Refusing Accountability (Digital)
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Anyone who critiques cancel culture will be familiar with the question: well, what should we do instead? Critics of cancel culture who point out that harassment, exile, and the assumption of guilt don’t lead to justice or safety are often assumed to be saying that we should do nothing about interpersonal violence. Critiquing cancel culture is often framed as an anti-survivor stance. This is frustrating, because the reality is that cancel culture is not an effective tool for intervening on violence, and itself produces more survivors by subjecting people to campaigns of harassment and exile that they can neither defend themselves against or escape.
Our podcast, Fucking Cancelled is a socialist podcast that analyzes and critiques what we call the Nexus, a combination of social media, identitarianism, and cancel culture. We discuss what’s going wrong on the left with the aim rebuilding a robust left grounded in solidarity and compassion. We want a left that takes care of people and we want a left that gets shit done. Fucking Cancelled is critical of the relentlessly punitive and dogmatic instincts common in the Left/ish cultural sphere that we inhabit as left-wing, metropolitan queers and anarchists. It’s a podcast that seeks to analyze these dynamics and offer alternatives to them. The collective result of these punitive instincts is usually known as cancel culture: a widespread subcultural norm in which individuals can become targeted by large groups in retaliation for real or perceived transgressions, usually framed along identitarian lines. Outside commentators are usually only aware of cancellations involving wealthy and powerful celebrities, but the huge majority of cancellations target ordinary people. These ordinary people can be subjected to increasingly aggressive phases of group harassment, in which large numbers of people harass them, libel them, doxx them, ostracize them, attempt to jeopardize their employment and housing, and demand that their friends, associates and loved ones join in or risk becoming targeted themselves. All this is typically justified using the language of ‘accountability’.
Since beginning our podcast and becoming vocal public critics of this way of relating to one another, we have often been asked what alternatives we bring to the table. If we can’t use cancel culture to police each other, how can we keep ourselves and our communities safe from bad actors? The instinctive reply of those of us who oppose this sort of thing—that cancellation doesn’t keep anyone safe, not really, and anyway is often itself the preserve of bad actors—often isn’t enough for people. And that’s fair: people want alternative models. Lots of people are aware on some level that the antisocial processes they see tearing apart their friend groups, activist scenes and political organizations are dangerous and detrimental, but they aren’t willing to break with the established social norms of their communities unless something better is offered to them, something that makes more sense.
There other models for intervening on violence without relying on the police, but many of them either explicitly or implicitly rely on the threat of cancel culture instead. There is often also a lack of distinction between interpersonal conflict and violence in these models, which can lead to inappropriate and disproportionate community response. Here, we offer our own thoughts on the matter. We’re two sober alcoholics with long term experience in 12 Step programs. We’ve made amends and taken responsibility for the ways we’ve acted out alignment with our integrity, and we’ve helped others do the same. We have experience intervening on, deescalating, and ending violent situations, without the cops and without anyone getting cancelled.
This zine is an edited transcript of Episode 6 of Fucking Cancelled. The episode, titled ‘Refusing to be Accountable: Responsibility, Boundaries, Intervention and Punishment’, is an analysis of violence and conflict and an exploration of some concrete alternatives to cancel culture and ‘accountability’ culture, based on our convictions as anarchists and socialists and our own transformative experiences with 12 Step programs.