How Cancel Culture Works
It’s well-known that public speaking is one of our greatest fears. Why is that? It’s not imminently dangerous. You don’t hear about public speech injuries very often, but the fear people experience is very real. Instead, public speech puts us in a situation where our acceptance by other people is threatened. You could say something silly, mean, or stupid, and risk your standing among the crowd.
The evolutionary argument is that a lone, ancient human stood no chance against the ravages of the wilderness. To be shunned and expelled from the group meant certain death, and so it was biologically advantageous to figure out ways to fit in. Rolling the dice on a public speech in your tribe’s cave was a roll of the dice many people couldn’t take.
Fortunately, we seem to have evolved past the stage where we evict people into the wilderness, but it still is a scary prospect to be shunned by a group. If you make your living from the general acceptance of the public, losing that support could affect your livelihood.
It can be argued that there are good reasons to shun people, or to ‘cancel’ their speech. In ‘The Antifa Handbook’, Mark Bray makes the case that certain forms of speech is violence and should be met with actual, physical violence. He argues that if that approach was made during Hitler’s formative years, history would’ve been written differently.
Perhaps. Better arguments are made against the extreme reparations against Germany and the ensuing economic instability, which led to a political environment that could be exploited. If the victors of World War 1 had been able to see that a stable, healthy Germany would benefit everyone, Hitler may not have garnered the audience he did.
People should take a stand against insensitive or hurtful speech. We’ve all changed my language and actions over the years after people have enlightened me on how we were ignorantly hurting others. As a side note, I remember visiting with one of my coworkers and she told me her enlistment paperwork into the Air Force described her race as ‘negro’. We’ve certainly grown over the years and will continue to have learning discussions.
But canceling goes beyond that. Finding a statement from somebody from years ago, and arguing they can’t work today is cancellation. Believing a chef is ‘appropriating’ and immediately calling for their cancellation is, well, canceling. This does not build our society; it divides it. If you truly believe the actions are harmful, then you must speak up. But if you just don’t like somebody, weaponizing your Twitter feed is factious.
My last problem with cancel culture is that it incentivizes victimhood. To be part of a group that has been historically ostracized and leverage that history against people’s fear of public shunning not only hurts the people you intend to hurt, it stereotypes the minority group as unable to compete on a level playing field.
By all means, let’s level the playing field. Let’s strive for respect for all Americans and rejoice in each other’s achievements without regard to any feature that is irrelevant to the accomplishment. And we should work on lifting each other up. We can do that by educating the ignorant and also knowing that they have the potential to learn.