The tyranny of cancel culture

The tyranny of cancel culture, by Brendan O’Neill.

Trump is right. Cancel culture is the key weapon in the armoury of the intolerant. In his 4 July speech at Mount Rushmore, Trump talked about the ‘political weapon’ of ‘cancel culture’ — the totalitarian thirst for ‘driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees’. …

Cancel culture is real and it is incredibly destructive. Here are just a small proportion of the people cancelled for wrongthink in the UK in recent years. Labour MP Sarah Champion lost her place in the shadow cabinet for daring to speak about working-class girls who were being raped by largely Muslim grooming gangs. … [etc. etc.]

Here’s the critical thing, though: even when targets for cancellation don’t lose their jobs, cancel culture still has its desired noxious effect. It still chills public debate. It still sends a clear warning to the public: express these views and you could be punished; you might even lose your income.

It’s intentional. This is why they do it:

Indeed, the central problem with cancel culture is not what it does to individuals — awful as that is — but rather what it does to public life more broadly.

Consider the case of JK Rowling. ‘She’s still a successful author. She hasn’t been cancelled’, say the misogynistic apologists for the abuse that she receives. Rowling, of course, is too much of a global cultural phenomenon to be cancelled. It doesn’t work on her. But what about people who share her views but do not enjoy her level of financial or cultural security? They will see her being subjected to rape threats, death threats, boycotts and defamation and conclude: ‘Expressing biological truths is too risky. I won’t do it.’

This is cancel culture’s most grotesque achievement: to chill everyday discussion; to make examples of prominent wrongthinkers in order to warn the entire population; to enforce and police parameters of acceptable thought and to make it clear that anyone who steps outside of them risks, in Trump’s words, being ‘censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted and punished’. It is real, it is wrong, and it is destructive. It harms individuals and it shatters liberty. It induces fear in ordinary people and it stultifies public debate. A healthy society is built on freedom, openness and the rights of dissent and intellectual experimentation. Cancel culture undermines all of those things. That’s why it must be defeated.

hat-tip Stephen Neil