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Clementine Morrigan on Trauma, Alcohol Recovery, and Challenging Cancel Culture from the Left

Clementine Morrigan on Trauma, Alcohol Recovery, and Challenging Cancel Culture from the Left

Elizabeth Oldfield speaks with writer and podcaster Clementine Morrigan. 14/02/2024



Hello and welcome to The Sacred. My name is Elizabeth Oldfield, and this is a podcast about the deepest values and principles that drive those who are shaping our common life. Every episode, I speak to someone who has some kind of public voice or public platform, and I ask them what’s sacred to them to try and get a sense of the way they are wanting to live and how they think about their vocation. So we go deep, fast, there is no small talk. And I talk to people from all kinds of perspectives, different political and metaphysical philosophies, different professions. Looking back over recent episodes, we’ve spoken to academics, philosophers, artists, spiritual leaders, journalists, anyone who is feeding into the cultural atmosphere, the sort of soup in which we’re all swimming, our public conversations. I try and speak to them in ways that are non–adversarial but curious and empathetic, trying to draw out of them what it is they are trying to do, what is the thread on which they’re pulling and in so doing reveal the individual person behind the position or the tribe that we might have in our mind when we first come to listen to them.

In this episode, I spoke to Clementine Morrigan, who is a writer based in Montreal, in Canada, and she’s a maker of zines. She is known for writing essays about politics, about her socialism, about queer identities, polyamory, veganism, a whole range of things. And she came to my attention because she is now known for being a kind of outspoken leftist critic of cancel culture and she co–hosts with her partner Jay, podcast called Effing Cancelled. We spoke about her traumatic childhood, addiction, the recovery movement, some of the trends and currents that have been going on in the left in recent years, and of course her own experiences of cancellation and where she thinks we are with that topic. It was really, really interesting. There’s a lot of strong language and I should let you know that between about minute 13 and minute 20 she talks about childhood sexual abuse. If that’s something that you don’t have capacity to listen to today, then just skip out the section between about minute 13 and about minute 20. I really hope you enjoy listening. I’m really interested to hear what you all think. And there are some reflections from me at the end.

I am going to dive us right in with not your standard entry question, which is deliberate, because I have almost no ability to do small talk. I would love to hear what you hold sacred, you can push back on me, you can define that however you want, I try and ask people to like bracket out their loved ones. Not that that’s bad. That’s a good, really shared sacred that most of us have. I’m thinking of principles and values that you try and live by, that you try and be guided by, that have defined your life. What bubbled up for you having sat with this for a minute?

What is sacred to you? Clementine Morrigan responds

Clementine Morrigan

The best way that I could describe this is the importance of recognising the singularity of each being. All people, every single being, including animals. They are unique and irreplaceable, in the sense that my dog Clover is not just interchangeable with another dog. She’s Clover, and there’s only one of her and there’s only ever going to be one of her. I think that we each have this deep desire to be recognised in that singularity, to be seen, in the preciousness of our one and only life. There’s this Mary Oliver quote, ‘so what are you going to do with your one precious life.’ That recognition is to me as the heart of the sacred. When we are interacting with each other in our day to day lives, we often gloss over that reality, when we are interacting with people in a kind of rushed way, we can forget that behind every interaction is this being with this whole complex history. We all deeply, deeply want that to be recognised and seen. It’s hard to hold on to that and our day to day lives because we’re busy, we have 10,000 things going on, it’s really hard to hold that recognition with every single interaction that you have. But to me, that is the goal of a spiritual life, is trying to live in the world where we actually hold that. 


So beautiful and regular listeners will be laughing because I talk about Martin Buber a lot who has this concept of ‘I, Thou’ moments. Moments where he talks about an ‘I, it’ posture on the world, which is that most people are sort of functioning as means not ends. He says we’re only fully human and we’re only fully living is in these moments where we see another person and we say, ‘I, Thou’ on that personal encounter. 

Clementine Morrigan

That’s exactly it. I’ve never read his work, but I feel like I’ve come to the same conclusion through my own reflection. For me, since I was a child, I have had this recognition with animals in a very extreme way, and living in a world that completely does not see this in animals or for most animals. People will have this ability to know that their pet is a person, is a singular being with an inner world, but in the larger way that we relate to animals under cat capitalism, we don’t recognize that singularity. I have had the pleasure of taking part in Ayahuasca ceremony twice now. I’m a vegan, and I have been a vegetarian since I was six, so that was already a big thing for me, it wasn’t something that I needed the medicine to show me. I had this extreme vision of factory farmed cows and seeing their eyes, seeing each one is a me. That’s the way that the words came to me, it was like, this is a me. Each being has one precious sacred life. You can see it with animals in the way people use pronouns. When people talk they talk about their pet, they say, he or she, and then when they talk about a deer or a cow or a pig, they’ll say it. That is this objectification that we do with beings that is really immersed in our society and we do with other human beings to know in all sorts of ways where we actually find ways to dissociate from the personhood of other people. So this is a big problem. I think any spiritual practice, at its heart, is about trying to get past that dissociation and recognising the personhood of other beings.


So one of the things about these deep values and principles for us, is they often really get forced to the surface in these forks in the road. We’re not always aware of them, actually. Then there’ll be challenged, someone will try and transgress them, and that’s when we know, or sometimes we do compromise on our sacred values, we all do. But could you think of a moment in your life where that principle has really guided your decision making, has really shaped the path that you took?

