Cancel culture is a way to apply social penalties to individuals whose misdeeds or social faux pas (depending on what they actually did) have come to light. These social penalties include shaming tactics as well as unfollowing and other social media actions (viral posts that reveal whatever is problematic about their target). The purpose of canceling is to reduce or eliminate that person’s (or company’s) influence by highlighting their mistakes. It requires a response by the canceled party, and then evaluates that response in terms of sincerity and effectiveness to determine if they will in future remain inside the boundaries of acceptable behavior.
The term came to prominence in 2015, and many celebrities and other “influencers” have been canceled since then. You’ve doubtless heard of many of them.
On the upside, cancel culture points out behaviors that are socially unacceptable or hypocritical. For example, when Lea Michelle (Rachel Berry on Glee) posted in support of Black Lives Matter, her prior outrageous diva-like behavior as the star of her own show, particularly in targeting, belittling, berating, and excluding fellow actors who often happened to be people of color was immediately made public to point out her hypocrisy in supporting the BLM movement while herself being the opposite of an ally. She was quickly, and perhaps rightly, smeared on Twitter. She gave a semi-apology, but dismissed her behavior as that of a newly famous teen who was immature and lacking in empathy for others, like many teens. #notalldivas
Cancel culture can also introduce nuance into a black and white / heroes and villains narrative that is unrealistic and harmful when believed. For example, rather than seeing Christopher Columbus as a chosen-and-directed-by-God heroic adventurer, we can see that he also committed genocide and laid the groundwork for exploitation and slavery for centuries to come. We can question the history we’ve been taught to have a more accurate understanding of the world which can increase empathy and lead to better societies in the future.
Does It Work?
Does “canceling” actually work? Is cancel culture a net positive or negative? These are questions that depend on what the aims of canceling someone are. Is it enough to reduce the influence of a bad actor or does it give that canceled person increased influence through notoriety? Does outlawing offensive speech and actions result in a more civil or better society or does it just drive those motives deeper where they are invisible but as present as ever? (For evidence of this theory, see the 2016 election).
Here are a few of the downsides of “cancel culture”:
- We claim to believe in free speech, but this muzzles speech identified as “objectionable” based on moving goal posts.
- For the canceled party, it can be hard to recover due to the level of scrutiny involved. Their previous actions and statements can be evaluated with a presentee lens that may ignore context and changed views. Their current statements need to be perfect, beyond criticism, to undo the cancellation, and even so, some folks will simply disagree that their contrition was sufficient.
- Their response may simply be performative anyway. If you are a public figure, trying to regain your lost relevance, you have strong social motivation to pretend you are “woke,” even if you aren’t. This can devolve into a subjective public voting on whether you were sincere or not, and then an endless evaluation of what was lacking in your newfound wokeness.
- We encourage people to hide problems instead of dealing with them. If we make it impossible to express even slightly wrong or misinformed views, we shut down any dialogue that would educate or increase awareness.
- Outlawing certain speech through social disapproval can create a sense that what’s unspoken is actually worse than it was. It casts it all in a black & white light (unacceptable) rather than understanding the context of the remarks or actions. For example, we no longer say “colored” or “negro” as terms to describe African Americans. Younger people may not realize that these were mainstream terms that were not considered insensitive slurs when they were in vogue, even though they fell out of favor and were replaced by “better” terms. Those who used these terms weren’t necessarily using them with negative intentions.
In his book The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Idea are Setting up a Generation for Failure, author Johnathan Haidt discussed the suppression of ideas that has become an increasing trend on college campus:
“Throughout Greg’s career, the calls for campus censorship had generally come from administrators. Students, on the other hand, had always been the one group that consistently supported free speech—in fact, demanded it. But now something was changing; on some campuses, words were increasingly seen as sources of danger. In the fall of 2013, Greg began hearing about students asking for “triggering” material to be removed….Greg also noticed an intensified push from students for school administrators to disinvite speakers whose ideas the students found offensive.”
“In years past, administrators were motivated to create campus speech codes in order to curtail what they deemed to be racist or sexist speech. Increasingly, however, the rationale for speech codes and speaker disinvitations was becoming medicalized: Students claimed that certain kinds of speech—and even the content of some books and courses—interfered with their ability to function. They wanted protection from material that they believed could jeopardize their mental health by “triggering” them, or making them “feel unsafe.””
“What is new today is the premise that students are fragile. Even those who are not fragile themselves often believe that others are in danger and therefore need protection. There is no expectation that students will grow stronger from their encounters with speech or texts they label “triggering. . . . Students were beginning to demand protection from speech because they had unwittingly learned to employ the very cognitive distortions that CBT tries to correct. Stated simply: Many university students are learning to think in distorted ways, and this increases their likelihood of becoming fragile, anxious, and easily hurt.”
Haidt’s view is that our intolerance for offensive ideas (such as challenges to progressive ideas about racial injustice or sexual discrimination) is packaged with the idea that such speech is actually harmful which is a self-fulfilling prophecy wrapped up in anxiety-producing thought processes like catastrophizing, envisioning worst case scenarios rather than separating speech and ideas from actions and outcomes.
