In this piece I want to establish a new framework for the way we approach politics. I want to form this new politics on three framings I view as essential. The first one is how we base our culture; namely the kind of community we want to build in our everyday lives. Our ideal culture should he exactly what is commonly called ‘cancel culture’. Cancellation is our first principle. The second one of these frameworks deals with how we understand our individual selves. This principle is wokeness, our second treasured principle. The third framework is identity and this is how we understand our politics. Our ideal politics should be so-called identity politics. So our three principles are cancellation, wokeness and identity. From here on out I will refer to the trinity together as CWI.
The question the reader is now wondering, if the writer hasn’t been canceled yet, is why CWI? Most people range along the spectrum of being strongly against CWI to being dismissive of it. If one is against CWI we hear something along the lines of: CWI is dangerous and threatens the very fabric of our society. The dismissive argument against CWI is that there are bigger issues at play and CWI is a distraction.
So let’s break down CWI. I have established the three legs. Culture, individual and politics. The ‘individual’ should be exactly how it sounds and I think we can simply look at this leg as how one develops themselves. Wokeness is not the typical self-help. It implies an entanglement with the Other. Furthermore becoming woke is a way to become a more powerful civilian. It’s not linked to book smarts or street smarts. In fact what wokeness entails is not a survival model in any individualistic sense. Rather it is grounding one’s self in the knowledge of the way the world is fundamentally interdependent.
So we have one of our three but the other two are entangled. What is the difference between culture and politics? Why should culture be canceled and politics be identity? Here’s the most straight forward way to explain it. Culture is the expression of politics. Politics is the collision with reality. Politics looks to change reality while culture is the present reality which is always changing. Culture is the moment right now, the current event, while politics are the forces acting upon our moment, trying to create a new event. Think of politics as an operation like addition or multiplication with culture like a number. We will not ever be able to conceptualize the full effects of our politics. We can only capture them within the freeze frame of our culture.
So why is the present conceptualized moment one of cancellation? Let’s remember how we dealt with wokeness, the expression of the individual. The only conclusion we could draw from the framework of the individual is that all parts are interdependent and therefore wokeness (understanding of the Other) is the best framework for the Self.
A similar dynamic is going on here when the present moment (culture) is one of cancellation. Cancellation seems like a verb, something active, but this is precisely where we get our tension. The present moment is active. Freeze the frame and we are always freezing something in motion. Therefore the present must always be canceling.
People may have been able to buy the concept of wokeness being related to understanding the Other but what good could come of cancel culture? A whole lot. Let’s explain. It’s vital to remember that we are using cancel culture, not cancel politics. Our verb is therefore stable. The politics is not necessarily to tear everything down but rather the culture, the very moment we are always in, is always one of the problematic.
From a psychological standpoint this might be easiest to explain. What are our minds doing, every second, even when we’re sleeping? Our mind is solving problems, making the world a better place. This shouldn’t be thought of as “work”. If one isn’t having fun, the brain looks for a way to have it. If one needs money, one looks for a job. The former is organic, the second is capitalist and alienated. But both are responses by a mind that’s always in action. The moment is movement.
So while we might not make canceling a specific political project what we should strive to be doing is always to be engaged within the most woke moment as a constant that is always changing. How is it changing? Through politics. What is politics? It is an action upon the existing system which is a organized society (culture) formed of (woke) individuals. Politics is the collective action imposed upon the system.
We may romanticize individual action but without the support of the group this action is no action at all. Without the support of the institutions and norms of a society an individual’s action can never achieve a goal outside of its own internal consequences. Therefore for an action to have any consequences, it must be an action by a group.
For example, an individual who wants a higher wage could attempt to negotiate with a boss. If such an interaction is at the individual level then win, lose or draw there will be no consequences for greater society. However, if a group organizes and demands for a better wage then even if this group’s wages go down it creates a precedent and possibility for the greater society and makes it possible for other groups to do the same. Potentially this energy keeps spreading through a complex Venn diagram until all of society is covered. These political acts make an impact upon the norms (culture) of society.
So why is politics one of identity? Because in order for a society to go forward, in order for a political (collective) act to occur then all we identities must be celebrated and recognized as parts of the group. Without such coherence and solidity the group remains simply a collection of individuals.
