S2E3 Cancel Culture

Cancel culture is "the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. [It's] generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming” ( y'all). Dr. Rubin and Dr. Pete discuss why cancel culture may have developed, the difference between holding others accountable and “canceling” someone, and the problem with pervasive “canceling” given the inherent messiness and mistake-prone nature of being human.



Nikki: Cancel culture is a pretty popular term these days. It's like always on the news, it's become a popular rally, I would say on both the right and the left for different reasons. And because of that, Pete and I really wanted to talk about it today. Not just what it is, but really, actually what obviously, the perspective of how CBT therapists view that and how Eastern practitioners might view it, so hey, Pete.

Pete: Hey, this is a tough one. Because like you said, it's so charge and it has on all sides of the aisle, and all walks of life that are just blaming each other for canceling their culture.

Nikki: Yeah, totally.

Pete: I’m excited to hear you talk about this.

Nikki: Yeah. Well, I'm excited to hear your thoughts. So I think it's important to just sort of define that canceled culture, the term refers to basically when someone and obviously in general, it's often been people in positions of power. Though it doesn't have to be, it can trickle all the way down to someone like in your own social circle, has said or done something inappropriate, distasteful. I mean, it could be extreme, like something that's racist, homophobic. Something that somebody dislikes or deems not okay. And the idea is too literally, quote unquote, cancel them. As the kids say, I'll say as the kids have been saying that ‘they're canceled’. Meaning that they should basically be banished from whatever the thing is. And I want to start by acknowledging that, as if with everything, what makes sense about that, is that we're at a time right now, where a lot of people are trying to hold people accountable, especially those in power. And I think that's where that comes from. Though, there are also problematic aspects of that. So I don't know if there's anything you'd add in terms of how I'm defining it or where it comes from.

Pete: No, I mean, I think the social media has had probably… I don't know if this could have existed pre social media.

Nikki: And maybe not on this scale.

Pete: But I think too, that's an important disclaimer here, is that a lot of the stuff that's nuanced, especially with like, say millennials, for example, is directly connected to the internet. So this…

Nikki: Yes, even more with Gen Z, honestly.

Pete: Totally. Well, definitely more with Gen Z, yeah. So thinking about how this is really a product of that. And I think then all of technology starts to get flack for it. So like, Facebook, Twitter, things like that, YouTube, then they start to be criticized for censorship.

Nikki: Yes, totally. And I'm thinking that maybe… so just to kind of look at the many angles of this, if we could start by, I'm wondering if you could say a little more kind of going off what I was just explaining, what would we say would be the helpful aspects of cancel culture? I was saying it's about like, grows out of this desire to hold people accountable. I don't know, do you view any aspects of it to be useful?

Pete: To be helpful?

Nikki: Yeah.

Pete: Look at you, optimistic. I guess there's probably always a silver lining somewhere or there might be something that's helpful in some places. I mean, I think when powers involved, I struggled to find anything that's helpful. Because I think it takes power to create cancel culture. I don't know that cancel culture could exist without power.

Nikki: Well, that's interesting. Say more about that, because I think maybe people listening might think like, “Well, canceled culture is about canceling those that are in power”. And like saying that they don't get to make the rules call the shots.

Pete: And yet it takes power to be able to even cancel out whatever it is that you're trying to eliminate. And I think, I don't know, dare we describe a couple examples of this?

Nikki: Yeah.

Pete: So what are like the famous ones right?

Nikki: I think like the ‘Me Too’ movement, that's what I'm thinking right. I'm embarrassed, why am I blanking on his name? The main mogul that was brought down via the ‘Me Too’…

Pete: Oh, Harry Fine? That one?

Nikki: Yes. Weinstein. Sorry.

Pete: Well, so I would say you just took that away because you wanted to erase all the bad that he did.

Nikki: Yeah, this is why I don't like or agree with anything. For instance, I would say it’s called…

Pete: Harvey Weinstein.

Nikki: Harvey Weinstein.

Pete: I called Harry.

