Warning: Today's newsletter contains explicit language.
Warning: Today's newsletter contains explicit language.
Reminder: We are on vacation this week, so we’re re-publishing some of our most popular Friday editions. Typically, Friday editions are behind a paywall, but we’ve unlocked these archived posts for everyone. We’ll be back with a fresh newsletter on Monday, August 21st.
Originally published June 24, 2022
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.
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]
Isaac Saul: There are so many interesting threads of that story I want to pull at that I'm not even entirely sure where to start. I think, just in the interest of transparency for listeners and readers of my newsletter, I think I'm very aligned and sympathetic to your worldview. Both about cancel culture and the culture of the "social justice left." So I'm going to do my best to sort of flesh things out and press you on things despite the fact that I think this might be a little bit of a home court advantage for you, because I think we see things similarly.
One place I'm interested in starting is this question of accountability versus cancellation. I think this is a really difficult line to walk because I imagine most of the people who, as you put it, are "devout" subscribers of this worldview on the social justice left would say, your cancellation — regardless of the details — I think there's always a presumption that somebody who has been cancelled deserved it.
There's generally the initial kind of knee-jerk reaction that is, "okay, well, what did you do and why is it a problem that you were being held accountable for your actions?" And I'd be interested to hear your perspective on that. What kinds of accountability do we have out there that aren't canceling someone? And why do you think that canceling somebody, or this sort of mob coercion into doing something, is not really an effective form of accountability?
Clementine Morrigan: So let me answer that on a couple levels. So much of this comes back to the things I learned in 12 steps. When I was in 12 steps, we did this thing called a fourth step and a fifth step. And in that, you write down basically all of the times that you've ever done something wrong in your life. And then you go through that with your sponsor, and you talk about each one of those things. You do this before you get to the famous ninth step where you make direct amends to the people that you've hurt, right?
First, you have to get clear on what you actually did wrong and why you did it. And you have to talk to someone about it. When I first did this, I wrote down every example of someone being upset with me because I had a codependent understanding that somebody being upset with me meant that I had done something wrong. And this is a fundamental misunderstanding, that is highly, highly upheld within social justice culture. Just because somebody says that you've done something wrong actually doesn't necessarily mean that you have.
And I think that what is complicated and that people don't want to actually look at and get into, is that on many questions there is disagreement about the correct way to behave ethically. We don't actually have a simple clear answer to that in all cases, right?
Because I am firmly on the left, I'm not even talking about the other side of the aisle here. I'm only talking about on the left, but you can definitely have this conversation on the other side of the aisle, too. But if we're even just talking about within the left itself, leftists don't agree. We don't agree on the best way to get to where we want to go, and we never have. And so the idea that social justice culture can now come in and say, "no, no, no, these questions are settled and you have to do this, otherwise that means you're that," that's just not true.
In the case of my cancellation, I was accused of not sharing Black Lives Matter. Technically, I had shared about Black Lives Matter. But if we're going to be honest, what I really think I was being cancelled for is that I was not doing performative white guilt on the internet. And what was expected of me as a good white ally was to do performative white guilt on the internet at that time, right?
I don't do performative white guilt, because I find it to be racist and reprehensible to my values of solidarity and opposition to dehumanization. My opposition to racism comes out of a different lineage, which is a socialist lineage, of which there are many thinkers. They don't want white people doing performative white guilt because it's actually not the way to build cross-racial solidarity, which is good for everybody in our struggle against capitalism and all forms of dehumanization.
So that's one piece. To get to your question about accountability, there are basically two pieces to this. One is that not all the times that people are saying you need to be accountable, you do need to be accountable, because sometimes you haven't done anything wrong and you actually shouldn't be accountable when you haven't done anything wrong. You should know what you think is right and what is wrong. You should know what you think. It doesn't mean that you should never take feedback. If somebody's giving you feedback, you should definitely think about it deeply, you should consider why they're saying that. If they're giving you resources to look at, sure, look at those things, talk to people that you trust, think it through.
