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

Books

Five Questions for the new ochlocracy

Tony Benn was wrong on most things, but he was a great Parliamentarian and he had five questions that may be asked of anyone with power:

  1. What Power Have You Got?
  2. Where Did You Get It From?
  3. In Whose Interests Do You Exercise It?
  4. To Whom Are You Accountable?
  5. How Can We Get Rid Of You?

To the Social Justice Warriors, the wokearchy, call them what you will, those questions are addressed. Their formal power is limited, but they infest the governments of Canada and the United States, and influence many others. Elections make little difference ,and that is the issue for Tony Benn’s five questions.

There is point denying that ‘social justice warriors’ have power.  It may not be formal, legal power, except when exercised by those who have inserted themselves into the structure of government, and there is no ‘deep state’, but it is real power with real-world consequences. Each time someone is sacked from a position of authority for denying a doctrine of the New Left; a Christian actress is denied work; a book is withdrawn from sale; a speaker turned away, or banned from a social media platforms for calling a man ‘he’; an academic is demoted; an honest man in public life reviled, mocked and forced to recant some commonplace observation, this is real power, hurting real people. When the police intimidate and record the names of those who transgress social-justice rules that are not laws, this is real power. The examples are well known and innumerable.

It is not just for the ‘new ochlocracy’ to answer these questions, because they will not address them with any honesty. These are matters which need to be considered by those who are meant to have constitutional power, and who are meant to use it to protect British subjects. If they are not doing that basic job, then the Five Questions are addressed to them.

1     What power have you got?

There is power to wreck careers and beggar ones victims, to wreck lives and families, without appeal or redress.

Power is not just exercised by the ochlocracy nor just by those who believe in the woke doctrine: those who sack and decommission may be those who are simply afraid of criticism or worried that they will be next, like those who turned their neighbours in to the KGB for a quiet life.

2    Where did you get it from?

There is formal power which in Britain is authorised by the Equality Act 2010, a lever piece of social justice warfare from the lamentable Harriet Harman. Its honeyed terms start with the principle that no state body nor employer should treat each person fairly without regard to characteristics irrelevant to their job, and that every member of the public should be able to have access to services sold to the public, but it has been a Trojan horse, as many have found to their cost in the Tribunals. The Act is an excuse used far beyond what it actually says.

In the last few years, formal power has been eclipsed by mob power; the ‘cancel culture’. This is power not granted but taken. It arises by neglect by everyone else; fear; activists pushing themselves forward where no one else can be bothered to make such an effort; blackmail; lying to cowards about the rules and about who is watching them; developing a cadre of useful idiots.

3    In whose interests do you exercise it?

The activists’ own interests and amusements; no more.

4    To whom are you accountable?

Accountability is to none. There is no appeal nor mitigation. There is no referral to any accepted law. Even a mugger in the street may listen to a plea or a bargain, but a woke mob will not.

5    How can we get rid of you?

To those with formal positions; your jobs can be terminated, just as you terminated others’ jobs. To those who attack your fellow workers; your Equality Act condemns bullying and intimidation, so watch your own backs. Employers may realise how many valuable staff they are losing and can adopt anti-bullying policies which catch you – and that is a forthcoming article.

For the mob – you have power because cowards permit it to you. That can be withdrawn at any moment. You have taught the rest of the world what are effective tactics for taking down those you do not like, and it may be that at any moment those weapons will be turned upon you.

See also

Books

I always side with the Morlocks

In The Time Machine, H G Wells drops his character, the Time Traveller, into a very different world, in the year 802,701.

If you have not read the book, it imagines humanity that is no longer human. Some great, decayed buildings still stand but mankind which built them has gone. There is a great sphinx monument, and across the landscape there are well-heads (or so they seem) but the human race as we know it is no more. At a past age it had bifurcated into two species: surface-dwelling eloi and subterranean morlocks.

It s a well-crafted book, written before Wells ‘sold his birthright for a pot of message’, so it need not contain a political or social point – just the author’s brilliant imagination giving a radical possibility for the future.

