Descending into the Particulars of Cancel Culture

Generalities about an elusive and controversial phenomenon are unhelpful.

Prominent criminal defense attorney and First Amendment specialist Ken White, better known online as Popehat, has posted a savage takedown of this weekend’s NYT editorial “America Has a Free Speech Problem.” While I’m more sympathetic to the “cancel culture” argument than he is, I fully agree with him that the concept is ill-defined, quite often used cynically and that the NYT contribution to the debate was unhelpful.

The unfortunate assertion in the editorial’s lede that “the right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned” has been sufficiently ridiculed that we don’t need to dwell on it here.

White, like our own Steven Taylor, notes that those who decry “cancel culture” usually do a poor job of defining it. While that’s right, I tend to side with the Reason Roundtable gang in believing that the fact that something is hard to define doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

White offers a snarky start:

I’m going to offer a working definition for the purposes of this essay: “cancel culture” is when speech is met with a response that, in my opinion, is very disproportionate. Perhaps that sounds cynical, and I could certainly give you a Justice-Breyer-seven-factor balancing test, but that’s what this discussion boils down to: just as we constantly debate norms of what speech is socially acceptable, we debate norms about what responses to speech are socially acceptable.

But this opens the way for a meta-argument that, rather than talking about “cancel culture” we should, to use Malcolm Gladwell’s phrase, descend into the particular.

Let’s discuss some examples, because when I criticize sloppy use of “cancel culture” I’m accused of denying that there are ever any unfair, disproportionate, or evil responses to speech. I don’t deny that. What happened to Justine Sacco was, in my opinion, very disproportionate. What happened to David Shor was disproportionate and maddeningly stupid. What’s happening in the community of Young Adult Fiction seems like a complete shitshow that makes me want to avoid everyone there. What happened to Professor Greg Patton was disproportionate and anti-Asian bigotry to boot. Shouting invited speakers down so they can’t speak and attendees can’t listen is fascist and contemptible. I could go on, but you get the point.

Why should we care about having a serious discussion about defining cancel culture? We should because simply complaining about it in the abstract, without attempts to define it, without actionable responses, and without taking the rights of “cancellers” doesn’t ease the culture war. It inflames it.

He gives many examples of people hiding behind “cancel culture” to defend truly abominable behavior. And of conservatives using the very techniques they decry, including trying to punish liberals for their free speech by trying to get them fired. Which is absolutely true.

He next turns to the idea that we need to expand the legal protection of the First Amendment with expanded norms of social tolerance for ideas we don’t like. While he agrees with the notion in the abstract, he rightly notes that it really doesn’t get us anywhere.

But a discussion of norms that value proportionality and make people more comfortable speaking isn’t serious if it doesn’t take into account the interests of the people who want to speak in return. This is what I’ve called the “First Speaker Problem” — a focus on the freedom and feelings of whoever started talking to the exclusion of the freedom and feelings of whoever is responding.

The First Speaker Problem is a categorical error. It treats its focus — the First Speaker — as being in a different category than people responding, and ignores the fact that the First Speaker is almost certainly responding to someone else‘s speech. It assumes, without evidence, that the First Speaker’s speech somehow promotes open discourse and isn’t itself “disproportionate” — in other words it utterly fails to aim the norms-based analysis at the First Speaker’s speech.

Figuring out where the line is, then, requires us to descend into the particular:

Let’s consider an example. Milo Yiannopoulos, who was once a thing, frequently complained of cancel culture, was portrayed as its victim, and was the subject of demands that his campus speeches be cancelled. His campus talks sometimes inspired violence. But Milo Yiannopoulos is also a guy who went to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, called out by (former) name a specific transgender student, put a picture of her up on his screen, ridiculed her, and attacked her for a complaint she had filed regarding what bathrooms she could use. “Cancel culture” discourse normally focuses exclusively on whether the responses to Yiannopoulos violate norms without asking if he violated norms himself. It’s irrational to ask whether responses to Yiannopoulos discourage speech without asking whether what he did discouraged speech. Do you think that singling out and naming (deliberately with a former name) an activist student, putting up her picture on the screen for his audience to jeer at, and condemning her encouraged speech? Do you think trans activists — or any campus activists Yiannopoulos doesn’t like — felt more free to speak after that? What is the morally or philosophically coherent basis for focusing on Yiannopoulos’ feelings to the exclusion of the feelings of the person he singled out?

One’s response to that, ultimately, is likely to depend on where one stands on trans issues. Which, really, is White’s point: we naturally are more sensitive to protecting speech we agree with and don’t as much mind shouting down those whose views we consider odious.

Suggesting what to do about cancel culture is a big ask. It’s complicated and contentious. But just complaining about it without specifics promotes all of the problems I’ve discussed — it makes the dialogue more susceptible to partisanship, it promotes ignoring the competing rights at issue, and it encourages fuzzy thinking.

People complaining about “cancel culture” frequently suggest that it chills speech. Perhaps. But so does a vague denunciation of other people’s speech. In responding to bumptious defamation threats, I often say “vagueness in a defamation threat is the hallmark of meritless thuggery.” That is, if you say someone’s speech is defamatory and threaten to sue over it, without specifying which exact speech is defamatory, you’re likely just trying to chill speech, not redress genuine defamation. Similarly, if you denounce “cancel culture” without citing specific examples and suggesting how people should act differently, you’re closer to chilling speech than fixing it. Talking about “cancel culture” can be an genuine expression of concern that some response speech is disproportionate and outside our society’s norms, or it can be a partisan attempt to delegitimizing entire areas of conversation — usually race, gender, and sexuality.