While I don’t fully agree with Haidt, you can’t arrive at middle age as I have without realizing that what is considered offensive in society has changed from the mid-80s to now. For example, I use the term “Asian” rather than “Oriental” (a term my mother still uses). Even the Ramen noodle package that used to say Oriental Flavor now says Soy Flavor. When I moved to Singapore in 2011, I noticed my assistant used the term “Oriental” in reference to herself. I asked why she said that rather than “Asian,” and she said, “Oriental, Asian, it’s all the same!” I still didn’t change the word I used because I know that it’s considered a loaded term in the US and was officially banned from government documents during the Obama administration. Like my assistant, though, many Asian Americans disagree that this term is offensive or problematic:
“I don’t see it that way; I see self-righteous, fragile egos eager to find offense where none is intended. A wave of anti-Oriental discrimination is not sweeping the country. Besides, the term has been steadily falling out of circulation since the 1950s, and it’s mainly used today by older Asians and the proprietors of hundreds if not thousands of restaurants, hotels, shops and organizations with Oriental in their name. The well-intentioned meddlers will create trouble for exactly the population they want to defend.” Jayne Tsuchiyama
So, in this example at least, considering the term offensive is a form of virtue signalling primarily for the benefit of younger generations who may not even know why the term is being shelved or what it meant originally. (It literally means “from the East” as opposed to “from the West”; maybe we should just call Americans Occidentals to even the score.)
The Time’s They are A Changing
Here’s another example. We bought a lot of collectible Walt Disney hardback children’s books when our kids were little, and now it’s time to clear out some space. I found four Brer Rabbit books among the collection, which brought back my memories as a child in the 70s of my mom reading me one of my favorite stories, The Tar Baby . When my adult kids saw that I had Brer Rabbit books, they were scandalized, assuming the worst kind of racism possible was contained therein. The thing is, we bought these books in the mid-90s over twenty years ago, and they were already cleaned up then.
As I explained the story to my daughter to see if she’d recognize the pivotal scene from the Disneyland ride, she struggled to see why the story was racist. Was the tar baby offensive because black people were tarred and feathered? No, the stories were just written by a white person, using black vernacular, and Uncle Remus was a freed slave, telling fables that illustrated how important it was to live by your wits. It’s a little disturbing that a rabbit punches and kicks a baby. The original stories, the ones my mom read to me, were written in a strong southern black vernacular that was almost comic in its extremity. Here’s a sample passage:
“`Mawnin’!’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee – `nice wedder dis mawnin’,’ sezee.
“Tar-Baby ain’t sayin’ nuthin’, en Brer Fox he lay low.
“`How duz yo’ sym’tums seem ter segashuate?’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee.
“Brer Fox, he wink his eye slow, en lay low, en de Tar-Baby, she ain’t
“‘How you come on, den? Is you deaf?’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee. ‘Kaze if you
is, I kin holler louder,’ sezee.
“Tar-Baby stay still, en Brer Fox, he lay low.
“‘You er stuck up, dat’s w’at you is,’ says Brer Rabbit, sezee, ‘en I;m
gwine ter kyore you, dat’s w’at I’m a gwine ter do,’ sezee.
“Brer Fox, he sorter chuckle in his stummick, he did, but Tar-Baby ain’t
“‘I’m gwine ter larn you how ter talk ter ‘spectubble folks ef hit’s de las’
ack,’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee. ‘Ef you don’t take off dat hat en tell me
howdy, I’m gwine ter bus’ you wide open,’ sezee.
“Tar-Baby stay still, en Brer Fox, he lay low.”
These are the stories my mom read to me, literally when I was still learning to read. I’ll be honest; 5 year old me could not make head nor tail out of these words. It was like a foreign language. Here’s the 1990s version of the same story in Brer Rabbit and His Friends (are Brer Fox and Brer Bear actually his “friends”? They are trying to kill him!):
Brer Rabbit came by and saw the stuffed rabbit.
“Howdy!” said Brer Rabbit.
But the stuffed rabbit did not say howdy.
“Can’t you talk?” asked Brer Rabbit. “Where are your manners?”
The stuffed rabbit just sat there.
Brer Rabbit was mad.
“If you don’t say howdy by the time I count to three, I am going to punch you in the nose. One, two, three!” Brer Rabbit punched him in the nose.
Anyway, you get the gist. We no longer have a tar baby, for one. It’s a fake rabbit made of glue and twigs. Rabbit-on-rabbit violence is more palatable than rabbit-on-baby, but the tar baby has been literally white-washed. The pictures in the book show a white rabbit, not a black tar baby. We also don’t have the dialect that some critics have said was exaggerated from the get go. I suppose it’s going to be easier for parents who are teaching their kids to read.
A few politicians have gotten in Dutch (is that a racial slur?) by referring to the Tar Baby metaphor, which is that the more you get entangled in a problem, the harder it can be to extricate yourself. John Kerry, John McCain, Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney have all been criticized for referring to the story. An article in the New Republic argued that many are “unaware that some consider it to have a second meaning as a slur . . . those who feel that tar baby’s status as a slur is patently obvious are judging from the fact that it sounds like a racial slur.”
Are Comedians a special case?
The role of jester was traditionally an important and protected one within royal courts. Courtiers were consummate politicians whose sole job was to avoid pissing off the person in power who could literally have them killed on a whim. Court jesters were immune from the consequences of telling the truth. They might have to be clever, witty and funny in telling the truth, but they could say things that others would never get away with. In such a politically charged environment, allowing one person to say the uncomfortable truths is valuable to keep things realistic.
Many of those who’ve been cancelled are comedians. Sometimes this has been for their disgusting behavior, such as masturbating in front of others or sexual assault, things that are criminal or at least harassing acts. But sometimes it’s for speech–a comedian makes offensive remarks and or uses racial or misogynist slurs in their act. Comedians often explain their mistakes by saying that they pushed a boundary “too far,” but they are also making it clear that their role in society is to push boundaries, to say what others will not, to speak the unspeakable truth. Of course, whether they are really doing that or are just full of themselves is another matter. A lot of this type of humor isn’t funny, but some is. If it’s truly clever or uniquely insightful, it may be valuable speech about reality and society. If it’s just ranting offensively, it’s not. Yet these are subjective values, and everyone will have a different opinion on them.
