Trick title – there's no surviving cancel culture! First of all, any society in which “cancel culture” exists, is a sick society, as cancel culture is just one of many signs that the society is in the process of self-destructing. Other signs of societal self-destruction include deforestation, spraying poison on food, the existence of nuclear weapons, liposuction, opera, the existence of the nation-state, and well, civilization.
But okay, let's say you want to live in denial of all that other stuff and you just want to not get cancelled. Well, it's easy! Simply never state your opinion about anything. Then you have nothing to fear!
Even what seems like a benign, meaningless opinion can get you in trouble. Say you're like me, and you think that chocolate is the only worthwhile flavour for any kind of dessert, and that all the others are a waste of time, space, and baking ingredients, and you wonder if there's something mentally deficient with anyone who doesn't love chocolate like you do. Well, if you voice that seemingly harmless opinion, you might offend some vanilla-lover out there, or even worse, a strawberry-flavoured-dessert lover. (Come on, who chooses strawberry ice cream?!) And who knows what they might do with your opinion about desserts. You might be accused of racism, or xenophobia, or misogyny. Who knows. People have issues, they read into things, and they have to give themselves a reason to feel superior. So keep your love of chocolate to yourself. (When you're at the supermarket, throw in some Starbursts or Twizzlers with your chocolate purchase, just in case people are watching. You can throw them away or feed them to your dog once you get home.)
You might say that if someone voices actual racist or misogynist opinions, they should be cancelled, that they “deserve it”. That's not just dumb, it's also idiotic. If everyone lost their job for saying something mean, ignorant or stupid, the world would be entirely unemployed. No President, Prime Minister, MP, or Congressman would last more than five minutes. We all say dumb things at some point in our lives (and politicians say them even more.) It's sort of like the referees in professional sports. The refs can actually call a penalty on every play (American football) or every drive to the basket (basketball) or on every ping (ping pong). But they don't because no one would watch anymore. The players, as good as they are, can't help being human. And when someone does get called for a penalty, they don't get kicked off the team!
Even if there are people who firmly believe their politically-incorrect views and love spouting them, what does cancel culture do? It reinforces those views. Do the people doing the cancelling actually think their victims will learn to be more tolerant? No! They'll just learn to be more careful about who they express themselves to.
Cancel culture is bullying. It is a form of superiority complex. It is a form of projection or deflection. It is the result of insecurities and is a reflection of those doing the cancelling. If you want people to be more tolerant, or to be more open, bullying and coercion is the absolute worst approach. Punitive consequences and punishments never worked. Ever. Does spanking a child make them more loving and empathetic? And since when did sending students to detention work? Never! Just makes the kids hate the teacher even more. Since when did prison reduce crime? Never! (Besides, the real criminals never go to jail.) So the whole punitive response is bone-headed.
A good approach to take is: stop caring what people say! First, to try to force everyone else to think like you do is not just idiotic and destined to fail, but authoritarian and totalitarian. Are you Stalin? Mussolini? My ex-girlfriend? An added benefit if you stop caring what people say is that you'll live happier.
Finally, if you do become a target to be “cancelled”, then just take some time off, lay low, be patient, and soon enough everyone will have forgotten, and you can move on again. You'll be surprised how fast. Because in our cell-phone-Google-video game-Netflix society, our attention span has been reduced to that of a Chihuahua. (I should point out that this is not an anti-Mexican comment. I love Mexico and Mexicans, and just to be clear, I believe the U.S. should return Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California to the indigenous Mexicans from whom it was stolen. I apologise for singling out Chihuahuas. Let's change the dog breed to Welsh Corgi. There. Can't possibly get in trouble with that one.)
The point is, when you have people with the attention span of Corgis controlling nuclear weapons, there are much bigger problems in the world than being cancelled.
(P.S. - I actually love all dogs and they are much better at being human than any politician or bureaucrat.)
The Tao te Ching is the ultimate survival guide. It was written roughly 2500 years ago, by a figure known as Lao Tse (Laozi), or “Old Master”, though there is debate about whether such a person existed, or if the book is a compilation of writings by more than one author. Regardless, it is one of the most important books ever written, and has enormous relevance to survival.