When I read attacks on “cancel culture” I’m often left wondering what I’m being asked not to do. 

After taking apart yet another NYT op-ed, White again tells us to delve into the particulars:

I believe more specificity — action items — is the answer. Pointing to specific instances of “cancellation” and debating why they are inside or outside of our norms is a productive action item. Saying “colleges shouldn’t disinvite speakers because of controversy” is a good specific action item; we can debate it. Saying “Ken, stop piling on 20-follower Twitter accounts when they say stupid things” is an action item; I can debate it. [Shan’t.] Saying “stop demanding that businesses fire people for what they say off the job” is an action item. I might not agree but we can discuss it. Saying “if a minor says something racist in a semi-private setting we shouldn’t put them on blast and make them infamous” is an action item. We can grapple with it. We can’t grapple with “the culture makes me feel uncomfortable speaking.” Saying that just returns us to our cultural and partisan priors.

I’m in favor of robust debates over free speech culture and its relation to free speech law. I enjoyed such a debate with my friend Greg Lukianoff, who strongly disagrees with me on my approach, and I with his. But the Times Editorial Board offered a yawp, not a productive debate. I believe that “cancel culture” exists — that is, I believe that some responses to speech are disproportionate and outside norms of decency, and I think the culture sometimes encourages such responses. But the most common uses of the term are partisan nonsense — overwhelmingly, in my opinion. Get serious. Consider all the competing interests and be specific.

Because I’m more online than most, I’m particularly sensitive to the debate. Twitter, in particular, tends to be dominated by voices from the left and there are issues where it’s simply not worth engaging because of pile-on from the mob. While that platform’s “microblogging” has largely displaced the conversations that took place on blogs like this one 15 years or so ago, the advantage of the older form was that the arguments tended to be more clearly drawn out and serial. Having to defend 160-character tweets from an onslaught of strangers can be exhausting.

At the same time, the idea that there are things one can’t say in polite society is hardly new, nor is the fact that these norms shift as society evolves. To use an extreme example, publicly declaring that Hitler was right and that it’s too bad he didn’t finish the job would have gotten a person “canceled” decades ago. The difference is that, because so many people are “very online,” their conversations are much more public than they used to be.

As with the “political correctness” debates of the 1990s, much of the “cancel culture” conversation is around issues of race and gender. Norms are evolving at warp speed. And, importantly, they’re doing so very unevenly.

White’s essay suggests, and I concur, that proportionality is a key concern and that we should treat public figures differently than schmoes with 20 Twitter followers and NYT editors differently than 7th graders. I would suggest that we should similarly factor in age (older folks are naturally going to be slower to adapt to changes in norms they’ve been steeped in for decades), education (those with college educations will tend to adapt to new information more quickly), and culture (those in rural areas are simply less exposed to, for example, LGBTQ people than those in big cities). But, ultimately, whether “cancelation” is appropriate—or, indeed, whether it has even occurred—likely has to be judged on the totality of the particular circumstances rather than on a general maxim.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    I believe that “cancel culture” exists — that is, I believe that some responses to speech are disproportionate and outside norms of decency, and I think the culture sometimes encourages such responses. But the most common uses of the term are partisan nonsense — overwhelmingly, in my opinion. Get serious. Consider all the competing interests and be specific.

    Couldn’t agree more.

    What frustrated me about our arguments here is that I felt that those speaking against cancel culture were all too often imputing motives or pre-supposing priors in the specific examples raised, and then using their imagined “facts” to assert that, despite appearances no cancellation had actually taken place.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: Yes. That’s the nature of debates of abstraction. There are likely hundreds, if not thousands, of particular incidents of “cancelation” that one could point to. But whether any particular person deserved to be canceled—or even if the consequences they faced truly qualify as “cancelation”—really has to be examined on its own merits.

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  3. SKI says:

    My takeaway to Ken’s piece is that he stopped short of the actual thrust: we should never talk about “cancel culture” as it is a meaningless label used exclusively to prevent talking about specific instances and individuals. We should instead talk about specifics as that is the only way to actually be productive.

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  4. MarkedMan says:

    @SKI:

    we should never talk about “cancel culture”

    I imagine this is Steven’s argument. “Cancel Culture” applies for things like the McCarthy era, where even discussing communism without immediately condemning it could get you fired from most jobs and almost all public facing ones. So all too often in our discussion there appeared to be a disagreement but in actuality there were two separate discussions occurring simultaneously (and confusingly). On the one hand, “Is this a specific example of cancellation?” On the other, “Have we reached a McCarthy level of blanket cancellation?” In the moment and with many voices engaged at once it is very hard to separate out these two streams.

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @SKI: I find his argument here very sound and, in general, find him reasonable and persuasive. I think it’s worthwhile to try to distill more generalizable principles and spot societal trends. But we still have to dive into particular cases to know whether they’re instances of that thing.

