Hi Dr Nick!

[Update (August 19, 2020) : ‘But perhaps the most disquieting effect of the prevailing attitude that racism always can, and should, be debated, is the way in which it has allowed the far-right to claim that they are being ‘cancelled’ if minorities refuse to dutifully engage with them. Even if the topic of the debate is said minorities’ right to exist’; CANCELLED: How the far right stole free speech, Ben Turner, swlondoner, August 18, 2020.]

Dear Nick,

I read your reply to Valerio and Frances on the subject of mercy and cancel culture with some interest, and so too the frenzied reaction. That said …

While ‘free-ranging conversation’ can be fun, critical inquiry is a process that should be at the heart of developing any worthwhile argument or interesting thesis. It allows for the honest scrutiny and marshalling of evidence for or against any particular view. Without critical scrutiny, we lose our ability to make sense of the world and to act upon it, and so risk being devoured by the unthinking machinery of chaos and oppression.

Yet criticism doesn’t exist in a vacuum, especially when understood as a form of ‘collective discovery’. It’s a form of public engagement that we must nurture in good faith. To ‘play gracefully with ideas’ requires more than mutualism, and in order to breathe we must be free in mind and body; a condition which, to put it mildly, is unevenly distributed.

Nick, you’ve lamented the existence of something called ‘cancel culture’. While Donald Trump reckons cancel culture is ‘the very definition of totalitarianism’, you’ve not specified precisely what you mean by this term, simply contrasting it with a moral value, ‘mercy’, and associating it with another term, ‘political correctness’. According to you, these politics and this culture have been allowed to run amuck, and the result of this unchecked rampage has endangered art, truth and the imagination.

But what, precisely, are the ‘uncomfortable ideas’ that cancel culture and political correctness have prevented the expression of? According to you, political correctness is a ‘once honourable attempt to reimagine our society in a more equitable way’. I’d suggest that Stewart Lee was probably closer to the truth when he remarked that it’s ‘an often clumsy negotiation towards a kind of formally inclusive language’. It may be that your thoughts on cancel culture were inspired by ‘A Letter on Justice and Open Debate’ published by Harper’s Magazine in July. Or perhaps you remain resentful of the criticism you received for touring Israel in 2017.

I dunno.

In 2018, Jonah Engel Bromwich wrote that ‘cancelled’ is a word that ‘refers to total disinvestment in something (anything), and this usage can be traced back several years. But in the last few months, it’s been everywhere. The most popular definition of the concept on Urban Dictionary was posted in March and four of the nine definitions listed were added in just the last two years.’ The first instance of it I found on Twitter was in October 2016.

As far as I can tell, ‘cancel culture’ is in reality something of a shibboleth, and very far from the central crisis of contemporary politics⁠.

Where are we? I dunno about you, but I’m Melbourne, under lockdown. That’s because there’s a global pandemic raging. As of this date, 757,650 individuals have been cancelled by Coronavirus. In my hometown, 275 people — mostly old folk — have perished.

We live at a time when the global ecosystem is collapsing under the onslaught of capitalist industrialism. Authoritarian regimes and movements are flourishing. To put it another way, the species is not ‘a culture in transition’ but a civilisation in collapse. If — in the face of all the available evidence — we are in fact heading toward a more equal (global) society, it will not simply be because of commitment to ‘values’, but to their realisation through struggle, and as another writer put it:

Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

Love and rage,


See also : August 12, 2020 : Nick Cave labels ‘cancel culture’ as “mercy’s antithesis”, Will Richards, NME | Nick Cave Says Cancel Culture ‘Hampers the Creative Spirit of a Society’, Emily Tan, Spin | Nick Cave Addresses “Cancel Culture”, Tom Breihan, Stereogum | August 13, 2020 : Nick Cave slams cancel culture as ‘bad religion run amuck’, Martin Boulton, The Age | Nick Cave compares cancel culture to ‘bad religion’, BBC | Nick Cave: ‘cancel culture is bad religion run amuck’, Lanre Bakare, The Guardian | The monarch of middlebrow, Anwen Crawford, Overland, No.197, Summer 2009.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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5 Responses to Hi Dr Nick!

  1. “On the third day, he took me to the river – He showed me the roses and we kissed – And the last thing I heard was a muttered word – As he knelt above me with a rock in his fist”

    “Where the Wild Roses Grow” – Written by Nick Cave specifically as a duet with Kylie Minogue. Number One in the UK, EU and AUS – consumers bought a lot of copies, aka a lot of people really liked the song.