In 2019, Shane Gillis, a stand up comedian, was hired, then fired by SNL. He reputedly had an amazing audition and a strong career as a stand up comedian, but he was fired due to anti-Asian slurs, anti-LGBT and misogynist slurs in his act. Andrew Yang, erstwhile presidential candidate who wanted to give everyone $1000 a month, disagreed that Gillis should have been fired for calling Chinese people “chinks,” mimicking their language, and saying that they should all move to Chinatown which was a terrible place nobody else would want to live. Yang said:
“I’ve experienced a lot of anti-Asian racism throughout my upbringing, and it hurts. It’s something that is very real, and I do think anti-Asian racial epithets are not taken as seriously as slurs against other groups. But at the same time, bigger picture, I believe that our country has become excessively punitive and vindictive about remarks that people find offensive or racist and that we need to try and move beyond that, if we can, particularly in a case where the person is, in this case, to me, like a comedian whose words should be taken in a slightly different light.”
- Does it lead to better outcomes in society (e.g. less racism or homophobia, more sensitivity and empathy)?
- Is it empty virtue signalling that just hides problems like racism or misogyny?
- Does cancel culture go too far? If so, when and how do you know?
- Is the Tar Baby a racist story? Why or why not?
- Whose influence would you cancel for their actions or speech?
 Not to mention bizarre. Telling a fellow actor you are going to “s**t in her wig” is crazypants in my book. Who does that??
 Which is also the basis for the Splash Mountain ride, or was because it’s now being changed to the Princess and the Frog which I’m totally cool with; it’s better known and more relevant to today’s kids and young adults.
 The older you are, the more you may be unaware or your habits may be harder to break. This is one reason that so many temple sealers make crazy sexist comments (and other weird rants) when they are performing the ceremony, one of the last things you’ll hear about in a temple prep class, but maybe you should be warned.
Does cancel culture lead to better outcomes in society (e.g. less racism or homophobia, more sensitivity and empathy)?
No, or at least usually not.
Is it empty virtue signalling that just hides problems like racism or misogyny?
Does cancel culture go too far?
If so, when and how do you know?
Whenever it is uncharitable, unkind, or intolerant, it may have gone too far. We should try to appreciate our pluralistic communities.
Is the Tar Baby a racist story? Why or why not?
No — it was a product of its time. If one insists that Br’er Rabbit is white and the tar baby is black, maybe, but the story does not require or even suggest that connection. Really, the story is colorblind. Tar is used for the baby because it is sticky, not because it is black. I always saw Uncle Remus as a wise man with witty stories, like Aesop. The moral if the story: Even a hero (Br’er Rabbit was the hero) makes mistakes by letting emotion control and getting involved in a sticky situation, but the hero’s wits can still save from real danger (Br’er Wolf).
Whose influence would you cancel for their actions or speech?
I generally never like the loudest or the most shrill voices in the crowd, on whatever side — I wouldn’t want to cancel them, but it would be nice if they were a little quieter. And I don’t like those who deliberately lie and misconstrue, but I realize we live in a pluralistic society.
Great post. My sense of cancel culture is that it has a few well-intentioned goals, but that its become draconian and reactionary. It’s a bit like political correctness. I was in college when political correctness really started taking off. On the surface, many of P.C. intentions are good: It’s polite, empathetic and kind to refer to groups of people (or individuals) using terminology they themselves prefer; it’s also polite and kind to employ language that recognizes and respects difference, demonstrates an awareness that groups of people are treated differently in a culture, etc. But there is a downside: Political correctness gives actual racists and homo- and trans-phobes and misogynists a way to conceal their prejudices: using politically correct terminology and political correctness can be a way to conceal one’s still-existing prejudices and PC can lead to a focus on policing language rather than enacting real, sustained and sustainable change. I think the same could be said about cancel culture; its good intentions about policing hate-speech (and other forms of offensive speech or actions) are, IMHO, rather easily co-opted by those who wish to virtue-signal, prove how woke they are, etc. Its reactionary character also tends to shut down conversations that could be productive rather than enabling them. It’s also not really subtle or nuanced. I think cancel culture actually discourages the conversations that our country desperately needs to have. If people are so scared of being canceled that they don’t say anything or stay silent for fear of using the inappropriate term or unintentionally saying something offensive, that’s not really progress.
I’ve read The Coddling of the American Mind — it sure seems like they have identified a glaring defect with how speech on campus has become a problem rather than a positive feature of college life. Not that the book has changed anything. The whole point may be moot with the coming implosion of the higher ed industry in the wake of Covid-19. In a couple of years there will be a whole new batch of PhD’s working at the post office because they won’t be working at universities anymore.
Yes, lots of virtue signalling and no self-criticism. The exaggerated sense of virtue makes practitioners bridle at any external criticism.
I’m not sure how the whole thing translates into Mormon culture. “We also have a tendency in Church culture to do more preaching than listening when it comes to understanding the concerns of others.” That’s true, but it has been true for a long time, well before “cancel culture” came into vogue. Perhaps the tone deafness that comes with advanced age is more exaggerated in the Church because our senior leaders are a generation or two older than leaders of other institutions in society. There was a real missed opportunity when the emeritus general authority system was put in place twenty or thirty years ago — but apostles were exempted. So right now the Big Nine (the First Presidency and the six senior apostles, the ones who make decisions) are roughly 95, 87, 86, 91, 79, 79, 67, 79, and 75. I think that’s a more basic problem for the Church than anything to do with cancel culture.
All cultures cancel, all individuals take offense to some words or images in one form or another, and all cultures have taboos of one form or another. Conservatives like to think that it is just the liberals doing the canceling but forget that the many, many instances of conservatives, particularly right after 9/11, doing the canceling. I hear conservatives mocking liberals for being overly sensitive and then turn around and get offended over a journalist saying “Mormon church” and sign a petition calling on the New York Times to rewrite the obituary of Thomas Monson.