Some of the themes covered in the book have to do with simplicity, contentedness, living in harmony with nature, and humility. These are all crucial for survival, whether in the wilderness or in civilization, whether for the individual or for the human species as a whole. Actually, these were all key characteristics of hunter-gatherer cultures across the globe, but have been severely lacking for the 6,000-year history of civilizations. In fact, the Tao te Ching contradicts civilization – even as it seems to give guidance for wise governance, leadership, or statecraft – guidance which is impossible for civilizations to follow. Again, the only examples of the Tao te Ching in action were in hunter-gatherer societies. And remember, hunter-gatherers were the true masters of survival, having lived on Earth for two million years, without destroying the life-sustaining abilities of the planet, and while allowing people to live healthy, meaningful, and joyous lives. If the people cannot live healthy, meaningful and joyous lives, then there is no reason for such a way of life to survive. That's why civilizations always fail, always collapse, and always end.
There are countless translations of the Tao te Ching, which can vary widely, so read from a few to get a better sense of the meaning. If you can read Chinese, you're even better off. Read it, consider it, discuss it with others.
Let's have a look at a few lines to get a sense. (Stephen Mitchell translation)
Let's leave wilderness survival for a moment and look at surviving in civilization, which is actually much more dangerous. For example, modern society breeds narcissists. (Society also creates psychopaths, which is very similar, but here I'll stay focused on narcissists.) These are one of the most dangerous types of humans and they create enormous damage in the world. Most of the world's suffering and pain is caused by these people, especially since they gravitate towards positions of power, whereas us decent people generally do not.
Narcissists are fantastically insecure – and this deep, deep insecurity guides all of their actions. Narcissists lack empathy (though they can mimic it), are incredibly self-centered, are highly deceitful, and are always trying to control others. The narcissist often flies into a rage at any perceived slight – which is often. To reject them in any way is to trigger their hatred and revenge. They are never satisfied and can never be happy. They are unwilling and unable to look inside themselves to face their inner pain (often caused by their own parents), and they project this out onto anyone they can – especially those within their “sphere of control” (partner, children, employees, etc.) They demean others and try to destroy the self-esteem of those around them as a way to make themselves feel better – including doing this to their own children. All their attempts to feel better about themselves will fail, of course, but they will continue to wreak havoc everywhere they go. At least in nature, tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes are all very short-lived. But not so with the narcissist. They rage for their entire lives.
If someone exhibits narcissist traits, the best advice is to get the hell away from them. They will be poison whether in a personal relationship or business relationship. They will never change. Of course, be careful in how you leave them, as it could trigger their hatred and revenge, in which case they will stop at nothing to get back at you.
What this means is that there really is no way to “survive” with a narcissist. They will constantly try to destroy you, and destroy your sense of self, and the longer you're around them, the more damage they will cause. So like I said, just get away from them. If it's your partner, leave them quickly. If it's your boss, look for a new job. If it's your parent, well, unfortunately you have to wait until you're old enough to move away, and then start the long process of healing.
So how do you defeat them? Well, like I said, they can never be happy. You should remember that. You, as a non-narcissist, have the capacity for a large amount of happiness, and you should focus on that. Focus on pro-social activities (friends, family, nature, spirituality, exercise, health, etc.) The narcissist, no matter what they do, will never be happy and they will never be satisfied. They will never have a good heart. So this knowledge alone should make you feel better. Even if they cause you to go bankrupt, or to lose your job, or your friends, or kids, or whatever hardships they thrust on you, they are still the ultimate loser, forever miserable – because you can find inner peace and satisfaction, which is impossible for them. So as long as you maintain your sense of self and love for the world, you have, to a large degree, already defeated them.
But if you want to take it one step further, in a way that actually benefits the world, then you should help others to avoid them. It's like if there's a crazy person running around stabbing people. If you see it and jump in your car, you can drive away and you're safe. But other people are still being hurt. It's better to get out of your car and take a risk in order to stop the person from stabbing anyone, ever again. Same with a narcissist. With a narcissist, the best way to help others is to expose the narcissist. That way they are visible for others to see, and people can then take precautions. The narcissist, like the psychopath, is often superficially charming. That's their mask, which often fools others, ensnaring innocent bystanders in the narcissist's web of deceit and abuse. But if you show the world who they really are, their mask is gone. More people should expose the narcissists around them, as it will allow others to avoid them and thus minimise the damage the narcissist causes.
Unfortunately, all civilisations (as opposed to hunter-gatherer and many indigenous cultures) are, essentially, narcissist and psychopath factories. And because our modern society is grossly pathological, with a culture that promotes competition, hyper-individualism, violence, exploitation, racism, misogyny, deceit, wealth accumulation and fame, we will continue to get more and more narcissists. So the key for us remains: avoid narcissists, then expose them. And remember, no matter what they do to you, you can be happy, you can be a good person, and you can form healthy relationships, but they absolutely cannot, and they never will. Some of them may be rich and famous, and they may cause enormous destruction, but they are the ultimate losers.