    For example, I think it’s obviously true that police are more prone to see young Black men as potential criminals and that this leads to more violent episodes against them than would be the case were a young White man in the same situation. But that doesn’t mean that every police shooting of a Black man was racially motivated or even unjust.

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  6. drj says:

    The main problem with “cancel culture” is that it is being perceived as being part of left-wing discourse.

    And with anything that is being perceived as belonging to the left, the same thing always happens.

    Some fairly marginal indivdiual (typically from the Oberlin Student Council /s) takes something too far (e.g., “wearing a kimono is cultural appropriation,” or: “CRT means that only whites can be truly racist”), which is then immediately used to discredit the entire underlying concept.

    Somehow, it never works like this the other way around. For instance, the writings of Ayn Rand are never used to argue that all successful business owners are complete sociopaths that need to be institutionalized in order to protect society from their boundless callousness.

    And it’s not like the Right is averse of some canceling of its own: I’m pretty sure that being gay in 80s wasn’t much fun.

    Basically, we, as a society, are conditioned to ridicule anything that comes from the left (I guess because it is automatically being perceived as weak, unrealistic, and feminine), while anything from the right is maybe not exactly the right solution, but always, at least, strong, serious, and masculine.

    For example, the left-wing equivalent of someone like John (“Bomb Everything”) Bolton would be some crazed hippie chick who believes that hugs will bring world peace. Or imagine someone equally ridiculous as Donald Trump – but now from the left.

    But somehow, we are only ever ready to invite one kind of ridiculousness into the halls of power…

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  7. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think it’s worthwhile to try to distill more generalizable principles and spot societal trends.

    Absolutely from an academic and/or governance perspective.

    But we still have to dive into particular cases to know whether they’re instances of that thing.

    Again agreed. That said, using those categories to deal with individual incidents in real time is, usually useless and a distraction. Especially when that labeling is done by politicians or activists.

    We can and should talk about the problems created by combining the problems of racist culture and traditions with the traditions and culture within police training that their use of force is justified and celebrated and that their most essential job is to come out of each shift safe and sound regardless of the cost to others. But for any individual case, we need to look at the specific individuals and facts.

  8. Mu Yixiao says:

    Ken’s definition essentially matches my own when discussing the topic. It’s the disproportionality of the response that makes it an issue.

    Now… the question becomes are cases of disproportional reaction more frequent now than they were in the past? I believe that they are–though I’m open to the idea that we just hear about it more often because of the way we disseminate information these days.

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  9. drj says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Now… the question becomes are cases of disproportional reaction more frequent now than they were in the past? I believe that they are

    Dude, try being gay in the 1980s or black in the 1950s (or a woman whenever) and advocate for your causes.

    What’s changed, mainly, is that some classes of people who previously could say shit without repercussions may now end up being called out for it.

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  10. Scott says:

    I view the whole “cancel culture” debate as a subset (or perhaps a cousin to) our whole grievance culture problem we have in this country. When my kids were growing up, they knew that to say “unfair” would elicit a very irritated response from dear old Dad. It seems as though the vast majority of Americans view the world as “unfair” in some way and continually complain. And it is encouraged by various institutions (politicians, media, PACs, etc.)

    The only solution is a culture of restrain WRT any provocation. Like I do with certain members of my own family. I’m not being “canceled”, I’m just choosing when to engage.

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    The underlying problems are the “at will” employment system so frequently employed in the United States and several questions:

    1. Does a person have the right to express views and not be made to feel bad about them? (I say “no”).
    2. Does a person have the right to express views and not experience repercussions for them? (I say “no”).
    3. When does a social media or other organization become an organ of the federal, state, or local government?

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  12. MarkedMan says:

    @drj: FWIW, I view a “cancellation” as the piling onto an individual by a mob, whose actions become more and more performative and soon the specific individual or circumstance gets crushed under the need for every member of the mob to demonstrate they are more pure and righteous than every other member. That desire to fall in with the mob is a human urge, and has nothing to do with left or right. By my definition it was a cancellation when the black school principal was forced to resign because the mob decided that because he was black he had to be a proponent of their crazed fantasies of CRT. The Yale residential Master who dare to suggest that a University shouldn’t be telling adults what halloween costumes to wear was cancelled, as was her husband. One case was nominally “right” and the other nominally “left” but to my view they were essentially the same thing.

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  13. wr says:

    “To use an extreme example, publicly declaring that Hitler was right and that it’s too bad he didn’t finish the job would have gotten a person “canceled” decades ago. ”

    Whereas today it can get you the Republican nomination for US Senate in any one of a number of states.

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  14. First, just to lay down a general marker: I agree that both “woke” and “cancel culture” do point to real things. I just think that the general usage of those terms is so vague, and so politically distorted, that I am not sure that they, in and of themselves, are helpful concepts.

    Second, while I need to read White’s entire piece, this gets to the heart of my position:

    People complaining about “cancel culture” frequently suggest that it chills speech. Perhaps. But so does a vague denunciation of other people’s speech. In responding to bumptious defamation threats, I often say “vagueness in a defamation threat is the hallmark of meritless thuggery.” That is, if you say someone’s speech is defamatory and threaten to sue over it, without specifying which exact speech is defamatory, you’re likely just trying to chill speech, not redress genuine defamation. Similarly, if you denounce “cancel culture” without citing specific examples and suggesting how people should act differently, you’re closer to chilling speech than fixing it. Talking about “cancel culture” can be an genuine expression of concern that some response speech is disproportionate and outside our society’s norms, or it can be a partisan attempt to delegitimizing entire areas of conversation — usually race, gender, and sexuality.

