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Cancellation will lead to clan

Over 25 years ago I read Daughter of the Empire, a political fantasy that prefigured elements of the “grimdark” genre. The protagonist was involved in various machinations where she had to sacrifice aspects of her humanity so that she, and her house, could survive in an amoral game of competition between nobles in the Empire of Kelawan. One of the plot points is that she makes a “calls to clan,” the clan being a collection of noble houses united by notional descent from a common ancestor. Because she has to fight another house that is far more powerful, she makes the appeal to those who are part of her lineage group to come to her aid. The other houses normally are reluctant to intervene, and there are all sorts of manipulations required to prompt the other houses to show solidarity with her.

Nevertheless, the idea exists that a group of houses bound together by kinship, fictive or real, operate as a unit against common external threats.

This is not hard to understand in terms of why these phenomena develop.

Recently, one of my readers at Brown Pundits has been vocal on Indian political events, which have gotten heated. Though he is American, he has family in India, and there has been an instance of social media harassment (or at least contact) with his cousin in that country, relating to his political views (and apparently some accusations of anti-Sikh prejudice on his part). The motives here are not important. The point is that my reader spoke out as an individual, and that has triggered a collective and coordinated action.

One of the implications of The WEIRDest People in the World is that the individualistic social context of the West must rely on rules and norms, rather than interpersonal relationships that extend to lineage groups. But, this means that there must be some element of fairness in meting out punishment.

What if punishment and attacks are capricious? What if they come en masse from a group against an individual? Over ten years ago there were issues relating to Barack Obama’s relationship to Jeremiah Wright, and some liberal journalists on an e-list were thinking about how they should defend Obama. One journalist basically proposed going on offense:

I do not endorse a Popular Front, nor do I think you need to. It’s not necessary to jump to Wright-qua-Wright’s defense. What is necessary is to raise the cost on the right of going after the left. In other words, find a rightwinger’s [sic] and smash it through a plate-glass window. Take a snapshot of the bleeding mess and send it out in a Christmas card to let the right know that it needs to live in a state of constant fear. Obviously I mean this rhetorically.

A decade out this seems high-minded as it serves some purpose. The reality is the way “cancellation” works today is that there is an element of capriciousness involved. There’s a positive feedback loop as major players send their “forces” against nobodies for no reason, except that the mob needs to feed. As an example of this senselessness, consider what happened to a college student in South Dakota, when a bunch of young adult fiction authors and various influencers attacked her on specious grounds. You Google her and this ridiculous controversy comes up, which basically struck her like lightning.

The problem is that people face these forces and coordinated attacks as individuals. What if that woman had a lineage group, a clan, who she could rely on that? The clan, in its turn, could seek out cyber and reputational revenge against those who attacked her. Of course, this sort of behavior erodes the norms and social capital which allows for a high trust society, but I don’t think it’s feasible for individuals to keep worrying that they’ll get sucked into the undertow and take reputational hits indefinitely. For example, I know an academic who is a conservative who donated to Donald J. Trump. Though passions have cooled, he found out last fall that some of his neighbors were thinking about making his political views an issue, likely attacking his reputation and asserting he was a racist and a fascist. Should he just accept this? The neighbors have numbers on their side and feel they can act with impunity. They won’t suffer any reputational damage or feel discomfort. But every action has an opposite and equal reaction.

Perhaps to maintain some semblance of our current culture we should take steps toward more explicit pillarisation.


17 thoughts on “Cancellation will lead to clan

  1. What kind of clan would protect that conservative academic? Liberals have mainstream media, social media, big business, higher education, basically every institution on their side. Whatever alternative institution right has is dwarfed by the left. We truly are the last pagans in a Christian world.

  2. The problem is that people face these forces and coordinated attacks as individuals.

    I have been saying for a good while now that rightists should get themselves tribes or “networks of affiliations.”

    One thing to keep in mind is that these bullying forces – which are usually ad hoc mobs (even when inspired by leadership elements), digital or otherwise – are effective in offense, but are very brittle in defense. Because of the ad hoc, virtue-signaling nature of these mobs, they don’t have any real cohesion and are liable to splinter (“every man for himself!”) when pushed back (see the example of the young adult fiction writers Mr. Khan cited).

    In contrast, the kind of organic tribes that I advocate, e.g. devout religious affiliations, homeschooling groups, grassroots gun rights activists, etc., may not be invulnerable, but are much more unified and close-knit, and their members are far more likely to be tenaciously protective of each other. They have something tangible at stake they share and are not motivated simply by a transient and opportunistic sense of power over others.

    Virtual or digital activism gives an illusion of power, but it is exactly that – an illusion – when confronted by real tribes that can muster firepower in the physical realm (metaphorically-speaking, but perhaps literally in the future).

    But every action has an opposite and equal reaction.

