Ari Amala

No one is Disposable

Banana peel over blue background

Who else do I know that listens to the podcast, Fcking Cancelled? God, I love it so much. It’s had a huge impact on my politics and the themes of the pod have been percolating in my mind all year.

The hosts, Clementine Morrigan and Jay LeSoleil, offer an incredibly lucid critique of the online left while remaining grounded in leftist philosophy and material goals. In the first episode they outline some of their values and principles and among these are compassion, integrity, and solidarity.

These are some of the values that seem to get lost in the Nexus, which is what Jay and Clementine call the fusion of social media, identity politics and cancel culture. Even a quick peruse of social justice spaces on social media can reveal how punishing the Nexus can be. Reading the comment section can feel like watching the erosion of solidarity in real time.

Clementine and Jay build on the compelling case that a lot of in-fighting is occurring because the left has given up hope on actually changing systems of power. To combat feelings of hopelessness, we clench our fists more tightly around the things that are within our sphere of control. I may not be able to abolish capitalism, but at least I can cancel someone who says sexual preference instead of sexual orientation. Don’t get me wrong, I think learning together is really important and I think language is powerful – but I also believe we need to remember that on a fundamental level, we are on the same team.

Anyone who believes that everyone deserves food, housing, education, healthcare and compassion, all of us who believe we need to stop pumping carbon emissions into the atmosphere, everyone who wants to protect biodiversity, our air, and waterways… We are on the same team.

It is vital to remember this because, as Clementine often remarks, capitalism teaches us that people are disposable. People who are homeless and hungry are treated as disposable. Workers are treated as disposable because we can always be replaced. There is always someone looking for a job because there’s always someone struggling to feed themselves and their families. Within a capitalist society, one of the most radical things we can do is to refuse to believe that any of us are disposable. This is the heart of the prison abolitionist movement.
The Compassionate Prison Project has found that in the US, 97% of the prison population has at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). ACEs include things like neglect, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, violence and substance abuse. 78.1% of the US prison population has four or more ACEs. Studies on ACEs have also been conducted among a male Welsh prison population, which showed similar results.

No one deserves to be locked up and isolated from their community – but many of the people who are locked up are people who have experienced profound trauma. Gabor Maté describes trauma as an unhealed wound that restricts a person’s capacity to respond to the world. All of us have trauma but some people’s trauma means their inner security system is on high alert almost all of the time. Their experiences have taught them that the world is not a safe place, and this has a dramatic impact on their actions and relationships. To process trauma, people need an environment that is safe enough for them to deactivate their amygdala. However, prisons are not known for providing an environment of safety or experiences of emotional attunement. It’s hardly surprising that many people leave prison with more unprocessed trauma than they arrived with.

Prisons don’t only retraumatise individuals, but they also continue to retraumatise and sever BIPOC communities. The disproportionate percentage of BIPOC people in prisons in settler colonialist states is demonstrative of the way colonisation and retributive justice reinforce white supremacy.

In her video on Justice, Natalie Wynn aka Contrapoints remarks on how ironic it is that prisons are called ‘Correctional Facilities.’ The high rates of recidivism (people leaving prison, reoffending, and returning) along with the high rates of crime no matter how many people are locked away, make it very clear that prisons are not correcting anything at all.

Today there are more people than ever who identify as abolitionists. People who believe that as a society and as communities, we can do better. People who believe that the solution isn’t locking people up, but rather creating a society that’s actually designed to meet people’s physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual needs.
However, the abolitionist principle that no one is disposable is often jarringly absent from online social justice spaces. For the people who don’t understand social justice culture, and even for those who do, the Nexus can be an incredibly hostile place.

In one episode of the podcast, Clementine compared online social justice spaces to formal dinner parties. There are a bunch of very specific rules that you will only know if you’re familiar with the culture. Just like the etiquette of which utensils to use for which meals, in the Nexus every issue has a correct ‘take’ and anything that deviates from that is considered problematic. On top of this is the risk of being cancelled, which often looks like social media pile-ons of personal attacks along with demands for reparation and accountability. Yelling at people on the internet is not restorative justice. For apologies and actions of accountability to be genuine, they cannot be coerced. All of this creates a culture of self-surveillance and fear rather than one of trust, creativity, integrity and solidarity.

