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The Re/al/ign, episode 08: Clementine Morrigan and Jay LeSoleil

A conversation with the hosts of "Fucking Cancelled"

In this eighth episode, I got the amazing opportunity to talk with the two cohosts of “Fucking Cancelled,” Clementine Morrigan and Jay LeSoleil. The two are most definitely enough to give any leftist hope that it’s still possible to organize in the face of the meat grinder of “cancel culture,” and it was an amazing conversation.

This episode is available first to paid supporters and will be made public on 21 August. It’s also available in audio-only to the public that same date, and, for the first time, I’ve also included an edited transcript of this episode below.

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Rhyd Wildermuth

Welcome to the Re/al/ign. This is episode eight, and I am here with the two amazing hosts of the Fucking Cancelled podcast: Clementine Morrigan and Jay LeSoleil.

It felt to me that people on the left have either given up, or that they have fallen completely into the madness of cancel culture. Everybody's attempting to punish themselves and each other, and it's felt, for a long time, that there was nothing that was going to change. Then, a friend of mine texted me late last year. “Hey, have you heard of these two? You might like their podcast.”

Here I was, thinking there was no hope, but then I listened to an episode of Fucking Cancelled.

So, hi! Tell us more about yourselves, where you are in the world and especially why you're doing what you're doing — why you're opening yourself up to so much punishment for this work.

Jay LeSoleil

Sure, well first of all, thanks for having us. We both live in Montreal, Quebec. I work at a shelter: I'm an intervention worker at a homeless shelter. Apart from that I write, I make art, and read a lot of books, or at least try to. Also, I have a website and I write zines

For as to why we do what we do, in my case, I just have been really tired for a long time of being a leftist without a left: witnessing every attempt to organize anything go nowhere, watching people get sucked further and further into an analysis that takes us absolutely nowhere. I'd been talking about this in private for a long time, which had gotten me into plenty of trouble. Then, we decided to make this podcast, because we had little to lose. We were tired of not being honest about how we felt in a public sphere.

Clementine Morrigan

I'm a writer; I make zines for a living, that's my thing. I was cancelled in 2020. When that happened, Jay and I had already been talking about this privately for years. Jay had been thinking and talking about this stuff long before we had even met. When we were hanging out together, it became a safe place for me to share my absolute terror of my friends and the world I was living in. By the time I was cancelled, I already fully knew what cancel culture was, and I was fully against it.

So, when it happened, I was absolutely not in a position to say, “Oh my god, I'm so sorry, let me be accountable,” because I knew that was bullshit. I knew that there was no way for me to be accountable. I also knew that I hadn't done anything wrong, and that what was happening to me was absurd. So, I decided: well, fuck it. If this has already happened, we might as well just be honest about what we really think about all of this. Getting cancelled made us snap a little bit and we decided to make a podcast.

Rhyd Wildermuth

I have a book coming out and I'm going to try to do a tour of the United States after the part in England. Some friends of mine wanted me to go to Portland, Oregon, for it, and my reaction was “oh no, no, I can't go to Portland.” I stopped using social media for a long time. Right before I stopped, there were several tweets on Twitter or X or whatever it is now, talking about “kicking me out of all radical spaces” in Portland. I'm not even in the United States anymore. I've been in Europe for seven years — what were they even talking about? But then, I just realized, though, oh no, I might be going back there for this book…

Maybe you don't want to talk about too much of it, but you did an event in Portland and had your tires slashed and had like shit poured on the car?

Jay LeSoleil:

Shit was poured in the air vents. Yeah.

Rhyd Wildermuth

This stuff is really wild. So, why do you do this? Why do you let yourself get punished like this? It seems there's a lot of punishment, but something that very much comes through in your podcast is that, when you break, when you let everything break you, then there's no chance for anybody else, either. What’s needed is for the people who have been canceled to come together and say, “hey, this isn't working for us, but we still care. We still want socialism. We still want a better world. Let's find another way of doing this.” I think that's one of the profound things you two have really been presenting to people.

