This is the 5th installment in a series analyzing cult manipulation strategies, as they apply to the social justice movement. Read the rest of the series here.
Have you noticed cancel culture getting more and more extreme lately? A few years ago, men would get mobbed on social media for allegations of real-life sexual assault. Now people are getting mobbed online, not for what they say or do, but for merely liking someone else’s tweet. Now people are mobbed not for their own opinions, but for simply suggesting that other people should have the freedom to express one.
Cancel culture is becoming more and more extreme, because it has to. This is because cancel culture isn’t about holding people accountable or upholding social mores. Instead, it’s about feeding the social needs of the people doing the mobbing.
The social justice movement behaves in the same way as traditional cults that immerse people in a closed social environment (such as a university) and then make them completely dependent on a system of social rewards and punishments.
Of course, social rewards and punishments are normal in any society. But in the regular world, there are lots of ways people can gain social rewards like praise, love, and social status; they can do well in their job, or volunteer in the community. They can develop a good sense of humour, or create art, or spend time with family or friends.
In cults, the methods for gaining any kind of love or status are limited to behaviours that benefit the cult leadership. The social need for love and acceptance is a very real human need. Therefore, if obedience to the cult is the only way to fill this need–and avoid being shunned or banned by the group–then you’re likely to comply. This is compounded by your isolation from outside norms and information.
One of the methods for gaining acceptance in a cult is learning the cult doctrine. The other methods include whatever else leadership wants, such as recruiting new members, or fundraising, or–in the case of social justice–mobbing and harassing anyone who does not comply (“cancel culture”). In fact, the more complicated and contradictory the cult doctrine is, the easier it is to control people. We can see this in the increase in the extremeness of cancel culture, which is happening alongside an increase in the complexity of social justice doctrine. And social justice doctrine is very complicated indeed.
For an example of the complexity of these rules, consider social justice’s teachings on other cultures.
Indigenous are being oppressed by “cultural genocide”–the decline and loss of their culture. If you’re a non-Indigenous person, DON’T make any traditional Indigenous art–that’s “cultural appropriation”, and it’s oppressive. Or it might even be “cultural genocide” outright. Remember, we need to celebrate other cultures, but we can’t actually experience those cultures ourselves.
White women wearing Black hairstyles or feathers or chopsticks in their hair is oppressive. But making food from other cultures is cultural appreciation, which is a good thing.
Listening to music outside your culture is ok, but producing it is NOT OK, as we see here. Even when it’s between Indigenous groups, performing another culture’s musical concept is a grave evil, which must be protested through a boycott. Boycotting the rare avenues that promote Indigenous music is thus the appropriate way to fight cultural genocide (AKA the decline of Indigenous music). Now, all of this is the fault of colonization, and “colonizers” (i.e. non-Indigenous people) need to move over to make room for Indigenous peoples. But also, we need more immigration to bring even more non-Natives here, and any criticism of immigration methods or levels is racist.
Got all that?
Hopefully you do, because you need to understand it in order to gain love and status from your peers. If you slip, you’ll be shamed (but not completely mobbed) by someone telling you to “please educate yourself” before you commit further sins against the social order. You’ll be told that you’re wrong, but if you object or ask why, you’ll be shamed further, because expecting an explanation for why you’re wrong is asking for “emotional labour” from an oppressed person–another sin against the group.
Thankfully, there’s a solution that’s easier than mastering these convoluted rules and getting shamed for asking questions. You can simply join in an online mob to shame someone else who is stepping out of line. You can gain love by doxing someone or joining a boycott or harassing someone out of a job.
And herein is why cancel culture is becoming more and more extreme. It’s not about enforcing moral standards. That’s why the bar for moral progressive standards is becoming increasingly restrictive. The constant in all of this is cult members’ need for love, acceptance, and status, which can be fed through online mobbing.
If the moral code of social justice remained stable over time, people would get used to the rules and avoid breaking them. Then we would run into a shortage of people stepping out of line. It sounds ridiculous, but people stepping out of line is an actual resource–and a finite one at that. This is one of the areas where you see a distinction between the people who voluntarily agree with social justice ideals, and people under control of the cult. We all have social needs, and members of the cult are limited in how they can achieve them. One of those limited ways is through joining a mob.
And this is why we have people actually searching through Mark Hamill’s like history on twitter.
Because in a cult, hate is love.