The Time Traveller is charmed by the eloi and repelled by the morlocks. The eloi amongst whom he finds himself, in their bright, carefree, arcadian lifestyle, gathering flowers, eating the fruit of untended trees and doing no manner of work, with no machines or science or writing, childlike in attitude and stature, seem to live out the dreamed ideal of mankind. The morlocks dwell in tunnels beneath the ground, where there are machines beating unseen in the dark. They are white-skinned and pink-eyed, and malevolent. They emerge at night from the sphinx and the wells and hunt for their meat – the eloi. The eloi fear the dark.

The BBC has (or had) a weird and worrying children’s television programme, called ‘Waybuloo’ (which was apparently Buddhist propaganda, not that the Beeb ever noticed) portraying childlike creatures living such an idyllic life with no cares and no work, living on wild fruit. I saw it, and knew instinctively that someone has to be doing all the work that they could live, and I could hear in my mind the thumping of the machines in a deep, unseen cave and the morlocks waiting the harvest the Piplings they had cultivated above. Don’t tell the children.

I still prefer the Morlocks. The Eloi are clothed and fed by another’s work and sustained just as cattle in the field. They have lost all the attributes of humanity. They have a simple language, but little reason for it. They know no past nor future and do not even look after each other – Weena was left to drown in the stream without a thought. The morlocks however take a hand in their own preservation and prosperity. They work, they have machines. They are curious, carrying off the time machine to study it. They farm the eloi as a food source, and so the eloi depend on the morlocks, though little realising this. The morlocks impliedly built the sphinx so that all who see it know who is superior. The eloi neither build nor preserve anything. The eloi are a disgrace to their distant ancestry: they are mere animals. The morlocks alone continue the human story.

Wells, through the voice of his Time Traveller, supposes that the morlocks were descended from the working men forced underground to toil, while the eloi came from the masters in their airy villas who banished them, only to lose their vitality through indolence. Any division like that would be self-correcting in our world, as the vigorous class became masters over the useless. The world of 802,701 imagined by Wells had reached not a new equilibrium but a position between two separated species that had to be maintained by the constant work of the morlocks.

It is possible to read too much into The Time Machine by reference to the radical political ideas later espoused by Wells. His visit to Bolshevik Russia in 1920 may have been a turning point for him, seeing it as a science fiction writer might, for the imaginary being turned into a reality, and ignoring inconvenient subplots like the induced mass poverty and starvation, repression and massacres. During the Great War he had come to express radical ideas, spurred by a hatred of the Hun and their industrial violence, but the development of his political ideas through fiction can be traced back earlier. The War in the Air (1907) is more soundly Hobbesian in its concept of how the world would turn out if civilisation were to smash itself. The Time Machine (1895) looks far further forward, deeper into humanity and sub-humanity. Maybe this is what pushed him over the edge.

The world portrayed in the book is not really about the future: it is more personal and internal. Victorian philosophers used to talk of a good and an evil side to each of us (as expressed in Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but that is another article): the eloi and the morlocks represent those sides. Perhaps instead though they represent on one side the child’s happy dream and on the other are the monsters imagined in the dark. In waking, it may contrast the idyll of childhood summers against the toil of adulthood; or the ideal we dream of and the reality in which we find ourselves. The eloi are compared with children, in case we had not picked the clues up.

There is something worrying there too. The only named character of the future age is Weena. In the classic film adaptation she is portrayed as a lover. In the book her position is ambiguous: she is more like a clingy child, but the Time Traveller is not unreciprocating as he ‘returned to the welcome and the caresses of little Weena’. Not too childlike, I hope. (There are men who seek utterly limp and submissive women, but such men deserve no respect, and I pity the women concerned.) I will be generous and assume that in this case the man finding himself the only human being in the world needs some innocent, reassuring company.

He meets the morlocks in the tunnels beneath a well. In the dark there are just looming shapes, a mass of figures, the meat on a table, the huge machines of unknown function. Fingers paw at him, exploring, then seizing him and he wrenches himself away. Is it an attack or a desire to know more of this unknown being who has stepped amongst them, just as they wanted to understand the machine? We cannot know.

The night will come though, and it does, even as he and Weena are far from the communal hall of home, and the morlocks emerge. It is perhaps the first time we see them with characters of their own. They are still for the Time Traveller an anonymous swarm to be rendered no pity even as they scream in terror of the approaching fire. he does not see them as being closer to him than is the eloi girl in his arms, or maybe he does but does not want to know himself. He is as far as he can be from the comforts of that Victorian withdrawing room from which he stepped, but it has not left him. The eloi are comforting; the morlocks a deadly threat, but back in London men in the shadows are no less a threat.

