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Panelists: Jay Lesoleil, Clementine Morrigan
Moderator: Scott Costen
Description: Today’s identity politics is a toxic morass but it is possible to work towards a leftist vision of a society based on solidarity and mutual tolerance.
Jay and Clementine produce the fuckingcancelled podcast.
Scott Costen is a freelance journalist based in Nova Scotia, Canada
Scott: Good day, my name is Scott Costen and I’m an independent journalist based in Nova Scotia, Canada. In this discussion, we’ll be critiquing identity politics and exploring options for leftist solidarity. I’m very glad to be joined by Clementine Morrigan and Jay Lesoleil. Clementine and Jay are the socialists behind the Fucking Cancelled podcast. The podcast offers analysis and critique of cancel culture and social justice orthodoxy while moving toward a vision for the left that’s grounded in solidarity, freedom, and responsibility. In other words, a left that is capable of posing a real and tangible threat to capitalism.
Thanks for being here, Clementine and Jay.
Clementine: Thanks for having us.
Jay: Thanks for having us.
Scott: So I want to begin by talking about the nexus and that’s a concept that comes up very frequently on your podcast, which I highly recommend. What is the nexus and how does it operate?
Jay: All right, we’re getting right into it. Yeah, I mean, listen, basically we have been trying to critique this phenomenon, broadly speaking, on the left for a long time and it’s a phenomenon that kind of has no name. Some people will call it woke or some people will call it social justice culture or some people have called it the toxic left or whatever.
There’s a lot of different names that people have come up with for it, but it doesn’t really have a name for itself, which is a very interesting and weird thing about it. But we kind of needed a placeholder name and we just came up with the nexus as a way to have a way to refer to it. But what it is in broad strokes is a sort of intersection between identitarianism, cancel culture and social media on the left. And so it’s the place where those three things meet and sort of produce another emergent phenomenon from their three parts.
Scott: Okay, and what I gather from the podcast is that both of you have been caught up in the nexus. Can you describe what it’s like for that to happen to you and kind of what the rules are of the nexus and that if you violate these rules, what happens to you?
Clementine: Sure, I guess like I often talk about on the podcast how being a queer person, I came into this sort of subculture very early on. And I think early on in the nexus, like I was first introduced to this way of thinking as early as like 2003 when I was like a queer, like youth in a queer alternative school. And so I think that this way of thinking has become way more mainstream since then. It used to be a lot more fringe and it used to be something that was in certain like lefty subcultural spaces. And now it’s like way more common and mainstream.
But basically, like Jay mentioned, identitarianism, identitarianism is an important aspect of how this culture or way of thinking works. And so it’s a way of thinking about power where you’re constantly sort of like adding up identity points is a way of saying it. So you’re basically thinking that you can sort of understand a person’s relationship to power and what their life has been like, by making a list of their identities, some of which are marginalized and some of which are privileged.
And then the way that you relate to other people in these spaces is by constantly referring back to your identity. So like what you are saying needs to be grounded in your identity, what you’re allowed to say, what you’re not allowed to say, who you’re allowed to agree with or disagree with is all sort of bolstered by this like identitarian language. So that’s like one piece of it.
And then the other piece is like this sort of sense of suspicion and surveillance. Because when you understand power as only something that is being enacted sort of interpersonally among your peers, rather than something that is happening like from above in a sort of socialist analysis of what’s happening with capitalism, then you are constantly monitoring your friends and your community for like missteps or for places where they’re being like oppressive.
And so this becomes a sort of performative politics in which people are constantly sort of flagging that they know the correct and ever-changing rules, that they know where their place is in the in the identitarian hierarchy, that they’re being appropriately subservient and like deferring where they’re supposed to and that they’re like, you know, drawing attention to their marginalized identities where they’re supposed to.
And then like the cancel culture piece is is basically like what happens when people do not follow the rules, or they’re accused of not following the rules in some way. And that is where there’s like call outs. And back in the day, we called it call out culture. And now it has since like, developed and morphed. And I think cancel culture is more accurate now, because it used to be that a call out could just be a call out. Whereas now cancel culture functions as basically creating a stigma around the person. So that being friends with them or associating with them in any way is a punishable offense.
And so it creates this like, general culture of like suspicion, paranoia, performative politics, and not a very sincere engagement with politics, in my opinion. Want to say more?
Jay: I guess, yeah, to sort of touch on how people fall into this, kind of this, this, this culture. It’s an interesting question. It’s one that we’ve thought about a lot. But in general, I think that like anyone who has been sort of like, deeply engaged in some way with the radical left, especially the radical left that is focused around like university campuses, in the past 20 years, will have like, at least been like aware of this culture and probably have been like pulled into it, you know.
And I think that another like huge element of like, why people end up in it is that it’s very, very affiliated with, with like queer world with just like queerness in general. And a lot of people who are queer, queer or trans, like end up sort of like, floating into this community, almost not exactly by accident, but because it’s sort of like where all their peers are, you know. And so it has this like attractive force in that way as well.
Scott: Now, there’s always been division on the left, but typically it’s been based on theory, you know, that you would have, you know, so called tankies versus Trotskyites, and so on and so forth. But this is something different and new. And it seems to occur largely, or at least, you know, in many cases, online on social media and things like that, you know, for people who aren’t as engaged on social media, can you just describe how, I guess, how ugly this type of controversy and call out culture or cancel culture can become?