But if you do all of that and you look at your principles and your values and your sense of ethics and you're like, "actually, I have not in any way acted out of alignment with those things." And, yes, this person is upset with me, but I actually have not acted out of alignment with my integrity, and my values and my principles, then you absolutely should not "take accountability" because that is a codependent behavior of taking responsibility for somebody else's emotions and acting as if you've done something wrong, when you haven't.
Now, in cases where somebody has done something wrong — because there are clear cases where I think perhaps even universally we could agree that this is a wrong thing to do — such as, for example, punching someone in the face. I can't be like, "Well, based on my ethics, I think it's fine that I punched you in the face." No, it's pretty clear that it's not fine. Maybe some people can argue that, but that's an obvious violation of somebody's bodily autonomy. So not great. But even in cases like that, and again this comes back to the things that I have learned in 12 steps, I use the language of responsibility rather than accountability. Because I actually don't believe that, even in cases where somebody has done something wrong, that they can be held accountable.
Because responsibility, true responsibility, means changing your behavior in an ongoing way, which means doing a lot of internal work to understand why it is that you behaved in the way that you did, and making actions of repair. Doing that work can really only happen from an authentic place of willingness. If you're doing it to get people off your back, if you're doing it because you're frightened, if you're doing it because your life is being destroyed, it's actually not the conditions under which people are going to do their best work towards repair and towards responsibility.
And so, in a 12-step culture, you have people who have done some actually fucked up shit in their lives. I'm not talking about writing something not very nice on Twitter. I'm talking about people who have assaulted people. People who have actually been violent and fucked up to the people in their lives. So those people, in a context where they are really welcomed and treated with unconditional compassion, but also with honesty that their behavior is not acceptable and that they are better than that and that they have the capacity to change their behavior… they're going to be given a community and tools and time to actually do the work that is necessary — that's where you see these things change.
I know that it's totally possible because it's happened in my own life. I know so many people who are alcoholics who have gone through this process and have gone from being a total train wreck running through people's lives to being responsible members of their communities who have actually changed, who have transformed. And so the question is, what do we want? Do we want transformation? Do we want people to genuinely change their behavior in a consistent and ongoing way, and do we want them to make repairs to the best of their ability, to the best of what's possible? Or do we want to punish them because we're upset that they did something fucked up?
And I understand the impulse towards punishment and towards wanting to even the scales or to not let people get away with things, but I actually think that those emotional responses should not be standing in for our politics, or for our sense of ethics. Just because I feel really hurt — and this is my abolitionism — does not in my opinion and in my political worldview give me the right to hurt somebody else. That very human impulse within me is something that I actively choose to acknowledge and work with but also resist so that I'm not acting out of it.
So often now in these conversations, we're always using the language of abuse, even when we're not talking about abuse. The language of survivor, victim, harm, is constantly being used even in situations where what we are talking about are political disagreements. In situations where we're talking about somebody saying something that's not very sensitive or something, but it's definitely not the same thing as abuse. We're using that language when we're talking about interpersonal conflicts. But I do want to talk about abuse because that is also a very real thing. And it's where a lot of this discourse is coming out of.
As I alluded to in my mini description of my life, trauma is the fundamental and underlying narrative of my life. I am a survivor of child abuse who got complex PTSD and became an alcoholic, and then you can imagine the things that happened to me being a street-involved alcoholic. It was very bad.
So what I get annoyed by is that so often culture, cancel culture, which I see as a culture that is abusive, it's a culture that actively abuses people, it uses survivors to justify itself. And that really upsets me, because it doesn't actually speak for all survivors. There are many of us who don't want that being done in our name, and I'm one of them, and people get very mad at me for that. But I don't believe that me traumatizing someone else — this is also why I oppose jails — because I don't believe that traumatizing someone else is going to un-traumatize me. It's not going to change what happened. And it also has the effect of literally working against the outcome that I want. The outcome that I want is for this person to be able to transform, for this person to be able to heal, and change and figure out what is going on in their life that is making them act abusively towards others. And I believe in people's capacity for change, but I don't believe that we get there through traumatizing them.
Isaac Saul: It seems very clear to me I think when you put it in those terms not just that it's an ineffective way to usher in transformation, but that it's actually counterproductive to the left sort of bringing people into their movement.