In the book, the morlocks are observed as ugly, evil monsters, without any redeeming feature, and the eloi are beautiful perfection. However they morlocks cannot be all evil any more than people are. They must co operate and have a society in order to build and to thrive on limited resources.

All this analysis can be pushed too far. I might read the book for my own reading of it, or as the average reader (if there is such a thing), or the way Wells intended. As you wish.

What I take from it, which Wells did not intend, is that of the two species descended from mankind, the Eloi are lovely but a dead-end, unable to develop or even to survive on their own. The Morlocks look after themselves and each other, they plan ahead, they build, they are curious and accordingly they can develop and adapt. The future is theirs. I must always side with the Morlocks.

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Books

Rishi Sunak’s budget speech

Speaking against the Chancellor’s budget this afternoon, we first have Mr Rishi Sunak, in 2015:

No more irresponsible borrowing. No more spiralling debt at the taxpayer’s expense. No more passing the debt to the next generation. I was delighted to hear the Chancellor’s plans for this nation finally to run a budget surplus.

I have spent my career in business. Every company I have been involved in sets a budget, as indeed does every household in this nation, and when they do they operate with these basic principles: first, “How much is coming in?” and only then, “How much can I spend?” For too long, Governments have got that back to front, spending first, ignoring how much is coming in, then letting borrowing endlessly make up the difference.

Coming from a financial background, I decided to spend some time analysing our nation’s fiscal history. I wanted to know, when it comes to our Government’s revenue, how much does in fact come in. I can tell the House that, since 1955, tax receipts, with limited variation and remarkable consistency, have averaged 36% to 38% of GDP. In spite of the vast differences between Labour and Conservative Members in our approach to setting tax rates, the average tax take has been remarkably similar under Governments of both parties. There appears to be a natural ceiling to what any Government can extract from the pockets of its hard-working taxpayers.

That to me suggests a simple conclusion: in normal times, public spending should not exceed 37% of GDP. That is the best estimate of our income as a Government and therefore the best guide to what we can afford to spend. So the Government’s plans to get public spending to that level are not, as some Opposition Members have suggested, an ideological crusade or clever politics; rather, tackling excessive public spending is simply the sensible, logical and responsible course of action. That action, taken to make sure that we live within our means, is the same course of action that any business or household would take when presented with the facts. We all know what happens when those facts are ignored: more borrowing, more debt.

[….]

All debts need to be repaid, with interest. For the next generation, that means higher taxes or less money to spend on public services. As the hon. Member for Streatham said, we already spend more money on debt interest than we do on the police, transport or housing. That simply cannot go on.

Whether one is a Thatcherite or a Trotskyite, the rules of budgeting are the same: one cannot sustainably spend more than one earns. I commend the Chancellor for acting on that principle and ensuring that Britain’s finances will once again be back in the black.

He then added, in 2017:

Fiscal responsibility is not just an ideological pursuit. Without a prudent approach to borrowing and debt, ordinary people pay the price. They pay it through slower growth, less fiscal resilience and interest rates that begin to climb. Let me start with growth.

As Government borrowing grows, it crowds out the lending available to British businesses to expand and invest. The results of these things around the world are clear. On average, economies with debt exceeding 90% of GDP grow 1 percentage point slower than those where it is between 30% and 90%, and 2 percentage points slower than those where it is below 30%. If it were not for the actions of this Government, our nation’s debt would already have spiralled well beyond 90%. Although a 1 percentage point hit to growth does not sound like a lot, it would be £100 billion in GDP, and £40 billion less to the Treasury’s coffers.

Books

Is Twitter evil?

Is Twitter the most evil thing on the Net? Arguably, but the accusation really lies on those who use it. The latest Online Harms Bill may do more evil still. If that is counterintuitive, let us look at some reality.

