March 10, 2021

Cancel Culture: We Should All Expect the Spanish Inquisition

punishment

Have you ever made a mistake? Have you ever done or said something you later regretted and for which you ended up apologizing? I suspect we all have. Imagine for a moment that you were trashed on social media for something you did or said over 20 years ago and that you lost your job and had your reputation destroyed to the point where it was nearly impossible to find a new job. Maybe your family is harassed by complete strangers who have no problem making their lives miserable too.

Whatever you did or said all those years ago is not the sort of thing you'd do or say today. You do regret it, but it happened decades ago back when you were young and ignorant. You've grown up, and you aren't the same person today. Nevertheless, you find yourself being severely punished by the perpetually outraged social media mob for an old transgression or lapse in judgment. Does this seem fair? Is this really the sort of thing decent people would do? Of course not!

There are too many valid critiques of cancel culture to list them all, but the scenario I just described is the first one that comes to mind when I reflect on why I object to it. The mob doesn't give a damn how old the transgression is or whether it reflects who the person is today. They seize on it, blow it out of proportion, and demand blood.

It sometimes reminds me of federal agents or private security companies conducting detailed background screenings for applicants who will need a security clearance. They interview everyone who has ever known the person, digging for details that could be relevant. They want to know whether the person has ever been a member of certain subversive groups or expressed the sort of sentiments that might raise questions about their loyalty. Of course, this all makes sense from the perspective of protecting national security, making sure the person being screened cannot be easily compromised, etc. That is, they have a clear and defensible rationale for digging. The social media mob's rationale, if they are honest about it, is just about destroying the target.

I know that many liberals are quick to dismiss cancel culture as little more than the latest conservative boogeyman. While I can understand the temptation to do so, I think this is a mistake. Cancel culture is real, and the social media mob has destroyed plenty of liberals. It would be great if the whole thing was just another wacky consipracy theory from the right designed to excuse their many failings, but I see little evidence that this is the case. It poses a genuine threat to freethought, and it is not something we should take lightly.

Consider this quote from Infidel753:

"Cancel culture" is a very real problem, and it threatens people of every political leaning. The fact that the right wing is trying to appropriate the term does not change this. People are getting fired, humiliated, or hounded into cringing apologies over a careless word or a figment of somebody's imagination. We all need to stand up to this, and to support those who refuse to back down when set upon by the "woke" mob. Because any one of us, no matter how careful we think we are, could suddenly become a target at some point.

Not only could any of us become a target at some point, but we could become a target for something we did or said in our remote past. Thus, the idea of being careful now offers little protection against this sort of thing.