Nikki: I call it Nikki's tired, and my brain’s not working so well. [inaudible 5:24] also said [inaudible 5:25] a cigar is just a cigar. So yeah…

Pete: The ‘Me Too’ is another example of it.

Nikki: Yeah, is an example of that.

Pete: What is another… just because honestly, I'm thinking of what are some of the other ones right now that are…?

Nikki: Well, and also this is one just, I don't know his name. There's like a young country singer who actually was just caught on a ring camera using the N word, actually. And so he was like, dropped by his label, I think.

Pete: Yeah, so dropping any kind of sponsorship. Yeah, so we've seen a lot of that. I think there was something with JK Rowling too.

Nikki: Yes, because she made some transphobic comments.

Pete: Right. So the minute that these people… well, I was going to say, misstep. But maybe… it's a tough thing, because…

Nikki: Well, this is where it gets messy.

Pete: Are they showing their true self, or is this part of social media where, again, I think we all have secrets, we all kind of say things. I'm certainly not supportive of any like hatred.

Nikki: Totally. And,

Pete: Go ahead.

Nikki: I was going to say, and, I think you're immediately going into, which we need to maybe focus our time here on, is that humans mess up.

Pete: Yes.

Nikki: And I think that's what's hard, is that I think when trying to talk about cancel culture, and maybe where there's sort of been a, I don't know, dare I say like a backlash to it, is people saying like, “oh, people on the left, just want to cancel everybody”. And then the left says, “well, but these people need to be held accountable”. And I think what we're sort of missing here in the conversation is this dialectic of, we can hold people accountable. And we also need to do a better job of radically accepting that we mess up as humans, like we make mistakes.

Pete: We mess up. So I'm reminded of Bill Clinton, I'm reminded of Martha Stewart. And this was sort of pre social media. And, I mean, Martha, would have been canceled cultured for sure, for doing an inside trade. Potentially, right? Thinking of where we're at today.

Nikki: Are you saying because it's like, there's not the permanent stamp. And saying that the internet [inaudible 7:46]

Pete: Kevin Hart, or Ellen DeGeneres right now. So I think they were so connected with the supporting each other. And Kevin Hart, made an anti-gay comment like 15 years ago. But then at the same time, there's the Georgia senator right now or Congresswoman, that was like, very pro-gun and like, anti-anything that's not white. I mean, sort of like KKK then I guess.

Nikki: Well so, I think when people get confused, then is like, ‘Where's the line?’

Pete: Yeah. And so you and I are confused right now.

Nikki: Well yeah, and I think that's where it's worth thinking about this idea… I'll say it this way, I don't like the concept of cancel culture, because it's too rigid, frankly.

Pete: Yeah, it's black and white.

Nikki: It's black and white. And that doesn't mean to say that I don't support bringing, holding people accountable, especially holding people accountable, for instance, for hatred or terrible behaviors. I'm hugely in support of that. What I'm not in supportive is saying that people can't make mistakes even in extreme degrees. I mean, we could take this on the other side of like, this language isn't used around it. But think about incarceration in the United States. And like the amount of, obviously, especially in black and brown communities make up the…

Pete: Disproportionate,

Nikki: Disproportionate number of people incarcerated. And look, if someone's been incarcerated, even, let's say for like, I don't know, and I'm not again, I'm not saying this is okay, or we're giving someone a pass. If someone was incarcerated as a teen for armed robbery or maybe even like a gang related murder or something like that, 30 years later, do they deserve to be canceled? Or is there opportunity, like can people be rehabilitated? Do people deserve a chance to be better? And I'm not saying everybody, I don't mean that in like a…

Pete: Harvey Weinstein or sexual predator.

Nikki: No, I'm just saying that's I think we're, again, we talk about this all the time on our podcast, humans have such a hard time being in this gray area, and saying, and honestly, this is a behavioral science thing. Shame is a really ineffective learning strategy actually.

Pete: I'm going to read a definition for our listeners, from Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. It's generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming. So that's why when you brought up the shame, I thought that...

Nikki: Shaming, yeah.