Could you define cancel culture for us? You use the word “nexus” very often. It's very similar to the vampire's castle from Mark Fisher, and a lot of other people have tried to describe it, but I'd love to hear you two talk about it.

Jay LeSoleil

Yeah, sure. I guess that was kind of a multi-part question. Why we do what we do, even though we get we get a lot of shit for it, is that both of us are stubborn. We just can’t live in denial, we're not good at that. At a certain point, it just becomes too painful to do that, to just pretend, to live in a state of deception. I couldn't do it anymore. I don't want to be afraid of everyone and everything. I don't want to be afraid of my friends. I don't want to watch myself say things I don't believe. I can't do it anymore.

So even if people do lose their shit, at a certain point it's on them, and I have found ways to make my life liveable, even though there are people out there who will make it their entire fucking mission to wreck my shit.

Clementine Morrigan

I really care about human beings and human suffering, and I really care about it when people are exiled from humanity. It's the worst suffering that someone can go through. I care about canceled people. I worry about them. I hope they're okay. There are all these people being humiliated, ridiculed, losing everything they have. They're being dehumanized. It's horrible. I am a champion for the underdog, I care about those people, and I want to defend their humanity. I want them to know that there are people in the world who care about them, who see their humanity, who don't believe that they are garbage, and who believe that they belong here in the world with the rest of us.

Also, there's this thing called climate change. We are in a really bad position right now: possibly the end of human civilization is looming. Things are so fucking bad right now, and the fact that we can't have an organized left that can do anything to respond to the horrors of capitalism is extremely fucking daunting and depressing. When activists, organizers, or political people try to do anything, they can’t: cancel culture is always preventing people from organizing effectively. Leftist organizers are constantly having their shit blown up from the inside of the left; we don't even have to wait for the right or the cops to do it for us. We do it ourselves.

If we want to have a left able to fight capitalism, we absolutely must get rid of cancel culture. The reasons for doing what we do are extremely important and necessary, and the personal costs suck. But it means you get to live in integrity, you get to have real friends, and you get to find people who actually care about you as a person, who are not just gonna throw you under the bus as soon as people don't like you. We're so hated that, if you're our friend, you're gonna get shit for it; therefore, we only have friends who are real ones.

Jay LeSoleil

The nexus is a term we came up with as a placeholder, and then we ran with it. We needed a way to describe the thing that we were critiquing. It’s this collection of ideas, of practices, and it doesn't name itself. The closest it gets to naming itself is “social justice culture.” It's the woke world, social justice land, the politics of the progressive queer left. It's this mixture, or more a coming together, a nexus, of three main phenomena: identitarianism, cancel culture, and social media. At the point where these things meet, where they influence each other, where they come together, you find the nexus, and it has replaced a socialist left in North America, the rest of the Anglosphere, and increasingly the world.

Clementine Morrigan

It functions a lot more like a fundamentalist religion than politics. For politics and ideology, you are allowed to at least disagree. Leftists have always been fighting each other, different types of socialists mad about this and disagreeing about that, but they are constantly writing and explaining up why they don't agree with each other. In the nexus, social justice culture presents itself as fundamental truth you are not allowed to disagree with.

That’s one of the main rules within the nexus: you aren't allowed to disagree with it.

Also, disagreeing with it in is framed as harm, as a type of violence. If you express any disagreement, even when not positioning yourself as the ultimate truth but merely expressing principled disagreement grounded in a history of leftist thought, it doesn't matter. If you are disagreeing with any of the main ideas of the nexus, you will be framed as a bigot, as somebody actively causing harm, as someone who cannot possibly be on the left.

It's like really become an article of faith: people they don't even necessarily know why they think what they think, they just know that it's the “correct” thing to think if you want to be a moral and good person. In that way, it's a lot more like a religion than a politics, because people don't actually know why they think what they think. They're just articulating faith.

Rhyd Wildermuth

You had Freddie DeBoer on one of your podcasts, who wrote an essay called, “Please Just Fucking Tell Me What Term I Am Allowed to Use for the Sweeping Social and Political Changes You Demand” His point was that, there is something happening here, but we're not allowed to name it. And this also reminds me of the Marxist idea on theology, which is that it’s a higher form of ideology. Once ideology gets to the point of theology, it becomes completely invisible. Just like a fish in water doesn't realize that it's in water, because it’s so present that it isn’t a “thing” at all.