I disagree with some calls for cancellation, in the form of firing, resignation, or tarnishing of a reputation, but sometimes this is warranted. Overall, however, while I hear lots of anecdotes, I don’t see any hard data indicating that this so-called “cancel culture” is having a large negative effect on the economy, freedoms, rights, and politics. In fact, strong sensitivity against racial and homophobic slurs appear to have help make progress on rights for minorities and LGBTQ+s. The “crisis” of cancel culture and political correctness is really a manufactured crisis.
It’s not a free speech thing either. We have more freedom to speak than we’ve ever had. And I support the freedom of people to express offense at things that offend them and protest against the person that said that, ridicule, mock, disagree with, and call for their firing and resignation. I support the right of someone to post a video of someone saying something offensive and the right of someone to go to the press with that offensive statement (as long as libel and slander laws aren’t violated).
This might sound quaint but I miss the “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” mentality. Let me put it another way: As long as your words don’t incite violence, I’m all for your right to say whatever you want. And frankly, the more vile your words the more principled my position. I’m in favor of total transparency. Let people say whatever they want openly and let the chips fall. At least half the time the haters out there will harm themselves more than others by their own words.
I’m not completely opposed to cancel culture. I appreciate that our broader society is willing to hold public figures accountable when they say or do things that are insensitive, abhorrent or hypocritical. A generation ago these public figures would have had few or no consequences. As someone who spent much of my life quietly following the rules while watching others around me get ahead by breaking the rules, it feels just.
Does it go too far sometimes? Perhaps. But it’s part of the current zeitgeist, which (by definition) will change eventually. I think our culture is still trying to find our footing with handling the pervasiveness of social media and other technology, and what it means for morality and accountability in an age of moral reckoning on many fronts (race, sex/gender, orientation, economic, environmental, etc). I also think a lot of the extreme instances of cancel culture come from a collective frustration with the fact that one of the most contemptable public figures in the country right now manages to escape accountability for his actions over and over again, no matter how much the public tries to “cancel” him.
Joel Chandler Harris, who created the Uncle Remus character and wrote the books about him, did not create original stories but published actual African American folk stories that he listened to as told by slave and freed African Americans he knew. His book “Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings”, of which I have a copy, contains not only the folk stories but also traditional African American folk songs. He published his books in order to preserve these traditional stories and songs that he knew would be lost if he didn’t. Judge them as you will, but they were certainly not published as racist stories and absolutely were not told as racist stories by their original African American story tellers.
I’m really afraid of the young progressives coming out of college who are so down with outright censorship. They’re so happy when Facebook deletes videos of doctors spouting theories contrary to generally accepted data. They love cancelling celebrities who aren’t politically correct, even when the celebrities are actually on their side and promoting awareness for the very things they get cancelled over. Context and complexity are completely beyond them, and the fact that they FEEL so strongly makes thinking irrelevant, even heretical. Purity is so important that just expressing moderation risks getting one canceled. These people are so utterly sure of their moral superiority that they’re not only eager to silence anyone with an opposing/offensive view, but give indications that their morality takes primacy over other people’s liberty and property as well. Their mindset strikes me as similar to religious theocracies, but fortunately they don’t have the structure.
Paraphrasing Mr. Spock: “To claim that a word, phrase, or action is offensive; while the same is used by the one claiming offense, is not logical.”
Evidences (dare I say proof) suggest that what is said/done is not offensive, but the one saying/doing it. Jeff Foxworthy’s “redneck” routines, Justin Wilson’s Cajun stories, and Eddie Murphy’s black father rants.
Agree with a lot of the comments. I’m all for holding people accountable for being racist sexist homophobic etc. But I do think cancel culture can preclude vulnerability (people can’t admit to mistakes because they’ll be canceled for them), which in turn precludes learning / forgiveness / understanding / connection. I would be curious for Brene Brown’s take but to me cancel culture seems to fly in the face of what she’s teaching.
We could probably learn a lot from the truth & reconciliation commission in South Africa. Instead of punishing people for stupid things they did and said, we offer some forgiveness for *past* wrongs to encourage them to own those wrongs. (Here I definitely don’t mean past wrongs like sexual assault, for which there should be consequences, but saying dumb stuff on social media etc 10 years ago).
Life is confusing. During my lifetime, we have gone from negro, to Black, to African-Americans. But lately, we’ve gone back to Black as in BLM (for those living in the West, that doesn’t necessarily stand for the Bureau of Land Management). The term Indians has morphed into Native Americans. But a few years ago, a member of the Goshute Tribe gave me a paper saying that NAs prefer to be called Indians. Which gets a little confusing for me since I have a friend from India. It usually easiest to refer to my NA friends by their tribe. That way, I avoid the issue. The references to the LGBTQ+ community are difficult for me to understand. Is Queer in or out? Is the label homosexual okay? There are so many permutation, I get confused. And I didn’t know about the transition from Oriental to Asian. Being white, I’ve been referred to as Anglo, cracker, Caucasian. I’m not sure what I am now. Minimizing labels or categories would be nice. Imagine.
And as Mormons, we now want to called something else (but the new category is way too long). And we don’t want to called LDS, but I guess Latter-day Saints is okay. Sorry, I was born Mormon and will die Mormon, unless I quit or I am ex’ed. But Christian might work best for me. But? Imagine.
It looks like “Cancel Culture” struck Dave B. on the previous OP.
If you are worried about contemporary cancel culture as a form of censorship–silencing those with opposing views, being hypersensitive to criticism, no room for nuanced opinions, stifling the marketplace of ideas, etc–keep in mind that this has been the LDS Church’s modus operandi for over a century.