    Human beings don’t operate on Newtonian physical principles as if in vacuum. Sometimes reactions are muted or even nonexistent. Other times they come back at the pusher ten-fold. Then there is the temporal element to the reactions, some of which boil underneath easy perception for a good while and then explode.

    Leftists who are drunk on their seeming political and cultural triumph are playing with a lit Molotov cocktail. What they perceive as a “coup attempt” or an “insurrection” at the Capitol was a clown show, a sideshow street theater. When serious and capable rightists decide they had enough and perceive their political opponents as more than simply political opponents, but eliminationists, there is going to be lots of blood and tears on every side.

  3. Whatever alternative institution right has is dwarfed by the left.

    As Martin van Creveld once wrote, when the strong fights the weak in a long war, the strong is liable to lose.

    The right cannot match the left in conventional means of strength. As you point out, the left dominates most of the mainstream institutions today. So the right must avoid pitched battles on the chosen grounds of the left and instead engage in (for now) political asymmetrical warfare. Rightists must become political and cultural insurgents, the fish that swim in an ocean of the sympathetic and the co-oppressed (to borrow from Mao)… and survive.

  4. “Call to clan” perhaps serves not just as a check on “cancellation”, but also on pressure to social conformity in general. This is why I am mistrustful on idea that the presence of ascribed lineage based social groups always leads to more social conformity, overall. Sometimes they are protective against conformity demands of mass society and the state?

  5. @Harry Jecs

    It’s not really clan, more like a gang, but violence is a tool that anyone can mete out or have meted out on their behalf if they have sympathizers. Boomers and older Gen Xers were the last generations to understand this: that if you try to ruin someone’s life socially, emotionally, reputationally, professionally, economically, it’s not unreasonable (or even per se unfair depending on proportionality) that you should expect to become the victim of physical violence by that person or by people who are related to/sympathize with them. Plenty of boomer movies, tv shows, and media where a powerful/rich/influential person and his flunkies and sympathizers fire someone, steal their girlfriend, or whatever, and the victim of these non-physical ruinations or someone in their “clan” brutally beats or even kills the ruiner.

    Millennials and the generation after them, by contrast, have grown up in a world where you and thousands of others organized online can do anything you like to a person, just so long as you don’t get physical with them. Partly a result of the anti-bullying campaigns of the 90s and 2000s, where the only thing schools cared about was who punched who, and maybe also who punched harder. A kid could be brutally mocked all day every day by seven or eight kids older and bigger than him, but if that kid pushed one of the bullies and a fight broke out, they were both sent punished, with the bullied kid usually getting punished harder. The return of “call to clan” or clannishness in general will likely mark the end of this no-holds-barred-except-physical-violence era of social combat.

  6. On a side note, I kind of wonder what’s going to happen when the woke start to edge into the turf of that last bastion of traditional clan based behavior and organization within modern society, namely organized crime.

    So far it hasn’t really happened, but I’m sure it will real soon.

  7. On a side note, I kind of wonder what’s going to happen when the woke start to edge into the turf of that last bastion of traditional clan based behavior and organization within modern society, namely organized crime.

    “we need to talk about queer representation in organized crime”

  8. A couple years ago some high ranking New York mafioso was heard on wiretap saying that they wouldn’t care if a gay guy joined as long as he didn’t make a big deal of his sexuality. On the downside, while they used to admit half (paternal) Italians, since the 2000s you have to be full blooded to get made. Definitely a sad development for a person of color dreaming of making history in that respect.

  9. “Pillarisation” is a long standing strategy in the U.S. that has already advanced a great deal.

    The only major religious denominations that didn’t experience a schism in connection with the 19th century fight over slavery were despite having a meaningful presence in both the North and the South were the Roman Catholics and the Episcopalians, and they were both quite minor denominations in the overall Southern religious scene.

    The battle over gay rights and feminism has led to an additional round of denominational splits that has even managed to crack the Episcopalians, with Anglican churches in Africa working to establish mostly white socially conservative churches in the Anglican tradition that U.S. Episcopalians and African Anglicans share in the U.S. Conservative Lutheran denominations have surged in rural areas replacing the mainline ELCA affiliated churches.

    Roman Catholicism has much more of a “red state” presence than it did in the 19th century, and its rare exception of unity has managed to make it one of the most neutral swing factions in American politics, a fact that Joe Biden, a devout Catholic, is well aware of as he made an ecumenical but heavily Catholic flavored Christian appeal in his inauguration address. And, of course, this is also a faction that has more vigorously engaged in pillarism, creating its own K-grad school private educational system, its own charities, its own adoption agencies, and its own hospital systems, for example.