Clementine Morrigan

I’ve had many forks in the road where my connection to this has actually put me outside of connection and outside of community because I have seen this and tried to defend it. People who are committed to dissociation in some way or another are really offended, or really need to shut down that recognition that I’m bringing forward because it brings up too many complicated feelings for them.


They don’t want to see that a person has full personhood or a group as having full selfhood. 

Clementine Morrigan 

Exactly. The first the first part of this for me was my vegetarianism. I became vegetarian when I was six, in a family who ate meat and in a community that ate meat. Having that relationship to animals, I immediately was shut down by people around me, and people were very defensive. I have complicated ethics around animals because I don’t believe that killing for food is inherently wrong, because animals kill other animals for food. But the thing is that under capitalism, we do it in this way that is completely objectifying, and totally erases the inner world of that being and doesn’t allow them to have a life. So that was the first one and I have continued throughout my years as a vegetarian and then vegan, I have experienced so much defensiveness and anger from people, even though I’m a very compassionate, non–judgmental vegan. I don’t use shame as a as a way of talking about these things. I understand that we are all forced int moral injury by capitalism and we all act in ways that are out of alignment with our principles due to capitalism. I’m not shaming people. But I do still often experience really intense pushback from people.

Another is my opposition to the prison industrial complex and also to cancel culture. So my insistence that people who have done things that are wrong and that are hurtful, still are human beings who deserve their human rights and that includes the right to be in community because we are social animals and our fundamental need is to belong. I don’t want anyone in a fucking cage. This is like, maybe like one of my most firmly held principles, whether that’s a human being or an animal, I don’t want anyone in a cage. I could think about myself being in a cage and I know that I would not like that, you know? I do a lot of work critiquing cancelled culture. People get really mad at me because they think that defending the human rights of people who have done something fucked up means that we don’t care about the thing that happened. This is not the case. I spent a good 11 years and Alcoholics Anonymous, that’s a very spiritual programme. In Alcoholics Anonymous, we learned that people can change and that the way that people change is through being in community, being seen for their true self. People do fucked up things because of how much pain they’re in. When they actually have the opportunity to connect with a community that sees them, that singularity in them, that their lives are not garbage, that they deserve to come back into the fold. People change when you give them tools to actually figure out: what is your integrity, why did you stray so far from your integrity, what’s going on for you, what is happening here? People do change. That’s something that I really deeply believe in. I don’t see people as disposable, no matter what they have done.

It’s very controversial, and people get really mad at me. I can understand that people have pain. I’m a survivor, I have complex PTSD, my life has been very shaped by trauma. So I understand that when people are in pain, they think that lashing out, causing pain to others is going to be how they get justice, or how they are going to heal. I just totally believe that this is a lie. Not only is it wrong, because it’s damaging other people, it’s just contributing to the cycle of trauma. I don’t believe that it actually gives survivors what they need to heal. What survivors actually need to heal is a huge amount of support in working through trauma. A big part of it has to do with grief. I think being stuck in that cycle of punishment and blame prevents us from doing the work of grief that we need to do in order to move on. I think that stuff is probably what I in the most trouble for when people get really mad at me, is my defense of the humanity of people who have done abusive or otherwise really damaging things.


So much I want to dig into there with you. But I’m going to try and locate you and your story to give the listeners a sense of kind of where you’ve come from. You fill in a few bits, we can imagine you as this six–year–old child making that real stand around vegetarianism. I’d love you to just talk about what was in the air in your childhood. But I’m aware as I do that, that there was trauma in your childhood. And as I was preparing for this interview, I was like, I wonder what trauma–informed interviewing looks like. I don’t know what trauma–informed interviewing looks like, but tell us what feels healthy and comfortable for you to share.

Growing up: vegetarianism, marginalised identities and trauma cycles

Clementine Morrigan 

My childhood was really confusing because on the one hand, I want to acknowledge, what my parents did give me. My mom’s a feminist, and my father is a socialist. So if you look at me and who I ended up becoming, you can see the legacy of what my parents gave me that was positive. The Take Your Daughter to Work Day, my father brought me to a picket line. My mom brought me up on feminism. But due to their own trauma and dissociation, there was also a lot of abuse in my family. There was an extreme dissonance between what my parents were teaching me in terms of their spoken values and then what was actually going on in my family. One of the things that was going on in my family was sexual abuse from my grandfather so this situation was obviously extremely confusing and painful for me. I had no way of making sense of it. In many ways, it totally broken destroyed my brain. 

In terms of my vegetarianism, several different things were coming together. I had solidarity with animals, because I could see the animals were people, I could see that they were beings within an internal world and their own desires and wants and things that they did not want. That was obvious to me, as I think it is to most children. I could see that and then I could therefore empathise with them. I could see that I would not want to have those types of experiences happening to me. But I also can empathise with the experience of abject helplessness, and having things that I did not want to happen to me, actually happen to me, right. Children are quite helpless, we don’t have control over what’s happening to us. We may or may not get parents who have had enough therapy to process their own trauma that they are not repeating the cycle. The cycle is definitely being repeated in my context, and I had no power to change that. I could see that the animals also had no power to change what was happening to them. So I had this profound solidarity. Also, my vegetarianism was a defiant stand in my bodily autonomy. This is my body, and I will not be eating that. Drawing those lines and saying, no, in a context where I was experiencing sexual abuse and where my right to my body was extremely eroded.

