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Murder is not an ethical gray area
I don’t know how to write this but I’m going to try.
I know cancelled people. A lot of them. Due to my position as a public, outspoken challenger of cancel culture, I hear from so many cancelled people. Definitely in the hundreds at this point. They send me dms and emails. They email me and Jay at Fucking Cancelled. They send long stories describing what happened to them. Some of them I’ve gotten to know. More than a few I have spent time supporting, encouraging, offering a way besides suicide.
The stories that I hear are bad. At minimum they include harassment, coercion, and social exile. They often also include false accusations, stalking, and doxxing. Frequently they include loss of employment, financial precarity, failed attempts at appeasing the mob, loss of important relationships, mental health breakdowns, and suicidality. I have also heard multiple accounts that include people putting up flyers in their neighbourhood with their faces, and the accusations. I have heard of tires being slashed, physical assaults, and completed suicides. I have now heard of murder.
Someone I am mutuals with shared that her husband had just been stabbed to death. In her stories she mentioned that the murder was connected to her husband’s cancellation. Because I am well connected with cancelled people, two other cancelled people landed in my dms to talk about this man’s murder. One was expressing distress that the people in their life were acting like there may be an ethical gray area around murder. The other sent me screenshots. One series was of people posting the news article about the murder with celebratory emojis and saying he deserved it. In the comments people agreed and one asked what he had done. The accusations against him were vague. He was apparently a ‘known abuser’ and there was something about a tumblr page that no longer exists in which he allegedly posted photos of underage girls. This was all third hand or more information, with no specifics at all. And it was reason enough for these people to feel confident celebrating this man’s violent murder. Another screenshot showed people coming into the comments section of the grieving wife telling her that her husband deserved it and that he’s been ‘accountable’ now.
I read these words as I watched the influx of grieving posts on his wife’s stories. She and so many others who loved him and knew him posted photo after photo of him smiling with people he loved. People described him as warm and kind and loving. I saw unthinkable cruelty and dehumanization, based on vague rumours, literally celebrating a man being stabbed to death in a parking lot simply for trying to enter a music venue, juxtaposed with the images of a three dimensional human being who loved and was loved and did not deserve to die.
I posted about this on my instagram leaving out the details. I have a big following and I don’t want to send more people to harass his grieving loved ones. I got three types of responses. One was from people asking for proof. I am so often asked for proof of these things I assert but I cannot name names without putting people in further danger. Cancelled people who talk about their suffering receive even worse treatment. Another was from people expressing shock, horror, and disgust at this absolute atrocity and tragedy. The final was from other cancelled people, especially those who have been marked as abusers and predators (many of whom did not do the things they are accused of), expressing not only grief but fear. It’s terrorizing to be so incredibly dehumanized and then to see a person dehumanized in the same way be murdered and dehumanized even in death. Cancelled people are always dehumanized even in death.
I fucking get it. The way this murdered man was spoken about is very similar to the way people talk about someone I love who has been on the receiving end of a false accusation slander campaign put out by ex-partners who have the express desire of controlling their life (especially their sex and dating life). I have argued elsewhere that this is a new form of domestic abuse. I have heard from many, many people who have been on the receiving end of these false accusation slander campaigns. They are absolutely real, and like traditional domestic abuse, attempt to prevent a person from having their own separate life and relationships after a break up.
In the case of the man who was murdered I have no idea if the accusations are true but there were barely any concrete accusations to begin with. Regardless, it is completely insane that I should even have to make an argument that it is not okay to murder someone because they have been accused of abuse. For one, there was no investigation or trial of any kind. For two, even in the insanely unethical states where the death penalty is still legal, it is not carried out in instances of abuse. Only murder gets you the death penalty. And I fucking oppose the death penalty, even if the case of murder, even after a trial and investigation. I certainly oppose murdering people in the streets because they have been accused of abuse.
It is shocking to me that it’s controversial to say this, but it is. Many people feel afraid to say that no one has the right to murder people who have been accused of abuse. How we, as leftists, have gone from opposing the death penalty and claiming to be abolitionists, to empowering ourselves to literally kill people is beyond me.
And yet, even as I say that, I know I was around for the whole fucking thing and even played a small part in getting us here.