    Third, I still think the main variable is social media. As James notes:

    Because I’m more online than most, I’m particularly sensitive to the debate. Twitter, in particular, tends to be dominated by voices from the left and there are issues where it’s simply not worth engaging because of pile-on from the mob. While that platform’s “microblogging” has largely displaced the conversations that took place on blogs like this one 15 years or so ago, the advantage of the older form was that the arguments tended to be more clearly drawn out and serial. Having to defend 160-character tweets from an onslaught of strangers can be exhausting.

    The problem is that any given Tweet can be misunderstood. There is no context, no tone, not nothing. And this can lead to a pile on quite quickly.

    And I not even sure it is true that Twitter is dominated by the left—I think that depends on one’s own curation in terms of one’s perception of the ideological leanings of the platform.

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  15. drj says:

    @MarkedMan:

    FWIW, I view a “cancellation” as the piling onto an individual by a mob

    Sure. But most mobs (online or in real life) function as a tool to defend the status quo against challenges from underprivileged groups.

    Sometimes, however, mobs form to try in order to create a new reality on the ground in an attempt to redefine what is socially acceptable more in line with (or even beyond) current norms.

    The term “cancel culture” is a pretty blatant attempt to only condemn the latter category of mobs, i.e., those who challenge the traditional status quo.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that the second category of mobs is OK. A mob is a mob, after all.

    But it definitely should be noted that the moral panic only emerged when the little people started attacking the privileged instead of the underprivileged.

    So yeah, “left” and “right” have actually a lot to do with this IMO.

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  16. @MarkedMan:

    I imagine this is Steven’s argument.

    More or less.

    I understand the impulse to use the term, and it is currently deeply embedded in the zeitgeist at the moment, but I am with White: let’s talk about specifics and how to fix those issues instead of pretending like there is pervasive inability of people to speak in the current era.

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  17. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Test

  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    My main concern with cancel culture has always been the politics. The chilling effect on writers and scholars is a secondary concern.

    The political case was made conclusively when I cited the NYT poll the other day showing that 80% of both Democrats and Republicans think cancel culture is a problem. When 80% of voters think something is a problem it is, by definition, a political problem. And it’s not an issue the Left is winning.

    As to the chilling effect on creatives, I’ve given both second and first-hand testimony. This is a case where literally everyone knows it’s happening, but the intimidation level is so high and the danger to careers so great, that people won’t talk about it, because even to admit there’s a problem makes you a target. I can’t even engage on the topic because of fear of spillover damage to the career of writer’s associated with me. In McCarthyite terms I’d be ‘pink’ and thus anyone near and dear to me is also likely to be suspect. And if anyone doubts that, well, they’re wrong.

    But, you want specifics? OK. I wrote a YA book series with a premise similar to Stephen King’s Under the Dome. (I was first, as Steve acknowledges.) The TL;DR is: everyone over the age of 14 simply disappears. In an early scene a main character is driving in an old pick-up with her grandfather, Joe, IIRC, down a desert dirt road beside a steep drop-off. I mention in passing that Joe is a member of a SoCal Indian tribe, the Chumash.

    Joe exists for one purpose: to provide exposition for the main character. His life span is two pages in a series that runs to ~3000 pages. Then, like literally every adult, he disappears. Poof! For this I was attacked by an Indian activist and accused of ‘erasing native characters.’ When I argued that Joe was never anything but a throwaway character, this genius claimed that Joe must have actually been carefully researched because at one point – with his hands on the wheel of a truck on a very precarious road – he uses his chin to point and that, Ah hah! was an Indian thing. So, it seems I carefully researched and then ‘erased’ a native American character and was, thus, a racist.

    The upshot of this idiotic attack on me was that I was dogpiled on twitter, ‘canceled’ more times than I can count, and the word went forth that I was ‘not a good literary citizen.’ As a result of that I was excluded from prize competitions. I was no longer welcome to speak to groups of writers.

    So, I’ve now provided polling data to support my political concerns. I’ve provided first and second hand evidence from people directly impacted by the chilling effect. And now, to meet the ‘be specific’ challenge, I’ve provided some personal specifics.

    But of course I’m not impoverished and living in a cardboard box so @wr and @Stormy Dragon will just dismiss anything I say. Because if you’re successful apparently you have no right to complain.

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  19. senyordave says:

    @MarkedMan: By my definition it was a cancellation when the black school principal was forced to resign because the mob decided that because he was black he had to be a proponent of their crazed fantasies of CRT. The Yale residential Master who dare to suggest that a University shouldn’t be telling adults what halloween costumes to wear was cancelled, as was her husband. One case was nominally “right” and the other nominally “left” but to my view they were essentially the same thing.
    I don’t agree at all. While I think both cases were abjectly ridiculous, in the case of the black principal he was ultimately fired because of the color of his skin. He literally did not do anything. The other case was a ridiculous response to an actual event that did occur.

