What you really just want to say is – you cannot be friends with this person.
Why can you not be friends with this person?
Because ‘we’ have cancelled them already – didn’t you get the memo! – because we – this fragile cobweb called something like ‘the left’ or ‘the artworld’ or ‘antifa’ or just ‘people we know and like… and not these other people we either don’t know and don’t like, or do know and don’t like, or once knew and liked and now don’t like’. The ‘we’ that has decided in favour of rumours and anonymous accusations and allegations, that has decided a lie is easier to believe than than truth, which is always more complicated.
A ‘we’ that has decided a loose grip on reality is a small price to pay for group belonging. I don’t think, in the end, though, that this is a small price to pay. I think actually it is an extremely high price to pay. It is to sell one’s soul (or mind or heart, or whatever word you prefer) to someone or something you cannot trust. It is to do this out of fear – fear of having to imagine that the world is more complicated than you think, that people are more complicated, that we might disagree on some things and agree on others, that we might change our mind. The easiest way to do this is to claim that ‘the other’ is filled with hatred, that they are possessed of bad thoughts and feelings, and that you, or you and your little group, are the best people to interpret and understand these bad feelings, and to punish those you have decided possess them. But we are really not so different, you and I, and this sameness, and this ‘hatred’ and these bad feelings…we all are capable of having them, even or especially the ones who desperately seek to be ‘good’.
I want people to trust themselves. To think for themselves. To be autonomous, to be free. To refuse the guilt, to know that what one thinks and what one believes – even and especially when these thoughts and beliefs are complicated and painful – is real. This does not exclude – in fact it precisely involves – listening to others, disagreeing with them, coming to a different conclusion, changing one’s mind sometimes, being open – but it does refuse coercion. It learns to recognise coercion, the manipulation of desire: the left desires to ‘be good’ to ‘do good’, and as such it must create an enemy: the bad other that thinks things we cannot countenance, that creates discomfort, that troubles us.
The truth is – we all just happen to be alive at the same time. There is a horror as well as a beauty to this. We are none of us wholly good or wholly bad. There is nothing and no one else. Everyone is ultimately responsible for their own desires and decisions. This does not mean that we cannot be hurt by others, that we do not sometimes want revenge. We often do. Men blame women. Women blame men. Lovers and friends turn on each other. We want to blame somebody or something – a person, a group of people, a structure, call it ‘fascism’, ‘capitalism’, ‘the patriarchy’, ‘the Church’, ‘the Jews’, whatever you like. There are of course real forces ‘out there’, real relations, real processes, real reproductions of injustice, and we can work together to ‘fight’ these – though it must be said that out strategies are often failures and should be recognised as such – but there are also real forces ‘in there’ as well, and where can or should we begin in our personal analysis? When we project and blame others for things we do, or have done, or want to do but feel afraid to do, we are often simply saying: ‘I really need to feel better’. We do not want to stay with difficult or uncomfortable feelings because we feel uncomfortable with ourselves, with our knots. So we make bonfires of others and warm our hands on the flames.
There are those people who – out of fear, a desire for simplicity, a need to bolster one’s own group standing or individual position – will think nothing of sacrificing another for a transgression, real or imputed. The internet especially allows for a ‘bloodless’ sacrifice, though we know the consequences can be real, material – job losses, the police knock on the door, social shunning, suicide. These reporters, information-gatherers, spies, inquisitors, paranoiac interpreters, prosecutors and punishers are by definition on the side of the law and the police, perhaps even especially when they think they are not. As Foucault puts it in the introduction to Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: ‘How does one keep from being fascist, even (especially) when one believes oneself to be a revolutionary militant? How do we rid our speech and our acts, our hearts and our pleasures, of fascism? How do we ferret out the fascism that is ingrained in our behavior?’
What do I understand by fascism? Fascism is authoritarianism. It is control, and the desire for control, it is about creating enemies, about tapping into resentment and giving it a false name. It is about the violence you can induce in humanity by attaching bad feelings to an object and naming a blameable group. Fascism is top-down. Fascism is the state. Fascism controls the narrative. It doesn’t listen. It seeks to coerce by threats of violence. We are all individually possessed of the capacity to be fascist, and to be manipulated by others whose madnesses we would rather accept than challenge, whose paranoias spiral out of control, who, in their madness, seem to promise a solution to all our problems, who give us a simple explanation. We are all capable of being made mad by others. Human beings are easily swept up in social contagions, of mob feeling, of the desire to destroy. Fascism tells us that we are right and that the other is wrong and that the other must be ignored, punished, exiled, killed. Fascism is pushing a lie and forcing other people to accept the lie. Fascism is the groupthink that comes from resentment. It is the opposite of joy. It is death.
What the cancellers of today want to say is – we have decided that this person is ‘over’ – call them DC Miller, call them Sam Kriss, call them Deanna Havas, call them TERFs, call them Lucia Diego, call them Nina Power, call them Angela Nagle, call them Satan, call them fascists, call them Nazis, call them ‘problematic’, call them ‘cancelled’, try to stop them speaking, try to smear them politically and personally, use lies, use exaggeration, use anything you can think of to get rid of them. We are right because they are wrong, and they are wrong because they say something or behave in ways we do not.
We know these people, the people who have decided who gets cancelled and who remains in the circle. They used to be our friends and lovers, we used to speak to them and argue with them, enjoy their company and sometimes be irritated by them, be pleased for them and resent them, help them and be helped by them. They used to know us. They want to pretend they now do not, lest they too get infected by this thing they call ‘fascism’. They want to suggest that anyone who deviates from the script – and what is the script this week – oh I don’t know – that LD50 was a ‘fascist recruitment ground’, that no-platforming people who have a second-wave feminist position on sex and gender is a good and righteous thing to do, that anyone who voted to leave the EU is a terrible person, that we shouldn’t discuss fascist ideas and iconography, that talking about nature leads directly somehow to someone shooting up a mosque, that it is good to say that everyone is a victim apart from ‘cis white men’, that people need to be protected from views that disagree with their own, that irony should be banned, that memes are dangerous, etc. etc. We know this narrative because we have been told it many times, and even where it shifts, we know we should keep up with it lest we say the wrong thing and accidentally use old mantras.