One of the examples that I always talk about, or that I've referenced before in my writing, is my experience as a political reporter and as someone who I think has pretty incongruent political positions that don't really fit neatly into certain spaces. And I remember being on Twitter in the span of a month and expressing support for something Donald Trump had done, I think it was a some kind of trade policy or something, and just getting love bombed by the right. People saying, "yes, you're finally seeing the light! Come join us!" I'm getting direct messages, getting invites into private group chats, from one tweet.
Then a few weeks later I was saying something about Elizabeth Warren's plan for reducing student loan debt or something and said, I really love this plan from Elizabeth Warren. But I had tweeted a few minutes earlier about a different senator, who is a man, and had referred to him as Senator so-and-so. And my mentions were just full of people on the left being like, "it's Senator Elizabeth Warren, why didn't you refer to her as a senator? When you just referred to a man that way?" That was the top response. I just said I liked what she's doing and you're coming at me for not referring to her as a senator and basically accusing me of being a sexist, you know? And what I'm thinking in my head is like, "holy shit. You're never going to win this way. You're never going to expand the tent this way with these kinds of purity tests."
I know in some ways I'm preaching to the choir, but I'd be interested to hear from you about how you think the left could change in ways to be a more approachable or a more expansive kind of voting bloc. It feels like that is at the core of what you're doing, is there's this frustration that the people who want the same things as you want are going about it in a way that you think is really counterproductive.
Clementine Morrigan: So one of my favorite socialist thinkers is a guy called Adolph Reed Jr. And he describes social justice culture — I don't know if he uses that word — but the culture that we're talking about, he describes it not as the left, but as the left wing of neoliberalism. I think that what we all have gotten very confused about is that what we think is the left, I would put right besides center, just slightly to the left of center. Whereas, as a leftist, I'm much much further over to the left.
But even talking about it these ways, I understand that you have listeners who have different political affiliations. So I'll make it really simple. My politics come down first and foremost to the idea that people should have what they need. It's really that simple. People should have what they need. People should have housing, they should have food to eat, they should have an ecology that is protected and is going to be able to sustain human life. And yes, part of that is that they should have the freedom to be who they are. However that might be. And that they should be protected from violence. But all in the social justice left, we have become so obsessed with identity and with cultural issues, it has become this sort of in-group infighting. And it is a class thing. The people who know how to play this game are university-educated people. They are university-educated people who are trying to climb a class ladder.
Adolph Reed calls them the PMCs, the professional managerial class. And it's not just them, it's also all of those who are adjacent to them, who are on social media, who are learning the rules of this game, that to climb the ladder within the existing system of capitalism, to make those who have money a bit more diverse, to make sure that Amazon can put BLM up there, you know? And the Starbucks can't have a union, but they can have their pronouns on their fun little name tag. These things, it's a total distraction from what I actually consider to be leftist priorities. Which, in order to make real change, we need to build mass solidarity. We need to build mass solidarity of people who actually maybe disagree on a lot of things, but who agree on a few basic things like we should have what we need, people should be allowed to be who they are, etc.
And I am way more willing to work with people even if we don't 100% agree. I don't need to 100% agree, right? I just need to be on the same page that people's basic humanity is important and then we can work from there.
I think I forgot your original question [laughs].
Isaac Saul: The thing I'm scratching at is how you think the left can be more effective at bringing people into that tent, which you're touching on a little bit.
Clementine Morrigan: So, first and foremost, we have to be nice to each other and to other people. We have to be kind.
I would really like it if we could practice some grace, some humility. If we could have some generosity, if we could not assume the worst in everybody all the time. If we could look for common ground instead of constantly looking for where we disagree. People are unwilling to organize with people who they literally agree with on 99% of things. And yet, we actually, if we want to make change, need to be willing to organize with people and work together with people who we don't agree with on a majority of things.