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  20. MarkedMan says:

    @drj:

    What’s changed, mainly, is that some classes of people who previously could say shit without repercussions may now end up being called out for it.

    I don’t think that’s quite right. If anything has changed on a cultural level (and I’m not sure that I agree with that), it’s that the window of acceptability has shifted and the area of exposure has been widened. People could always get cancelled for saying things outside the norm. The average person has always known not to bring up certain subjects (correctness of factions of Protestant faith, relative merits of large and equally powerful ethnic groups) or they would get slammed. But “the norm” has shifted. Things that were commonly talked about or done 30 or 40 years ago are now verboten and that catches a lot of people who weren’t aware of the shift out in the open, exposed to approbation for saying something that was perfectly fine in the past. And the area of exposure is much wider, so what is the “norm” in your local area can suddenly evaluated by a much, much larger audience.

    12 years ago, when my daughter was 13 and had increasingly decided I was clueless and delighted in telling me so, I asked her, “Can you imagine a time when the generation that follows you goes after your generation as hopelessly and cluelessly “-ist”? In other words, is there some group that your generation feels free to belittle that in future time people will take as proof that your generation was bad?” She didn’t even get the question, but I proposed an answer. I said, “It’s still acceptable to make fun of people who are overweight. They are almost always portrayed in kids shows and movies (and often in adult ones too) as buffoons or stupid or clowns. Can’t you imagine that one day people will think this is on the same order as insulting people because they are of a certain race or have a certain sexual orientation?” Of course, coming from her father, this had no effect on a thirteen year old. But what I find fascinating is that the world has shifted in these 12 years and she has no recollection that it was ever acceptable by her peers to watch things that made fun of overweight people. Dropped down the memory hole. But somewhere there may be, say, a transcript of a Club Penguin chat where her and her friends made fun of the fatties. And someday, that may come out, totally blindsiding her, and she may very well be cancelled, meaning a mob will pile on and dissect her very worth as a human being, and any attempt to explain or apologize will be taken as proof of her bad character.

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  21. MarkedMan says:

    @drj:

    But most mobs (online or in real life) function as a tool to defend the status quo against challenges from underprivileged groups.

    Sometimes, however, mobs form to try in order to create a new reality on the ground in an attempt to redefine what is socially acceptable more in line with (or even beyond) current norms.

    I think you are missing my point, either or both these groups could turn into a mob at any given point, or neither of them. A mob is a creature in and of itself. When a group turns into a mob purpose goes out the door. Soccer hooligans, sports fans after a victory, rock bands and their coteries at an after party, once these groups have become a mob talking about intent is meaningless.

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  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    To the people insisting cancel culture is not a thing: Gamergate. I first became concerned about cancel culture when I was made aware of Gamergate, in which female critics of some video games were relentlessly harassed, doxxed and threatened online.

    To be clear, I don’t want government action, this is not a job for the law. This is about manners, what is acceptable in daily human interaction, and what is not. The script needs to be flipped – dogpiling, doxxing, threatening etc… should be the behaviors frowned upon and condemned.

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  23. SKI says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    That sucks, Michael. But your personal experience isn’t particularly relevant because it is incredibly anomalous. First, the “dogpiling” on is almost exclusively a social media phenomenon. The reality is that most people aren’t on social media (and/or don’t consume it in such a way as to experience or participate in such dogpiles). More importantly, the YA community is among the most insular and extreme niches around. Ken even cited them in his article for its extreme cancelling. Frankly, it is most similar to a small insular extremist church or cult.

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  24. SKI says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’m presuming you didn’t read Ken’s article. It addresses this. The issue isn’t that cancel culture doesn’t exist but that it is used in mostly non-extreme cases which obscures the actually extreme cases you are referring to.

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  25. mattbernius says:

    Generally speaking, my thoughts on this topic align with Ken Whites.

    One thing I want to point out is that the urge to censor has been with us since before the founding of the country.

    The key change is how advances in media technology have–on the whole–democratized both the ability to reach large distributed groups of people and the ability to organize to censor. Couple that with the American focus of “at-will work” as @Dave Schuler pointed out and you have the ability for both top-down (governmental) censorship and bottom-up (crowd) censorship.

    Historically while the latter has definitely existed (just look at the number of Black, Abolitionist, partisan, and other newspaper literally burned over the years), social media has definitely allowed crowd censorship to become easier (and often involving fewer actual people in the crowd).

    For more on all of this, I recommend Geoffery Stone’s wonderful and accessible history of the first amendment in times of civic strife “Perilous Times.”

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  26. CSK says:
  27. KM says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Now… the question becomes are cases of disproportional reaction more frequent now than they were in the past?

    Here’s the rub: who gets to decide what’s “disproportional” and “frequent”?

    Because being “cancelled” happened much more frequently then CC complainers want to admit…. since they were doing the cancelling.

    That’s where the outrage is coming from – before when people having their lives ruined due to social chastisement (for being gay, a single mother, having unacceptable views, etc), it was consider appropriate the majority since that reflected their personal beliefs. Soldiers getting kicked out for DADA and having that negative affect their ability to earn a living? Cool with the public for a LONG time. How about losing your job for getting pregnant while working at a religious school? Since it’s “religious freedom”, nobody seems to care that a person has lost their livelihood and been cancelled (no other religious school would hire them) disproportionately to what happened.

