Lee Jussim is a professor, social psychologist, and chair of the Psychology Department at Rutgers. We’ve met him spoofing wokeness before, though one spoof was removed by Psychology Today, the place where he blogs. Cancellation has thus been on his mind, and his latest piece at Psychology Today (click on the title screenshot below) is far more serious, though not without some humor. In part, the humor resides in this Venn diagram, showing Cancel Culture sitting at the intersection of three forms of behavior:
But most of the article is pretty serious, outlining the forms of opprobrium you receive during the Cancellation Experience. In a future post, Jussim promises to tell us “how to defend against a cancellation attack”. Here I’ll list the ten ways Jussim lists about how to discern your imminent “erasure.” Be sure to read the gloss he gives on each step (I’ll give just two). Jussim’s words are indented; mine are flush left.
1.) You are being denounced, not criticized.
Criticism means someone says “your ideas are factually incorrect or illogical” or “I disagree with you.” They explain why. You then can defend your ideas. A discussion ensues, with or without your critic, perhaps with others. Everyone gets closer to enlightenment. Or they don’t.
A denunciation is entirely different. Your ideas are not being addressed in any way. Instead, you are accused of doing something deplorable. You might be accused of racism, sexism, transphobia, or some other form of bigotry. You might be accused of causing unidentified flying “harms,” and of making people “unsafe.” For example, David Shor was targeted by a mob of his co-workers, and ultimately fired, after tweeting a link to a political science paper showing that peaceful protests win over more support than do violent ones (he was accused of making his coworkers “unsafe”). For a list of such attacks, go here.
Accusations of “harm” or making people “unsafe” may seem bizarre to most people. And they are right. An idea cannot “harm” someone at least not without some strangely Orwellian twisting of what “harm” means. BUT, it is a brilliant propaganda and tactical move.
- By claiming “harm,” your attackers are not disagreeing with you; they are claiming victim status! And with the rise of victimhood culture, this gives them power.
- They can now contact Human Resources or your boss to get you fired. No one can make a case for firing you because they disagree with you. But if you are causing “harm”? Now HR can get involved, launch an investigation, and may the gods help you if your tracks are anything but pristine.
2.) It’s a mob [JAC: not a single person, and the mob usually uses social media]
3.) Public shaming
4.) Flagrant disregard for truth, evidence, or logic [JAC: more on this later today]
5.) Flagrant rejection of due processes.
6.) Deplatforming you.
7.) Attempt to isolate you by stigmatizing anyone who might support you.
8.) Moral grandstanding.
Moral grandstanding refers to publicly taking moral positions to advance one’s self-interest in some way, usually one’s social status (e.g., esteem or respect among peers). One gets on a soapbox to prove one’s moral worth and gain status by denouncing others’ moral corruption and filth.1
For example, if being antiracist conveys status, people will be incentivized to denounce you as a racist. They need not necessarily care much whether you are actually racist. But the louder they denounce you as a racist, the more they show the world their antiracist bona fides, so they win, even if they are wrong about you. Moral grandstanding can whip a mob into a frenzy:
Denouncer 1: “Joe is a racist!”
Denouncer 2: “Joe is not just a racist, he is the most vicious racist in this company!”
Denouncer 3: “Joe is not just the most vicious racist in the company, he’s a literal Nazi!”
10.) They contact your employer or supervisor.
Many cases of attempted cancellation show nearly all of these features. If the target is famous, like J. K. Rowling, then #10 is out, but she did experience the other nine. Dorian Abbot, a professor targeted at my own university, experienced all ten, but the university refused to truckle to the mob. He’ll surely be shunned by many in his department, which is still a form of cancellation, but university punishment is off the table.
h/t: Greg Mayer, Brian Leiter