So I would like to see a lot more tolerance. Really. And I understand, I know the responses that people are going to make to that. They're going to say, "well, why should I have to tolerate somebody who is homophobic and doesn't see my basic humanity?" And, okay, sure. But I also think that we have really expanded our definition of the word "homophobia." Does this person hate you? And is actively trying to harm you and destroy your life? Some people are like that for sure, but actually, somebody not understanding queer subculture is not the same as being a homophobe. You know? Somebody literally not understanding what we're talking about because we live in an insular subculture that you need a bachelor's degree to understand the nuances of is literally not a homophobe just because they don't understand what the hell is going on. So to me, I'm like, is this person treating you with basic human dignity? Then, I think we have some common ground to work on.
On Fucking Cancelled podcast, Jay and I joke that we literally are the representation of what people make fun of when they make fun of woke people. We are queers, Jay is they/them pronouns. We're polyamorous. We're all of these things. And it's fine that we're like that. But what we joke is that we're like socialism with freaky options. Freaky options for some, for those who want it, but not for freaky options for all. It's actually fine if people literally don't know about any of that, they don't understand queer and trans stuff, they're not in that world, fine. But what matters is can they treat the people around them with basic human dignity, and be kind and considerate, and respectful?
The same thing goes for us on our side. Because I can't claim to know about the cultural world of peoples whose culture I'm literally not in and have no contact with. So a lot of these people who are conservative or who are more on the other side of the aisle, I might be acting in ways that they're perceiving as rude. I might be acting in ways that they're perceiving as offensive. I'm not trying to do that, but I might be by accident, right? Because we actually are not understanding each other. So for me, I would like to come to a place where we can boil it down to a really simple thing of "can we see each other's basic humanity and can we go from there?"
Isaac Saul: One of the things that you harp on a lot is actually something that I've written quite a bit about in my newsletter, which is just this concept of victimization. And being a victim. I think one of the most popular newsletters I ever wrote was titled, "You're not a victim," and it was this proverbial "you." It was just born out of this frustration — and this is something actually that is not exclusive to the left and happens on both sides of the aisle — of everyone just trying to out-victim each other.
And when I was perusing your Instagram and some of your writing before this interview, I saw that when you were "deep in the social justice culture," you wrote that you were "encouraged to see the actions of others in the worst possible light, to take things extremely personally, to be offended easily and to feel victimized in everyday interactions."
Honestly, that resonates with me in terms of how I see people operating in the leftist spaces that I operate in. I live in Brooklyn. A lot of my friends are in very left spaces. I love them and am in those spaces often, but that is how I see people acting a lot of the time. I'm curious if you could tell me about what that experience was like for you. And then also what led you out of it?
Clementine Morrigan: So now, I use she/they pronouns. But when I was super in the woke world, I used only they/them pronouns and I felt very strongly about it. So somebody not using my pronouns — I was encouraged to see that as them literally dehumanizing me, not seeing me as an equal, doing violence to me. And I was encouraged to equate that with real experiences of violence that I have had. So I was having a nervous system response of extreme stress all the time, because I was walking around in a world in which I perceived that most people — not that they didn't understand — but that they actively were against me, they actively didn't see my humanity. And that's just a terrible way to move through the world and it's not actually correct.
In reality, I think that most people generally don't want to hurt other people. They may not understand what's going on with those other people. And they may not know how to act in a way that is going to be the most respectful to those people. But they're not out here actively trying to hurt other people. And of course, sometimes people are. I'm not saying that people are never like that. But I think the majority of the time people are not actively, maliciously out here trying to hurt people.
Very often, it's coming down to different worldviews, different understandings, and things not lining up. And so, there was just a shift for me where I came to be like, why is it that I am expecting everybody else to cater to me and my specific subculture and my specific worldview and my specific needs? But I'm not actually extending that grace and compassion the other way, to be like what's going on with them? What do they need? What's up with their world? Are there things that I'm doing that could be not landing with them?
I was burning up so much energy unnecessarily and cutting so many potential connections before I even had the opportunity to find out what these people really thought about anything. So I really do practice tolerance. There's a new episode of Fucking Canceled that we recorded that's about to come out that's all about the topic of tolerance and how on the left, we got really mad about tolerance. We're like, "tolerance isn't good enough." Actually, tolerance is pretty great. We don't have to agree. As long as I'm like, "We cannot be kind to each other, we cannot work together until we're on the same page," then we're not going to ever be kind to each other or work together because we're probably not going to agree. There's billions of people in the world, coming from totally different cultural backgrounds, totally different life experiences, who are coming to totally different conclusions about things and I would rather approach [them] with kindness and curiosity than condemnation.
