insight

Maria Clara Parente

Cancellation Is The Child Of A Culture That Doesn't Compost

‘Call-out culture' is a by-product of postmodernity, where ‘post-humans’ can ‘cancel’ and outsource other human and non-human lives on a daily basis.

Society

28.8.2020
In this dystopian year of 2020, death has made its way through every crack in the house of modernity

After a period of initial shock, looking in the mirrors of the house we can see that the reflected human figure is different from what we' previously thought. According to the dictionary to be human is to be someone who has shown themselves to be "kind and understanding", but the macro narrative does not seem to show many signs of this type of humanity. Civilisation, which is far from the idea of civility, condones systemic violence. The technological tools that promised a connected world without borders became an arena for the cultural war of the memetic tribes, engaging in ‘debates’ which are in fact ideological disputes.

Mother Earth seems to have been pushed aside once again, in this story of stray children who continue to forget where they come from and where they always return — to the mother's moist and deep care. The soil.
In the post-Anthropocene, humans do not recognise themselves as the top of the pyramid of life on Earth, but as part of a relational web.
Human, from humus, from the one that goes back to the earth because it's part of it.  During our lives, through language, we elaborate and ritualise our existence in the most diverse of ways. We explore what it means to be part of this living system which, even though it seems big, is a small part of an infinitely vast universe of which we know so little.

How can new understandings about death make us look at life in other ways? In the post-Anthropocene, humans do not recognise themselves as the top of the pyramid of life on Earth, but as part of a relational web. Often social transformations happen at the level of culture and ideology. In our current situation, where systemic collapse beckons, I believe change needs to take place in the space where social beings (us) create their reality: in the social imaginaries. More than thinking about this or that leader, changes in paradigms are needed  and, mainly, changes in 'who' creates the paradigms. 

Ways of thinking that reconsider what it means to be human, who consider humans as something more than the objects of a productivist society, urgently need to stop being seen as ‘peripheral’ or ‘alternative’.

“In our current situation, where systemic and ecological collapse beckons, I believe change needs to take place in the space where social beings (us) create their reality."

The social imaginary of modernity defines its ‘territory’ in the triple construction of nation-states, economy and reason. In this paradigm, ‘human value’ is established based on individual productivity which strengthens the economy of the nation state. This imaginary was constructed during the Enlightenment in Europe and still today shapes most of the Western social relations, which are happening more and more in the digital territory.

As a by-product of postmodernity, where ‘post-humans’ can ‘cancel’ and outsource other human and non-human lives on a daily basis, 'we' have collectively created this ubiquitous digital being, the so-called ‘Culture of Cancellation’.

Cancel culture is a product of the objectification of the human being, who daily throws garbage in distant places as if he could cancel what he does. Cancellation is the child of a culture that doesn't compost, it can only take away from the field of vision. Without connection with ancestral cultures, without divinities or ideologies, we bow to a 'God' that is the expression of our difficulty to ‘stay with the trouble’ and face the patriarchal, racist and elitist roots that still dominate social organisations. 
In the internet arena, words are protected by anonymity and the law is made by the public guillotine.
I am not referring to those people seriously committed to social change, who point out and signal specific and systemic injustices and violences. This is a very important process that needs to be done, and is part of the process of transforming the imaginary.

However, in the internet arena, words are protected by anonymity and the law is made by the public guillotine. History reminds us that public judgment is not always full of good intentions, as pointed out by transgender youtuber Contrapoints. On the cyber street, the individual who cancels is the police, judge and executioner. Digital cancellation does not take into account what you’ve done or that you may be wrong. Cancellation deals with the denial of individual beings, because it is also a child of neoliberalism and meritocracy. It does not take into account that no one is without the other and thoughts think together.

“Cancellation deals with the denial of individual beings, because it is also a child of neoliberalism and meritocracy."

Bolivian writer Julieta Paredes, a decolonial feminist and activist in the anti-patriarchal struggle in Latin America, also makes an important contribution to the call for another story of what it means to be a human within the context of community, in this case based on the proposal of community feminism:

“(...) we mean that humanity is this, it has two different parts (people) that build autonomous identities, which thus constitute and build a common identity. The denial of one of the parties, in submission and subordination, is also to attempt against the existence of the other. To subject women to the identity of men, or vice versa, is to cut half the potential of community, society and humanity. When submitting to women, they submit to the community, because the woman is half of the community, and when submitting a part of the community, men submit to themselves, because they are also the community.”  — Julieta Paredes - An epistemological rupture with Western Feminism, 2010 

Recently, Peter Limberg and Lubomir Arsov published an article about the ‘God of cancellation’, saying that the aim of the ‘Cancel God’ is to ultimately cancel humanity itself. This makes sense when we think of the image in the mirror, of the horrors we face when looking at the oppression still perpetuated by humans between each other and towards non-human groups. A great self scourge for so many imbecilities made by this group that we call ‘humanity’, in this time we call the Anthropocene. 