My vegetarianism was this extremely important defiance and stand of sovereignty. I’m very stubborn. My family just had to accept it, because eventually they realized I wasn’t going to eat it. Growing up, I grew up in a small town. The idea of a child asserting that kind of a boundary was so offensive to so many of the adults that I came across. Very often in my childhood, there were contexts where various adults would just not accept it and would not allow me to have a vegetarian option. So there was many times where I just didn’t eat dinner. That was like a beautiful place for me to be able to take this stand of my autonomy and my body and also my most deeply held principles, and my solidarity with the animals. That’s sort of the context.

I grew up in a small town and was quite weird and different. I came into awareness and knowledge of my queerness at a very young age, in a very homophobic small town environment. There was just a lot of me feeling like other and then there was all the trauma. That led me down the path of like, becoming a high school dropout, moving out really young, becoming an alcoholic, going crazy. And spending a lot of years in really crazy trauma land. This is where so much of my empathy and compassion for people who have done fucked up things come from, because I know what it’s like to be in a state where you’re in so much pain, and you’re so drunk, that you’re just acting totally crazy and you’re behaving in ways that are really hurtful to others. I have also known many people because of that life that I’ve lived, I’ve known many people who are in that cycle. It’s very obvious to me that those people are human beings, it’s very obvious to me that they’re doing what they’re doing because they’re in so much pain. That empathy really flows out of my lived experience having gone down that path.


I’d love you to paint us a little word picture. It sounds like you were in a kind of alternative schooling system for people who were queer or didn’t make it easy for them to be in mainstream education. Your kind of leftist politics were coming to the fore in that part of your life. It’s very artificial to chunk someone’s life into chapters, but let’s say pre–cancellation. Could you paint a picture of that world and who you were and what were the big ideas? 

Clementine Morrigan

I dropped out of high school because I was getting locked up in psych wards being all crazy and I moved to Toronto when I was 16. I went to an alternative high school that was just a one room classroom in the basement of a church. It was for queer youth or other kids like who might have like gay parents or something, who had been driven out of the mainstream school system due to homophobia. 

I came out of the closet in my homophobic small town high school. I was getting called a dyke every day and having things thrown at me a. So I ended up in this alternative school. This was 2003, it was a long time ago. I think it was the beginning of what now is social justice culture, which is now very hegemonic and mainstream. It was the beginning of a certain way of looking at and understanding power. We were very encouraged to look at everything through a lens of identity. We would do this thing where you’d like stand in a line, and say, take a step forward if you’re white, take a step back if you are queer, take a step forward if your parents have money, take a step back if you have a disability. You would start to look at power as this stacking of identities. The more privileged identities you have, the more power you have, and the less privileged identities you have, or the more marginalised identities you have, the less power you have.

This is coming from a good place, it’s coming from a desire to want marginalised people to have what they need and to have language for what experiences they’re having, to give voice to things like sexism and homophobia and racism. But it’s also a very truncated and inaccurate way of looking at people’s complicated lived experiences. One of the things that I pointed out many times is that there was no take a step back if you were sexually abused. I really can’t highlight enough that is the primary thing that shaped my life. The very extreme things that happened to me, the very extreme violence, the poverty, the mental health struggles that I went through, were directly because I’m a survivor of sexual abuse. But on paper, if you actually just listed out my identities at that time, my parents are middle class, I’m white. Overall, it seems like I should have been doing mostly fine. But where my life went is absolutely fucking insane. There’s no way to understand that unless you take a broader look that is not just about identity, but that is about people’s complicated lived experiences.

We were a group of super traumatized youth. We were there in this alternative school because we were traumatised, because we had been so rejected by the larger society. But most of us also had other kinds of trauma going on. Most of us were in some kind of way separated or estranged from our families. All of us were pretty fucked up, actually. But now we were encouraged to look at each other in this way of suspicion and tried to see who among us had power, and who didn’t. But actually, none of us had power, we had very little access to power because of the fact that we were like traumatised queer youth. It created comparison between people who were all very marginalised. Sure there were differences, but not as much as there were differences between us and people with real power. So it caused us not to look towards people with real power and to be like, how come there’s people who own yachts? Instead, it caused us to look at each other and use this identitarian way of looking at power to be very suspicious of each other. We would constantly be calling each other out for our privilege. Can you really say that queer youth who are super traumatised and don’t have access to adults to be mentors to them in a consistent way, can really say that that’s a privileged position at all?

So that was like my introduction to social justice culture. I came from a leftist family so I did already have some of that, and then I came into social justice culture and I got very intense about identity. But then I took a long nine–year detour of being an insane alcoholic. That was an extreme turn because I did leave that culture and I became so crazy that lfor quite a few years my only friends were like street involved, dudes that I was fucking who were in and out of jail. So my life was not in social justice culture for a good many years there because I was just like hanging out with like sketchy people who are also severely traumatised. None of these people were involved in social justice culture. I wasn’t in queer world anymore. I just totally left and went into this very crazy world which I stayed in until I got sober at 25.

Stepping into recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous 


How did you get sober? I’m so glad you did that.

Clementine Morrigan

Basically, when I was 24, I was in a super abusive domestic violence relationship. That took me to a very extreme rock bottom. The police got involved and there was trials, and it was like a whole thing, my ex was like stalking me and he was very dangerous guy. I had reached a very bad rock bottom. I was in so much pain and the trauma had just compounded so much, because that life of like extreme addiction, repeated violence, many assaults, domestic violence, psych wards, poverty, this is actually like a relatively common outcome for incest survivors. Incest survivors get so traumatised that they end up going into addiction, and then that can take them down a road of lvery intense retraumatization. So I had all of that experience and I had reached like, very intense trauma, I was not okay. I reached a point of desperation. Because I had been incarcerated in psych wards a number of times, I was fucking afraid of that, and I did not want to be locked up. My extreme terror of being locked up in a psych ward really made me not be able to access help at all, because I didn’t trust anybody. Fortunately, after that extremely abusive relationship, the turning point for me was the Toronto rape crisis line. I had been calling them a lot, but it wasn’t enough so I looked up where their office was, and I rode my bicycle there. But there was only phone lines and you couldn’t go in. So I called them and I lost it on them. I was like swearing at them on the phone, I was like, I’m fucking outside, I need help, my fight response was coming through.