Pete: And it's not effective.

Nikki: It's not effective. Because I mean, I want listeners to think about when they felt shame, like when someone's shamed them for something, for making a mistake. And it does have to be an extreme mistake or anything. Like sticking your foot in your mouth a little bit. We all do that.

Pete: Everyone has done that.

Nikki: Everyone does it. From, again, like a biological perspective, when we experience shame, think about what happens to your body, it shuts down, we turn inward, our attention narrows, we lack curiosity. And we'll learn, maybe not to do the thing we've been shamed for. But here's the problem, it doesn't give any room for us to get curious and learn how to do something else instead.

Pete: That's right. Which would mean in this example of promoting feminism or being an ally for a marginalized group. Well, let me just say this then. So because this becomes a ‘left right’ conversation, so hate groups feel like they should be able to also express hate.

Nikki: Well, I think what I'm wanting to say in this conversation is to take it out of a ‘left right’ conversation. That's the point that I think this concept of cancel culture pulls it to… Pete and I talked about this in our episode in season one, polarization dialectics that it pulls our brains to the polls and that's what brains are really easily adept at doing, which immediately gets in the way of curiosity and middle path and learning. And so I think what I really want to clarify is that, again, we got to start from a place of like, human beings mess up, like that's part of our design, we mess up and make mistakes in varying degrees, for different reasons. So can we hold that truth first, while simultaneously holding the structure and the boundary of accountability? And I think that's a more effective framework, as opposed to like, ‘you’re in or you’re out’.

Pete: So if I'm a white supremacist, let's just put it out there. If I'm a white supremacist, how do you think that fits in into this? Because they would feel like they should be, like they want to hold their beliefs.

Nikki: So I think, and again, this is, of course, many different episodes could come out of this. If someone believes in white supremacy, then what I'm going to say, already, again, this is like as a cognitive behavioral therapist. I'm saying, so that person believes a distorted belief system. They believe that white people are supreme to other…

Pete: Superior,

Nikki: Superior to other human beings. That is direct….

Pete: Not a fact.

Nikki: Yes, is not a fact. In opposition to, like my value of humanity, humans are humans, we're all in the same suit. So again, it's like canceled culture to me, it wouldn't be relevant there. Its like, ‘I want to hold someone accountable if someone is engaging in obviously, violent hateful behavior’. And look, there are people that leave white supremacist movements. But if we just say if someone was once a Neo-Nazi, that they're never allowed to recognize that that is not okay or real or, do you know what I'm saying?

Pete: Yeah, so it creates this idea of like righteousness or… I think that's also like a lot of our season one episodes, where we have to… you can't compare. Because it's like comparing apples and bombs. And it'll be interesting, I think the other part that we started this episode off, is saying that how new this is. Because social media and internet is relatively new all things considered.

Nikki: Yeah, and I think the social media part that you're bringing Pete is so important because social media just becomes this, very literal, giant megaphone for opinions. It's like the town square, like the shame of somebody. This has always existed in human behavior.

Pete: It absolutely has. This is powerful, though.

Nikki: Well, it's just so big.

Pete: It's so big, and we've even seen recently that it up ended the stock market. So this thing, this social media thing has up ended the stock market.

Nikki: So that's where it's like saying there can be power and accountability. But I think that accountability is not canceling. And so I'm really wondering, as we're saying that, of course, what would a Zen Buddhist practitioner say about cancel culture?

Pete: Get off your damn device.

Nikki: Yeah, number one, sure. But what would they say about like canceling somebody? Like, I as the kids say.

Pete: I mean, it would probably could stem back to the Eightfold Path and trying to find the middle path. And just like you did with the dialectic of just trying to find this idea of accountability and bridging these ideas together. But honestly, I don't know. I mean, I don't think that there is… there's certainly nothing that's written today about it.

Nikki: What about humans making mistakes? I mean, it's another way of saying it, what does Buddhism say about that?