My biggest issue with “Cancel Culture” is its seeming opposition to two basic rights afforded in the constitution. 1.) As stated in the OP, freedom of speech is not valued if the speech is perceived as offensive by (pick a number). 2.) It goes against the “Innocent until proven guilty” philosophy that makes the United States legal process so unique in the world. Too often, people are deemed guilty without evidence or understanding of intent and their lives are put through the ringer. People used to forgive if there was no malintention. Now, intention does not matter, only perception.
“The Cultural Revolution was orchestrated by the Chinese leader [Mao] in an effort to build a utopian society through class struggle. It drove the country to the brink of civil war and, by some estimates, cost more than 1 million lives.
The early phases of the Cultural Revolution were centered on China’s schools. In the summer of 1966, the Communist Party leadership proclaimed that some of China’s educators were members of the exploiting classes, who were poisoning students with their capitalist ideology. Indeed, the educated classes in general were marked as targets of the revolution.
The leadership gave Communist youth known as Red Guards the green light to remove educators from their jobs and punish them.“
“They’re so happy when Facebook deletes videos of doctors spouting theories contrary to generally accepted data”
No. Ideologically motivated doctors (who are not experts in epidemiology, mind you, there are 1.1 million doctors in the US specializing in all sorts of different fields, just being a doctor doesn’t make one qualified to act as an authority on coronavirus) spouting conspiracy theories, falsehoods, and fake cures for COVID-19. Social media platforms, which are private, have a duty not to feature and spread dangerous fringe ideas. And this video was absolutely dangerous. But I support the freedom of the doctors to say what they said and to try to gain a platform for their extreme ideas. However, they are not entitled to a platform. And in the climate of COVID-19, we have to push strong against blatant falsehoods and conspiracy theories. Moreover, I support the freedom of people to engage in a heavy backlash against these conspiracy-mongers, to shame them, call them liars, and push their employers to fire them.
Having free speech does not mean that fringe groups with mendacious, conspiratorial ideas have to be featured and heard. It simply means that they can have their ideas and attempt to disseminate and distribute them without being censored by the government and detained and arrested.
Gilgamesh, the so-called “cancel culture” is not calling for people to be put on trial for speech (maybe there are extreme cases in which that is the case, but I haven’t heard about them, and I would be fully against prosecution of people for even the most extreme and offensive ideas) and given a sentence by a judge. It isn’t calling for government censorship or silencing. It is calling on legal private penalties in the form of firing, deplatforming, and defunding. You seem to forget that free speech includes the right to shame, mock, and ridicule people for things they say. It supports the rights of people to say uncivil things (as long as they aren’t threatening and libelous). We have a right to be rude, obnoxious, and annoying. We have a right to privately censor and subject people to forms of legal private punishment. In fact, I would think that libertarians would be all for cancel culture. Yet they are often the ones crying the loudest about it. Makes me wonder how much they actual support liberty of expression.
“My biggest issue with ‘Cancel Culture'”
And my biggest issue with “cancel culture” is that it is turned into a boogeyman for the purpose of power in the culture wars and in the US government. Trump won largely on an anti-political correctness platform and creating a caricature of liberals and the left.
Why John W, you’re a fan of censorship and cancel culture both! I agree those doctors are wrong. I also agree that a private company like Facebook has the legal right to censor on their platform. But I maintain it is extremely dangerous to culturally normalize this kind of censorship. You’re saying, basically, that because those doctors are wrong, and because their ideas are dangerous, there’s no reason NOT to censor them. But there are several reasons not to. 1) It turns out the establishment isn’t always right. In fact, in fields like medicine, psychiatry, and even forensics, things that are “known to be true” turn out to be turned on their heads periodically. It happens all the time, and very often they aren’t overturned earlier specifically because powerful interests are invested in maintaining the status quo. It’s extremely arrogant to say that you are so far in the right that the other person should have no voice. If they’re wrong, you should be able to win your case. 2) The reason you can’t win your case is because they don’t trust you or your data. They won’t listen. When you censor them, and silence their voices, you’re reinforcing their distrust of you. 3) Nothing is as attractive as the forbidden. Censoring gives fringe attitudes and groups far more sympathy and interest than they’d otherwise get. I swear, I’ve watched this happen with the anti-vaxxers. When they started getting censored, suddenly I saw more and more posts from people I wouldn’t have expected to be so sympathetic. Furthermore, I watched their more legitimate arguments (and they have some) get replaced with pure nonsense.
But point #1 is by far the most important. If you feel you’re so far in the right that you get to censor fringe groups, then you’re using the exact same rationalization as the Chinese government. They’re constantly censoring people with fringe opinions, whose ideology could lead to disharmony and even upheaval. You’re using the same rationalization as theocracies in the middle east, who weed out those who aren’t ideologically pure. And don’t say that because you have the science on your side, you’re justified. Science doesn’t silence voices. It simply discredits theories that cannot survive rigorous inspection. If Facebook had any sense, they would simply have marked the doctor video as substantially false and linked to evidence to the contrary — not removed it.
I’ll add that the liberals themselves are getting pretty sick of cancel culture. For anyone who is not aware, a large group of liberal professors, authors, etc. wrote a letter expressing their concern: https://harpers.org/a-letter-on-justice-and-open-debate/
“I agree those doctors are wrong. I also agree that a private company like Facebook has the legal right to censor on their platform”
OK, so you agree with me. On those grounds alone, “cancel culture” and private censorship are perfectly legal and legitimate and do not violate free speech. Now should I proceed to hysterically declare, “Martin, you’re a fan of censorship and cancel culture, both”?
“it is extremely dangerous to culturally normalize this kind of censorship”
Private censorship (as well as public censorship) has long been the norm in all human cultures and yet, in the US and much of the world, the freedom of individuals to express and disseminate their ideas has expanded in spite of such. Your point is moot. Plus, you seem to be saying that cracking down on loony ideas will make them spread more. If that’s the case (no evidence that it is), then shouldn’t the loons want more censorship? Why are they griping about losing their freedom to speak? Fearmongering about free speech being violated because of private censorship is nonsensical. This is much ado about nothing.