They sent me to a different organisation that supports survivors of domestic violence and that had emergency free therapy for survivors that were going through the criminal justice system. Through that, I managed to get a therapist who was non psychiatric, and I was like, I will not be psychiatrised. She was really willing to work with me in that framework. So because of that I was able to access therapy. Basically, I was going to therapy, high, doing insane things and then like going therapy. She did not challenge me on that and honestly, if she had, I don’t believe that I would have stayed. She let me be that crazy, which I do appreciate because I was not ready. If she had said to me, you need to stop being this crazy, I would have been like, fuck you because obviously being that crazy is what I needed to do at that time. Fortunately, I reached this point of being, maybe I need to take a break. I had taken a break from my drinking before but I had started drinking again. It had gone crazy again. So I was like, maybe I need to take a break from drinking. 

That thought was like in my mind and just through happenstance, I crossed paths with a woman who was in AA. When I said I was thinking of taking a break from drinking, she told me about the programme, told me about meetings, and I went and my experience of AA was extremely positive. I was used to being treated like absolute garbage by the people around me in the world, I was used to people looking at me, like there was something wrong with me. In AA, the fact that my clothes were all full of holes and literally falling apart, that I was poor and didn’t have any money, and I was really sketchy looking, did not mean that people were rude to me. In fact, people were extremely welcoming. They shook my hand, they said they were happy to see me there. They welcomed me, there was free coffee, and free cookies, which was incredible to me, because I was like, this is free, I can drink it and eat it and I was fucking hungry. When they describe their experiences, they were seemed normal, but when they describe their experiences of what they’ve been through, I believed them. They had been through what I was going through and so I trusted them to that whatever it was that they were doing, it was clearly something was working for them. I decided to try and I gave it my all and really threw my life into AA and therapy with my new trauma therapist. That was a turning point and it was super hard, but I dragged myself up over the course of a few years and slowly got more therapy slowly got more sober time, slowly started to make friends, did the 12 steps and really grappled with what my life had been. That has been an ongoing journey for 11+ years now. 


So I’m going to confess something to you, which might sound weird. I get really jealous of people in recovery. My spirituality would align very strongly with the principles theology. But I do think there is something extraordinarily almost magically powerful about the way a set of principles and practices that have repeatedly refused to take money or get commercialised or be branded or be co–opted, just like quietly around the world are bringing these pockets of liberation and restoration.

Clementine Morrigan 

I’m a huge 12 step nerd. I absolutely love the 12 steps. I love the history, I know all about the history and I really see Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programmes as anarchist institutions. They really do question power, they have like a symbol set of traditions that guide their structure. I hate representations of 12 steps on TV, because they’re fucking inaccurate and I think it like actually dissuades people from checking it out, because they always have someone with a clipboard. No one has a fucking clipboard. The clipboard implies psychiatry. But most meetings are happening just like in a church basement. The first time I went to a meeting, I assumed that the person at the front was in charge. But then I realised that that they’re not in charge, they’re just a random alcoholic who’s chairing the meeting that day. So as someone who was so afraid of the misuse of power and psychiatrisation, and the power behind that, it was like a huge relief for me because I was free to come and go and no one was no one had the power to tell me what to do. 

The return to social justice and finally getting cancelled


Basically, I want to hear every step of this story in minute detail, and I want to honour your time also. So my understanding is that around the time, you’re beginning to get back involved with what you’ve called social justice culture and the left political movement. Then that’s the kind of break point where you are rejected from that. Would you mind just as far as you’re comfortable today, explaining a bit about what happened? 

Clementine Morrigan 

As I said, when I was drinking, I was not in that world. Once I got sober, I immediately got back into that world. I am a queer person, I’m bisexual, but I’m a very culturally queer person. During my drinking, I just lived in straight world because it was easier for me to just do that when I was a train wreck. But once I got sober, I was like, okay, there’s queer people here. I found my people and I came back into my queerness. I came back into queer culture. Immediately that meant I came back into social justice culture because those two things are a Venn diagram that highly overlaps. Initially, I was very frightened, because this culture that I remembered from 2003 was scary. In 2012, it was even scarier.

So I was really worried because I understood that this culture was very punitive, very judgmental, even though it claimed to be full of righteous justice, it was not forgiving, it had no compassion or kindness for people who had done fucked up things. I had done a lot of things by this point, I had no clean moral slate anymore, I was a street involved drunk, I was a crazy person. I certainly had not been acting in integrity for the years I was out there. I got a lot of solace out of the 12 steps because it taught me that there’s a way to take responsibility, there’s a way to make amends, there’s a way to change. So I really just threw myself into that and I did my best. I did a lot of living amends, which is like changed behaviour. I did a lot of symbolic amends, which is where you do things like, volunteer or make donations in a way to try to like set things right. I did a lot of direct amends, which are where you actually go and talk to the people that you have harmed and you tried to set things right with them. I did all of that very, very thoroughly. I like looked at through the steps and I did change. I was able to reach this level of compassion for myself, but on a social level, I was really scared because it felt like I was building the foundation of my life, on top of this. rickety platform. If anyone found out on a larger scale, what my life had been, I would definitely be cancelled. I knew that but I knew it was like a thought I was not allowed to think.

