Cancel Culture is not a Republican Myth!
Today, I want to talk about a disturbing development I am seeing recently: an attempt to paint the cancel culture problem as a Republican talking point, something Republicans and conservatives use to wedge Democrats on. I’ve seen this particular idea being promoted in way too many articles just in the past few weeks. Couple this with a recent poll finding that Democrats placed much less importance on the issue of cancel culture than Republicans, there is a real worry that the progressive half of the population in America, and likely in other Western countries too, are tuning out of the cancel culture debate completely.
Q: But isn’t cancel culture a favorite conservative talking point, especially in recent years?
A: It is very clear that cancel culture is not a conservative myth. Indeed, many of the people who have been canceled in the past few years, probably a majority of them, are not conservatives or Republicans. Part of the reason is, given that conservatives and progressives often occupy different spheres of life, the far left wouldn’t be able to cancel conservatives even if they wanted to. Therefore, most cancellations I have seen are of liberal or progressive people who refuse to agree with the activist establishment on one or two issues. This means that, in practice, cancel culture is most often used by activists to enforce ideological conformity among progressive ranks. Meanwhile, given the silence towards this issue within progressive media, progressives who have not been personally affected generally don’t care much.
Q: So why are you so worried that progressives aren’t paying attention to cancel culture?
A: The danger of half of the population not taking cancel culture seriously, is that cancel culture will win. There is no way we can defeat cancel culture without broad support and commitment from across the political spectrum.
Q: So how can we get progressives to start caring about cancel culture?
A: I guess two things need to happen. Firstly, we need to show how free speech and free debate are required to achieve true justice. Real justice can only be achieved if we understand the truth, and all sides of it. If you silence some inconvenient viewpoints, you are potentially throwing away important parts of the puzzle. This is especially true since most targets of cancel culture aren’t openly racist or hateful people, but actually well meaning people with different ideas.
Secondly, we need to attack the root ideologies that fuel cancel culture, things like postmodernism and Marcusean critical theory, or criticalism for short. We need to show how these ideologies are, in many ways, the opposite of the liberal ideals that have been responsible for everything from the civil rights movement to marriage equality. For example, whereas liberalism is focused on objective truths, cirticalist theories deny its importance. Many great liberal thinkers were dedicated empiricists who derived their ideas from observation and the scientific method, while criticalism is anti-empiricist and possibly anti-science.
Q: But some people may say, what you call criticalism helps us tackle discrimination and oppression better, so it’s useful. Some may even say that liberalism has never lived up to its promises anyway.
A: The important point is, while nations that profess liberal ideals, like America and Britain, have not always lived up to what they profess, it is the continual application of these values that has made things better as time goes on. On the other hand, criticalism, has an inherent anti-liberal orientation. Criticalism uses these historical flaws as justification for throwing the whole liberal project out, which will mean canceling all future liberal reforms still to come. Criticalism is essentially trading away prospects for much needed reform, for holding onto a utopian ideal of humanity that will never come true. Indeed, I believe that the rise of criticalism came close to derailing gay marriage in Australia, and has actually turned the clock back on LGBT rights in the UK. These developments should deeply concern any progressive.