The most important thing about cancel culture: ruthlessness

Composer Daniel Elder was canceled for condemning an act of arson. Who knows, maybe he just didn’t want his own house burned down. Arson is a serious crime, and one rioter recently got five years in prison for it. But apparently, expressing your disgust at such behavior is unacceptable since it is “insensitive” to the feelings of people who set buildings on fire during a protest.

This is just one case, of course. There are many others. There are books about it. This Twitter thread has over 300 examples. It also illustrates an important point that many miss. Although it’s a trend on the woke left, the targets are by no means all on the right. In fact, many who have been canceled are politically very close to their cancellers. The reason for this may be that their reputations are more dependent on those who have similar politics and that therefore they are easier to cancel.

That’s not the worst of it, though. Not because individuals are expendable. They aren’t, and these stories—many of them anyway—are terribly tragic. But for society as a whole the more important impact is the chilling effect on free speech for everyone else. The fact that so many people who are themselves woke have been targeted only makes this problem more acute. There are no clear boundaries. Speaking your mind becomes a risky venture similar to wading through fog knowing that there is a precipice nearby in an unknown direction.  Also, no matter what your opinions, if someone decides you are the enemy, they will trawl through everything you’ve said in public for the past 10 or 20 year looking for an excuse to turn on the canceling machine.

But even that, the chilling effect, is not the most important thing about cancel culture. The most important thing is what it demonstrates: a ruthlessness that makes people willing to let the ends justify the means. They are so sure that they own the truth and believe that they can judge someone else’s opinions as “dangerous” that the other person must not simply be censored for specific statements, but silenced entirely. In other words, this is more than just an ideological blindness (“we know the truth and don’t need to hear alternative viewpoints”). It’s the logical next step: the willingness to use any means they can get away with to further their own agenda and to silence opposition.

Consider this: if someone is willing to go to such extremes as getting people fired from their jobs for their beliefs and opinions, do you think they will have scruples about lying to you if they think that will help their cause? Of course they won’t. Someone willing to go to such lengths is simply not a trustworthy person because they set their own agenda above all else. They will lie and they will manipulate you with language games. They will try to make you feel guilty for disagreeing with them. They will attack you even for asking questions. And they will reproach you for not playing by the rules even though they themselves have no respect for the rules.

I am not suggesting using “woke”, “CRT”, “Marxist” or other labels to dismiss anything and everything from people you disagree with. But if someone, an individual, condones cancel culture—or worse, practices it—you should be wondering what else they might be fine with and not take everything they say at face value.

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