The Victims of Cancel Culture Are Sacrifices to Propitiate the Gods of Wokeness

February 4, 2020 | Molly Brigid McGrath
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Many have observed that the beliefs and conduct of the self-styled “woke” left in many ways resemble those of a religion, complete with rigid orthodoxies, the denunciation of heretics, ritualized professions of piety, and a sharp delineation between the saved and the damned. Exploring this analogy further, Molly Brigid McGrath suggests that the way online leftist mobs “cancel” public figures who offend their beliefs by subjecting them to general shunning is akin not so much to the eradication of heresy as to sacrifice:

The idea [of sacrifice] occurs across cultures, and with great variety: sacrifices may include money to a temple, food, and libations, “spiritual sacrifices”—or animals and people. There’s a lot of variety, but sacrificial victims always carry symbolic significance. One of the ways ritual sacrifice can work is that we use the victim symbolically to reenact and expiate our own guilt. We get clean.

The sacrificial core of the [woke] movement comes out most clearly when a blasphemer gets publicly excoriated. These humiliating spectacles do not merely punish or correct individuals. They are public sacrifices seeking communal atonement (and policing communal unity). Otherwise, it’s hard to account for how disproportionate the response may seem. Within the sacred system, the response seems totally justified.

Our blasphemers—publicly shamed, de-platformed, ostracized, often slandered and fired—are symbolic substitutes made to bear the punishment of the social structure and the individual injustices enabled by it. That’s a lot to bear, and that’s what justifies the unmeasured response of activists and social-media mobs in their own eyes. As a symbolic punishment on a substitute, the act is impotent. It cannot repair or avenge. The sacrifice must be repeated again and again. There are no rites of forgiveness.

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