I've been an activist and a leftist since I was 20 and I'm 46 now, so 26 years. I remember at the beginning, we'd have these disputes and someone would say, “hey, you're not radical enough, you’re not committed enough to the leftist cause.” But it was never, “hey, you just said the wrong thing—now we're not going to talk to you.” It felt like there was a significant change in the mid- 2000s, and especially after Occupy in the United States. But I feel like this manifested itself especially in the last decade, and it is now so present that it's inescapable if you're trying to do any sort of leftist organizing or even trying to talk about leftism.

But why do you think it happens? Why does this happen in the interpersonal relationships and also on a larger level?

Jay LeSoleil

Let's start with the way that identitarianism has been taken up by the corporate world — that has had a big influence on all of this. Large corporations realized the wind had shifted, and that it was beneficial to them to appear to support progressive causes. It's good PR, or it can be good PR, if the wind is blowing in that direction, right? And also, it can really distract people from issues of class consciousness. So, if you're able to influence the zeitgeist so that it becomes very normal for everyone to think of all issues of justice as being about identity, then you can make it much less likely for people to pay any attention to issues of class identity.

While identity can be helpful for people who are struggling, it is also very, very easy to redirect identity politics to identity-based issues that affect wealthy people. So, corporations decide to have more diverse boards, right? But there's no reason for them to pick a diverse person for their board who is also a communist. They're not going to do that. They're going to pick someone who agrees with everything that they think, and there’s plenty of them to pick.

Another thing that happened was that the left got hollowed out after the Soviet Union fell. In slow motion, a lot of people abandoned socialism until the only people calling themselves socialists were Marxist-Leninists and the older people in their little splinter groups, fighting with each other with no real like program or momentum. So; socialism disappeared from the program, and it was replaced with liberal ideas. In the US, especially, you can get away with calling these ideas “left” because the US is so far to the right.

Also, a lot of anarchist ideas became popular too, which was an interesting development. Unfortunately, the anarchist movement, such as it was, was so disorganized that it didn't really have any chance and was co-opted.

Clementine Morrigan

Neoliberalism shifts the responsibilities of the state to the individual, and it has created a politics about what the individual can do. So, instead of the idea that, together, we should organize and collectively do things, politics started being about consumer choices, what choices you are making as a consumer. It became about the things you're posting about, the things you like. These things are now your politics, your identity, your brand, and the choices you make in your day-to-day life, rather than politics being about collective organizing.

This was part of it, this shift to neoliberalism and in the way we relate to politics. The other piece for me is “capitalist realism,” Mark Fisher's term. I’m 36, we're millennials, and we have not seen an organized left or major wins by the left in our lifetime. We have not seen things nationalized: we have only seen things become privatized over and over again. At this point, the despair is so great. Climate change is so terrifying. People don't feel they have any real power against capital. The feel they no power over capital, but what do we have power over? Each other.

It’s easier to feel like you're doing something when you drive someone out of your community, or when you shame someone online, or when you attack someone because that person is there for you to attack. You can reach them, but you can't reach the guys with the yachts. It's a way of feeling like we're doing something, when we're not really doing anything.

I really think that comes from how severely deep we are in capitalist realism, where it is so much easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. The horrible joke of all of this is that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. The only way that we could reach the guys with the yachts is if we are able to work together and organize our labor power.

If we were able to organize at a mass level, there's more of us and we make all the shit in the world. We run everything: workers of the world actually do have a lot of power if we were organized. But, because we have been convinced of the lie that our power lies in fighting each other, then we can never access that power, and so capital wins.

Rhyd Wildermuth

Your point is really profound. Few have seen mass movements. The closest mass movement I’ve seen was the anti-globalization movement, and that was over by 2004. There are no real organized union movements in the US, and those here in Europe are now being crushed by their governments.