How did I get to that turning point? Mainly, I talked about this on my Instagram a lot, this was an experience of deprogramming. I literally feel like I was — not exactly in a cult — but in a fundamentalist religion of some kind. I was taught that I literally couldn't question these things, and that it was a crime to question these things. And that if I'm queer and I care about social justice, then I have to believe these things. And I did have questions, but even thinking the questions was terrifying to me because I was afraid that I was doing something horribly wrong or that I would lose everything.
I think that for me, like I said, the process was being like, "What actually are my principles, and am I behaving in a way that I'm acting in alignment with them or not?" And I came to see that my deeply held principles of believing that human beings deserve what they need — which is just socialism, that's literally just socialism in a nutshell — and also that people shouldn't be defined by their worst mistakes — which is abolitionism in a nutshell — that I was not acting that way.
I was actually acting in a way that was very dehumanizing of people, that was stripping them of their complexity and their rich human experience and just turning them into a caricature that happened to be against me, and then turning them into the enemy. And importantly, for me as a leftist, this was distracting me from my actual enemies who are the guys at the top. The Bezoses of the world, let's call them.
And yes, those people are humans too and I hope that they get the help that they need [laughs].
But those people are the ones who are dominating and controlling the rest of us. And those people have power that the person who doesn't understand the they/them pronouns could not even dream of having, you know? Those people are affecting my day-to-day life in a way that these other people who are not on the same page with me about everything — these people don't have the power to control my life. These people are not the ones responsible for potentially making it so that human beings can no longer live on the planet.
We have more in common than not, and I would actually really like to see a return to the language of the 99%. Of understanding that the vast majority of us have our lives controlled in a very real and material way by people who live lives that we could never even imagine. And those people are the ones that we should be making demands of, not just some random working-class or middle-class person who can't even ever dream of owning a house or something.
Isaac Saul: I think the title of your Substack post that addressed this was "The Enemy Is Not Within" (editor's note: the title was The Enemy Is Not Among Us), which I think is an interesting framing of it. I'm tempted to engage you on the virtues of capitalism and get into the mud on that, but I think something you touched on in that answer is really important and sort of at the center of a lot of this, which is just the concept of guilt. And the way that guilt is used. You're explaining this, "I had these questions but even thinking about it felt wrong," and I hear you use words like "devout." I know a lot of people on the right view the social justice left as being something akin to a religion.
And I do think one of the primary functions of it is guilt. Is this idea that you have to feel bad for your transgressions. In some cases, you have to feel bad for your fortune, your good fortune for the things that you have. I personally really struggle with that concept. Even in moments when I am trying to align myself with the left and trying to understand the position that a lot of people in the social justice left have. I think the guilt thing is a place where I really get tripped up, where I'm like, "I don't want to feel guilty for this. I don't feel like I should feel guilty for this. I should feel grateful for it."
I'd be interested to just hear you talk about that. And again, I understand you're getting some home court love here because you're speaking my language. But I'm curious how you reflect on that or what you think about that?
Clementine Morrigan: So even more than guilt, I think what is the operating emotion is shame. Because guilt is supposed to be information that you've acted out of alignment with your integrity. I prefer the word remorse, because it has less baggage attached to it. Just the idea that I've acted in a way that hurt someone else, or I've acted in a way that is not in alignment with my values; and so, I feel remorse, and I would like to do repair.
That's great, that's healthy, that's fine. But shame is that there's something deeply bad and wrong inside of me that I will never be able to truly overcome. And all I can do is just sort of repent and try to atone for it indefinitely. I see, when I look at this, I see a lot of comparisons between fundamentalist Christian ideas and what goes on in social justice culture. This idea of original sin and that I can never really get past it. But all I can do is just constantly try to make up for it and repent. It's a very strong operating system within social justice culture and I think it's totally dysfunctional.