I really lived in fear. The first five years of my sobriety was this weird time of me struggling with this and going back and forth between l really debilitating shame or my past to finding my principles and my ethics. I realised I would never treat another person who had the life story that I have the way that I was treating myself, I would be able to extend way more compassion and grace to other survivors. There was this dissonance that I was experiencing between the way that people were acting in my political world, my social justice world, and the ethics that I was developing through the 12 steps and through trauma recovery. So at a certain point, there was a breaking point. This was before I was cancelled, it happened a few years before I was cancelled, where I started to come into a realisation that social justice culture was not in alignment with my principles. 

One of the first ways that this came through was that I realised that I had been taking part, in a light way, in the cancellation of others. When people told me this person is bad, this person is problematic, whatever, I would not be that person’s friend anymore. I would just cut them out of my life. There was a number of people that I had done this to, and I did it not because I thought that that person was bad, but because I was deeply afraid, because I knew if I continue to associate with them, I would be bad. I was like, I have enough skeletons in my closet, I’m not going down for you. I was treating people like they were disposable, which goes against my most fundamentally held principles. I was violating my principles. I was doing it for years in sobriety and that started to sit really badly with me. I aligned with 12 steps, where we would help people become the best version of yourself. That’s what I aligned with. Then in social justice culture, people were like, oh, you did something kind of fucked up one time. Fuck you. You’re permanently exiled from humanity. No one is allowed to be your friend. If anyone is your friend, we’re going to harass them. It was very scary for me, because my worst fear was being cancelled, I have so much attachment trauma, I have never belonged. My life has been one story after another of me just being fucking alone.

I did not want to be cancelled, I did not want to have everything I was building taken away from me. But I knew that I couldn’t keep acting this way because it was wrong. So I started to make amends to people that I had cut out, due to cancel culture, I actually started to reach out to those people and to be like, hey, I just randomly cut you out of my life, because people had said things about you. I realised that’s really unfair and you had never done anything to me. I don’t actually know what happened, or if there’s any truth to what I was told. Also, you’re a human being with a full complex story, and you don’t deserve to be treated this way and I’m sorry I contributed to it.

Through that practice, one of the people that I had treated this way, is actually currently my long term partner of almost seven years, who is also my podcast co–host. Jay is this incredibly smart, incredibly cool punk from 12 Steps who I had met at a meeting and who was doing activism that was like me, and who was very similar to me in a lot of ways. I had been warned off of Jay because Jay was problematic, because Jay had been cancelled in Montreal, where they were living. I was living in Toronto. Even though I was really excited about this new connection, I did exactly what I was told, and I cut them out, and I wouldn’t be their friend. So a couple years later, when I was going through this process of making amends, I made amends to Jay, and we hung out, and we hit it off. That became this incredibly important and safe relationship, where I was able to be honest, for the first time. Jay had an analysis of cancelled culture, Jay had been not internationally cancelled on the internet, but soft cancelled in Montreal and was talking about this stuff. The things we weren’t allowed to think and the things we weren’t allowed to say. We talked about them. We both had the 12 steps. I started to fully deprogram from what I now see as like, a type of fundamentalist religion, social justice culture, in which people are spewing orthodoxies and they’re not actually thinking for themselves.

I deprogrammed but I was still fucking terrified of being cancelled. During these years, I was also building up my career as a writer, which was my always my dream and my life, and the thing that was the most important to me. I knew I was in so much danger, because the more I lived in alignment with my integrity, the more likely it was that I was going to be cancelled. And then in 2020, it finally happened. I mean, of course, it was going to happen in 2020, because everyone was locked in the house and going crazy. A lot of people got cancelled that year, and I got cancelled for the most absurd, stupid reasons. I was accused of not sharing Black Lives Matter on Instagram. I was like, I have been sharing it, and the person was like, “de–platform.” Then I was cancelled as a white supremacist across the internet, I lost all my friends, I had to move. It was an extremely fucked up time, and also my worst fear. In that way, like, I was like, well, it happened. I was always afraid it was going to happen because of some true thing that I had done in my crazy life. But it didn’t. It had nothing to do with anything that I had done. It was just a totally made up absurd cancellation, but it took everything from me, almost my entire life that I had built, the vast majority of people that I knew were like publicly denouncing me and cutting me out. They were all being pressured to abandon me. The accusations were insane and totally false. I lost fucking everything except for Jay obviously, and a few close friends who had principles and who withstood harassment for choosing to stay in my life and also lost friends for choosing to stay in my life.

Once I got over the like panic and the suicidality and, the trauma of that, I was like, well, fuck this. Now, I’m just going to be honest. I’m just going to tell the truth. Looking back, I’m like, wow, a lot more about stuff did happen. I couldn’t have predicted how hard it was going to be to be someone who publicly challenged cancelled culture from inside the left and from inside social justice culture. It was very hard and still continues to be hard because there’s a lot of people who fucking hate me and like dehumanise me in a very insane way. I also live fully in my integrity now. Me and Jay made the podcast and we started to openly speak about these things. We found other people who were also deprogramming from social justice culture and critiquing cancelled culture from the left. It’s 2024, it’s been years that we’ve been doing this and we have both grown so much, and really grown into who we are, and live in our integrity. The plain way that I’m speaking to you today, I would never have been able to do this before.