I was a social worker for homeless people, and I noticed when they felt extremely powerless they always just went for whatever was in front of them. Their anger went to you, even though you you were there trying to help them, because you were the only person they could see, and you were the only thing that they could affect. If you don't know how to affect change and you're in pain, it's a bit like a wounded animal who's trapped. You’re trying to help it get it, and it’s going to scratch you because it's scared and it can't see beyond the problem.

I need to say that there's a beautiful kindness that comes through in your podcasts. It's called “Fucking Cancelled, and that sounds aggressive, but it's one of the kindest podcasts you could ever listen to. Sure, you sound angry and you get frustrated, but it’s so evident you two fucking care about people,

We get very stuck in these abstract ideas. My feeling has always been that social justice identity politics starts from a good place. We don't wanna see black people shot by police for no reason. We don't wanna see anybody shot by police for no reason. We care, we wanna fix this, but what happens is it gets messed up through what you call the nexus.

I had a friend who was a communist organizer, a trans woman, and she was also a writer. I found her to be one of the most brilliant writers ever, and I was so excited about getting to work with her for years and getting to publish her. I remember her cancellation: it came from other trans people. She had said, hey, even though this person, who is living in the same apartment building as I am, doesn't believe that being trans is okay. I still need to work with this person. We're gonna need to rely on each other in order to have a revolution. But then the others said, “no, we don't work with transphobes.” So, here was a person who had the “correct” identity getting destroyed by other people because of identity politics.

How do you see the way out of this? What are the signs of optimism, the little cracks of light that you see coming through?

Clementine Morrigan

In the three years since we started the podcast, we have seen more people willing to speak out against the cancel culture bullshit. When we started this, we were very alone on the left, and now we're not. There's a lot of people on the left talking about it now, more and more people willing to publicly say they disagree with the social justice orthodoxy. I think that's a good first step.

Currently in the United States, there's a big wave happening in labor, a lot of unionization that's happening. The first union at Amazon, started by Chris Smalls … Chris Smalls gives us hope. Seeing people turn towards labor organizing as a place to put their anger, their despair, and their frustration — as opposed to canceling people — is an amazing development, and I would love to see more of it.

I am concerned about unions getting wrecked by cancel culture though, so I think we have to be careful: that stuff can still exist within those spaces, and can destroy the hard work people are doing. But still I think that that is very hopeful.

The heart of it for me is something I learned in AA, which is: take the right actions and let go of the results. So, even if you don't know like where this is going, or if you don’t know if it's all going to work out in the end, you have to take the right actions. You're going to feel better if you take the right actions, and it’s really all you can do.

So that's what we do. I just try to do my part, and hope that other people are going to step up and feel inspired to be brave, too. If we can get more people who are willing to work together, if can build solidarity, then we might be able to make a movement. We might be able to change something.

Jay LeSoleil

I get a lot of inspiration from the study of history. Even though history is full of a lot of dark shit, it teaches us that, though oftentimes things look really stagnant and static, what's going on under the surface is a huge contradiction. It's like continental plates pushing against each other, until suddenly there's a release of the tension and you get an earthquake and things change — sometimes very dramatically.

There's a lot of tension right now, and a lot of contradictions. Marx has been predicting this for like 200 years, but capitalism is just riddled with contradictions. Especially right now, man, they can't have a business cycle longer than like four years without having a recession. They're not able anymore.

In Canada, the only way that we can keep our economy afloat is by raising the number of immigrants that we admit every single year, because it's a Ponzi scheme here. We just import new people to exploit, and then import some more. Nothing is stable. There is no possibility that this system is going to continue for very much longer. Especially with climate change.

We have a tendency to imagine that the end of the world is going to be sudden. You know, in reality, I think it's going to be very drawn out, and also not the end. It's just a different state that we're going to have to deal with for hundreds of years into the future. Unless we have the really, really like worst case scenarios, where like all human life is extinct, but I don’t think it's going to be like that, I think it's just going to be very ugly.

I think that we need to remember that the future will go on, and we need to be in it, fighting for something less stupid and evil. There have been periods in history that really looked like nothing was ever going to change, and then it did. We can't lose sight of that.