Pete: Yeah, well, it would create space for that, because we're imperfect. And that it's about letting go of any of our errors that we make, because we all do make them. I think a lot of, say like the [inaudible 16:23] that we study, to understand and to untangle help us realize about the imperfections of all of this. And a lot of the [inaudible 16:32] will be like; a young man comes to an old monk and starts to say, “hey, how do you get to this road?” And then maybe that young monk sends it the wrong way on purpose, because he’s playing with them. And that would be part of like, the lesson of like, “hey, it's okay, because that's what happens. Young monks are playful?”

Nikki: Right, and also, I mean I think, essentially, it's just coming into my mind, I'd also wonder if, then there would also be the peace of practicing non-judgmental stance around that.

Pete: Always.

Nikki: So when somebody is doing something that is like not right effort or right, I'm forgetting all things…

Pete: Action,

Nikki: Right action, I'm making the assumption here that the idea wouldn't be to judge somebody for that. It's actually just saying, that's what's happening. And here's an opportunity to turn back towards right action.

Pete: Exactly, because none of us are there to judge, which is part of all religion, really.

Nikki: Yeah, totally. Sure.

Pete: I think it's heavily, not practice, but heavily ingrained in Christianity, Judaism about non-judgement. And yet, we find that many of them could be some of the most judgmental folks.

Nikki: Well, because it comes back to the rigidity. So it's like, again, it's so interesting. It's like, everyone thinks that their belief system is the right one. And that's where we, I think, really trip and fall the most, is when we don't recognize like, “no, we're all wired to judge, we're all wired towards righteousness”. And I think, again, cancel culture, really accesses that. And by the way, I should also say, it also acts as, a lot of time, very justified anger. And we just talked about in our righteousness and rigidity episode last season, that when we feel angry, even if anger is justified, we're more likely to get rigid. So it's like something we have to watch, we don't get as curious.

Pete: Yeah, the behavioral cycle there, it creates that, which then leads to some more cancel culture, and it kind of keeps going round and round and around. Which, ultimately, I think because of social media, and the algorithms, the rabbit holes are created. And they go so deep.

Nikki: It’s such a problem, because it’s just then, what we're actually doing is shaping large groups of people out of the opportunity to evolve and be better and grow. You know what I mean?

Pete: How sad, yeah.

Nikki: It’s sad.

Pete: It's sad, and I guess a hope I have, especially from a behavioral perspective, as someone living in the West is like, can we get some science to understand a little bit more of the impact? And then also, try and reshape some of these algorithms or we know these apps are created so that we're on them more, so we want to download the more, so that if I am it stuck in my righteousness or in my belief system, which is not fact, then I'm going to keep going down that. Yeah, but I remain a little bit hopeful that I think people are resilient and that people can bounce back. And that hopefully, through the cancel culture, we can help people realize that we make mistakes and sort of model effectively that people will make mistakes, and then can they come back and kind of clear their name, and do some good. Because the shaming, like you said, holds us back. We want to help people get to a better place.

Nikki: Yeah, and help give people the opportunity, and again, to be clear, not to be Pollyanna, not that everybody deserves a [inaudible 20:20] No true, like there's a spectrum of things though. I think…

Pete: You all are just Pollyanna’s there in L.A.

Nikki: No, yeah. It's like I just want everyone to start from the position of recognizing, as humans, we're designed to be imperfect, we're designed to make mistakes. And if we're not affording that truth to everyone, we're just going to cancel everybody, we're going to be alone, everyone's going to get cancelled. So I hope our listeners can see if they can practice some curiosity and openness when thinking about canceling something, or someone in their life, and seeing if there's maybe an opportunity for, I don't know, I was just going to say redemption, but I think that's a little too dramatic. Maybe I’ll say…

Pete: I like that.

Nikki: Improvement.

Nikki: This has been When East Meets West. I'm Dr. Nikki Rubin.

Pete: And I'm Dr. Pete Economou. Be present. Be brave.

Pete: This has been When East Meets West all material is based on opinion and educational training of doctors Pete Economou and Nikki Rubin.

Nikki: Content is for informational and educational purposes only.