Or, how Marx predicted tenderqueers and the whole Lockheed Martin thing in 1843 lol.
I've been trying to figure out how to think about this for a while so I very much appreciate your analysis of the individual and group psychological architecture. Another place my mind goes to is how/why/what in our culture/politics produces/contributes to this dynamic. It seems to me that the ultra-moralistic, hyper-individualized worldview has (de?)-evolved among our generation (millennial/gen-Z) because we are profoundly disempowered and politically unepresented. In a very real and very felt sense, we cannot (yet) affect material change through our vote or mass organizing; instead we are led by a hollowed out civil infrastructure and a sclerotic gerontocracy that operates in a brazenly cynical fashion. I think of Colombia's first leftwing president or Chile's young, millennial leftwing presdient, or even Ukraine's Zelensky, a young-ish guy who is very effective at using the media and has created super compelling pro-Ukraine propaganda. I wonder about the young-ish people in these countries where there is actual dynamic movement, where the horizon appears wide open and not so determined, where it feels like they're part of a project that is actually building a future rather than conducting an exhausting daily psychic maintenence to cope with an awful present. Are the young people in other places also taking this "toxic" turn inward that cuts off mutual-understanding?
I like to call it carceral culture, because it is also derived from our need to punish ostracize those we think are Bad and Wrong.
I like this analysis a lot. Instead of becoming “independent” though, perhaps awakened, aware, active and ~interdependent~ persons would help us emerge from bondage? I fear independence is itself a puritanical (originally Protestant) perfectionist myth.
I've had big problems with obsessive-compulsive behaviors related to moral purity for much of my life, even though I know deep down that I am not concerned with being morally pure. And internalizing the views of people on social media has definitely made it worse. I had been building up to it for a while but reading and ruminating on this essay actually pushed me over the edge to abandon one of my compulsions related to the pandemic. I am interested to see how my life unfolds from here. Thank for your writing.
Mostly agree but I don't think the alternative you're proposing is any alternative. Its just too close to not paying any attention to who or what is excluded from public life at all. Why do ppl want to claim a position of moral authority? Sometimes its because of a lack of any other capacity to assert a place in public life. I think one needs to attend more to the asymmetries of power which result in this as a tactic.
Like always, such an excellent analysis; but this one hits harder and forced us to examine the minor ways we mentally and socially might indulge in this even in more minor-ways than the tenderqueers / Mardoll’s of the world.
It’s so fucking hard to be compassionate with so much resentment flowing to whatever Other is there, especially when it does feel there is a moral ground in anti-capitalist thinking.
Thanks for the reminder to check my impulses in my moralizing rage over my Boomer parents’ stupidity and religious fanaticism and refocus on the larger goals of finding effective progress. It’s easy to want to lash out at every miss, even when you aren’t on twitter lol
I feel this. It reminds me of the essay 'Exiting the Vampire Castle.'
The question is, still, how do we get out? Is there a way out that still incorporates a reliable method of disincentivizing abuse - of protection/justice against serious harms?
Thinking on this.
I delayed reading this article for a week, but glad I finished. It reminds me of my years in private schools that I couldn’t afford in the slightest, being surrounded by rich kids who seemed to have a handle on their morally-pure version of politics. It was very hard for me to wrap my mind around, but the fear of being ostracized was enough to make me adopt their line of thinking to some extent. I feel like I’ve been permanently changed (for the worse) from having to adapt to that environment. I can think of tons of examples where I said something *mildly* objectionable and had such a disproportionate reaction from people around me (all rich kids of the “tenderqueer” mindset talked about in the article). Shockingly, I’ve also found that what upset them the most was either elements of my Jewish-ness/upbringing, or the fact that I was trans and didn’t know it until recently and didn’t have the vocabulary to express my own suffering with regard to my gender.
Great essay, and good to have a term that isn't cancel culture so that people can get away from "cancel culture doesn't exist, it's just consequences culture" or whatever. I think part of the problem arises from how many people who are attracted to progressive or especially radical politics are motivated by a strong sense of injustice. And sometimes they are responding to actual injustice, but sometimes it's just a personality trait talking, and they/we are not always good at distinguishing which is which. Paradoxically, movements for change desperately need more people who can go with the flow, at least on an interpersonal level.
It took me years to be ready to write publicly about the internal experience of being a social justice warrior— https://kier.substack.com/p/007 —but once I did, I was flooded with messages from friends who had moved away from the subculture without saying a word. This makes me think the leftist opposition to these puritans is much larger than it looks, because most of the dissenters will only admit this in private conversation. I hope that more and more former tenderqueers will publicly break rank so we can start to have honest conversations about where we go from here. This essay is excellent, by the way, even though there are parts I don’t agree with, and I’m excited to share it with my growing collection of closeted dissenters.
Awesome. A much needed redirection in articulation. Some of the very moral-puritans I've been arguing with for the past couple of years in NYC are SUNY Purchase sociology alums, and I've admittedly failed many times at not joining the fray of whatever "free speech" or "trans-phobic" discussion it ultimately devolves into. Only recently, after watching the same thing happen regarding covid- where the "left" in this country suddenly embraced authoritarianism (oh the unclean, unvaxed, misinformers)- really pulled me out of being constantly baited into defending my own civil libertarian stance from being re-framed as "right-wing". It's resoundingly clear now, with the shifts from misogyny and anti-racism, to a moralizing over Covid and Russia, that these people care not about any meaningful principles or reform, just BEING right and pure. More troubling, is that they are incredibly easily manipulated about what "that" even is.
Great essay as always!
Brilliant - Thank You!
I taught American Lit and creative writing for a few years at Evergreen State and elsewhere in the early '00s. By then every other student was majoring in one of the specialized studies programs and it felt like we were watching the beginning of the end of the deconstruction of postmodernism. And that was before social media took everything to eleven. But even then the students were already online constantly and already censoring themselves. I left teaching in 2010 and went to work in psych, unironically. Anyway I agree with the political anorexia metaphor: if you don't like someone on twitter, don't follow them. Easy. Better yet get off twitter. Why does it have to become anybody's personal mission to end the career of the offender. But now that laws are on the books in various places making it a misdemeanor to misgender someone, and the algorithm is getting better and better at predicting misbehavior, seems like we're fast veering off the slippery slope of cancel culture into straight-up thought crimes and pre-crime etc.
Masterfully dissects the contemporary phenomenon of moral purity, challenging the underlying contradictions of cancel culture and identity politics. You eloquently emphasize the importance of mutual understanding over moral authority, pushing for a focus on material progress rather than the perpetuation of failure. This incisive critique urges us to break free from the grip of Secular Puritanism and embrace a more nuanced and pragmatic approach to societal change.