One Explanation for Cancel Culture

Just saw Jordan Peterson give his explanation for the mysterious growth of narcissistic and psychopathic behaviour online—not just things like the Canadian blue whale euthanasia ad, or the Balenciaga child bondage and child sacrifice ad. Also the whole edifice of “cancel culture.”

Peterson’s premise is that “virtuality enables narcissism.” Put simply, and without the psychological terms, some people are evil, selfish, and delight in doing others harm. Peterson puts the figure at 5%. In ordinary society, they are restrained purely by the fear of punishment—“external constraints.” Online, they can often operate in the shadows, anonymously. They can dip in to a chat group, then dip out, and nobody knows who they were. Or they can back-door manipulate at a hosting site like Twitter. Power! Torment the weak!

It makes sense. A narcissist or a psychopath will not fare well in a small town. Everyone quickly gets their number. They will become a pariah—or rather, they will soon move out, to the big city. The likelihood of getting robbed or shot or raped or seduced into an abusive relationship goes up significantly once you move to a big city—where people can remain anonymous, and keep encountering strangers.

The Internet is a city the size of the world itself. There are few or no constraints on narcissists and psychopaths. And the harm they can do can be amplified—rather than only devastating the lives of a few close relatives, say, they can possibly devastate the lives of millions. Which they will tend to do for enjoyment.

If there is a solution, Peterson cannot think of it. And neither, for now, can I.