    So who do we cancel – Just Nick, Nick and Kylie, or Nick, Kylie and everyone that bought the song, or Nick, Kylie, everyone that bought the song and anyone who has ever *enjoyed* the song?

  2. @ndy says:

    All things being equal, consumers remain at liberty to enjoy the wild roses, along with all the other consumables. Again: to take, for a moment, the terms of an argument seriously is not to engage in ‘cancellation’. In any case, I’m nobody, Nick is a YUGE star (as is Kylie), and this post will have precisely zero effect upon his status as such.

  3. Futilitarian says:

    A Brief History of the Left Avant-Garde, 1960 – ?

    In the ’60s and ’70s the New Left hated the Old Left because it regarded the latter as authoritarian and bureaucratic. In the ’70s and ’80s the Post-Modernists scoffed at the ‘universalisers’ and their monist fantasies. Today the P. C. Crowd reduces every social complexity to sex and race and hates everyone who doesn’t concur with them. A subsequent generation will devise its own pompous system of criticism and pass judgement on the P. C. Crowd. (There’s certainly plenty of material to work with!) And on and on it will go, generation after generation, a recurring cycle of Oedipus/Elektra complexes, until this planet is no longer habitable for our ridiculous species.

  4. ablokeimet says:

    Futilitarian is at it again, spinning a distorted analysis to support a position that nothing is worth doing. This time, he/she has listed a series of internal movements within what can be very broadly conceived of as the Left, without exploring the things that give them their individual character. And in so doing, Futilitarian has mixed apples & oranges.

    * The New Left had a mostly valid criticism of the Old Left, basically because the Old Left were dogmatic Tankies, and thus Stalinist authoritarians. Their deficiencies mostly derived from not going deep enough in their criticism of Stalin, concentrating on the old monster’s methods of rule & not enough on his conception of socialism or his overall political strategy.

    * The Post-Modernists were engaged in hair-splitting and setting up straw opponents, with an overall agenda of hiding a retreat to the Right under a Leftist smokescreen. Their school of philosophy was concentrated in Paris, which had been the last bastion of Stalinism in the Western intelligentsia. Post-Modernism was the cover that Left intellectuals used to denounce the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan & all sorts of other crimes of the USSR. There was a systematic dishonesty about it, though, since by denouncing all “grand narratives” as intrinsically totalitarian, they didn’t need to answer to the Anarchists & Trotskyists who had been criticising Stalinism from the Left for decades. For the Paris intelligentsia, Post-Modernism was simultaneously a denunciation of their past position & an amnesty for not denouncing it earlier.

    * The “P.C. Crowd” to which Futilitarian refers is ideologically heterogeneous. Some of them a liberals, determined to erase class from any form of politics. Others are deeply committed to a new class analysis that sees how race & sex are deeply entwined in capitalism and cannot be separated from it. Still others are somewhere in between. And, for the most part, the theorising has only just begun.

    Finally, Futilitarian makes a prophesy, which assumes capitalism as eternal. I won’t come at that. Capitalism can’t last until 2100. It will destroy the world before then, unless we destroy it beforehand. I’m up for it. I’d like as many people as possible to join me – but I don’t expect Futilitarian will be one.

  5. Futilitarian says:

    My apologies for inciting a mood of grumpiness in you, Ablokeimet, but allow me to respond to a few points that are evident in your complaint.

    I wasn’t providing an “analysis,” I was providing an impression, which either resonates, or it doesn’t, and with you it clearly didn’t.

    Neither am I interested in providing copious quantities of detail and argument. I have a love for brevity and succinctness. I leave it to others to read between the lines.

    Neither am I engaging in advocacy. I don’t care what people do. If they feel like working themselves up into a lather over the travails of the human species then so be it.

    Neither am I suggesting that the P. C. Crowd is a single undifferentiated mass. It is diffuse. It is everywhere. It’s gone viral.

    Neither am I predicting that capitalism will go on forever. I only predict that human stupidity will go on forever.

    To be clear, though, Bloke, I don’t oppose revolutionary activity, if that is one’s freely chosen way, I’m just skeptical about the outcome, which usually tends to be a fuck-up, or, if we’re lucky, a non-event.

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