Even the discourse of privilege, I don't think is useful. Because what we are talking about, when we use the language of privilege is in my opinion, as a socialist, just basic human rights. If what we're talking about when we talk about privilege is things like having enough, even having enough to have a good, enjoyable, middle-class kind of life. I'm not talking about hoarding yachts, but you can go on vacation and you can afford a computer when you need one or something like that. Having a house that you own.
The fact that we see that as like extreme privilege, our bar is so low. These are basic things that people should have. We should have material security. You should have nice lives. We should have protection from violence, and those are just rights. They should not be seen as privileges. And the idea that somebody who has a few of these things should feel shame about it and also should give it away to somebody who has less is absolutely bonkers.
It's not appealing to the vast majority of people who work very hard and are just trying to get by in a terrifying timeline that we're in. If you're going to tell someone who's still paying off a mortgage that they are are so profoundly privileged, and they are working 40 hours a week and trying to raise kids, and now you're saying you have to Venmo some random stranger on the internet because they're a member of an identity group that you're not? That doesn't make any sense.
We all deserve better. We all deserve better, including the people at the very bottom, including people who are homeless, and who are living in abject poverty and who are suffering. Of course those people are suffering worse than the person who is middle class. But it's not the middle class guy that needs to be Venmoing the little bit of money that's left over after paying off the mortgage or whatever. It's the guy with the lots of yachts [laughs]. I'm going to have to say it: It's the guy who has so many yachts. That's the one that is the problem.
And so we should not be fighting over scraps and feeling shame and guilt over having a little bit more than somebody else, because what we are literally doing is fighting each other at the very bottom of a hierarchy. And that's why I'm so interested in trying to raise class consciousness, so that we can understand that class is not an identity in the way that we have [been] taught to think about things through the social justice culture, that the only people who get to claim disadvantaged underclass are those who are very poor.
No, if your time belongs to your employer... with the way that housing is... so many people who are middle class, who in past generations would have been way more comfortable than they are, they can't even afford a house. Professors are like contract faculty. They can't even get a tenured position. They have no job security. These are the people that we're supposed to be seeing at the top, but I'm like, they're not actually doing very good!
So I would rather get those people on the same team with the ones who are way down at the bottom and say none of us should be feeling guilty for what we have because none of us even have close to enough of what we deserve as human beings.
Isaac Saul: I'm trying to think as you're talking about how this applies in a really tangible way. And I think a debate that immediately comes to mind for me, a practical policy solution, is something like reparations. I'm curious, how do you apply your worldview to something like that? A government policy to literally transfer wealth or money to people who have historically been oppressed or deprived of that. Do you view that as being a productive way to address it?
Clementine Morrigan: It’s a complicated question. I will start by saying I'm a Canadian, so I'm a little bit outside of this discussion.
Isaac Saul: I should have said that at the top in your bio, that you're also a Canuck [laughs].
Clementine Morrigan: Yeah. But here's my basic feeling about that. I think that it's trying to do two separate things at the same time. One is to address the extremely intense collective trauma of a country that was founded on slavery, and the massive violence and dehumanization that that entails. So there's massive psychological trauma from that. Intergenerational trauma. Similar to the situation in Germany with the Holocaust. There is a collective wound that needs to be addressed in a very serious way. That's one piece of what I think reparations is trying to do.
The other is to try to address the impact of these historical discrepancies starting from slavery and then going down through all of these racist laws that have prevented racialized people from gaining the same access to wealth as white people. So I get it. But at the same time, when we're looking at it from an economic angle, I just feel like this is trying to give a leg up within the existing system that is still capitalism and is still going to have a class system, where some people have nothing and some people have everything. And maybe the people on the upper rungs, now maybe we'll have more opportunity for racialized people to climb up that ladder and get closer to the top, but to me that is not justice. Because as long as there are people living in abject poverty, or even just poverty, this is not justice.
I also think that using racialized language when we talk about these things — of course there is disparity. And there is discrepancy, based on currently existing and historical racism. There's also tons and tons of white people living in abject poverty. The white people living in abject poverty, and the racialized people living in abject poverty, should be in solidarity with each other to work together so that they have collective power in numbers to make demands. Not just the people at the bottom, but literally the racialized people and the white people who are abjectly in poverty and also middle class, this whole giant chunk of people should be working together to make demands on behalf of all of them.