Jay: Sure, sure. Yeah, I think that you’re right that like in the past, often among like leftists, when people were trying to discuss like the best way forward or like whatever, sometimes it could get pretty nasty, but you’re right that usually it was about, like, ideas and which one was the correct one, you know, and that people would have like debates, right?
And like, communist newspapers would publish these like long winded, you know, essays about like various sort of like questions of socialist esoterica, right? Whereas like, I think that something that really differentiates the nexus from that kind of intellectual environment is that, like, okay, there’s there’s a bunch of things like one is that it doesn’t really have a theory like it in the same way that it doesn’t name itself, it doesn’t have like a theoretical basis that it uses, other than I guess, like intersectionality is probably like the, the major sort of like theoretical basis of it, but it’s very, like, it’s not thought through very clearly.
And often, like the the kind of take that that takes off that becomes the the more mainstream take within within the nexus, it happens almost by accident, sometimes, you know, like people decide that a certain acronym, like is the correct one. And that if you use a different one, it’s like deeply problematic, for example, but it’s like, it could easily have been the other way around, you know, like, we talk sometimes about this is a tiny tangent, but we talk sometimes about the great trans asterisk wars of like, I don’t know when that when that was 2014. Because for a while, like it was, like, people were adding an asterisk after the word trans, like to sort of like gesture at the idea that there was like different kinds of transness.
Clementine: it was supposed to be inclusive of non binary people.
Jay: Yeah. And then other people decided that this was, you know, deeply problematic. And then it marked transness as something like other and bad, you know…
Clementine: Well, I think that the argument was that trans always included non binary people. So it like separated out non binary people unnecessarily. And it actually got to a place where I knew someone who was writing trans with a slash and then an asterisk as their way of being like, I am both putting the asterisk and not putting the asterisk. So this is how weird it can get.
Jay: Right. And it’s kind of like, it’s kind of like a meaningless debate. And like, also isn’t based in any particular, like theoretical understanding of the world, right? It’s just sort of people having like feelings about like, what is like best, you know, and the way in which it can get really nasty is that like, often, if you are sort of convicted in the court of public opinion of having transgressed one of these rules that somebody just came up with on Twitter or whatever, it can have these like extraordinarily insane effects on your life, right. And, you know, a good cancellation campaign can can vary from, you know, deeply irritating to like, world destroying for people, right? You want to talk more about that?
Clementine: Yeah, um, I think one just point I want to kind of add in that I feel like we’re kind of floating around is that like, the way that this culture functions is more like a religion than a politics. Because it is very faith based, and it doesn’t really have like a coherent internal logic or argument. It doesn’t name itself, it doesn’t have its own theories. It’s sort of like, it’s like dogma.
But to speak to the cancel culture piece, I really think, you know, there’s this some people say cancel culture doesn’t exist, you know, others say cancel culture is just consequences. When people bring up cancel culture, everybody wants to talk about celebrities, you know, and to debate about some comedian or something like this.
The reality is, is that the vast majority of people who are canceled are not famous. They’re not celebrities, they’re definitely not rich, they’re just regular people. And we are in contact with hundreds of them, you know, so we definitely know that this is a very real phenomenon. And basically, what it is, is it is a marking for social death.
So when a person has been marked as canceled, um, they can no longer be associated with, and a harassment campaign is directed at them. But it is also directed at anyone who associates with them. So it is like this very extreme social stigma, in which anyone ranging from like, you know, someone who follows you on social media, to like your closest friends to your partner, are being pressured to, quote, hold you accountable, and or publicly denounce you and abandon you. And so what ends up happening is that when people are put in this position, you know, people often frame cancel culture as just the natural consequences of people wanting to withdraw support or relationship.
But if that were the case, we wouldn’t need to harass people into doing that people would make that decision themselves, right. But they’re being socially pressured by other people to withdraw support and to denounce. And if they don’t, then they risk also receiving harassment, right. And so it is a total category of canceled people, like to be the partner of a canceled person.
Because if you have a partner and your partner has been canceled, and you do not leave your partner, you now are canceled as a result of that, and you will have personal consequences, professional consequences.
But yeah, so this means you will probably in the worst case scenario, it means people losing the majority of their friends and relationships and their communities, it can mean them losing their job. It can also mean them losing like future opportunities for employment, because this slander about them is all over the internet. So if somebody googles them, they will see it probably and so like, if the chances of a person being able to maintain employment is affected, people obviously lose their like creative projects, if they’re like in a band, or they do something creative that usually goes away.
And, you know, in my case, I literally had to move because the people that I was living with were demanding that I do an accountability process. And so I literally lost my housing over it. So it’s very material. And I think that like, a lot of the times people are like, Why are we talking about this do we cancel culture stuff? And it’s like, I literally would love to not be talking about it anymore. But the reality is, is that the impact that it has on people’s lives is so extreme.
And it basically creates a situation in which people are barred from empathy, it is like a form of dehumanization, in which you are no longer allowed to empathize with the person because they have been marked as the bad guy. And so even when a person is so distressed from the harassment, and the profound loss that they’re experiencing, and their mental health is like in shambles, and they’re like, potentially, like, concerned about suicide, for example, there is no stopping it.
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