I feel like, you’re right, there’s something very unique about your position. I am also on a journey of becoming just more honest in public about what I think. The few times I felt like I needed to write about these kinds of things, the temptation to put cancel culture in quote marks, it’s really strong. Because your classic people worried about cancelled culture have been on the right. The language used is so contested. A lot of people have taken that journey of either being cancelled themselves, or coming to a conclusion that cancel culture is a real thing, not just something that’s claimed by white male Hollywood comedians, who then get their career back. There’s something troubling happening here. But they can’t stay on the left because that’s not a space for them. The kind of deep central value of freedom of speech on the right means that that’s often where they end up finding a home.

Clementine Morrigan 

Freedom of speech used to be a value of the left and it’s completely crazy that now that it’s apparently the right that loves freedom of speech. It’s true. We don’t love freedom of speech anymore.


I’m politically confused, everyone’s politically confused. All the labels are really complicated. But when you say “I am, and remain and will be a leftist,” just not this particular type of social justice, culture leftist, what do you mean? What are those principles that you’re holding to?

Clementine’s approach to leftist principles and spirituality

Clementine Morrigan 

I believe, fundamentally, that every single person deserves to have whatever it is that they need to survive and to thrive. I don’t believe that this is something that we earn, I believe that this is something that we are entitled to by virtue of being here. This is my fundamental value that I will always have. This is why I believe in healthcare, I believe that housing, healthcare, food, transportation, education, all of the things that we need to survive and to thrive as human beings should not be granted to us based on how much money we have. That is a profoundly dehumanising way of looking at the world. I am against capitalism, because capitalism reduces human beings, animals and the environment to objects that are exploited for profit. I oppose that. I believe that there’s many different ways that this could look and many different thinkers have been trying to figure out how this could look. I definitely have inflections of anarchism in my politics. But I’m a pragmatic socialist. At this point where climate change is, I’m just like, we really need to deal with it as fast as possible. I would like to see people thinking carefully about how we might do this and what might a post–capitalist world look like. I believe that workers should actually be in control of what is produced through their labour and instead of capitalists extracting profit from that. I’m against that, that makes me a leftist. That is what it means to be a leftist. And so I am a leftist. And that is not changing.

The other belief is that we want to be seen in the singularity of who we are. So I want people to be able to be who they are. That means, obviously, that I oppose any type of dehumanisation or any kind of way of thinking that strips people of their precious singularity. So that means I oppose racism. That means I oppose transphobia. I oppose homophobia. I oppose Islamophobia. I oppose xenophobia. I oppose any kind of way of looking at human beings that strips them of their complexity and their specificity and their right to be who they are. These are leftist values and this is what I believe. And it’s actually because I hold these beliefs that I oppose cancel culture, it is exactly from these beliefs that my opposition to cancel culture flows, because I actually see the cancel culture is not in alignment with these values, which I do see as leftist values.

I say this with compassion, and a not condescension, it is an emotionally immature way of dealing with the problems that we are facing. It comes from this fantasy of believing that through punishment, blame and exile, we can get justice, and we can somehow get rid of the problem. But because I’m a survivor, and because I’ve had the life that I have lived, I understand that things are more complicated than that. I understand that there isn’t actually a way to just like excise the problem, we actually have to transform it. You can’t transform things by pushing them away. I went through the criminal justice system and I experienced very horrifying domestic violence, sexual violence, horrifying things, from someone that I really loved. My ex partner is a survivor, he has been through severe fucking trauma, he is a human being, and I fucking loved him. I did not want any of that to happen. I did not want it to end up the way that it did. He has been in and out of jail his entire life, because he’s super fucking traumatized and he has had a really fucking hard life. When he’s in jail, he’s fucking traumatised, and then they let him out of jail and he acts out and he does extreme violence and hurts people. Because he needs so much help but he’s not getting it, then he goes back to jail. We know that this does not work. The left, in 2020, started having this moment of embracing abolitionism, as they were reckoning with the severe racism and violence of the police in the United States. People started being like, well, maybe jails and prison is not really the answer. I’m like, cool, follow that logic through. What is cancel culture? 

Unless you kill someone, which is wrong, or you lock them in a room and never let them see anyone else, which is also wrong, there is no way to separate people from human community. People are social animals, we will always seek community. You can’t make a person go away, except for those two things, which are both very, very wrong. When you put someone in jail, you have not ended the violence that that person has done. You have put the violence in a box. The people in jail are experiencing violence. All we’ve done is said that those people aren’t human beings and don’t deserve protection and so it’s fine that the violence is going on inside the jail. It’s not okay that it’s going on inside of the jail. It’s very bad. It’s very horrible. Those people they were already traumatised, that’s why they ended up there. This is a culture of traumatising and re–traumatising survivors.

Cancel culture does the same thing. Let’s push this person outside of community, let’s make sure that no one will be their friend. Let’s try to attack their job I changed through being given what I needed, through being given compassion, recognition of my humanity. If I had been told, fuck you, you’re a piece of shit, you’re a horrible person, write up on accountability statement and put it on the internet, do all of this cancel culture stuff. I would have just been like, that’s insane, I’m just gonna keep drinking. The kindness, the compassion, the resourcing that I was given is what allowed me to change. I know that people can change.