I’m an incest survivor and like so many other helpless victims I fantasized about killing my abuser. There’s nothing wrong with that. Thoughts are free and revenge fantasies can be a way to temporarily feel like you have regained power. They don’t actually give you your power back though, and neither does actual revenge.
When I grew up to be a totally traumatized and alcoholic teenager I would sing 7 Year Bitch’s Dead Men Don’t Rape with my friends. We wrote ‘Kill Your Rapist’ on our clothes and felt tough and powerful. I even posted stickers around the neighbourhood calling my girlfriend’s ex a rapist because she said he was (jesus fucking christ I am so sorry) and at the time I thought I was fighting the good fight. I had so much rage and pain inside of me and I wanted to punish. I wanted clear lines of good and evil. But, even as I sang along to Dead Men Don’t Rape, I know very well that I would have been deeply fucking traumatized if I ever witnessed an actual murder.
In my early 20s I was in a relationship where I was physically and sexually abused, and then stalked. It was very horrible and I’ve written about it a lot elsewhere. After getting out of that relationship, getting into therapy, getting sober, and then landing in social justice world, I became aware that it was still very in vogue for survivors and oppressed people to make rhetorical violent threats at accused abusers. Slogans like ‘Kill Your Rapist’ and ‘Queers Bash Back’ were common. But my teenage toughness was gone. Having now experienced physical assault first hand I knew that I did not want to see someone getting kicked while on the ground. Violence disturbs me and I do not find it empowering. At that time (maybe 2014 or so) I wrote a piece called ‘I Don’t Want to Kill My Rapist’ and I got feedback that it could be seen as shaming survivors who do want to kill their rapists.
But here’s a radical fucking idea: We are not allowed to kill anyone. We are not allowed to murder people because we don’t think they should be allowed to live. Literally nothing can give us the ethical justification to do that. Not to mention the way that such practices can obviously be used against inncocent people. But I’m sorry. I have to draw a hard line. No fucking murder. Murder is never okay. And it should not be a controversial thing to say that.
Our trauma, no matter how severe, does not ever justify us in taking a human life.
Murdering people in the street is wrong, full stop, end of story. Doing so based on fucking rumours is also fucking wrong.
People message me and say “What about pedophiles?” and I want to say “What about pedophiles? Are you actually suggesting that we should round up and murder all pedophiles? Is that what you think justice is?” We currently do not execute pedophiles and it would be wild if the government suddenly announced that they were going to start doing that. So why, when I say we shouldn’t murder people, do people ask me “What about pedophiles?”
It’s a shirking of responsibility. It’s a refusal to be in reality. It’s an unwillingness to think deeply and seriously about the necessity of preventing child sexual abuse and taking care of the survivors of this atrocity (many of whom are addicted to drugs, homeless, and living the cycle of trauma and would really appreciate it if we invested in actually helping them instead of having rhetorical debates about whether we are justified in murdering the people who abused them).
I also find it fucking insulting. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and all sorts of fucking horrifying atrocities. I have complex ptsd and I know all about this stuff. I know how awful it is to be violated. I know that intimately. And therefore, I take the responsibility of finding ways to transform our cultures so that abuse is very rare and intervened upon effectively when it does occur, very seriously. Creating more and more trauma is not the answer. It never was and it never will be.
I am sick with grief over this human being who was murdered. I am grieving for his lost life and for the pain his loved ones are feeling. It is not hard at all to imagine myself in their position. I am exhausted with holding the stories of hundreds of people who are traumatized through this totally dysfunctional culture that people claim either doesn’t exist or is about ‘justice.’ I am sickened that anyone is celebrating the actual murder of a human being. And I want to be responsible for my part, however small, in the creation of this absolutely dysfunctional, cruel culture that has replaced the hard work of social change with scapegoating, dehumanization, and retraumatization. I will not tiptoe around this topic and act like murder is an ethical gray area. It’s fucking not.
As social animals we evolved to feel empathy. We also evolved to be able to shut it off. We shut off empath through a process called dehumanization. All types of violence and oppression are based in dehumanization. It’s what allows us to justify doing cruel, awful things to people. It’s what allows us to let people starve, sleep on the street in the rain, or be murdered, and feel nothing or feel like it’s justified.
People like us. Because all people are like us. There is no outside of humanity. There is only us. And we have to find a way to heal all this trauma and live. We all get to live.
My heart and prayers to the departed and his loved ones.