Cancel Culture Is Social Anarcho-Tyranny
The parallels between legal and social anarcho-tyranny explored.
Imagine you are in a public place when a mentally ill person begins acting alarmingly. Perhaps they begin publicly exposing themselves, injecting hard drugs, or screaming at bystanders. Maybe it happens on the subway, bus, or another confined space you can’t leave. What do you do?
What most people DON’T do is try to stop them. In the videos of situations like this that cross my social media feed, most people look away and try to pretend it isn't happening. Even if the person behaving badly comes right up to their face and threatens them, they will look down and hope the attacker moves on to another victim.
In this situation, the mentally ill person acting out is clearly in the wrong. Other passengers or bystanders would be justified in asking them to stop. In some situations, they might even be legally justified in using force to remove a person threatening others. Why don’t they?
What Is Anarcho-Tyranny?
The reason people do not stop criminals themselves is anarcho-tyranny. Anarcho-tyranny is when the state will not stop criminals but will punish citizens who attempt to stop criminals. In anarchy, there would be no law and you could do whatever you wanted. In anarcho-tyranny, the law applies to law-abiding citizens but not to criminals. Anarcho-tyranny is worse than anarchy for regular citizens.
Suppose you called the cops to report a man defecating on the subway. What would happen? In many major cities, nothing. Though such actions are technically illegal, the police don’t enforce them. Now suppose that person attacks you and you engage in legal self-defense. What would happen? The police will show up and arrest both of you.
The reason citizens do not fight criminals in an anarcho-tyranny state is because if they do the next fight is with the district attorney. Even if they are clearly in the right, it will cost them $100,000 in legal fees and a year of their life to prove that. No one with anything going for them wants to deal with that. The result is that crazy people control public spaces and law-abiding citizens keep their heads down to avoid trouble.
This dynamic plays out across society in an anarcho-tyranny state. If someone breaks into your home and you call the police, they will show up hours later and take a report. If you shoot the intruder, the police will arrest you and put you through the legal system to prove that your actions were justified. In an anarcho-tyranny, the police protect the criminals, but not the citizens.
Anarcho-tyranny and selective enforcement of the law can be used for political purposes. If the state allows one side of a political conflict to break laws, burn buildings, and disrupt society, but arrests law-abiding citizens who defend their property, this is a form of anarcho-tyranny. This selective enforcement makes it clear what side of a political conflict citizens need to be on if they want to remain safe.
What Is Social Anarcho-Tyranny?
The same dynamic that exists around crime in an anarcho-tyranny also exists around social issues in what is popularly known as “cancel culture.”
Instead of mentally ill people screaming in public spaces, like the subway, they scream in public cultural spaces, like Twitter. If the victim responds, instead of risking police action, they risk action from cultural enforcers. Most keep their heads down, because they know if they fight back against the mentally ill person screaming at them their next fight might not be with the D.A., but with media, human resources, or activist non-profits. This culture functions the same as anarcho-tyranny except instead of a physical threat, there is an emotional and social threat. Cancel culture is social anarcho-tyranny.
Cultural enforcers function the same as state police do in anarcho-tyranny. If a mentally ill person hallucinates your opinions as being deeply offensive and begins harassing you, cultural enforcers will never step in and protect you from their meltdown disguised as activism. If you attempt to defend yourself, cultural enforcers will punish you, even if your defense was reasonable. Instead of losing their life to the legal system, everyday people lose their social life to cultural systems. The result is that most keep their heads down and hopes the person screaming doesn’t scream at them.
There is an overlap between anarcho-tyranny and social anarcho-tyranny. Cultural enforcers often look the other way when their campaigns result in physical violence against the targeted. If victims respond to people physically attacking them with legal self-defense, they risk the same dynamics already discussed. It doesn’t matter if the mentally ill person is attacking because “the voices” told them to or the media did. The result is the same: Police and cultural enforcers will be there to protect them rather than citizens.