Where we perhaps fundamentally disagree, my detractors and I – and I will still talk to you if you are willing, we have time – is on the question of what can be discussed, and where, and by who. Can we all talk about anything everywhere? How much time do we have? Those who want to say – and assume – that they know what the other thinks, and that what the other thinks is bad, bizarrely assume that they have access to someone else’s soul – that they know what this person really thinks and that this person is trying to manipulate others to accept ‘bad’ ideas. Let us never forget that projection is a real thing…In the glare of recent ‘investigation’, seeing random allegations and misrepresentations online, various claims and interpretations and accusations, I have felt a little like an ant under a microscope. But where and what is this thing you are trying to find in me? Where is it in you?
Those who want to shut things down have, it seems to me, something like a police relation to time – they want to say – not here, now, and not you! The ‘platform’ is a useful image for them, even where we live in a media landscape where there are ‘platforms’ everywhere, and that no one has to listen to anyone, ever, if they don’t want to. The platform is an image of a small stage, perhaps, with a captive audience, shackled to their seats and being brainwashed. The platform is useful for creating an image of scarcity – but, my friends, we have all the time and space in the world! And people think!
Paradoxically, imagining that the other is too stupid to make up their own mind, that they must be kept away from ‘dangerous ideas’ in case they think for themselves, is the most elitist and hierarchical attitude there is. Yet this is what the cancellers – those who believe themselves to be on the side of equality! – think, or at least they must do in order to behave in the way they do. Group membership is shored up by reinforcing the line, even where the line is crazy and troubling. Group membership is shored up by sacrificing people, preferable people closest to you, people who look and sound a bit like you, who are you, but who have transgressed somehow, however minimally. These people cannot remain close any longer, they must be cast out, they must be absolutely othered.
What does it mean to ‘cancel’ somebody, or to cancel an idea, or attempt to? It is to put one’s fingers in one’s ears, like a child overwhelmed by the world outside, and to scream ‘this person is bad! I am good! I don’t want to hear it! I am afraid!’ It is to hope that this person, or these ideas, will just ‘go away’ or ‘fuck off!’ or go elsewhere, or simply perish, to be never heard from again, to die, socially or actually. Life is much simpler when you can ‘cancel’ or ‘no-platform’ everything you don’t like, when you can defend your own identity by sacrificing an other every now and again – as Voltaire said “In this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others.” There is the fear of being next, of listening to those voices inside and out that raise questions about the official narrative…and what might happen then?
You want to know why I went on the youtube show with Daniel. Why did I? Because I thought about it and decided for myself that that was what I wanted to do. It wasn’t a mistake, though you might think it foolhardy. I know very well that people want to think Daniel is a ‘fascist’ for holding up a sign outside LD50 gallery saying “The Right to Openly Discuss Ideas Must be Defended” on one side and “Stand-up to Violence and Intimidation” on the other. You want to think that Daniel thinks all the evil things you disagree with, that you think are bad, and though you can’t really prove that he thinks these things, you want to believe it. He functions as a kind of black mirror to you – perhaps he is used to playing this role, where people see something in a pool that scares them. Make it stop! It could be Daniel, it could be me, it could be any number of people. On some level it doesn’t really matter, we’re just fulfilling a role, a function. It’s just how groups, particularly weak groups, work. It’s how they always work.
You can – of course! – think what you like. I don’t even want to say that Daniel isn’t a ‘fascist’ because it’s not the point, I don’t want to play this game, because it’s your game, it’s a boring game. It reminds me of The Young Ones, where most everyone and everything is a ‘fascist’, although everyone seems to have forgotten that this was a comedy.
I personally think Daniel is an honourable, kind, brave and interesting man. A man who is against authoritarian behaviour of all kinds, including that on the left, which makes him very much not a ‘fascist’. He helped me to overcome my addiction, for which, come what may, is something I will always be grateful to him for. We are all capable of great things – of helping others, sometimes we don’t even know how or why. We are all complex beings. The best it seems to me we can do is – to not lie for any reason. To live as autonomously as possible. To be free and to help others be free – free from guilt, from dependency, from anxiety. To be strong enough to recognize where someone is unfree, be it because they are shackled to misery, in a relationship that is bad for them, or tied to an idea that hurts them. We will never understand anyone else unless we listen to their complaint and work out why they are suffering, and understand who they blame, and why.
I wonder once again if we can somehow engage in a kind of group psychoanalysis, and whether there will be a third summer of love (I’m thinking next year, let’s call it 2020Vision!), whether we can change our understanding of time and listening and talking, whether we can get outside of fear – whether we can be strong enough to talk to people we disagree with, to feel that we have ideas that are strong enough to stand up to those we disagree with, to not get trapped by ‘politics’, to know and trust in an outside, in the outside. To be calm enough to cope with multiple levels of reality. To talk and listen to everyone. To be autonomous – to decide for oneself, to govern oneself, to live without authority, to live truly without the policeman in our head. To not just say we are against fascism but to live in an anti-authoritarian way, with naughtiness and delight, if that’s what we’re into! To be thoughtful, to understand ‘hate’ and anxiety and paranoia, to get outside of fear, to defend ourselves when and where we must, to protect everyone we can, including, perhaps, first and foremost, ourselves.