    Now? It’s those same people suffering consequences for their words and actions. Oh, you’re losing your job for being a bigot that decided to tell the whole world your word vomit? The pendulum has swung in the other direction. Is it fair? Not really but it never was. People have been getting hit with social consequences out of step with their “crime” for a very, very, VERY long time. Now it’s folks comfortable being the cancellers having to watch what they say and do….. and they hate it.

    It’s not more frequent or more disproportionate. It’s simply on the other foot so it’s more visible to the majority.

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  28. gVOR08 says:

    Wake me up when someone has data and not just cherry-picked anecdotes. And definition is a prerequisite for data. I should have qualified “valid data”. (And how people respond to a badly designed poll isn’t really valid data. Again, because of the lack of definition. What, exactly, were the 80% or whatever concerned about?)

    @drj: Indeed. Hippie punching is always in style, and goes back long before “hippies”. The huge example being Vietnam, where only those Dirty Fwcking Hippies were against the war until rather suddenly everyone was against the war. But even then the DFHs were right but for all the wrong reasons.

    The trigger for all this discussion was that unfortunate NYT editorial board column. NYT has done their share of hippie punching over the years. Seems like I’ve had cause to ask, “WTF is wrong with FTFNYT?” every few days for the last couple weeks.

    4
  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    @SKI:

    Frankly, it is most similar to a small insular extremist church or cult.

    Yes, it is, but no it is not anomalous. First, it’s not confined to YA it has metastasized throughout publishing. Second, it’s not confined to social media, what happens on social defines attitudes in the real world, how could it not?

    And if the issue were simply a Twitter phenomenon and no one cares about Twitter, how did 80%+ of American citizens of both parties come to be concerned about it? 80% of Americans are not in the Church of YA, yet they seem pretty darned convinced CC is a problem.

    6
  30. drj says:

    @MarkedMan:

    A mob is a creature in and of itself. When a group turns into a mob purpose goes out the door. […] once these groups have become a mob talking about intent is meaningless.

    I think this is simply wrong.

    Look at the 1/6 mob, for instance. Were they perfectly coordinated in intent? Obviously not. But it is obvious that its individual members were taking actions to (at least) increase the chance that Trump would be declared president.

    Purpose may be imperfectly defined, but certainly doesn’t go out the door.

    1
  31. Michael Reynolds says:

    @KM:

    Now it’s folks comfortable being the cancellers having to watch what they say and do….. and they hate it.

    Oh, bullshit. Only the sinners are being punished by the Inquisition. Only witches have to worry about Cotton Mather. Only the communists have to worry about Joe McCarthy.

    6
  32. KM says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Ummm, @Micheal? Gamergate wasn’t cancel culture so much as misogyny gone wild in public like usual and suddenly people noticed.

    Females playing video games get relentlessly harassed, doxxed and threatened online just for being female daily; seriously go sign up for CoD or Apex Legends with a clearly female persona and watch what happens. I’ve lost track of how many slurs and vicious things have been tossed at me when I’ve got vox on simply because I have the nerve to play under my real name and be good at it. I’m not on Twitter anymore because of that. Unless you are telling me I’m being cancelled every day, it’s a “normal” part of being female on the internet. Frankly, this is the only place I can go to without someone calling me a &%#*^* for having an unpopular opinion (fyi love y’all for it!!!).

    Gamergate was incels and dudebros showing their ass in public and doing what they do, not specifically cancel culture…. unless the argument is they are inherently cancel culture-ish.

    13
  33. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And it’s not an issue the Left is winning.

    The Left will never win this because “Cancel Culture” is a bumper sticker describing something everyone knows they understand, but as this discussion shows they likely don’t. The Left will fall into the trap of trying to explain their nuanced position and will lose at what they always lose at…messaging.

    4
  34. gVOR08 says:

    I see Little Teddy Cruz (my feeble effort at cancelling him) was trying to cancel some kid-lit yesterday. He was asking Judge Jackson about a couple of kid’s books that Jackson had never heard of. He was trying to tie her to CRT by singling out books he claims are in the library of the private school her kids go to and for which she is a board member. Some talking head said the same books are in the library of the private school Cruz’s children attend.

    3
  35. SKI says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And if the issue were simply a Twitter phenomenon and no one cares about Twitter, how did 80%+ of American citizens of both parties come to be concerned about it? 80% of Americans are not in the Church of YA, yet they seem pretty darned convinced CC is a problem

    Because lots of people outside social media talk, somewhat incessantly, about it. It is the New York Times’ Editorial board’s favorite bogeyman.

    4
  36. MarkedMan says:

    @SKI:

    The reality is that most people aren’t on social media

    !! Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? Almost everyone I know, political, nonpolitical, left, right or indifferent is way more into social media then I am!

    2
  37. MarkedMan says:

    @SKI: @CSK: While I find this example compelling, I have to take it with reservations. In subject after subject, Reason is a magazine that deliberately ignores any evidence that goes against their thesis. Basically they serve as a PR agency for the viewpoints of certain billionaires that fund them, looking for nuggets that support those viewpoints and sweeping any that don’t under the rug. It is not a credible source.