The effect of Twitter is devastating. It has been touted as a democratisation of the expression of opinion, which sounds like a good thing. It has in fact been destructive. It provides a platform for people who only know how to shout abuse, and so it normalises filth, insult, rage and threats of real-world violence. It has infantilised journalism now that lazy journalists just read tweets for their sources as if they were real. It cannot be used for debate and is destructive of debate. In the political sphere, it serves mainly as a platform for hate campaigns against individuals or political opponents. It could destroy democracy by preventing discourse, spreading conspiracy theories and libels; and by showing us how real people think so that we react ‘Why in the name of all sanity do we allow these people the vote?’

However, these platforms are just reflecting the people who use them. The abuse of social media is not in the same class as the cheeky satires of former days. It brings up excrescences from the pit of the soul, unrestrained, uncultured, unthought. I do not intend to sully this page by quoting from the sewer of things which are said. On social media, the pseudonymous Everyman may rain his foulest thoughts upon anyone in the public eye. If pub conversation is foul-mouthed and inane, that is still restrained by the presence of friends or neighbours: the open internet has no such restraint.

The public people are all there: the politicians at the top of the tree, the Hollywood A-list, the headlining journalists, the footballers you scream at through the television screen, and all within a keypress for anything you have ever wanted to say to them. They have formal power and influence but here, here on Twitter or wherever, you have power to hit them and hurt them, and that exercise of power feels glorious.

Those politicians and footballers are people though. They might appear on the screen like the fictional characters in a bizarre soap opera, but they are real flesh and blood, with families and feelings.

Women in politics suffer indescribable abuse on social media, as any of them will attest, and ethnic minority women in politics have the worst of the lot. They have to be on social media because it is expected, but to find every exposure met with the crudest insults, slanders, threats to rape and kill – it is more than the average soul could bear, and even when she switches the machine off, her mind goes back, worrying about what is being said behind her back, unseen and unchallenged.

(There are men who instinctively feel that women are beneath them and should not be in politics. I pity any women in their circle.)

The legal responsibility of social media platforms is an arguable one. On the face of it, they are just blind carriers, providing space not content, and no more responsible for the abuse that fills it than the Royal Mail is responsible for the content of letters. However, the letters here are open, and published with the platform’s logo at the top, and the platform does have control if it chooses to exercise it. It is not like a newspaper though, with the sub scouring every paragraph printed for libels: the social media platform is (like so much of modern tech) an unexpected landscape with no precedent to follow.

Lawmakers in much of the world have specifically decreed that mere web hosts are passive carriers not responsible for their content, which is practical. Microblogging sites though when they have rules and administrators are teetering on the edge of the law’s indulgence.

Into this has been brought the ‘Online Harms Reduction Regulator (Report) Bill’, which is a Trojan horse, and a stalking horse. This is a private member’s bill in the Lords and stands little chance of becoming law, but it has found vocal support amongst many who should know better. The danger is that this Bill will be a pattern for future actual legislation, as it follows the Government’s own egregious Online Harms White Paper. Both seek to appoint a regulator with open-ended power to control all speech on the web.

The promoters of the new Bill urge that it would be a weapon against abuse, but it does not address it. What it would do is require Ofcom to recommend the appointment of an official censor for the entire internet. The initial duty, according to the Bill would be to make “recommendations for a duty on online platform service operators” to prevent “harm”, and then to require the government to bring a Bill to implement all those recommendations.

This harms is not restrictively worded, but includes:

“(d) discrimination against a person or persons because of a protected characteristic; ….
(g) threats which impede or prejudice the integrity and probity of the electoral process; and
(h) any other harms that OFCOM deem appropriate.”

The Bill has been introduced by a Liberal Democrat peer, taking the illiberal, undemocratic stance his party does, and its intent must be understood in that context. These threats to “the integrity and probity of the electoral process” echo the LibDem obsession with imaginary Russian interference with the Brexit referendum (long since disproven, but still pushed as if fact and presumably the outrage at foreign agents is not applied to open European interference with the referendum). The idea of ‘Discrimination’ is breathtaking: the existing law affects those who provide public services, forbidding them from withholding those services on the grounds of race, religion, sex etc, but to apply that to all private human discourse is astounding. Even that is not enough though: “any other harms that OFCOM deem appropriate” wraps up anything.

Someone will be hired as “Chief Censor of the Internet”. Think about what sort of character would seek out such power. Then fear.

Is Twitter evil? You can decide that for yourself. It can always be switched off though. Censorship cannot. It is the real evil.

See also

Books