Lastly, the idea that anti-vaxxers have had their free speech violated is complete lunacy. Their ideas are easily accessible, widely believed, and ubiquitous. What I’m sensing is an oversensivity from you over people loudly disagreeing with their ideas and proclaiming them to be based on pure lies, which they are. Anti-political correctness and anti-“cancel culture” culture is rather ironically snowflaky and whiny.
Jonathan Streeter described my feelings and perceptions (on this subject) perfectly; 18 hours ago:
“The long March of cancellation:
“”Not long ago in America, punishing wrong believers along with wrong beliefs was the specialty of the right wing. That was what McCarthyism was all about. If you were a believer in communism, it was not just your belief, your “ism,” which was bad, but you. You were a “Communist”: not merely wrong in your political opinions but wrong, dangerous, and evil as a whole human being. You were not fit to live in American society. You were required to wear the scarlet letter C.
What the right wing did in those years was unforgivable. Now it is the left wing which has taken up where the right wing left off, a fact of which I could not be more ashamed. It is appropriate and entirely right to criticize propositions which we believe are false or immoral. But nowadays what you hear is less often a criticism of the proposition than of the person.
We condemn not racism in particular but “racists”—whole human beings. A single offensive statement and you are marked as an evil believer, one whose beliefs can all be sealed together in a box stamped “wicked person”—one who has fallen from grace and who by rights should be turned out of society altogether. Apologize, reform, recant, or lose your job.
In 1988 the law school faculty of the State University of New York at Buffalo warned students that if they made “ethnically derogatory statements, as well as other remarks based on prejudice or group stereotype,” the faculty would take “strong and immediate steps” which would “not be limited solely to the use of ordinary university procedures”; the faculty resolved to write to “any bar to which such a student applies, including, where appropriate, its conclusion that the student should not be admitted to practice law.”
That is what’s known as blacklisting, and it is every bit as pernicious when law professors do it to people whom they judge to be racists as when McCarthyites did it to alleged Communists or when the Inquisition did it to alleged heretics.
On university campuses, watch what you believe—one wrong opinion can get you branded a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, or all of the above.”
Gilgamesh, innocent until proven guilty is not a uniquely american, thing. It is part of the british legal system, so certainly commonwealth countries I believe it is part of most first world systems. America didn’t invent it either. Just Americans believing they are exceptional again. Is that cancel culture?
I have never heard the term cancel culture before, so looked it up. Appearently used to be called call out culture. As it seems to be part of the division of America, this seems to me to be a way to undermine someone/group who is calling out you/your group. You can label what they are saying cancel culture and you don’t have to respond to the problem, and your followers will think you have the moral high ground.
Even adding culture to call out, makes it less credible. I saw a person on TV who fact checks Trump, who according to him lies much more than other politicans, and his followers believe him, and even believe he is more honest than carreer politicians.
Bidens VP is to be announced next week. I am expecting that the Trump camp, has already researched the likely women and if they can’t find anything to criticise, will have made up some lies. Trump seems to be troubled by powerful women.
Because of this call out / cancel culture will anyone question the lies, especially people on the right of politics? Or will they swallow lies whole?
Will the Russian and Chinese be supporting Trump or Biden, and will their lies be called out. I would judge both would be supporting Trump, because he is dividing America(and weakening it), and the free world, and setting examples for dictators.
I am not sure he will go if he looses. Will republicans defend that, like they did at the impeachment?
I see in the comments above political divides showing, on this cancel culture, this is a very small symptom of a much more divided country. Can A country divided against itself, stand? aww
Even if Trump goes how does Biden unite the country?
Cancel culture seems to be a way to undermine, honesty and truth?
If you can’t use facts to fight viruses, or reunite the country, can you be a democracy? Doesn’t democraccy require that you agree to unite behind the winner. Can anyone imagine that happening?
I an very concerned for the future of America, and consequences for the free world.
The way I see it is cancel culture is another term for choice, an item popular with the folks who are threatened by cancel culture. A large number of Americans are publicly expressing their opinions about the extremes and outrages of current events. They’re doing it with their spending choices, their voices and their bodies in the case of demonstrations.
The other observation I’d make is that people make decisions based on all sorts of criteria all day long. The fact that certain results are coming at the extreme political Right as a tsunami is an expression of how out of the mainstream of American mores they’ve tried to push the culture against the interests and sensibilities of the vast majority in the middle as well as on the Left. It takes a lot of energy to force such disparate groups into a coalition. The constant barrage of right wing media, the distortion of representative democracy by the insanely disproportionate influence of the small populations of rural states and the remnants of the Tea Party Republicans have accomplished that. And now they are reaping the winds.
What the Right calls cancel culture is not an abuse. It’s a reaction to abuse.
The basic principle of cancel culture seems fine….. but it is essentially grounded in an amplifying, positive feedback which leaves very little room for equilibration. This is the problem with all mob or “charismatic” movements: because there is no stable equilibrium the worst elements tend to take over.
Basically, there is a difference between sustained disapproval and a “moral indignation bubble.”
The way cancel culture has been playing out on social media is basically one bubble after another – making it VERY difficult to accurately calibrate our disapproval for different persons and practices.
Whereas the market provides a great way of seeking goods, we currently lack an institution whereby we can prevent social “bads” that does not lend itself to massive and regular indignation bubbles.
Pres Trump now saying the election may have to be delayed. Will the right call this out as unacceptable? Or will cancel culture be used to justify it?
Its up to the right to defend American democracy.
Geoff – That stupid Trump tweet has been expressly rejected by Republicans and conservatives of all types. Please.