    1
  38. mattbernius says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Now… the question becomes are cases of disproportional reaction more frequent now than they were in the past?

    Frequency is not a useful framework to use. Leaving aside issues of confirmation bias (I’m more attentive to this topic therefore I see it more), it’s not a useful comparative tool.

    Assuming that we could even quantitatively measure and accurately historically track censorship, the problem with “is it happening more frequently” is that it doesn’t control for “opportunity to publish and censor.”

    As I called out above, the evolution of publishing and broadcast technology has enabled more people to publish more views than ever before. And so that increase in the ability to publish also brings with it an increase in the ability to censor (not to mention report censorship).

    The real question is if what we are seeing today is a proportional increase in censorship versus an increase in publishing of views. I, like Ken White, remain unconvinced that we are seeing a significant proportional increase in censorship.

    I do think people feel they are because they are seeking out media sources that confirm their existing priors (for example the Reason blog which is specifically looking to document and publish examples of censorship). Note that those sorts of news services didn’t necessarily exist a generation ago.

    5
  39. Kathy says:

    I suggest for the next cancel-themed post, an ancillary one for a pool on how many comments the cancel post will get.

    3
  40. SKI says:

    @MarkedMan: Indeed, I was imprecise. I was thinking/referring to the forms of social media that have the cancel culture dogpiles, Michael is complaining about.

    Do you see much cancel culture on Facebook?

  41. KM says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And if the issue were simply a Twitter phenomenon and no one cares about Twitter, how did 80%+ of American citizens of both parties come to be concerned about it?

    Same way they did about CRT – rightwing talking points getting pushed into the mainstream. Suddenly everybody “knows” what CRT and why it’s bad, just like they know what “cancel culture” is but can’t seem to come up with an actual definition or concrete data.

    The boogeyman ever lurketh. Now you have to *gasp* pay attention to your manners since it might have consequences when before that was someone’s else problem. If you were for the Inquisition before they showed up at your door or approved that Commies were being rooted out in the Red Scare, you really don’t get to complain.

    7
  42. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: It’s the difference between revenge and justice. It is unjust that throughout history many, many individual’s legitimate concerns and feelings were ignored or trivialized because of their race, religion, social status, gender or sexual orientation. And that others pushed aside their lived experience and trivialized the real world consequences, “explaining” it all away as anomalies or rarities or misinterpretations. That these “explainers” couldn’t see the individual, just the groups they were part of.

    How do we, as individuals, deal with this injustice?

    Justice is striving to make sure that we give everyone’s real world experiences the value and weight they deserve as we strive for a society based on fairness.

    Revenge is saying, “yeah, these bad things happened to you, but you are some other race, religion, gender, social status or sexual orientation than the ones I am interested in, so quit your whining. At most I will take the time to explain why your experiences don’t matter.”

    1
  43. MarkedMan says:

    @KM:

    unless the argument is they are inherently cancel culture-ish

    IMO Yes. Absolutely. They find someone that has violated their norms and then they posse up and form a mob to go after them. The individual they are attacking or their particular circumstance is essentially unimportant. Just about my exact definition of a cancellation.

    2
  44. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan:
    I see your point, but the same story abut Luaren Hough has been reported elsewhere, including the NY Times and Salon.

    3
  45. MarkedMan says:

    @SKI:

    unless the argument is they are inherently cancel culture-ish

    Back in the day, when my wife posted a lot of family photographs on Facebook, I looked at my feed sometimes. My impression was that a not insignificant portion of the posts were flame wars and trashings that I attempted to avoid. She gave up on Facebook five years ago and now I don’t go on (except for one heavily moderated group about a particular camping trailer). So – my impression is that it’s roughly the same as Twitter, but to be honest I don’t participate in much social media myself. Most of my social media consists of a few message chat groups comprised of close friends and family.

  46. MarkedMan says:

    @MarkedMan: Oh, and of course, the comment section of this blog. Probably the closest thing to Twitter I am regularly interacting with.

  47. KM says:

    @MarkedMan:

    It is unjust that throughout history many, many individual’s legitimate concerns and feelings were ignored or trivialized because of their race, religion, social status, gender or sexual orientation.

    This helped crystalized a thought I’ve been trying to express: before-times social punishments tended to be about who you were, not specifically what you did or said. You got fired for being gay, not for having a single date with a man. You were kicked out for being pregnant outside of marriage because that make you a sl^t with the baby being proof. It was understood that that instance that prompted it was representative of who you were and thus the “crime” that justified the reaction was deeper then a single action. You are being cancelled for YOU.

    Current cancel culture is seen as transactional – you did X and That’s Bad so bye-bye Felecia. It’s unjust because you might not truly be X at heart, just did or said X so why are you losing your job? It’s seen as disproportionate because the underlying assumption that the action flows from a core flaw isn’t held to be universally true. In other words, it’s wrong to cancel someone for a racist tweet because they might not be racist – you don’t have proof, it might be a mistake/ joke/ misunderstanding! You are being cancelled for an ACTION or BELIEF.

    So the question before us is: why should folks being cancelled get the benefit of the doubt others don’t? Why can someone use religion or politics to cancel another but not be cancelled themselves for those same views? And why or why is it only cancel culture when a lib does it but never ever when it comes from the conservative side?

