Much is said in the right-wing press about 'cancel culture'; the phenomenon of people facing a public backlash for things that they have said or done in the past.
Cancel culture, what it is and how it operates, is laid out capably and convincingly by left-wing YouTuber Natalie Wynn, known as ContraPoints, in her video “Canceling”. In this she lays out the way in which cancel culture operates. A particular viewpoint or action (confirmed or alleged) by an individual or group is abstracted and essentialised into an often vague assertion about the character or nature of that individual or group. On that basis, they are deemed beyond the pale. They must be shunned and isolated. Others, deemed to be too close, are then at risk of isolation themselves if they do not join in disavowal of the cancelled party.
Some on the left have denied that this phenomenon exists at all, instead claiming that what is happening is simply people experiencing consequences for their wrongdoing or harmful opinions.
Cancel culture does exist, though it is not what the right-wing media continually rails against. Those in the Sunday Times that have regular column space to talk about how transgender women are inherantly predatory are not “being cancelled” when they get criticised on Twitter. These commentators have huge reach and sufficient social capital to resist any fallout that comes from backlash from left wingers on social media.
Instead, cancel culture affects much less powerful people. Many people have little to no knowledge of transphobia, what forms it takes or how different strains of feminism have historically related to trans women. In the UK we have a very vocal and quite prominent layer of left-wing feminists and trade unionists that believe, wrongly, that trans women pose an existential threat to the safety and rights of women. Many people who know very little about the issues around trans rights, but who respect these feminists for the work they have done over the years in the women’s movement and the labour movement, may well superficially take on these arguments. Many of these people have not hardened into fully-crystallised transphobes. If the left is unwilling to engage with these people and simply disavow them because of their current views then the left will be unable to make any progress past a small layer of self-righteous Twitter accounts.
The ability for people to resist social ostracism inevitably rests upon their existing social links and position within the established order of things. Those who are most vulnerable to cancel culture are inevitably rank-and-file activists without a platform or voice and not bourgeois journalists sounding off in their Sunday columns.
• ‘Canceling’ by Contrapoints is here