Cancel culture is a zero-sum approach to purported sins

Cancel culture's effects are more pernicious than destroying individuals and forcing self-censorship on Americans — bad as those things are.  Because it allows no room for forgiveness, it creates desolation that can lead to violent responses from people who have lost all hope.

One of cancel culture's intrinsic characteristics is its refusal ever to forgive.  In fact, that's its defining characteristic.  That's why it's a cancel culture.  You can't cancel and forgive at the same time — that's a cognitive disconnect.

There's no point in canceling if you subsequently entertain the thought of forgiveness.  To forgive, you must remember the original offense, reflect upon it over time, and eventually decide to forgive it.  Forgiveness is a cleansing act — as much for the offended as the offender.

With that idea in mind, let's review a couple of examples, starting with World War II.  For the sake of discussion, let's assume that the victorious Allied powers had simply decided to "cancel" the defeated Axis powers.  After all, the Axis powers were the original aggressors, and their aggression resulted in an unbearable cost in lives, freedom, and human suffering.  The Germans' annihilation of millions of Jews and Japan's treatment of POWs were unconscionable.  And tens of millions of others around the globe lost their lives, their freedom, their possessions, their health, their loved ones, and their future.

What would have happened if the victorious Allies — in righteous indignation — had simply written Germany, Italy, and Japan off by refusing to recognize them, deal with them, or help them to recover from the war's devastation?  In modern terms, what if the Allies had canceled Germany, Italy, and Japan?  It would have been easy to justify such an approach.  It would also have been disastrous, not just for Germany, Italy, and Japan, but for the world at large.

As it happened, Allied powers cultivated valuable friendships with the defeated and devastated former Axis powers and simultaneously avoided an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe.  Such a catastrophe would likely have led to the populace of the defeated nations becoming more and more belligerent and desperate (as happened in defeated Germany after World War I).  Eventually, more violence would have ensued, again, as happened with Germany.  It would have been unavoidable.  Revenge always begets revenge.

The same principle applies to the United States following the Civil War.  What would have happened if the South had been subjected to cancel culture?  The nation would have been permanently fractured; the South would have been laid waste; and, before long, continued human suffering would have resulted in a resumption of open conflict or protracted guerrilla warfare.  It's a rich irony that the very man who said, "With malice toward none, with charity for all" is himself now becoming the victim of cancel culture.

Thankfully, in each case above, forgiveness — cancel culture's polar opposite — was extended, with beneficial consequences for America in the 19th century and for the world at large in the 20th.

Viewed in that light, today's cancel culture characteristic of refusing to offer or even consider forgiveness is actually and ultimately a belligerent and contentious approach.  In claiming to punish destructiveness, it is itself destructive in the long term.  It's mob behavior, pure and simple.  With that reality in mind, it's altogether possible that refusing to forgive is a greater transgression than whatever the original offense was.  Canceling is the act of a small person.  Forgiveness is the much bigger act.

One of the interesting things about cancel culture is it's often driven by those who cannot offer forgiveness because they were not the victims of the alleged wrong.  Instead, the cancelers impose a form of "vicarious justice" on behalf of others who haven't formally placed them in a position of enforcer and who may not actually desire their services.

As such, cancel culture is primarily a form of virtue-signaling.  It satisfies the imposer more than any supposed victim.  In fact, the true victims have often died and passed on generations ago.  Canceling people from the distant past obviously doesn't change anything they did.  It doesn't change the actual events of history.  The virtue-signaling is merely a form of attention-seeking behavior

The practitioners of cancel culture should be careful.  Their approach means that the parameters of safe thought and expression tend to shrink and become ever stricter, with safe behavior becoming a moving target that changes daily.  This is typical of all attention-seeking behavior.  The status quo never garners sufficient attention.  That fluidity drives extremism, so today's practitioners may easily become tomorrow's victims.

With all this in mind, we should think long and hard before embracing a mindset that a single offense merits permanent banishment of an individual or group from human society.  Such an approach will not end well.  It never has.

Image: Cancel culture by Markus Winkler on Unsplash.