The other piece, is that, as a leftist, I am very concerned with the misuse of power. I don’t like domination, I don’t like it when people dominate other people. One of the things that’s very interesting about the use of power is that when people wield power over others, they never think that they’re doing it in a in a bad way. They think that they themselves can trust themselves to wield power over others, in a way that is fine. You think that but as the person who you’re wielding power over think that? Part of being a leftist is interrogating the way that power is used, and being careful about how we’re using it. Whenever we’re taking away someone’s right to bodily autonomy, somebody’s right to agency, to free association, these types of very fundamental things, we really have to question why we’re doing that. Do we have the right to do that? How would we like it, if somebody did that to us?  


I have one last question for you but I want to honour your time if we’re okay with five more minutes. I’d love to hear more about your spirituality. Honestly, listening to you and reading your stuff, as someone who comes from a Christian perspective, I was like, these are theological principles. The dignity of every human person, in my language the Imago Dei, every human person made in the image of God. This is what people find very scandalous  about in Christianity, is that every one is forgivable, every one is redeemable, and it is not of our own making there is that it is in the receipt of love and gift from outside that we are loved and then we can love. I’d love you to say a bit more about your spirituality. But also the question that all this leaves me with is, without a spirituality, or without those kinds of commitments, that you can’t really evidence, they’re kind of a priori, that you can’t ground them in data, without those what I would call spiritual principles, is it possible to actually seek justice? Actually seek mercy, actually live together in ways that hold steady to our humanity? Is that maybe what’s driven some of this is, the decoupling from those foundations?

Clementine Morrigan

Yes, I do think that that’s true. I think we’re living in a highly alienated time under capitalism. Many people are completely unmoored and disconnected from a sense of meaning that they may have gotten from spirituality and from community from so I think that’s definitely contributing to the current dehumanisation that’s going on. I wasn’t raised with any religion at all. I was never baptised. I’ve never been to church. But I think spirituality in the most fundamental way that I understand it, is this recognition. It’s recognition in the sense that what we are recognising is there. It’s not we are inventing something or coming up with something. It’s just there in front of us to see. We do see it, we can see it, but we dissociate from it. I think part of the reason we dissociate from it is due to like the massive amounts of trauma that we are all experiencing. Gabor Mate talks about like capital T trauma versus small t trauma and I think a lot of people they don’t think they have trauma because they didn’t have a really insane life or like very obvious violence happened to them. But the way that we are living today is traumatising. In his book, The Myth of Normal, he does such a great job of talking about this about the ways we are all traumatised by this culture and the way that we have been totally encouraged to dissociate from our true authenticity from this singularity that we are, and then also to not see that in each other and not see that in the world and to treat the world in this totally objectifying way.

So when we start to come back into that recognition and to see ourselves and to see each other, right action flows from that. When you recognise in the other, yourself, and you just think, would I like this? It’s the like dehumanisation in response to violence, like dehumanising the perpetrator, to me is such a cop out. If we can’t acknowledge that, we will never understand violence, and we will never understand how it is that people get to the place where they do the horrifying things that they do. It’s a cop out. it does not allow us to actually grapple with what’s really going on. I understand that this is extremely hard work. But it’s also work that I never had a choice in, I had to do it, otherwise I would die. If I did not grapple with these questions and try to figure them out, I would not be alive, I would not be able to have recovered.

I see different religions, or different spiritual paths, as containers that hold something that is, in fact, universal. We as meaning making primates, we use different containers to try to make sense of this thing. All of those containers, they hold different parts of the truth, and they all matter. They’re all important. Whatever that container is, for people, I think it’s good if it leads them to this place of recognition, that the other is just like me, that we are all these singularities, we are all these precious, irreplaceable beings, and we all want to be seen. When we start to approach the world with that kind of empathy, curiosity, compassion, it becomes it becomes intolerable to see people being treated otherwise. There’s a lot of wounding, we’re going to have to address that. Trauma therapy should be fucking free. We need it, and it’s not fucking available. I think that if it was, it would be a lot easier for people to start getting their shit together.


On that important note, Clementine Morrigan, thank you so much for speaking to me on The Sacred.

Clementine Morrigan 

Thanks for having me. It was so great.


Well, what a lot to think about from that episode. Clementine said her sacred value was the singularity of each living being, the kind of individual value and life and she had this lovely thing about the me–ness of each human and each living being. That is just a really clear thread through her work. We’re often all in different places around what is sacred to us and how much we are able to stay loyal to those values or to live by those values at different times. I think it’s not a question you get asked a lot so for some guests, it’s maybe the first time that they’ve been asked to think about that or the first time they’ve been asked to dwell in it for any extended time. But Clementine clearly has sat with this as a kind of guiding, a kind of orientating value in a way that has really shaped a lot of her decisions. I valued how she talked about it as something that’s just a fact in the world. Not as a belief really, that it is a bedrock, that each living being has a singularity, has a value, has a me–ness. She would think of a lot of her work as inviting people not to disassociate and to stay in our deep knowledge of that. I am really familiar with that kind of call and that language around dehumanization the temptation in us to dehumanize others because it’s really uncomfortable to retain our knowledge of the full humanity of other people. It makes us implicated in their sufferings and their struggles. Empathy is painful, right? Our interconnectedness is painful. It makes us vulnerable. I just found that kind of additional alternative language of a refusal to disassociate really helpful.