Most people in the Nexus view the world through an intersectional lens with the noble intention to reduce inequality. Intersectionality considers the interplay of social and political identities such as race, gender, sexuality, religion, disability and class and how these impact people’s experiences of privilege and discrimination. I believe this is an important framework to mitigate the impacts of oppressive systems. However, its application online is often divorced from material socialist goals. Sustainable equality is not possible without structural change. Unearned discrimination and unearned privilege are the product of a capitalist social order rather than the callousness of individuals. Most leftists know this in theory, but it goes missing somewhere in the comment section.

Like all potentially revolutionary ideas, intersectionality and identity politics have been absorbed by capitalism and spat back out as something decidedly unrevolutionary: a competition for social capital. Right-wing critics of identity politics are known to refer to it as the oppression Olympics. I used to reflexively cringe at any critique of identity politics but when I see how many people the left loses to reactionary politics, I think it’s worth unpacking.
Within the Nexus, the social hierarchy is tipped on its head. The more minority statuses there are in someone’s bio, the more respect and weight is given to their opinions. In regard to lived experience, it’s true that people who are living a particular struggle will have knowledge that only comes from lived experience. I believe people’s lived experiences deserve to be heard and respected. We need to understand and acknowledge various forms of inequality in order to address them.

However, I don’t believe people’s opinions deserve to be automatically pedestalled due to their identity markers. In the same way that it is racist to automatically disagree with someone’s opinion because they are BIPOC, so too is it racist to automatically agree with someone’s opinion just because they are BIPOC. Agreeing or disagreeing with someone based on their identity markers is a form of essentialism. Homogenising entire groups of people is the root of prejudice.

In the same way, I don’t believe people’s opinions deserve to be automatically shut down due to their identity markers. This shows up online as people writing things like, "I’m not even going to bother reading your comment because you’re a straight white cis man." Often the people who say this kind of thing genuinely want to contribute to a more just and equal world. Others may type it because consciously or subconsciously they want to win woke points. But an upside-down social hierarchy also reinforces domination. Most notably, the weaponisation of identity politics on social media does not contribute to the redistribution of power in the real world.

Meaningful real-world change would mean no more billionaires. It would mean everyone getting their needs met. It would mean radical global action to mitigate ecological collapse. Meaningful change does not look like the 99% using social media to argue about who is the most oppressed. Meaningful change does not come from cancelling people. It does not come from saying cruel things to an individual who has certain markers of privilege. I know and understand the arguments against tone-policing but this isn’t about tone. It’s about taking an honest look at the things that rupture the solidarity of the working class.

In the struggle towards justice, who deserves to have a voice? Who deserves a seat at the table?

If we return to the abolitionist principle that no one is disposable, the answer becomes clear. Everyone deserves a seat at the table. And what’s more is that, if we really want to create structural change, we need everybody. We need solidarity. That doesn’t mean we have to agree. It means creating a culture where we can disagree without casting people out of the circle of belonging.

Just to be clear, I believe the implications of privilege and discrimination are very real and I yearn to live in a world that does not normalise and uphold oppressive systems such as white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. However, I also believe, and this is a very cancellable thing to say, that in terms of relative power, the 99% has more commonalities than differences. Every person who wants to create a more equal and compassionate world, is on the same team – or at least, we could be.

The above thoughts have been inspired and shaped by many badass people and resources, including but not limited to:

Fcking Cancelled podcast 

Exiting the Vampire Castle – essay by Mark Fisher

Why I’m Leaving the Cult of Wokeness – open letter by Africa Brookes

Excommunicate Me from the Church of Social Justice – essay by Frances Lee

Excommunicate Me from the Cult of Toxic Social Justice – essay by Poplar Rose (which grew in response to Frances Lee’s essay)

Out of the Woods podcast – hosted by Molly Frances

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