Us-vs-them, Cancel Culture as a Treatable Ego Disease

Bruce Dickson
5 min readJul 16, 2022

Updated and expanded.

Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper

I was watching Bryan Cranston and Helen Mirren in Trumbo (2015). this is the bio-pic of the blacklisted Hollywood writer who penned Spartacus with Kirk Douglas. The movie made it possible for me to perceive a connecting thru-line across multiple historical events:

  • the Hollywood Blacklist beginning 1946–1947,
  • Joseph McCarthy’s Commie-socialist canceling beginning 1950,
  • Cancel Culture in US colleges-universities, beginning circa 1995 ( see https://www.thefire.org/resources/fire-staff-speakers/greg-lukianoff/)
  • Cancel Culture in social media, “The phrase cancel culture gained popularity since late 2019” — Wikipedia.

These disturbed behaviors have a lot in common.

What’s similar about them? To my perceiving, they all express extreme, un-productive “us vs. them” perception. Helen Mirren’s portrayal of Hedda Hopper in Trumbo brought this home to me. By the way, many readers with library cards can view Trumbo for free on Kanopy.com.

Where does us-vs-them perceiving come from?

The University of Santa Monica (USM) in its graduate-level course, Awakening the Inner Counselor, popularized a useful idea, we are each “souls in the human experience.”

Perhaps some readers will be able to tolerate the idea the immortal-eternal part of each person, is their awareness, their ability to make choices, and decisions. This is what “soul in the human experience” points to.

Then perhaps you can tolerate the metaphysical idea, different souls have had different amounts of experience here in the physical-material world. Put these two together and you can imagine souls with less experience in the world (“younger souls”); and, souls with more experience in the world (“older souls”).

It seems to me, us-vs-them, Cancel Culture, doesn’t come from younger souls. They are too busy with the business of physical survival; and, exploring the physical-material world. Like puppies, they are too busy and easily distracted to judge and cancel other souls.

Older souls have lost much of their sense of wonder about this world. They can fall into feeling frustrated and irritated with this world. I suspect it these older souls who fall into the error of judging-cancelling other souls who think differently.

If this is true; then, contrary to popular belief, it is not UNdeveloped egos who fall into cancelling others with whom they disagree. Rather, it is more developed egos who fall into this behavior.

Let’s recall the behavior of cancelling another person with whom you disagree, crosses boundaries of race, creed, color, religion and class.

What else does this? What other thing crosses boundaries of race, creed, color, religion and class?

Education, especially Grade Eight thru graduate school education.

This suggests us-vs-them, Cancel Culture behavior is more likely to occur among those with more self-esteem, more self-confidence; and, more thoughts and language for the values, he or she holds closest and innermost (what’s “true” for me).

Again, Helen Mirren’s portrayal of Hedda Hopper in Trumbo is valuable here. Hedda was a famous Hollywood gossip columnist. How influential was Hedda Hopper in her day? Within Hollywood, in today’s terms, Hedda was as powerful as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram combined — in one person.

Small egos do not cancel others as Hedda Hopper and the House Unamerican Activities Committee did, with active malice towards others who held different values, these people behaved as Lewis Caroll’s Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland. If the REd Queen disliked you — for any reason — it was,”Off with their head!” By the way, in the Cards of Destiny, this is a classic disorder of the red Queen of Diamonds. Small egos do not get into over-using, ”Off with their head!” Small egos, young egos gossip and tattle-tale.

What do you think? Could Cancel Culture and us-vs-them be the same disease, a disease of developing egos?

How to treat Us vs. Them Disease

If you go to a counselor of therapist for this “disease,” what do they tell you? They say the classic treatment for this is exploring and examining our own lack of acceptance and tolerance for diverse opinions and convictions. Practicing acceptance and tolerance can heal.

Deeper than practicing acceptance and tolerance, the classic treatment for us-vs-them disease is exploring our own shadow and projections:

“What internal parts and voices — inside me — am I denying, suppressing and dissociated from?” This path leads to understanding why I perceive traits I dislike only outside me, in other people, never in myself.

Cancel Culture first emerged in Hollywood?

Back to my partial list of cancel culture historical incidents above. Why did cancel culture first emerge in Hollywood? then in Washington, DC?

Could it be Hollywood was where big, strong egos were first most numerous; and, most developed?

Could it be Washington, DC was where big, strong, well-educated egos were first most numerous? Going back to 1856, you can read about the caning (beating) of Senator Charles Sumner in the Senate Chamber by a pro-slavery senator — https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/The_Caning_of_Senator_Charles_Sumner.htm

dg-caning

As high school and college education became the norm, we saw first disturbed college professors and administrators; and finally, disturbed college students, canceling each other.

Ultimately “us vs. them disease” connects with the desire-ambition of an ego to have power over others.

Terry Real on Power

I am very taken with therapist trainer, Terry Real’s take on power and Patriarchy as expressed in his books, including his latest, US (2022):

From the US IFS Talks podcast starting at minute 33:45:

In Patriarchy, a person can be either powerful or they can be connected. You can’t be both at the same time. Let me say this again. Under Patriarchy you can be connected, accommodating, accepting, affiliative (feminine). Or you can be powerful: assertive, independent, (masculine). But you can’t be both at the same time.

Why? Because “power” as defined by men is always POWER OVER; not, power with. In patriarchy terms, when you step into power, you step out of relationship. [you hold yourself above all constraints of relating and connection].

The new more workable paradigm is to stand up for yourself, stand up for the relationship; and, stand up for your partner — all in the same breath.

Most often when a partner in a couple steps into their power, they step out of the relationship. This is a losing strategy.

Consider these two approaches: “I don’t like how you’re talking to me.” vs. “I want to hear what you have to say. Can you change the way you are speaking to me so i can listen to you?”

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/getting-past-you-and-me-with-terrys-new-book-us/id1481000501?i=1000565196497

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