So how to take the step beyond cancellation to think of humans as part of an interdependent web of collectivities?
Canceling people who have racist, xenophobic and patriarchal behaviours may not be the best option for creating societies that are capable of co-responsibility.
To imagine desirable futures, we need to be responsible enough to face this “God of cancellation”, which has been gaining devotees both out of anger at the system and out of fear. 

Decolonial futures ask for other relations with time, space and corporealities. Canceling people who have racist, xenophobic and patriarchal behaviours may not be the best option for creating societies that are capable of co-responsibility.

Reading Staying with the Trouble by biologist and feminist north-american thinker Donna Haraway, I believe that it's subtitle could be the antithesis of the culture of cancellation: "Making Kin in  the Chtulucene". Haraway, with her precise and rare irony, invites us to think of our time as a ‘Chtulucene’, "a compound of two Greek roots (khthôn and kainos) that together name a kind of timeplace for learning to stay with the trouble of living and dying in response-ability on damaged earth. Kainos means new, a time of beginnings, a time for ongoing, for freshness. Nothing in kainos must mean conventional pasts, presents or futures(..) I hear kainos in the sense of thick, ongoing presence, with hyphae infusing all sorts of temporalities and materialities. Chthonic ones are beings of the earth(...) they are monsters in the best sense, they demonstrate and perform the material meaningfulness of earth process and critters. They also demonstrate and perform consequences."

Haraway continues: "Living-with and dying-with each other potentially in the Chthulucene can be a fierce reply to the dictates of both Anthropos and Capital. Kin is a wild category that all sorts of people do their best to domesticate. Making kin as oddkin rather than, or at least in addition to, godkin and genealogical and biogenetic family troubles important matters, like to whom one is actually responsible. Who lives and who dies and how, in this kinship rather than that one? What shape this kinship, where and whom do it's lines connect and disconnect, and so what?" 

“This is the time when beings from the earth need to make kin beyond the nuclear family."

And her "tentacular" thinking goes beyond: “The earth of the ongoing Chuthulucene is sympoietic, not autopoetic. Mortal worlds (Earth, Gaia, Chthulu, and all the myriad names and powers that are not Greek, Latin or Indo-European at all) do not make themselves, no matter how complex and multileveled the systems are (…) Autopoietic systems are hugely interesting - witness the history of cybernetics and informational sciences, but they are not good models for living and dying worlds and their critters. (…) Poiesis is symchthonic, sympoietic, aways partnered all the way down, with no starting and subsequently interacting "units" (…) Spider is a much better figure for sympoiesis than any inadequately leggy vertebrate of whatever pantheon.”  —Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble 

In order to tell other stories, we need to take responsibility in a different ways, with words and with the beings we relate to, to sew these narratives together. “Choose that story, not that story." says Haraway. Each step matters, and if they are taken in depth, entering more and more into the earth, we can be responsible for their reverberations in the world.

When we start to share this time of multiple screens, somehow inaugurated on a large scale with the pandemic, we can perceive that words are the materialisation of the past, present and future because the word itself is this exercise in the creation of worlds. 
The robots of the films of the past promised us a world where technology would save humanity from itself, doing justice and abolishing the world's problems. In a way, this prediction has come true.
Haraway tells us that “It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.”

Technologies emerge from our imaginations but at the present time they are still a product of a specific type of thought. Tyrannical son of the Capitalocene - the word used by Haraway to describe our time beyond the concept of Anthropocene. The robots of the films of the past promised us a world where technology would save humanity from itself, doing justice and abolishing the world's problems. In a way, this prediction has come true. However, no one is safe from the army of these machines and their avatars. So how can we recover humanity? After all, what is this idea of ​​humanity? For the Yoruba Nigerian philosopher Bayo Akomolafe, there is a fixation with quick solutions, which prevent us from perceiving “humanity” as a tangle of human and non-human relationships.

“So how can we recover humanity? After all, what is this idea of ​​humanity?"

“We would like to think, for instance, that climate change and ecological devastation are ‘outside’ of us – something that we can resolve with the gloves of technological sophistication or administrative efficiency. We would like to think that it is our place to mobilize nature to fit our rational imperatives. And when things don’t pan out, we throw more money, more methodologies, and more men at the problem – hoping it would go away. But it doesn’t, because ‘we’ are the crisis – ‘we’, the entanglement of ‘human’ and ‘non-human’, are the trouble that touches itself perversely. The crisis is not an interruption of our humanity, or something wrong we can throw solutions at. It is the whole re-considering itself." — Bayo Akomolafe, These Wilds Beyond our Fences

Human, from humus, now then return to earth, to the bottom of the earth, to the “communities of compost” (Haraway) and into the little beings that are inside and outside us, to the little creatures of the world and to the stories we tell about that world. To look at unthinkable places, to understand oneself as intergenerational beings in a large relational web, create other dances with meticulous observation of other beings that are also endangered and are companions in this multi-species interdependence system. To continue living, dying and dreaming on this Earth.
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Words by Maria Clara Parente
Maria Clara Parente is a Rio de Janeiro based journalist, artist and documentarist. She is the co-founder of This is not the Truth, a platform for Emerging Narratives that explores possible futures in the present.

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