Ideologies can change, even when they've been inculcated from birth. Sometimes there are these events in history that change everyone's minds about things. I think there's a lot of really deep, deep hatred towards the ultra-rich right now. The right wing is capitalizing on that in a terrifying way. The left wing, at least in the sort of electoral realm, is not. We're being outflanked by far-right populists, which is really fucking disappointing. But I think that there is enough anger and disillusionment with identitarianism that, at a certain point, a new generation of left-wing leaders might start pushing parties like the NDP in Canada to the left, instead of them just being “diet”liberals. I think that there's possibility, there's hope.

Rhyd Wildermuth

That’s great, and I think here of Walter Benjamin’s jetztzeit, the moment of revolutionary break where we realize we can alter everything when we recognize it. And identitarianism does seem to be breaking, in some places, especially as we start to see how much it’s the powerful who love it. They absolutely love the fact that we're all fighting. It’s perfect for them that everyone's blaming each other.

Obviously you two don't have to come up with the program. You're not going to fix the world on our own, no one is. That's the whole point of us doing things together, why solidarity exists in the first place. But what are some steps that you think would help us get to this point? What are the practical things people can do?

Clementine Morrigan

We need to be building solidarity, and that means we need to be building relationships with people different from ourselves. We need to be building as many relationships on common ground as we can. Currently, we don't know our fucking neighbors. We're totally alienated. We're online. We think random internet strangers are our community, but we don't know anyone who lives around us. It's very hard to have a political movement of any sort from that state, and many, many people are in that highly alienated state.

What you were saying about your friend who wanted to organize with the person in her building who might be a transphobe and then people being like, “we shouldn't have to do that.” Well, we do have to do that. We have to find ways to work with people who are fundamentally different from ourselves, people we disagree with and people we don't like. We need to find what we have in common and what our common ground is, so that we can work together.

I teach this workshop on solidarity, and one of the things I get people to do is to imagine someone who might live in their community who they think is really, really different from themselves. For some social justice queer, they'd probably say a “cishet white man,” conservative or something. And then I get them to write down all the things that they have in common with that person. So people write down things like, well, they probably love their family. They also need to go to the doctor when they're sick. They also need to eat food and need a roof over their head, right? And so like when we start looking at all the things that we have in common, we actually have a lot of things in common and we have a lot of common needs.

We have these things, and we need to struggle for them together, even if we don't like each other, and even if we disagree on many things.

I also think that, for those of us who are leftists and who are involved with groups that are doing organizing, it is naive for us to think that cancel culture and wreckerism is not coming for the organization. Because it probably is.

Talking about cancel culture is definitely going to get you canceled right away. If you say “cancel culture is real,” then people are going to get mad. But there's a lot of people who think they can just kind of keep their head down, and hope that it's not going to come for their organization. But it's going to come for their organization anyway, and they're not prepared.

So, one of the things that I think leftists should be doing is having these conversations, bringing forth the idea that there are different ways to think about these things. There are different ways to think about identitarianism. There are different ways to think about the question of identity. There are different ways to think about who gets to speak and why. There are different ways of thinking about what we do about conflict and disagreement. So, if we can have those conversations right from the start, or if an organization that already exists can bring those conversations in, then we can build policies within organizations that could protect avoid what happens if there are accusations thrown around. This so often just implodes the organization, and any work they were trying to do just gets blown up, too.

We have to be proactive about that as organizers, prepare ourselves, and come up with strategies inside the organizations to protect what we call wreckerism.

Jay LeSoleil

I would like to see is a new wave of like non-denominational socialism that avoids this, that a calm and principled stance against cancel culture and identitarianism. Not in the shrill Republican way, but just insisting that it actually doesn't work as a tactic.

And also a socialism that acts normal. I don't think that like we all need to be like wearing suits. In fact, I think that is not normal. We just need to act as much as approachable, regular kinds of people. We need to drop all kind of imagery and rhetoric that sounds crazy, scary, or really unapproachable. No more portraits of Lenin, no more black and red, no more white fist on a black and red banner, whatever. This stuff does not work, and we need to recognize that and get real.