    In the 19th century, when the primary source of news was a newspaper, intensely and openly partisan newspapers made up most of the newspaper market with headlines that read a lot like the modern Internet site “Wonkette” that would have made Fox News blush. But Wonkette and Fox aren’t anomalies. Partisan journalism is back with a vengeance, and social media has thrived in significant part upon its ability to allow people to receive information and social interaction that is confined to a partisan and clan bubble despite the fact that we live in a global online community with few natural boundaries (even language has faded away with real time tolerably good online translation tools).

    Identity politics can certainly be understood as left wing “calls to clan” and a large share of the right is less subtle about doing the same thing.

    At the national level and to a significant extent in many U.S. states, all pretense of legislative bodies being deliberative bodies that are anything other than tools for the exercise of partisan power has pretty much vanished, led by the GOP in my view, but reluctantly responded to in kind by Democrats. The animosity has risen to the level were endogamy based on partisan leaning is now arguably as strong or stronger as endogamy based upon religion.

    The left used to respond to right wing calls for seccession with unanimous righteous outrage. That has changed in the last decade or two, as an increasing share of the left is now more inclined to say “good riddance”, you have your country and let us have ours. The left has realized that blue counties now have twice the per capita GDP as red ones (something that wasn’t nearly such a pronounced divide two decades ago), and that the departure of conservative leaning places leaves them with fewer people to share wealth that they are disproportionately create with. The left also intensely feels that the reason that “we can’t have nice things” is because of the stubborn and misguided stances taken on the right (which matters politically whether that characterization of right wing stances is mostly correct or wildly wrong). The partisan COVID-19 precaution divide has intensified that sense.

    But if we want to have a single United States of America any longer (some days I’m ambivalent about that goal myself, others I think it’s important), we need to look at what changed to bring the U.S. from the ledge it was on in the 19th century that escalated into a genuine civil war that has never completely ended, to that brief period in the 20th century where the U.S. swung to an extreme in the other direction. An America where centrist mainline Christian churches, a consensus around backing public education that almost everyone but the Catholics surrendered to, a formal “fairness doctrine” that reversed the 19th century norms about whether partisan news sources were acceptable, the quite revolution that turned municipal governments from being the foundation of partisan politics to having city councils decoupled from partisan politics and run by technocratic city managers, and other evidence of assimilation of our society into a single melting pot.

    The plurality view in political science circles (I’m not sure it is a majority view) is that this was made possible by widely shared post-war economic prosperity, that has steadily eroded over the last fifty years, as the education and wealth elites have captured almost all of the phenomenal economic growth in that time period, while non-college educated men (first black men and then twenty years later, white men) in blue collar jobs have seen their incomes flatline in real dollar terms and have seen their job security vanish.

    The political instincts that this reality has evoked has created a vicious cycle. To paraphrase one of your recent posts, elites with “eat what you kill” attitudes are tearing the flesh away from our stagnating civilization, at a time when we really need more virtuous elites to thrive as a society.

    I’m well aware of the agenda on the left to pretty directly and overtly redistribute wealth and income in an effort to alleviate the economic divide we have today that steadily continues to intensify in favor of the shared prosperity of the post-WWII economy from about 1945-1975, even though we no longer have fundamental economic realities pushing us in that direction the way we did then, when the economy needed a lot of unskilled labor to fuel an export driven economy that was picking up the post-WWII slack of war driven economic destruction abroad that we didn’t have the technology to replace with more skilled labor.

    Most of the measure of shared prosperity in Europe and other industrialized countries that exceeds the U.S. there is attributable to government driven redistribution putting a bandaid on pre-government intervention distributions of economic gains almost as divided as those in the U.S. And, even with all of that, these nations are seeing similar political trends although probably less intense ones. There are no shortages of general strikes in France or Poland which are far more economically egalitarian than the U.S., even though that kind of working class economically motivated street politics would be better justified in absolute terms in the U.S.

  10. Joe Biden, a devout Catholic

    No. Don’t confuse lip service and shallow theater for political benefit with devotion. He goes against major Catholic teachings on morality, including supporting actions that lead to automatic excommunication. He’s been denied Sacraments at several parishes. He is the opposite of “devoted,” and is a classic example of a fallen “cradle” Catholic.

  11. The left has realized that blue counties now have twice the per capita GDP as red ones

    They also have some of the worst poverty. To a significant extent, the Democratic coalition is made up of the top and bottom of the income distribution.

  12. To a significant extent, the Democratic coalition is made up of the top and bottom of the income distribution.

    Yes. And those segments of the population have grown as fractions while the middle has shrunk.

    Both the political left and the right have contributed to this trend. This is but one of the many reasons why I am no longer a conservative, but am now a populist-nationalist. My family and I have done extraordinarily well over the past 20 years, but I am well-acquainted with the world outside my super zip bubble, and I am distressed by what has happened to the middle of the country, figuratively and geographically.

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