Like anarcho-tyranny, social anarcho-tyranny is obviously used for political purposes. Cultural enforcers only allow mentally ill people to scream at citizens on certain sides of political conflicts. Reasonable responses from the opposite side are met with cultural enforcement. This selective enforcement makes it clear what opinions citizens need to hold if they want to remain safe.
Why Anarcho-Tyranny Is Used
Anarcho-tyranny allows criminals to do what the state cannot. The state cannot legally intimate or attack law-abiding citizens. Criminals can. If the state wants law-abiding citizens to be attacked or intimidated, all they have to do is look the other way when criminals do it.
Likewise, if cultural enforcers want certain people intimidated or attacked, their actions are limited by the law. Printing lies about someone, firing them without cause, and organizing campaigns to target them can result in lawsuits. However, mentally ill people don’t care about that. Once bad actors have hurled defamation, cultural enforcers like media, human resources, and non-profits can respond to the “controversy” around those obviously false statements. A defamation lawsuit can cost $100,000 and is unlikely to solve the problem in many cases.
In both cases, the purpose is to terrorize law-abiding people. While anarcho-tyranny creates political terror, social anarcho-tyranny creates emotional and social terror. When used to attack those who have done nothing wrong, cancel culture is not activism but social terrorism.
Differences Between Social And Legal Anarcho-Tyranny
One key difference between social and legal anarcho-tyranny is that the power of cultural enforcers is different from the police. Police have unavoidable power. Cultural enforcers often have greater power in a small sphere, but completely avoidable power outside that sphere. An HR department only exists within a company and nowhere else. Media companies reach a certain audience, but many media outlets are ignored or distrusted by other audiences. Someone within a company or social circle where certain media is trusted will feel significant pressure from cultural enforcers, while someone outside those social circles might feel none.
Another difference is the narrative around the bad behavior. Those engaged in cultural tyranny often see themselves as heroes rather than mentally ill and see their actions as a form of activism rather than lashing out. In their minds, they are acting against oppression rather than causing it. While a mentally ill person screaming on the subway might have reasons for their behavior that make sense to them, they can’t articulate those reasons into a coherent narrative and do not have media and non-profits who will articulate a positive narrative for their actions for them. Those engaged in cultural harm often do. This creates a secondary form of narrative trauma for survivors where they not only have to endure the humiliation of someone attacking them but are also seen as somehow “causing” the harm done to them through imagined wrongdoing.
When police fail to stop crime, vigilantes sometimes take their place. Many superhero stories take place in a world of vigilantes. For example, Batman is the story of a billionaire who violates the law to beat up criminals because Gotham city police are so ineffective and corrupt at handling them. Likewise, when cultural enforcers fail to protect citizens from emotional, social, and cultural harm, cultural vigilantes arise. In our culture, there are also billionaires - Elon Musk, J.K. Rowling, Kanye West, etc. - who violate the dominant culture to beat cancelers because existing cultural institutions are so ineffective and corrupt at handling them. Cultural vigilantes have major issues, yet many accept them for the accept for the same reason Gotham accepts Batman: the city has been terrorized by mentally ill clowns for so long that people will accept any solution no matter how dark or unaccountable.
In both cases, vigilantism is a bad long-term solution. It would be better if both police and cultural institutions did their job. However, the existence of cultural vigilantes is a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. Batman wouldn’t exist if Gotham police did their job. Cultural vigilantes would not exist if cultural institutions were healthy and functioning. The actions of both vigilantes and cultural vigilantes also fail to solve the long-term problem. They require the vigilante to continually fight those acting badly while evading police and cultural enforcers. While this might be feasible for a billionaire, it isn’t for the average citizen.
Potential Solutions To Social Anarcho-Tyranny
What is the solution? Everyone knows that “cancel culture” is a problem, the same way that everyone on the subway knows that the mentally ill person screaming at people is in the wrong. Yet, people still keep their heads down.
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