The essay Planet of the Cops by Freddie deBoer has been something I’ve gone back and forth to since I first read it a year or so ago. As the days grind on it becomes more and more apprent that deBoer has more or less defined where we are in the West in 2020.
The first paragraph is more applicable now than it was then.
The irony of our vibrant and necessary police reform movement is that it’s happening simultaneously to everyone becoming a cop. I mean everyone — liberal, conservative, radical and reactionary. Blogger, activist, pundit, and writer, obviously, but also teacher, tailor, and candlestick maker. Cops, all of them. Cops everywhere. Everybody a cop.
Everyone is policing everyone. Everything is polarised. Everything is either black or white. People side with tribes regardless of how it goes against their personal trust in things like science, or their own political ideology which we’ve had in some shape or form for years, especially from the right, but now the left have grabbed this authoritarianism with both hands. And I’m not talking about people being exposed as crooks and complaints going through the correct channels, I’m talking of people being cancelled because they may have Tweeted something stupid even over a decade ago.
Take the case of Hartley Sawyer who plays Elongated Man on The Flash. He made some racist and misogynist Tweets which read like bad jokes however this was back in 2012 so someone has scoured his timeline looking for something to punish him. In this case, it’s lost his job. But yet something similar happened with James Gunn when old social media posts emerged but that had huge chunks of the left trip over themselves to excuse, and demand his job back at Marvel, which eventually happened. What’s the difference? I dunno. Neither should have been sacked is the main point but a witch hunt needs witches.
Liberalism and critical thinking is under threat now from right and left, which means one can be left wondering where exactly did it all go wrong. How did we go from the potential for free speech the internet gave us even a decade ago to an online Stasi state where someone, somewhere is looking through all your social media to find one post they can declare as wrongspeak so they can get you fired. As deBoer says, is it any wonder leftish parties in the West are struggling to gain support when these parties at their core are run by small, but powerful groups more interested in maintaining political purity and identity politics over winning elections or fighting for a singular cause which may well change things for the better for so many. Solidarity, especially class politics seem to be gone replaced by this.
So we have situations where people can raise campaigns to cancel someone because they liked a Tweet from someone ‘problematic’ but put the same effort into understanding how class politics affects people’s lives or take the time perhaps to look into a situation to find the truth, is simply not going to happen as a whole. And more and more people dirft away from a left more interested in eating itself, or standing up for anti-scientific positions, or dragging up a post someone did a decade ago so they can call on the rest of the Stasi to get the person sacked.
As deBoer says…
A cop culture is one where a mob forces a company to patch its game because the treatment of video game parrots is somehow deficient. Do you buy that narrative at all? Do you think any single human being is so fucking daft as to believe that lots of children are going to be inspired by Minecraft to feed their real parrots real chocolate chip cookies? Or do people like being cops? Do they like being in a position to make demands? Do they like lazily threatening people, “nice company you have here… wouldn’t want it to get embroiled in some controversy”? People are alienated and worn down and hopeless, and so they see their opportunity to finally be the one pulling over somebody else’s car, lazily tapping the glass with their flashlights. “I’m the one in charge now,” he thinks, as he sends an email to somebody’s boss over a Facebook status he doesn’t like.
The effect of all this is draining. It is cumulative and it solves nothing but it helps polarise things more and more, as people, scared of being sacked or ‘cancelled’ go along with the mob because they know one wrong thing said and that mob turns on them. Good causes end up ruined or easily mocked by people who don’t live their lives in the middle of all this, so for them instead of being drawn into something which they may support are alienated because there’s no discussion, no thought. Just a doctrine that one must observe or face the wrath of the mob.
I have no idea where this ends. However we need to make a stand for things like critical thinking, science and the ability to win arguments though fact & reason, instead of death or rape threats added onto the threat of getting the person sacked. Plus if we let the right, especially the hard right, dominate the fight for free speech that will not end in a good way.
Hopefully things change soon but I really do fear we’re living in a neverending Planet of the Cops.