*Inspired by my former girlfriend and business partner.
There's an important concept left out of survival discussions, because it's not part of our culture and it would probably make us uncomfortable. It's reflected in the question that American Indian parents would often ask their kids: “What have you done today to deserve another day?” What have you done today to deserve another day?
Now, remember, no one honored individual autonomy and freedom more than American Indians. But they knew that just because you're born, doesn't mean you could do whatever you want. There was an element of responsibility inherent in life. Not just for humans, but for all living things. Responsibility to your people, to the land, to the ancestors, to all the creatures and spirits, to future generations. People had freedom – much more than we can imagine – but freedom, to be healthy, had limits. Those limits made them sustainable. It meant making sure you lived in a way which benefits all of life.
So, when it comes to survival, sure, you can learn how to stay alive in the wilderness, how to make fire, filter your water, forage, catch animals for food, and how to cope with life's challenges.
But why? WHY should you survive?
I'm not asking that because I'm superior or better than anyone. Just think of it: Whenever a person finds themselves in a survival situation, what do they do first? They start making promises to whatever god or gods they believe in – and what do they promise? They start promising behaviours which they think will earn them the right to live! For example, they promise to go to church, to be nicer, a better parent, a better spouse, better with their parents, to work hard, and so on – whatever would make them a “good” person, however they define “good”.
So it's usually only when facing death that we ask ourselves that question and start thinking that way. What I'm saying is, we shouldn't wait until we're facing death.
Again, I'm not saying all this like I'm a paragon of perfection. I ask these things to myself everyday.
And you know what, it's not easy, it's a struggle in our society and culture to think this way. Our culture doesn not ask us to be responsible to all of life on the planet. Our culture demands unquestioning obedience that we don't care, and that we think only of ourselves, distract ourselves, stare at screens, make money, try to get rich, and try to gain status.
But look around – we must think this way. We must live in a way which respects all of life on the planet. So we must ask ourselves this question: What have I done today to deserve another day?
So I can teach you survival, or you can study survival. But why? Why should you, or any of us, survive? That's the real question.
In all those nature documentaries, when they show the wolves chasing down caribou, or when they show any predator while hunting (lions, hyenas, great white sharks, etc.) what they don't show you is just how dangerous it is for the hunter.
When wolves go after caribou, elk, or deer, it's never a sure thing. Least of their worries is the animal getting away. They can always try again. Their biggest worry is getting injured by the prey. All it takes is one flick of a head with antlers, and the wolf will be seriously injured. One kick can break the wolf's ribs. This will make hunting extremely difficult and the wolf may even die.
The same goes for all predators. Nature has bestowed prey animals with a multitude of defenses which can be dangerous to predators. Rabbits have speed and powerful legs (have you ever tried holding a pet rabbit for too long?) The ungulates such as deer, gazelle, antelope, zebras, and so on, all have powerful legs. One kick can do much damage to a predator. Even sharks are sometimes found with scars from the defenses of giant squid and seals. The hagfish emits a sticky slime than can choke an animal that tries to eat it. And of course, many animals (and plants) make themselves poisonous.
There's no sure thing in nature. A predator might have bigger teeth and a loud roar, but cornered animals often have something up their sleeve. They can make even a lion wish it had just continued sleeping in the shade.
For a human analogy, consider the arrogance of powerful armies, and what happens when they underestimate their opponents, who have less guns, no missiles, no tanks, and no fighter jets. Be assured - they can still win! Just consider the U.S. invasion of Vietnam, or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Guerrilla fighters, like prey animals, use surprise as defense. (The difference, of course, is that predator species have a biological imperative to hunt, whereas wars among humans is purely cultural.)
Just when the lion thinks he's got a meal of that gazelle - BAM! - a kick to the face changes everything.
There are some valuable lessons for self-defense: Use surprise. Attack weakness. Use what nature's given you. Don't be intimidated. Never give up.
Honeybees are beautiful and wonderful creatures. But even they make mistakes sometimes, and those mistakes turn out to be fatal. That is, they sting humans. I would guess that in most cases of a bee stinging a person, the person is not trying to harm the bee or the hive. A beekeeper may be trying to extract honey, but is not trying to destroy the hive. Often people get scared of a buzzing bee and wave their hands around, which makes the bee then sting.
Whether the bee knows it will die from stinging a human is not the issue; the point is that the bee perceives a threat when there is none. The bee attacks when it doesn't need to. The result is that the bee dies. (If they would instead attack the manufacturers of neonicotinoids, then they'd be onto something.)
