Jun 24, 2022

INTERVIEW: Cancel culture, social justice and white guilt

Warning: Today's newsletter contains explicit language.

Editor's note: About two hours before this newsletter was set to be published, news broke that Roe v. Wade has been overturned. I know that this is a major breaking news story, and we will be covering it on Monday.

Warning: Today's newsletter contains explicit language.

Clementine Morrigan is not someone you'd expect to be an outspoken critic of the left.

On her website, Morrigan uses she/they pronouns and describes herself as "an ecosocialist, an anarchist, an abolitionist, an opposer of cancel culture, a trauma educator, a sex educator, a person living with complex ptsd, a sober alcoholic, a polyamorous bisexual dyke, and a proud dog mom to Clover ‘the dog’ Morrigan."

They have also written titles such as "Love Without Emergency" and "Fuck the Police Means We Don't Act Like Cops to Each Other" and taught workshops like "Bisexual Girls with Baggage." She is also one half of the podcast "Fucking Cancelled."

And yet, online, through their Instagram and Substack, Morrigan is one of the most vocal critics of the left that I have encountered.

Naturally, I am drawn to people willing to criticize their "own team." But, as I say in the interview, I was especially drawn to Morrigan because her criticisms of cancel culture and the so-called social justice movement both resonate deeply with me.

In today's newsletter, you’ll be reading a transcript of our conversation. I thought it was a fascinating look at today’s politics through the lens of someone who is thinking critically about all aspects of the world around them.

The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length. If you’d rather listen, our interview will be published on our podcast today. You can find that here.

Isaac Saul: There are so many different directions I could go here. I said this in my newsletter, but you are, frankly, one of the more interesting people I have stumbled across in the online political space. I'm so curious, maybe just the baseline, could we start with how you got into political activism and writing? I mean, what's your story? Your bio is wild, it's all over the place. Who are you?

Clementine Morrigan: That's a big question, but I guess I'll try to answer it as quickly as possible.

I am a queer person. That is a big part of this. I grew up in a small town. I had childhood trauma, dropped out of school and moved to Toronto when I was 16. Being a queer person, the social justice culture and the queer culture are very, very connected. So, from a young age, I was in a queer alternative high school for kids who had dropped out of school due to homophobia, which was part of the reason I left school. Because I came out really young.

That was 2002 in a small town, so it was quite homophobic. In that school I was sort of brought into this emerging culture, which has now become more and more mainstream, which is often called social justice culture. I was brought into a way of thinking about politics from a young age inside this alternative, queer, high school. Which is the kind of culture where we all stood in line and they would be like, "If you're white, take a step forward. If you're queer, take a step back. If you have a disability, take a step back. If you're a man, take a step forward."

It's an identitarian — I guess you could say identity politics, but it's not exactly the same thing — kind of way of thinking about power and about politics. So I was indoctrinated into that culture, and then I took a 10-year detour getting blackout drunk on the streets of Toronto, because I am an alcoholic, with complex PTSD. So that was a crazy time. I don't remember a whole lot about that decade [laughs].

Then when I got sober, I started to get some recovery, get some therapy, get some stability happening in my life. Because I'm queer, I landed right back into social justice culture which I had sort of ignored for 10 years because I was too drunk to pay attention to it. That was about 10 years ago now. I just passed 10 years of sobriety. So I came back into social justice culture, and was immediately terrified, because I was like, "oh my God," the culture that I remembered from being a teenager had definitely progressed and gotten more intense and also more mainstream. And that was 10 years ago. It's gotten even more intense and more mainstream in the following 10 years.

And what I noticed about this culture is that it was incredibly morally judgmental. It was very, very hard on people. It treated people like they were disposable. It constantly was scanning for possible evidence of crimes. Having PTSD already, I was very hyper vigilant, I was very stressed out, and I was trying really, really hard to be good and to not get in trouble. And it was also coming from a genuine place because my politics are very strongly about an opposition to dehumanization, about compassion, about believing that people should be able to have what they need to live and also about believing that people should be allowed to be who they are. Those are the basics of my politics.

So, it seemed like I should be into this social justice culture stuff because that's what they said that they were about, what they said they were fighting for. But how they were doing it was all very terrifying and actually quite dehumanizing and was not compassionate. This was all very confusing for me, and I did not know how to sort that out.

So I was very "woke" at this time in my life. I went from being a crazy alcoholic who was definitely extremely problematic to being a very, very devout, vigilant, woke person who was saying all the right things, who was always on top of the correct terminology and the changing terminology and, yes, who was taking part — fortunately, not in a very extreme way — but who was definitely taking part in cancel culture while also being terrified.

As I grappled with this more and more, I saw that there was this huge contradiction in my life. As I said, I'm an alcoholic in recovery. I got sober in 12-step programs, so I had this framework and this way of looking at the world from 12-step programs that was very much about “people are not defined by the worst things they've ever done.” People are capable of change. All people deserve grace, empathy and compassion. And this idea of tolerance and acceptance of others. Meeting people where they're at. These were the things that had gotten me sober and that had saved my life and were my deeply held principles.

And I was also defined by the stuff that I was learning in trauma therapy, which was like, don't be codependent, don't be a people pleaser, stop trying to manage other people by doing what they want. Be authentic. Live in your integrity. These types of things.

So the divide just started to grow between the healthy, integrity-based principles that I was developing in my recovery and the ways that I was acting and the things that I felt I had to believe inside my social justice culture. That divide continued to grow, but I was trying to walk the line for a while, and I started to talk a little about cancel culture. But I was terrified. Also being an independent writer, I have a public persona as part of my job. I didn't want to get cancelled. I didn't want to destroy any opportunity of me being able to write, or being able to do the things that I wanted to do. So I don't want to get cancelled. But I also started to be like, I can't keep being dishonest about my feelings about these things.

So I started to be a bit more honest.

Just a little bit.

Then, unfortunately, I was cancelled in 2020 [laughs].

Along with so many other people. Not really for anything that substantial. I was accused of not sharing about Black Lives Matter, and I had a relatively large Instagram, so I was supposed to be doing that I guess. And even though I had been doing it, I was accused of not doing it. And then when I pointed that out, it was like, “how dare I disagree with what had been said about me?” And then it turned into a giant, huge campaign that I needed to give up my Instagram. I was being de-platformed.

So that was very “drama.” But what is really significant is that I lost almost all my friends. In my real life, I lost almost all my real life community. I had to move, because I was living in a queer collective house that wanted me to do an "accountability process" because of it. Just extreme, extreme. It was traumatic, it was actually traumatic. I had an international campaign of harassment against me, and I was called horrible things and totally dehumanized and misrepresented on a massive scale.

So that was the turning point where I was like, "welp, there is actually no way to prevent this." There was no way for me to do what they were telling me to do because it was out of alignment with my values and my integrity, and I couldn't do it. So I was willing to face the consequences of what was going to happen to me for staying in my integrity.

And so I started a podcast called "Fucking Cancelled" with my partner, Jay, who is my collaborator on that project. And since then, it's just been a whirlwind, because I am a very outspoken critic, opposer of cancel culture, and many of the things that we call "social justice culture." Although not, as I said, the values that you would think underlie that, but the actual behaviors that are coming out of that culture. And I do this very firmly on the left as a socialist, as a queer person, etc. So, there you go. [Laughs]