Humans 101

The Hidden Opportunity for Growth in Cancel Culture

A psychologist’s perspective

Richard Achiro, Ph.D.
Human Parts
Published in
8 min readSep 11, 2020

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The Swan, №1, Group IX by Hilma af Klint

It’s happening again. A debate about cancel culture is raging in the midst of emboldened demands for racial justice—much as it was three years ago when #MeToo went viral and calls for gender equality were at an apex. Although some have argued that the fervor around cancel culture is a diversion during such necessary reckonings, it’s also possible that these two phenomena — the perceived threat of cancellation and the push for societal healing — are inevitably, and perhaps even advantageously, linked. The psychological concept of “repetition compulsion” points to this conclusion and provides a framework for how we might use this flashpoint as a means for personal and societal growth.

Contemporary psychologists regard repetition compulsion as a critical effort toward healing from trauma. Humans unwittingly repeat unprocessed traumas time and again in an attempt to gain a sense of mastery over them in a new, less traumatic context. Perhaps cancel culture is that new context for a society that has remained developmentally stunted by our founding trauma of slavery and the varying acts of human subjugation that have followed. What if that walking-on-eggshells feeling in the air — the underlying experience relatively privileged individuals have…

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