One of the ways it’s really clear that this value, she would narrate as having shaped her choices, is that when she’s tried to hold true to it sometimes she’s really suffered because she’s lost belonging, she’s lost community, she’s lost her tribe. We didn’t go into it in any depth because as with the trauma stuff, I never want to invite guests to go over painful incidents in their lives in more depth than is necessary. I think whenever we’re asking someone to tell their stories, those crunchy, tricky bits, they’re the most interesting. They’re the most dramatic, but when people are being vulnerable telling their true stories in public, I think I’m always thinking about my duty of care and how much you get people to relive those things. She has written and spoken a lot about the costs of being evicted from her tribe and her community. That’s obviously driven a lot of her future work. Then we kind of went back to her childhood. It’s one of those things, how speaking to actual people about their stories helps shift things that I know theoretically, I can know them emotionally. I can know them in a way that might actually have a chance of impacting my actions. The lives that we see in that have spun completely out of control in the way that Clementine’s did, there is a clear line is between that and childhood trauma. The abuse that she suffered in her childhood just fractured out into everything that she touched. We need so much more compassion and understanding for people whose life’s been out of control because the data shows almost all of them will have got this cluster of adverse childhood events, which is like the opposite of aces in card games. The more of those aces you have in your hand, the less strong your hand is in terms of how you’re able to flourish in the world and the choices available to you and that kind of thing. I’m just reminded again of that call to compassion and that call to curiosity about what’s led people to where they are, if their life has diverged radically from where ours is and if they’ve made a set of choices that we wouldn’t make, to pause a little bit before judging their choices. Obviously the kind of example of that par excellence is the recovery movement, which Clementine talks about so powerfully and so respectfully as a rigorous methodology for both self–honesty about our brokenness and flaws and failures and fragilities and need, and the dedicated, rigorous, holding space for other people and their ability to change even when they’ve done terrible things. And walking with them and believing that the way people change is not judgment or finger pointing or shaming, but an invitation into a community and an offer of hope that change is possible. 

As she was speaking, I realized there’s this funny thing where I have written a bit about the recovery movement and the book that I have coming out later this year and it is true that there is a very strong theological influence on the recovery movement. The God, however you understand them, is there and the approaches to forgiveness and to change are there because of the influence of the Oxford group, which was this big kind of theological movement. But there were other influences, Carl Jung, psychoanalysis, a bunch of other things fed into this pot that made the recovery movement. I was reminded how much you see what you want to see and that slightly that tendency in us to be like narcissists, just like looking through the world, looking for things that remind us of ourselves and that we’re already interested in. When I look at the recovery movement, I see theology. When Clementine looks at the recovery, she sees anarchist politics, because that’s her world and that’s her lenses and that’s the things that she’s interested in. That’s humbling to realise how partial our lenses are and how primed we are to see what we want to see or to see what reminds us of ourselves. Those are the things we’re drawn to, those are the things that we’re warm towards naturally. 

Relatedly, how unflinching she is about herself, I have a lot of respect for. She’s changing her mind, she’s writing about things that she’s understanding as she goes. It didn’t come up in the conversation, but she wrote this essay where she talks about the fact that she previously falsely accused someone of emotional abuse because of what was going on with her PTSD and how she’s been making amends for that ever since. I think the courage to go, I falsely accused someone, is extraordinary and so humanising and so raw and so vulnerable. To do that with as much grace and compassion as I can, it’s really refreshing. 

We have guessed on from all different perspectives and we do, less so now, because I think people really understand what we’re trying to do with the project, but we do get pushback about guests that we’ve had on and people raising an eyebrow and saying, you shouldn’t platform them or they’re this or stop making this terrible person look sympathetic by listening to them. I understand that’s annoying when people that we want to hate become less hateful when we listen to their story. But that is sort of the point, that everyone is less hateful when we listen to their story and we can understand a bit more where they’re coming from. I think where Clementine and the conversations around her really rub up are how much creating space for the possibility of forgiveness and change is basically an apologia for abusers and just letting powerful groups get away with it. It is incredibly difficult thing to navigate. I think in my Christian communities, where we’ve seen kind of leaders who’ve had great falls from grace, is something that congregations and Christians often really struggle to work through. We have to be deeply committed to the possibility of grace and forgiveness and redemption and that people can change. But that sometimes has been misused to mean that people can just get away with stuff or they’re not held to account or they’re able to come back into positions of power too soon. So it’s one of those really sticky things, but obviously Clementine and I line up on that particular value of the fact that people can change and they generally change better through community and hope than through shame and particularly exile. Exile is not a good thing for our souls or ability to change in a healthy direction. I mean, I could go on and on, there was so much in there, but I’m going to leave that for now. 

I would be really interested in what you think. You can find me on social media, Twitter and Instagram. You can find The Sacred in both those places. I have a website, I have a substack called morefullyalive, I have a book coming out in May, which is called Fully Alive: Tending to the Soul in Turbulent Times, which is now available to pre–order. You’ll hear a bit more about that in the coming months, so I don’t want to wang on about it too much yet, but it is there if you’re very organised and you want to go support your local bookshop at or in person in a bricks and mortar local independent bookshop. That’s even better. That’s all from me for today. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of The Sacred. Our production team are Daniel Turner and Fiona Hanscombe. We’re edited by Drew Horley and our music is by Luke Stanley. The Sacred is a project of the think tank Theos and I would love if you would go and check out our wider work. There are many things to explore there and a bunch of fascinating people thinking and working across many of these fields and themes and I think you might enjoy digging in if you haven’t already. I will speak to you next time.

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Elizabeth Oldfield

Elizabeth Oldfield

Elizabeth is host of The Sacred podcast. She was Theos’ Director from August 2011 – July 2021. She appears regularly in the media, including BBC One, Sky News, and the World Service, and writing in The Financial Times.

Watch, listen to or read more from Elizabeth Oldfield

Posted 14 February 2024

Ethics, Forgiveness, Identity politics, LGBT, Podcast, The Sacred


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