Knowledge, and of Honour. All which may be reduced to the first, that is Desire of Power. For Riches, Knowledge and Honour are but severall sorts of Power.”

Whether the thought behind the eyes of the man or woman who types #canceljoebloggs, or whatever may be a desire for fame if they publicly lead the persecution, or just for the exercise of power: for those who follow sheeplike and type the same, there is a desire to have a share in the exercise of power. However Henderson’s observations are more insightful:

The cancel culture is a social activity.

Looking at how it develops, that appears correct:  it is primarily social activity, like all the local cultural customs we used to have, and perhaps in substitution for them.  It is also an anti-social activity of course, but like a tribal raid on a neighbouring island, it binds the immediate society in enmity for another.

Ours is a big, disconnected, anonymous society, and retreating behind screens leaves us lonelier still, against our every instinct for social interaction. Finding society of a sort in an on-line community is like oxygen to the suffocated soul. As with any social structure, the need for acceptance is the first motivating factor, followed by the desire for enhanced social status. Building this social bond requires the creation of common cultural preconceptions and group identity. This is an electronic tribe, and that tribe will go to war. Any young man knows that being the boldest, the most fearless and the hardest to strike provides status. When the weapon is a keyboard, girls can take part in equality with the boys, or may form their own tribal group.

In the classical model, common tribal identity is founded on culture, rituals, religion, and is intensified as members pursue “Desire of Power, of Riches, of Knowledge, and of Honour“. The same is true of the hard-left on-line communities, which have developed and enforce internally their culture, ritual and religion.

The pattern of cancel culture activity all follows precisely the essential Stone-Age social model which in in-built in us all and studied endlessly in other contexts of social interaction. The tools are modern and the tools shape a new methodology, and the religion is a nineteenth century one founded by Marx and developed in the twentieth century, but that is as far as modernity breaks in: the online society from which the cancel culture emerges is a tribal structure no different from the immemorial pattern of humanity.

See also


Author: LittleHobb

Solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short

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