December 30, 2021 - 2:46pm

So-called ‘cancel culture’ is often conflated with the Left, as though mass online pile-ons are a moral failing of one worldview exclusively. But while it may be appealing to blame this phenomenon on The Other Guys (intersectional feminists, for example) the sad tale of ‘masculinity influencer’ Jack Murphy suggests something deeper is at work.

Murphy runs an online men-only membership group called The Liminal Order, whose remit is cultivating ‘positive masculinity’. He is (or was, until very recently) a prolific Twitter presence and regular guest on Right-wing and manosphere podcasts.

He incurred the wrath of the Online Right when he responded rudely to podcaster Sydney Watson asking him about ‘the cuck article’. The article in question was a 2018 piece Murphy wrote on ‘Cultivating Erotic Energy From A Surprising Source’, that source being sending his girlfriend to have sex with other men.

From the perspective of the ‘manosphere’, letting other men have sex with your girlfriend is a definite no-no, and will earn you the ultimate put-down: ‘cuck’, which is to say ‘cuckold’, an ultimately un-masculine man. Murphy’s defensiveness poured petrol on the flames: aggrieved fans combed the internet for other historic Murphy content, turning up pornographic videos depicting Murphy inserting objects into an orifice where, in the view of the majority of the manosphere, the sun of machismo should never be permitted to shine.

The ensuing memes have been brutal. It’s difficult to see how Murphy can persist as a beacon of masculinity among the online Right, a group for whom cuckoldry and anal penetration are perhaps the most potent symbols of emasculation possible. This, then, is a vintage instance of ‘cancellation’, a breach of in-group moral codes, outside the Left.

Rather than treating this as an instance of ‘both sides’, though, it’s worth considering how the whole squalid episode illuminates a paradoxical feature of social media ‘masculinity’ as such. That is, the very structures of social media force even the most anti-feminist of communities into feminised styles of conflict.

In a 2013 paper, Harvard psychologist Joyce Benenson examined female-typical intrasexual competition. Where male competition tends to be overt, hierarchical and sometimes violent, women are — Benenson argued — as competitive as men but more indirectly so, preferring approaches such as covert aggression, group pile-ons and social exclusion.

What’s striking is how much this looks like so-called ‘cancel culture’, which on the face of it might seem to support the theory that this is somehow all the fault of women, or perhaps feminism. But what if it’s literally just the technology?

Moving most of our public life online effectively forecloses the possibility of physical violence, while radically amplifying the potential for mob bullying and indirect competition. In that context, the kinds of conflict Benenson describes become the only possible ones.

In this neutered battlefield, even a masculinity influencer found himself ruined, by masculinity fans, in cancel culture’s feminised key. In other words: ‘cancel culture’ isn’t a phenomenon only of the Left, and certainly not only of women. Rather, we should conclude from this that what the manosphere calls being ‘cucked’ is in truth an effect of the media we all now use to conduct our public life. And that the idea of a ‘social media masculinity influencer’ was always, inescapably, a contradiction in terms.

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.