Before we go further let’s address difference. The mistake that is often made when attempting to interpret difference is that we should find our mutual self-interest. For organizers this mutual self-interest brings together citizens in a common political goal. For politicians, this mutual self-interest can pass a bill. For capitalists, this mutual self-interest can stifle competition.
This is a shaky arrangement at best. What happens when we perceive that we have differences from others? This realization is inevitable because we are all different. A far more sturdy structure is to build communities because there is a difference. Similarities within the group may be a bonus but let’s hope not. What’s so great about looking in the mirror?
What we should want is to connect and intersect at the point of difference. It’s impossible to sweep differences under the rug and it is immoral to do so. Nor should we try to find that illusive one thing we have in common because the alliance will ultimately not be about each other but rather about the specific thing we have within each of us.
The other point to be made about the difference is that there are two different kinds of difference. There is a horizontal and vertical difference. The horizontal difference is the difference between variables of the same hierarchal status. Vertical difference is the hierarchal difference. Vertical differences may also have horizontal differences but it is likely the vertical difference will have more of an impact because it is tied to power.
Let’s bring it back to CWI. For CWI to work the individual must be woke enough to understand the interdependent culture it is in and this culture must be constantly canceling problems of hierarchy through a unified political group of different identities. Sounds perfectly reasonable but where is the trip up on?
We trip up on difference. While celebrating horizontal differences is imperative in order for a group to go forward the vertical hierarchal difference must be eradicated before we can move on collectively. This is where CWI becomes a unique tool. How is CWI usually painted? Divisive. Anti-solidarity. Etc. Etc. My claim is the opposite.
People think that CWI is a modern development coming from technocratic elites or college graduates but in reality all of human history has pitted groups of powerful people against powerless. All of history has had powerful interests attempting to cement the status quo and the underdog fighting tooth and nail to cancel it.
Take a past example of someone quoted a lot by people critical of CWI. On his communist snitch list George Orwell said that Paul Robeson was anti-white. I assume the snitch list was just as platitudinous as Animal Farm. The only reason we aren’t required to read Orwell’s Communist snitch list in school is that Animal Farm is a far more convincing piece of anti-communist propaganda, even if it only works on the infantile.
Now according to the logic of the critics of CWI it is Orwell who is practicing solidarity here by attempting to get Robeson to get past his “difference” with white people. In reality Orwell is against solidarity here because he is asking Robeson to accept a vertical difference because Orwell will never be able to accept a horizontal (equal) difference with Robeson or other black people. Look at the crafty slight of hand by Orwell. He says to Robeson: I tolerate the present condition of intolerance and therefore you are the intolerant one. The exact same dynamic goes on with critics of CWI. Historical precedent is why I’m more than fine with formulating CWI as a philosophical inquisition.
I know a lot of people may be thinking that this is an offbeat way of understanding CWI and that even if the framework laid out above is accepted it has little to do with traditional CWI. Wrong. The framework above was solely inspired by CWI and if traditional CWI is not accepted then this framework has no chance.
More likely most people will be thinking: what the hell does this have to do with anything in the real world? I have no idea, but when has philosophy or theory been directly related to the real world? What it does is inform guidelines for potential actions within the real world. Maybe it’s just as useless as the rest of philosophy, but it’s certainly not any more useless.
To make things more reassuring it is a stab at modern philosophy which is in more in touch with what we need today than how we normally think of philosophy (ahistorical). Even more to the point there is a double standard applied to CWI which in part convinced me of its sine qua non. When we talk about CWI people always ask what the point of it is. What will cancellation, wokeness and identity really do for any of us anyway? That’s what I always hear. But I want to challenge the naysayer. Why are we always canceling cancellation? Why are we too woke to be woke? Why is our identity formed around guarding against the politics of identity?
The right-wing hysteria around CWI combined within the left-liberal dismissal of it gives me the impression that CWI is a godsend. For the right, CWI is already too real and it has infected every aspect of our society. For those dismissive, CWI is not real enough, there is nothing material about it and it only divides people around petty concerns. These two opinions can only mean CWI must be the exact right amount of real.
Many will see this simply as trolling. I hope for a moment at least we can stop being sarcastic. Perhaps what inspires the most elitist snark is exactly what needs the most serious interrogation. Therefore I hope CWI can be the framework that combines culture, the individual, and the political into a more compassionate tomorrow.