What's happening to you isn't happening
Or if it is it's not that bad. Or if it is you probably deserve it.
What's happening to you isn't happening.
Or if it is it's not that bad.
Or if it is you probably deserve it.
I am really familiar with the logic of abuse. I grew up in a family where sexual abuse was normalized. In my early twenties I was in an abusive relationship in which I regularly experienced degradation and physical violence.
Abuse takes place in a context of denial. This denial is not static. It's actually flexible and dynamic. It changes shape as needed to maintain the abuse.
In my experience the denial takes three distinct forms.
The first is simply to say it isn't happening, or that whatever is happening is something normal and benign, and that the interpretation of it as abuse is incorrect.
The second is to say that if something bad is happening, well, it's not that bad. Other people have it worse, there are many worse things in the world, and so it's selfish or ridiculous to make such a big deal out of it.
The third is to say that if something bad is happening, and if it is actually pretty bad, well, that's because the target deserves it, has prompted it, asked for it, or otherwise created a situation where the bad thing is both justified and inevitable.
These three types of denial are contradictory, but in the logic of abuse they can be used in succession or simultaneously. They can be used in the same sentence, and bizarrely the effect is to increase the intensity of denial, rather than to reveal the denial as absurd because it is based on contradictory claims.
Now, given the constant misuse of language like 'abuse', 'violence', and 'gaslighting', I need to make a disclaimer. I am not saying that any time we disagree with someone's interpretation or framing of events we are committing this type of denial. People wrongly frame things all the time, and they do so even more in the dysfunctional social justice culture of today. It is not gaslighting or denial to maintain that disagreements are not abusive, or to maintain that mismatched needs in a relationship does not constitute abuse. It is not gaslighting or denial to need more than vague accusations when asked to take action that will seriously impact someone's life.
What I am talking about is situations of abuse, harassment, or other forms of boundary violations. These words mean something specific. They mean behaviour that is physically violent, degrading, or controlling. These words refer to behaviour that attempts to override the autonomy of a person through force or coercion, or to dehumanize a person through degradation or humiliation. This type of behaviour is not vague or subject to interpretation. It's actually very clear. And, it is in these instances where this shifting denial takes place.
So, my grandfather made sexual overtures toward me and my family responded with:
This is just normal behaviour and all in good fun.
This might be uncomfortable but it's not that bad and look at what a good life you have.
You are selfish and ungrateful (with the unspoken implication: you are bad and you deserve this).
Or, my abusive partner forcibly held me down to the bed while screaming in my face that I'm a disgusting slut and he later framed this as:
I love you, couples fight, and we don't have to make a big deal out of it.
That isn't abusive. You don't have any idea what abusive really is. Your life has been easy.
You make me do this by being such a fucking slut.
The denial takes predictable forms, and the contradictions are never noted or unpacked. They exist together creating a denial that can change shapes as needed, maintaining the abuse as: not real, not that bad, deserved.
What I have noticed is that cancel campaigns and those who justify them use the same shifting, contradictory denial strategies.
So for example: I have been harassed by large numbers of people (most of whom have never met me or spoken to me) for over a year. I have been lied about and degraded on a mass scale. I have been accused of all manner of things (ranging from being a white supremacist, to an abuser, to a plagiariser, to a cult leader) with almost no concrete allegations having been made, no evidence to back any of these claims, and no opportunity for me to defend myself. I have lost employment, most of my friends and community, my reputation, and my housing. The friends who stuck by me have all received harassment for doing so. The harassment is incessant and ongoing.
This is clear and evident for all to see since it's happening all over the internet and since I am transparent about the severe impact this has had on my life. The behaviours I'm describing are not disagreement, conflict, or mismatched needs. These behaviours are attempts to control me through overwhelming coercion by incessantly harassing me and anyone who knows me. These behaviours dehumanize and degrade me by reducing me to a two dimension evil caricature of a person, and by constantly mocking me and misrepresenting me. The behaviours violate my boundaries over and over again by continuing to find to new avenues of harassment no matter the things I do to try to protect myself.
And yet my harassers and those who justify cancel culture frame things like this:
Cancel culture isn't real. No one is being cancelled. You're just being dramatic and overreacting.
Okay so you might be experiencing some push back and maybe some of it goes too far, but there are real issues in the world. This hardly matters compared to things like systemic oppression or actual abuse so why are you making a big deal about it.
It's not cancel culture, it's consequences culture. If someone refuses to be accountable (refuses to do what is demanded of them by their harassers with no one ever listening to their side of things, even when they maintain that they didn't do what they're accused of and even when there is no evidence), then we are justified in what we are doing. It is a righteous call for justice. If you don't want this to happen, then just do what we're telling you to do.
It is the exact same logic that I have encountered in every abusive situation of my life. It's contradictory and it doesn't make sense. Which is it? Is cancel culture not real at all, not that bad, or a righteous act of justice? Because it actually doesn't make sense to say that it's all three. But the logic of abuse does not need to make sense. It is meant to confuse and overwhelm the person being abused, and to shelter the person being abusive from facing the reality of what they are doing.
I know that so many people, when all else fails, default to the third claim in the context of cancel culture. Sure, it might be really bad, but it is deserved. The fact that there is no process through which we test the validity of claims doesn't matter. The fact that the claims themselves are often shifting and contradictory themselves, as well as incredibly vague, also doesn't matter. The fact that the accused person is a full and complex human being who is more than what they are being accused of, whether or not they did what they are accused of, also doesn't matter. The fact that there is no line at which we say 'this has gone too far' (up to and including the person's suicide) doesn't matter.
Like in every other type of abuse the responsibility for the abuse is shifted from the person enacting it to the person receiving it. The cancelled person is 'asking for it.' If you want it to stop then just be good.
Where have I heard that before?
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Clementine Morrigan is a writer and public intellectual based in Montréal, Canada. She writes popular and controversial essays about culture, politics, ethics, relationships, sexuality, and trauma. A passionate believer in independent media, she’s been making zines since the year 2000 and is the author of several books. She’s known for her iconic white-text-on-a-black-background mini-essays on Instagram. One of the leading voices on the Canadian Left and one half of the Fucking Cancelled podcast, Clementine is an outspoken critic of cancel culture and a proponent of building solidarity across difference. She is a socialist, a feminist, and a vegan for the animals and the earth.