Strang that comment about Trump wanting to postpone the election was on our news here in Australia, with Trump standing there saying it.
My major problem with cancel culture is that it doesn’t currently have a good benchmark for redemption or forgiveness: a corporate or personal apology may well be marketing, but there’s no organized way to say “Fine, we’ll collectively move on” where appropriate. We actually had a fruitful discussion in church a couple years ago when I brought up the example of entertainer Chris Brown: at the height of his career, an otherwise promising young star engaged in cruel and criminal behavior by violently attacking his girlfriend. It’s been 11 years since this crime, and Chris Brown has gone from being pointedly and totally unrepentant to…wherever he is now. To my knowledge he hasn’t apologized to the woman, hasn’t made public overtures of humility, or gone out of his way to send a message condemning domestic violence and supporting its victims. His career doesn’t seem to have suffered much–he’s had a string of high sales–but I personally still try not to purchase or consume his work. Exactly what kind of behavior would make me change my response? Is there any? Is there a scriptural or religious guide? I don’t know–and I doubt there’s an answer that would work for everyone.
On a different note: Mormonism absolutely celebrates cancel culture when it feels the need. Look up the old lyrics to “Praise to the Man”–and as I’ve mentioned in past comments, I’ve heard local leaders straight up blame a perceived lack of missionary success in the Chicago area on continued divine condemnation from the mob killing of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Many explanations for the race-based priesthood ban relied on a kind of divinely-approbated “canceling” of people with African ancestors. It’s the flip side of the “prosperity as blessing”/just-world fallacy we so frequently fall into as an institution: if an individual or group suffers (particularly in America), clearly it must be because God ordains it to be so, and He would surely only do so in the face of some measurable offense.
RandoBot–Maybe your name says it all and it’s my bad for responding to a bot.
Sorry, but in the end conservatives continue to rally around Trump. They might condemn a thing here or there that he says, but in the end they continue to support him. He’s their perfect foil. They get to pass their agenda, grinding the faces of the poor as they do, and then if anything goes wrong they can blame it on him. He has not stayed in office without their support even if they “oppose” something here or there.
Why is it that when someone mentions cancel culture, people think only of liberals? For in fact we have a canceler-in-chief whose cancellation ventures have actually violated free speech, civil rights, and the constitution. He has tear-gassed non-violent protesters and ordered paramilitary groups to detain them, denying them of their constitutionally protected right to protest. He has fired James Comey for investigating Russian interference into the 2016 election. On top of that he has removed dozens of people from his cabinet for disagreeing with him.
John W, I certainly can’t answer that question because I don ‘t know a faster way to find out that you have always been the scum of the earth than to go on a right wing site and express some reservation about Trump. If your thoughts aren’t completely censored you’re in for a lashing that includes your entire family and wishes your DNA disappears from the earth.
You don’t even have to go to a right wing site to see this phenom in action. Deseret News isn’t immune to this sort of vitriol either, BTW.
I don’t know whether such things are discussed there, but here the president constant undermining of postal voting, could create a situation where his supporters vote in person, and most democrars postal vote.
On November 3 the in person votes are counted, and Trump claims victory, but postal ballots continue to arrive. Will they be counted by republican governors, will they be accepted as valid by Trump followers? Biden could win by a landslide but with postal votes, which republicans refuse to count.
The Church is into the cancel culture. It cancels memberships, sometimes with strange justifications. The case of Lavina Fielding Anderson seems particularly inexplicable.
I think it was BRM that encouraged putting a statement on the cover of the BoM suggesting that it was a history of the American Indians. With DNA and other evidence, that statement had to be canceled. Leaving my neighbors, who are Native American, in limbo as far as their heritage goes. They are probably not Lamanites.
And let’s not forget POX and the priesthood/temple ban and polygamy. All canceled.
People complain about how Facebook is banning content and how this is a violation of free speech. How about a president banning use of an entire social media platform from a country? Trump has just said that he plans to issue an executive order to ban TikTok from the US effective today. Liberal ideology in the US has for decades been far more on the side of free speech than conservative ideology. That conservatives, and Trump, are now trying to claim to be the true proponents of free speech is a complete joke.
It has been an interesting discussion to read on this topic. I feel like recently it has just become a label without a deeper discussion as a idea or concept. Similar to how Geoff-Aus describes it:
“…this seems to me to be a way to undermine someone/group who is calling out you/your group. You can label what they are saying cancel culture and you don’t have to respond to the problem, and your followers will think you have the moral high ground.”
On a recent local program as they were discussing what to do about cancel culture part of the framework they listed was that all opinions need to be given equal weight and consideration. If we are talking about movies or ice cream flavors then yes. But I disagree with that idea as a whole. Not everyone has the same experience level or knowledge about given topics. I am not going to give a high school classmate’s opinion the same weight as a scientist when it comes to my health and well being. The same goes for their opinion on the Black Lives Matter movement since we grew up in a mostly white Utah culture.
As a culture, especially online, we can be too quick to condemn or forgive. Which is something we should look at and discuss but I feel like the label of cancel culture is now being use to justify behavior vs. discuss it.
“On the upside, cancel culture points out behaviors that are socially unacceptable or hypocritical”
I see a strange acceptance throughout these comments that there is one thing called “society” and that it makes the rules.
It is more likely the case that many societies exist. Mormons, particularly Utah Mormons, are an example of a society. It does not so much ‘cancel” cultures as resist or ignore them. Within its culture many propositions exist; such as marriage is between a man and a woman (and historically, more than one woman). It does not “cancel” other propositions, but it resists them. Once these other propostions are sustained by popular vote, Mormons go on to other things. This is resistance, not cancellation.