There's an important lesson here. People often act just like a bee: they perceive a threat where there is none, and their attack is self-destructive. It's crucial to make sure that any perceived “threat” is actually a threat. And then we should ask ourselves whether attacking can have “blowback” that hurts us even more.
We are, today, facing several serious global threats. If we want to create a healthier culture and a healthier planet, then we need to be more thoughtful about how we expend our energy.
Dance like a bee, make honey like a bee, enjoy flowers like a bee.
But don't sting like a bee!
(with all respect for Muhammad Ali)
Many people end up in survival situations because of their ego. Our egos blind us to reality and push us in irrational directions. Often, a person is trying to prove something or establish their superiority by doing things such as climb mountains, engage in extreme athletic events, and so on. In the city, many (mostly men) will end up getting into street fights in order to “save face”. The cause of many violent crimes is exactly this – injury to the ego and the avoidance of shame or humiliation. In schools, the same behaviour is replicated by youth, both male and female, copying their adult role models. In fact, entire lives are often based around ego – the pursuit of high-status jobs, fame, wealth, etc. Nations go to war as an extension of the leaders' egos. And civilisations self-destruct for the same reason.
Unfortunately, however, ego has nothing to do with our health and well-being; rather, it is the source of misery and our own self-destruction. Even on a broader scale, the destruction of the natural world, including climate change, can be seen as a direct result of our egos, our selfishness and greedy pursuits.
So what to do? One of the best pieces of wisdom comes from that old Kenny Roger's song, “The Gambler”:
You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
This is very good advice!
For example, in the wild, many people get into survival situations because they ignore weather forecasts. They did not “walk away” from their initial plans. Similarly, many people end up in trouble when they press on through dangerous conditions, just trying to get to their destination, rather than either turn back or stop and seek immediate shelter. They were stubborn and unwilling to accept a change in plans.
In a potential street fight, or a war between nations, the fight can be avoided if at least one of those involved has the wisdom to back down, defer, walk away, etc. - and just be willing to look like the weaker one for the sake of peace. This of course requires humility.
The point is, we have to know when it's time to walk away, whether from the poker table, from dangerous weather conditions, from war, from the burning of fossil fuels, from dangerous technologies, from a legal dispute, or simply from an argument between two people. In all these cases, failure to walk away means making things worse.
The failure to walk away is an act of self-destruction, which we discover only too late.
Make the best choice. Ignore your ego.
Nearly always! Human evolution is the story of avoiding conflict. Humans had two million years of cultures which minimised ego and minimised violence. (The idea of humans as inherently violent is only a creation of civilisation.) This was often done through avoidance, mediation and humour.
Look, if you can avoid a fight, that's your best choice. Even if you're big and muscular, fighting always carries huge risks. All it takes is one misstep from you, or a lucky strike from the other person, and you could end up seriously wounded, or dead. Often we overestimate our strength, or underestimate our opponent, and then are shocked (and injured) by the result. You just never know.
A basic rule of self-defense is, if someone threatens you and you have the opportunity to escape, then escape. Run. If someone threatens you with a knife or gun and asks for your wallet and jewelry, give it to them, and let them go away with what they want. It's not worth risking your life for money or jewelry.
On the other hand, if it's clear someone intends to hurt you, then you MUST fight back.
When encountering wild animals, you take the same approach. Slowly back away from the grizzly bear, or elephant, or mountain lion, snake, shark, etc. Wild animals aren't usually interested in humans and don't normally go looking for a fight. Fight back only if attacked, and then, do it with everything you've got.
The bottom line is, in fights all parties involved usually suffer injuries, even the “victor”. Look at any war. Every side in a war suffers, especially the general population, and of course, the natural environment. So really, no one wins in any war. Sometimes, both sides are absolutely guaranteed to suffer immensely. The perfect example of this is nuclear war. There is no such thing as “winning” a nuclear war. In a nuclear war, everyone on the planet loses. This has been called "mutually assured destruction" - MAD. (Anyone growing up during the Cold War, from Russia and the U.S., especially, would remember this.)
Even in fights between two people, whether physical or verbal/emotional, no one really wins. There are always emotional and psychological costs. Sometimes worse. It is a pyrrhic victory; that is, the price paid for any perceived "victory" is actually so great that it adds up to defeat.
Which underscores the important idea: if a fight isn't necessary, then avoid it, because things could get a whole lot worse for you. Put aside your ego, count your blessings, and get on with your life.
As the military computer Joshua in the 1983 film Wargames says;
"The only winning move is not to play."
For more on peaceful cultures, read these books by Douglas Fry: