Why the Culture War Must END — Part 3: The Normalization of Bullying and Abuse

Robert B. Marks
6 min readDec 12, 2023

NOTE: This was originally intended to be a single article. However, as the word count grew ever higher, it became clear that it would need to be divided up into bite-sized chunks. So, there are five parts, and you can read the others here:

Part 1: The Death of Nuance

Part 2: Psychological Harm

Part 4: Exposing Western Culture to its Enemies

Part 5: Ending the Culture War

In any highly politicized environment, bullies will thrive. The culture war is no different. And what we see today is an environment of discourse between culture warriors and those they talk about (creators, fans, and those on the other side) with all the markings of an emotionally abusive relationship.

Psychology Today once published a list of twelve warning signs of emotional abuse. They are:

  • Monitoring and controlling a person’s behavior, such as who they spend time with or how they spend money.
  • Threatening a person’s safety, property, or loved ones
  • Isolating a person from family, friends, and acquaintances
  • Demeaning, shaming, or humiliating a person
  • Extreme jealousy, accusations, and paranoia
  • Delivering constant criticism
  • Regular ridicule or teasing
  • Making acceptance or care conditional on a person’s choices
  • Refusing to allow a person to spend time alone
  • Thwarting a person’s professional or personal goals
  • Instilling self-doubt and worthlessness
  • Gaslighting: making a person question their competence and even their basic perceptual experiences.

The aforementioned example of the reaction to Russell T. Davies’ return to Doctor Who displayed a number of these warning signs including (but not limited to):

  • Demeaning, shaming, or humiliating a person: Davies was condemned for losing his way, becoming part of the “woke mob,” and betraying the fandom. Critics of the show were declared to be transphobes.
  • Extreme jealousy, accusations, and paranoia: Davies, as mentioned above, was accused of deliberate attempts to destroy the legacy of Doctor Who despite all the evidence to the contrary that he was trying to preserve and make it available. None of his failures in storytelling or representation were given the benefit of the doubt and suggested to be honest mistakes — they were always given the most extreme negative interpretation. In addition to the above-mentioned accusations of transphobia for those who found the transgender character wanting, critics of the race-swap casting of Sir Isaac Newton were accused of racism.
  • Delivering constant criticism: Nothing Russell T. Davies did would satisfy the culture warriors to the right. No criticism, no matter how legitimate, would be considered valid by the culture warriors on the left.
  • Making acceptance or care conditional on a person’s choices: Culture warriors on the right demanded that Russell T. Davies undo the Timeless Child storyline. When he did not do so, they declared his entire run to be a loss before the first episode had aired.

But while it would be nice to believe that this is limited to the most vocal of culture warriors in print and video, this has also become endemic to social media and discussion forums. I have my own personal experiences with this from two different subreddits. In my article revisiting the “Puppy Wars,” I talked about an incident of a temporary ban on the Fantasy subreddit for pointing out that the Sad Puppy slate had been diverse, and that it was the “Hugo Defenders” who had been making voter suppression arguments that would have put them on the wrong side of the civil rights movement. This post had not violated a single subreddit rule — in fact, the rule against “dismissing diversity” and “going against our values of inclusion” had been violated by the moderators themselves in their justification for issuing the ban. But that was not the end of the story. Within a couple of days of posting the Medium article, the ban was made permanent and I was sent a message that included this chilling paragraph:

“We were made aware of the Medium article which you posted in response to your 7 day ban. When our team issues a ban, it is our expectation that users take this time to reflect on their behavior and how they can bring it into alignment with our subreddit mission, values, and mission. Given that you describe this ban as baffling and are publicly pushing back against our ideals and promoting the same type of content for which you were banned, we cannot feel confident that you will not repeat the same behavior for which you were banned in the future. Thus, we have now made this ban permanent.” (Emphasis mine)

This is literal thought policing. Anybody in any discourse should be permitted to change the mind of others through persuasion — using reason and logic and the presentation of facts and argument to convince somebody that one stance is correct and another wrong. But, this is a blatant attempt to control thought through the exercise of force. It also hits a number of the warning signs of emotional abuse:

  • Monitoring and controlling a person’s behavior: the permanent ban was not issued based on anything posted on the Fantasy subreddit, but instead based on a Medium article. The moderators applied punishment based on behaviour on another website that was not associated with their subreddit.
  • Extreme jealousy, accusations, and paranoia: As noted above, none of the subreddit rules had been broken by the original post. The only ones breaking the subreddit rules were the moderators in their correspondences.
  • Making acceptance or care conditional on a person’s choices: Participation in the subreddit was made conditional upon holding an approved opinion. When it became clear that I would not hold that opinion, all possibility of participation was revoked.
  • Gaslighting: making a person question their competence and even their basic perceptual experiences: The words “diversity” and “inclusion” are not complicated ones — they have simple meanings. The justification given by the moderators for each ban not only demanded that I accept the meanings of these words being twisted to mean the exact opposite, but that considering this twisting of meanings to be “baffling” was somehow wrong.

This was not the act of a rogue moderator. The moderator who sent the message had made a mistake in the copying and pasting, and the first sentence in the note from the moderators was “Suggested ban message:” — which means that these actions, which were abusive, controlling, and in direct violation of the rules of the subreddit, had been discussed and approved by the moderators as a group. This was a direct violation of the Moderator Code of Conduct, as well as the content rules and Reddit Terms of Service (and I did sent Reddit a complaint of moderator misconduct).

But this was not the only time this happened. More recently in the Doctor Who subreddit, a post was removed about how the casting of Sir Isaac Newton was a waste of the actor, and he should have been used to portray a historical figure from the area of India/Pakistan, and that Doctor Who should go to previously unexplored locations around the world. The justification for this removal was that “criticising it for being ‘too diverse’ or ‘too woke’ breaks our prohibition of discrimination.” When I appealed this and pointed out that the word “woke” had never appeared and that I was arguing for more diversity instead of less, another moderator muted me from the subreddit in a reply with the following statement: “You saying the Indian actor should go back to India? Doctor who is not a history document.”

There was no way any reasonable person could interpret a statement that an actor who is visibly Indian should portray a historical figure from their Indian heritage instead of one from their British heritage as being a suggestion that the actor himself should go back to India. This was gaslighting and bullying, plain and simple — an attempt to keep somebody in line through the application of force (and it too resulted in a complaint to Reddit for blatant violations of the Moderator Code of Conduct).

This sort of behaviour in communities has become endemic. It is another shade of cancel culture, which at this point is well documented. And it is fuelled and enabled by the culture war. Without the culture war, race swapping a historical figure would not be tolerated no matter what their original skin colour may have been. But with it, everything can be weaponized, and bullies can use this to justify their abuse, coercion, and control.

NEXT: Exposing Western Culture to its Enemies



Robert B. Marks

Robert B. Marks is a writer, editor, and researcher. His pop culture work has appeared in places like Comics Games Magazine.