My daughters are part of a society that has grown up with Facebook and Twitter and on those platforms an echo chamber inevitably forms. It may be directed but not necessarily; what is “woke” seems to change rather rapidly; it is an “emergent” property. I consider it ordinary herd behavior; all pack animals and herds form hierarchies and some method must be discovered to identify and eject impure herd members. A herd animal is terrified of this and easily controlled (see Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” for recommended techniques).
I have never used Facebook or Twitter; nothing I write would fit in a Tweet anyway. Brief looks at my daughter’s Facebook pages shows it to be a maelstrom of mostly negative commentary, insults, foul language. It has normalized an entire generation away from the Golden Rule.
The last time I encountered “sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me” was probably before most here were born. It armored me through childhood to the present. But with the advent of the internet, names CAN hurt you by depriving you of employment, sending hordes of ANTIFA to your house with varying degrees of destruction in mind.
Keep in mind George Orwell’s writing: The winner of a conflict re-writes the history books to make it seem that the winner was always the winner, disappears the conflict, rewrites social rules. This is happening. Historical statues coming down. State representative in Illinois recommending to cancel all history classes in the state.
Margaret Sanger canceled, removed from Planned Parenthood.
Where does it stop? Well, we have Soviet Russia and Chairman Mao’s China as examples. About 100 million people died mostly of starvation.
“How about a president banning use of an entire social media platform from a country?”
If it were up to me I’d be tempted to shut them all down; revive the postal service and if you want to write someone, pay 40 cents for a stamp. It would improve the quality of communications dramatically. Back in the early days of online discussion, I paid $30 an hour just for the telecommunications network (Tymenet and Telenet were the two main carriers) and a similar amount for Compuserve. At 300 baud, you didn’t get a lot done in that half hour so you composed carefully, uploaded, then waited for the replies. As everyone was paying rather dearly for this communication the overall quality was quite a bit higher as compared to present times.
The big flap for the first three years of Trumps administration involved Russian meddling, as it was supposed, of Facebook. If this is important to elections then Facebook must either not permit that sort of thing (extremely difficult) or ban Facebook (even more difficult). It appears to have been Democrats complaining about the meddling. In fact, Democrats have taken Trump to court to force him to NOT ban Twitter enemies! That seems extraordinary; ban/block whoever you like.
Now we have people boasting of using TikTok to meddle in the next election. Using the platform to obtain free tickets to a Trump rally and not show up. While it might be difficult and maybe unconstitutional to just ban Facebook and Twitter, that is not true of TikTok. It is Chinese. Everything the Chinese do is approved by the Chinese Communist Party. That’s sometimes/usually inconsequential; the same thing is coming to the USA soon enough, but when it starts to meddle with election politics, it is proper and certainly easier to ban it. It would be incredible to suppose the Chinese are not harvesting everything on TikTok for anything of intelligence value (but that is almost certainly true of Facebook and Twitter, except the Americans doing it, maybe also the Chinese whose network chips that are almost everywhere have been discovered to be able to phone home). If you fly a drone, that too is known by the Chinese. Not usually very exciting I suspect but there it is. No flying drones around military bases or national infrastructure, even if otherwise it’s harmless.
Suddenly the meddling is okay and stopping it is not okay. It is really difficult to try to find the moral compass guiding all this.
Nothing prevents Americans from making such a thing! Snapchat, Instagram, the list goes on.
Oh no, the end of the world! The younger generation is bonkers! Everything is falling apart! Please go back in time! We’re under attack like never before! America! America! America!
Banning Tiktok is unconstitutional. Here is Sarah Cook, research analyst on China for Freedom House:
“A full ban would legally be hard for the US government to impose and is arguably unconstitutional. It would also be unprecedented. As a matter of principle, it would not be an appropriate balance between free speech and even legitimate security concerns.”
As for Democrats telling Trump he cannot block people on Twitter, Trump is a publicly elected official who uses Twitter to communicate with the people he represents. It would censorship for Trump or any elected public official to close a channel of communication to the American people when accruing as a public official (government censorship, not private censorship, which IS a violation of free speech). This isn’t the double standard you want it to be.
“Oh no, the end of the world! The younger generation is bonkers! Everything is falling apart!” Yes; this is a thing the latter day saints have been anticipating for a very long time and it seems a bit late arriving. There is to be worldwide collapse of nations; wars, famine and pestilence. When there’s a whole lot fewer people THEN Jesus is to return. Or so I remember. I might be off slightly in some details. The challenge is to survive it and many won’t and others won’t want to.
“A full ban would legally be hard for the US government to impose and is arguably unconstitutional” Full bans are routine during wartime. It is not clear how it is unconstitutional; the Communications Act gives the FCC the power to regulate interstate communications and it undeniably intrudes on the First Amendment, but as we have recently seen, people interpret the First Amendment rather broadly when it suits them and not so broadly when it doesn’t (ie, Boy Scouts of America claiming First Amendment right of association to choose who will be a Boy Scout or a leader thereof).
Twitter is not an official government communication channel. They can ban Trump and he can block whoever he likes. Of course, by so doing they take a political side and are no longer a common carrier enjoying safe harbor. The mainstream media is intensely political and make no attempt at safe harbor or fairness doctrines.
“This isn’t the double standard you want it to be.” It certainly seems to be a double standard. It would be more than double if the United States had more than two significant political parties.
Cancel Culture, the topic of this page, goes beyond merely infringing on someone’s rights based on that person’s point of view differing from yours. Now, the idea itself that differs must be erased, any mention that it once existed made to be forgotten. I am reminded of the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s “1984”. There was no danger of history repeating itself simply because (1) there was no history and (2) your thoughts, and the words used to form them, were highly regulated. It goes beyond wrong actions and wrong speech; it prohibits wrong THINKING. If you think no wrong thoughts you are much less likely to act wrongly.
This may seem rather a lot like religion. What a surprise.