And I think that this needs to coincide with the other piece that I was talking about, which is more of a spiritual, emotional, social reckoning with the historical trauma of slavery. Those two things have to happen side-by-side. But I don't think like any economic policy that is about identity groups, like we're going to get this identity group a leg up within an existing capitalism, it's not going to address the poverty across the board. And it also has the side effect of contributing to basically anti-solidarity and resentment. Because somebody who is white who doesn't have that trauma and that history in their family, but who has also been at the bottom of the barrel, is also just like, "okay well sucks for me too. What about me?"
And we all should have what we need, everybody should have what they need. I've heard people say — and it's literally offensive — people will say about poor people who are white, "well, I guess you had white privilege and you fucked it up or something?" That's fucking insulting, man. It's fucking insulting and it's not true. Look at how many people are in poverty across racial lines. It is absolutely not true that just simply being white is going to be your ticket out of poverty and we know this. So, we need to stop pretending that's true. And instead, we need to turn toward cross racial solidarity of the working people of the world.
Isaac Saul: I think it's an interesting reframing of where this current political moment is on the left. We're coming up on time here, so I have one last question for you. When I scroll through your Instagram and I look at your Substack and stuff, as I think the intro made clear, you are many things. But in my eyes I think a dominant feature of your online presence is this criticism of this sector of the left.
I'm curious, fundamentally, do you think you're getting through? Is this working? How do you feel about how your message is landing? And what kind of feedback are you getting? You have a hundred thousand followers on Instagram, clearly people are interested in what you're saying. I'm wondering if you think the tide is shifting a little bit?
Clementine Morrigan: Yes. I absolutely think that it is. When I made the decision to go mask-off about this stuff and to make the podcast and I was like, "well, alright, I might be committing career suicide here." For sure, I received tons of harassment, there has been a huge amount of pushback, and my audience has continued to grow. And I receive endless, endless, endless messages from people and I'm watching people have these awakenings and gain the courage to begin to start saying these things.
There are so many people who agree with me, who have just been afraid because [of] the social consequences especially, if you are like a "multiply marginalized person," if you are inside these cultures and you rely on these cultures because they are your home, of course, you don't want to lose all your friends and your whole community, right?
So it used to be that the social consequences of saying these things was so fucking high that nobody wanted to say them. Now, because a few people have started [to] come out and to say it, then more and more people start to say it and then more and more people start to get brave and so on and so forth. So I really do see it changing. I am not naive about it. I know that there's going to be lots of backlashes, there's going to be lots of struggles, people are going to be mad. But I think that the way through is to model integrity, to practice what we preach, to never dehumanize the cancellers, to treat people with respect and kindness, to have good boundaries, and just continue on living in integrity. And I think that that is very attractive to people.
The way that cancel culture works is that it's contagious. So, it used to be that if you associate in any way with someone who has been cancelled, then you are going to get in trouble too. So, part of my hyper-vigilance before was that I had to hyper-research anyone that I was going to try to associate with, because I didn't want to get in trouble for something they might have said or done. And now, I literally do not give a fuck. And I will just go on any podcast that I'm asked to go on, right?
And I think that people can see that when you are open to them and you're not condemning and you are willing to treat them with respect and kindness, even though you guys don't agree on everything, it creates a way more open space and people are attracted to that. They're attracted to the freedom to not be stressed out, and to be able to say what they think, and to be able to be honest, to be able to think critically and ask questions instead of just reciting dogma. So yeah, I think it's changing.
Isaac Saul: I love it. Clementine Morrigan, thank you so much for the time. If people want to follow your work and keep up with your stuff, where's the best place to do that?
Clementine Morrigan: I'm on Instagram. Clementine Morrigan on Instagram. My website is ClementineMorrigan.com. My podcast is "Fucking Cancelled," which you can find basically anywhere you listen to podcasts, just look it up.
Isaac Saul: Thanks so much. And I hope to have you back again soon. I'll be curious to check in with you in a year or so to see where things are.
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