Cancel Culture -- Defining the Disease and Finding the Cure
Cancel Culture (CC) is a cultural phenomenon best exemplified by fanatical concern over pictures in Dr. Seuss books. However, its true meaning is often obscured when invoked to describe a less controversial social reaction to overt criminal behavior. Advocates of Enlightenment values have a responsibility to untangle the web spun by social-justice activism and clarify the real concerns this culture represents. Consider the following questions:
- What is the most appropriate way to employ the term CC within a consistent conceptual framework?
- What is the basis for CC morality and its effect?
- How can one combat the spread of irrational CC behavior?
While the phrase “cancel culture” had popped up now and then over the past decade on social media platforms, it seemed to gain significant traction during the 2017 Me Too movement and is now ubiquitous.
However, in understanding CC, there is a need to separate lawbreakers from the discussion. For example, Harvey Weinstein was not "canceled"; he was found guilty of criminal behavior. Hence, it is necessary to use CC in a proper context to prevent it masquerading as rational social response and accepted as a societal norm.
Appropriate use of the reference is especially necessary when people who are "canceled" while exercising their First Amendment rights are lumped together with felons. To be clear, the divide between a convicted rapist and an alleged racist is significant. On the one hand, you have proven illegal, violent behavior; on the other, you have an unproven accusation that is not criminal even if true. Therefore, given a well-established context and definition, let us consider the nature of this type of culture and the consequential collateral damage it generates.
The Morality of CC
CC is a manifestation of wokeism, which I define as a progressive hypersensitive state of extreme awareness or hysterical alertness about imagined injustice from omnipresent oppression and is malleable such that it accommodates almost any inequity claim by seeking remedial action to grievances while wielding an ever-expanding weaponized political toolset in the name of social justice. Hence, wokeism and its CC afterbirth operates like a religious cult, beckoning comparison to Early Modern witchhunt mobs.
In general, religion features dogma or authoritative principles considered incontrovertibly true. Such gives rise to sin lists, as can be found in Christian writings. For example, the Apostle Paul wrote letters to early churches to single out offenses for which people had to repent else they would not inherit the Kingdom of God. One does not need to defend this morality to grasp that, at least in the Christian context, there is an offer of redemption for transgressions. Thus, after compiling the list of sins found in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, the Apostle concludes with the words: "And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."
Likewise, modern woke CC demands confessions from rule-breakers, yet the transcendent value of Christian redemption does not necessarily follow. The postmodernist roots of CC lend no support for any parallels to Christian forgiveness. Moreover, those who go to extraordinary lengths by sacrificing any self-esteem or integrity they might have cannot appease the woke mob. On the contrary, the CC crowd often responds to these open confessions and public, slobbering, social media apologies with scorn and rejection.
Today's CC emerges from mob mentality that invents heresies on the fly, whereby indiscreet comments one made as a teenager are wielded as the Sword of Damocles. Consider the March 2021 firing of the editor of Teen Vogue for comments she made a decade earlier as a teenager of just seventeen years of age. A self-righteous Tweet from a CC cult follower condemning her actions read as follows: "The fact of @TeenVogue hired this racist at a time when Asian American hate crimes are on the rise speaks volumes to their lack of respect for the community."
The result? Teen Vogue management, of course, caved and terminated Alexi McCammond.
The cancer spreads when, instead of administering therapy to prevent it, corporations and universities feed and facilitate the disease as the tumor metastasizes. Now emboldened, the infection reaches back to more formative years, even holding high-school freshmen accountable. Have we reached a place where we find satisfaction in blocking college admission for indiscreet words used by fourteen-year-old kids? There is reason for believing this is so given the actions of such a case at the University of Tennessee.
Further, consider the 2020 attempt to cancel historical figures, even Founding Fathers of America, because their complex 18th-century views no longer aligned with the elevated, modern morality of the woke CC. This extremism was evident in the teardown of statues and further attempts (along with complicit media) to alter the facts about America's actual founding date as claimed by the propagandized 1619 Project.
Finding the Solution to CC
Man needs some guiding philosophy to live by and, in the absence of a strong, coherent one, will opt for something based on a whim and driven entirely by emotion, like the negative energy of a CC mob. If a mob is willing to destroy another man's livelihood by depriving him of employment for which he is qualified, then taking unthinkable next steps does not seem too far-reaching. Consequently, we desperately need authentic leadership and courage; else CC grows more prominent, and cancerous ideology spreads. Each voice for liberty, regardless of how small, demonstrates a commitment to using our freedom of speech to combat the spread of ideologies that run counter to reason.
As discussed, one cannot justify CC by inappropriate application to illegal behavior to win popular support for a misguided ideology. It is a culture void of a solid philosophical foundation with a morality driven by self-righteous emotion. The cure can only come from the laboratory of reason and delivered by rational agents of free speech.
Image: Public Domain Vectors