I don't think that we have to all stop being subcultural. I like punk, I like having piercings and whatever, but I think that, if our entire movement is made up of people who look like me, we're completely fucked from the beginning. We need to be appealing to ordinary people who are relatively unpoliticized, or who might even be like conservatives. The majority of the population holds various reactionary views because most people are not particularly thoughtful about politics before they've been politicized. They just have the views that they have, and we can't act as though they're disposable because of that. It's like really fucking stupid. Those are the people that socialists are supposed to be working for.

So I want to see a new wave of socialism that looks like that, and I want it to involve long-term strategic planning. I'm really tired of a focus on tactics: I want to focus on strategy. I think there are some interesting strategies that people could start working on. One of them is trying to get socialists elected on the municipal level. I think that that's a really cool thing that you can do, and municipal elections are often ignored, so you can sneak socialists in. If you do a good door knocking campaign, you can give the other parties who are just used to getting elected with no effort a run for their money. And I think that we really need to change our branding and messaging and start appealing to regular people.

Rhyd Wildermuth

You've covered this in your podcasts, but what advice do you have for anybody who has gone through the meat grinder of a cancellation and has given up hope?

Clementine Morrigan

We have an episode called “Surviving Cancellation,” where we go into it into more detail, and I recommend checking that out if people are really struggling. But one of the main things that we recommend is knowing what is in your control, what is in your power, and what is not right.

Your mental health highly increases when you focus on things that you can control, and when you stop obsessing over things that you can't control. Many people who are being canceled are ruminating constantly, writing statements in their heads proving that the accusations are not true or telling their side of the story. I have never seen that go well. When people make statements like that, no matter how convincing they think they sound, the way that cancel culture works is that people are going to rip it the shreds and just be like, “fuck you.”

The internet is not a courtroom, and you don't have to defend yourself against accusations. It is better to just live in your integrity, to act in accordance with your principles, and to not engage with haters. If you're online, if you're going through a crazy cancellation right now, I would recommend taking some time away from the internet. Maybe, changed your password and give it to someone you trust, so you can just take a break from it and come back later.

But if you are online and that is still ongoing, get really comfortable with the block function. If people talk shit one time, blocked. One time, blocked. And that is my main advice. Don't read the shit the haters say. Ignore them completely. Do not answer them. Do not validate their insanity with a response. They're acting totally inappropriate, and it is not worthy of a response.

Do you. Focus on what's important to you. Focus on the things you believe in, and surround yourself with people who share principles that you have. Seek out other people who think what's happening to you is wrong. There's lots of us — find those people, build community with those people. And anyone who's acting in ways that are cruel and dehumanizing, you can simply show them the door.

Also, remember that the vast majority of people, if you show them one of these cancellations, will say, “I don't understand any of the words in this — what the fuck are you talking about?” So I think it's important to remember that.

You can find other people to hang out with and they won't even fucking understand if you try to explain what happened to you. Obviously, if they hear you were called "a Nazi” they'll be like, “oh that sounds bad.” But if you then show them the call out, it's gonna be indecipherable gibberish, right? And they’ll say, “these people sound crazy, why were you friends with them?”

Many cancellations are based on false accusations or recasting disagreement and conflict as abuse, and other nonsense. But sometimes cancellations are based in things that you might have done that you regret. If that has happened, I also want to say you're still a human being, and you still get to have boundaries, and you still get to have privacy. You still have the right to work through what happened, and to come to a place of responsibility around that with your therapist, or with a sponsor in a 12 step program, or with a person that you trust in privacy.

SI'm not saying if you did some fucked up thing, don't work on it. You should work on it. It will be better for you and for the world if you work on it, and it will feel good to be in your integrity. But you don't need to do that on the internet. It's the last place you should do it.

There are ways to make repair and to start living your life in more alignment with your integrity. You don't have to feel like you're permanently defined by mistakes that you have made.

From The Forests of Arduinna
A series on returning to the real, re-aligning with nature, and resisting the reign of capital; with Rhyd Wildermuth
Rhyd Wildermuth