Last month, Edward Livingston, deputy editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, raised a question on a podcast that many of us would find reasonable. He questioned the usefulness of the term “structural racism” in describing American society, a term which often carries the implication that all white people are, by definition, racist. “Structural racism is an unfortunate term” he said. “Personally, I think taking racism out of the conversation will help. Many people like myself are offended by the implication that we are somehow racist.”
That editor has since handed in his resignation. And the editor-in-chief of JAMA, Howard Bauchner, has been placed on administrative leave. Why? Because an outrage mob led by Twitter activists and a petition signed by more than 7000 people demanded their heads. …
The first thing to understand about so-called cancel culture is that it is a fight about prestige and who gets to wield it in contemporary society.
Those who instigate these crusades are in search of status and seek to take it from those who already have it. …
Those at the bottom of society are immune to cancel culture not because they are morally perfect, but because they hold no status for the crusaders to covet.
Because cancel culture is inextricably linked to status and its scarcity, we should expect to see it happening inside the most prestigious institutions, targeting people in the most esteemed roles. And that is exactly what we are seeing. The episode at JAMA is a classic case where an eminent medical journal and its editor-in-chief are targeted by junior medical professionals seeking to (metaphorically) scalp their industry elders.
The fault line being navigated here is between the liberal meritocracy of the latter half of the 20th century and a new 21st century victimocracy. Cancel culture is the culture of rich Western children who have developed an uncanny ability to manipulate their elders through claims of being “hurt”, “harmed”, “offended” or “distressed”. Claiming victim status is a shortcut when hard work and merit — being unusually talented, skilled, or displaying mastery in a particular area — is considered too onerous a requirement to claim social rank.
Cancel culture strikes in industries when job losses are imminent, such as in the media or academia, or where government grants for artistic programs are few in number and where the future for young people, particularly those with degrees, is precarious. Cancel culture strikes when young people feel pessimistic about their future, when opportunities that were available to their parents are closed off to them, often through no fault of their own.
Power and status, that’s where it’s at. Who gets the goodies. All their arguments and slogans are so much hot air — just note the effect of what they demand.