    3
  48. SKI says:

    @MarkedMan:

    My impression was that a not insignificant portion of the posts were flame wars and trashings that I attempted to avoid

    Flame wars aren’t cancel culture.
    Criticism isn’t cancel culture.

    3
  49. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @Kathy:
    I’ll take $20 on the pass.

    3
  50. SKI says:

    @KM:

    In other words, it’s wrong to cancel someone for a racist tweet because they might not be racist – you don’t have proof, it might be a mistake/ joke/ misunderstanding! You are being cancelled for an ACTION or BELIEF.

    2 thoughts:
    1. Criticism isn’t cancellation.
    2. Judging people on actions or statements is far, far preferable than judging them on their characteristics. We can control our actions and speech and make amends when we do things wrong.

    1
  51. Andy says:

    I think Ken White is dancing on the head of a pin here.

    And one of the ironically funny things about the NYT editorial is the number of people who called for the NYT editorial board to be fired or forced to quit….

    The appropriate response to speech one doesn’t like is more speech. The problem with “cancel culture” or “cop culture” is that it purposely doesn’t fight speech with speech. Cancel culture is about policing speech through other means, usually forms of coercion. Threatening someone’s health, safety or job has nothing to do with White’s “First Speaker Problem.” The ability for people to express their views is completely different from attempting to silence others or brand them with the modern equivalent of a Scarlet A.

    And Ken is wrong about partisanship. Most canceling takes place with co-partisans as a means to prevent ideological heresy and enforce in-group norms. Most of the people canceled by the left are not right-wingers, but others on the left. Same with the right. Trans activists, for example, have canceled a lot of liberals and almost no conservatives.

    Right next to this post in my RSS feed was this from Ann Althouse’s blog.

    And that is an example of what I’ve brought up before – a lot of cancel culture is leadership, management, and institutions bending the knee to an activist mob with views outside of the mainstream that seeks to impose their ideology through coercive means and stifle any debate that challenges dogma.

    And I think people ought to consider the full effects of establishing a standard that suppressing ideas through coercive means is legitimate because doing so doesn’t just legitimize it for one’s particular narrow worldview.

    5
  52. Michael Reynolds says:

    @KM:
    Because things are wrong when they do it, but right when we do it. Got it. That is literally your entire argument: them bad, us good, what they do is bad, what we do is good. You’re not advancing rational arguments you’re just fighting your side. Same as MAGAs do.

    6
  53. Michael Reynolds says:

    @KM:

    Same way they did about CRT – rightwing talking points getting pushed into the mainstream. Suddenly everybody “knows” what CRT and why it’s bad, just like they know what “cancel culture” is but can’t seem to come up with an actual definition or concrete data.

    You are just blind. Listen: if voters believe a thing is a political problem it IS a political problem. And how do you manage to demand concrete proof of every allegation made against CC, while at the same time blandly assuming that only the guilty are being punished? What’s the standard there?

    6
  54. Andy says:

    @mattbernius:

    The key change is how advances in media technology have–on the whole–democratized both the ability to reach large distributed groups of people and the ability to organize to censor. Couple that with the American focus of “at-will work” as @Dave Schuler pointed out and you have the ability for both top-down (governmental) censorship and bottom-up (crowd) censorship.

    I think this is a key insight. And I think those of us who are committed to free speech as a matter of principle see censorship from either direction as bad, even if government censorship – all else being equal – is worse. But a modern version of “The Scarlett Letter” is not something a free society should aspire to or tolerate.

    5
  55. Scott says:

    @gVOR08: Ted’s kids go to St John’s School, a liberal Episcopal school going for around $30,000/yr. Why? Because Episcopal schools are know for their high academic standards, etc. But Ted being hypocritical? Please tell me that isn’t true!

    1
  56. Michael Reynolds says:

    Look, I understand why people on the Left don’t want to admit the truth. We fucked up. We pushed cancel culture and now everyone is upset and much of the country thinks we’re narrow-minded assholes. We pushed ‘defund’ and now that we have the exact outcome any sensible person could have predicted – more money for cops – we want to pretend, ‘Nuh uh, we did not say that.’ We pretend to care about BLM and when White Antifa came along and drew focus away from BLM with adolescent antics, we shrugged and said, ‘Antifa isn’t even an organization, man.’ Like that was a fucking answer.

    We cannot demand that people on the Right stand up for ideals when we refuse to do the same. We cannot accuse them of being intolerant when we are intolerant. The people who demand that books be mulched, are not in a position to argue against books being pulled from school libraries. Mote and beam, you heathen. We either believe in ideals or we believe in team sports where my side is always right.

    This is a pointless argument now. I tested my position to see if anyone could knock it down, and none of you brought anything but semantic debates and denial. I’m content that I’m right, and furthermore, five years from now almost all of you will grudgingly admit it. Sort of like confessing that a perm was a bad idea, but first you have to have a period of denial.

    6
  57. @Michael Reynolds:

    And if the issue were simply a Twitter phenomenon and no one cares about Twitter, how did 80%+ of American citizens of both parties come to be concerned about it?

    Because, like “woke” it has become a bogeyman on cable news and the like.

    10
  58. SKI says:

    Let me be blunter – there is NOTHING wrong with advocating for someone to be “cancelled”.

    I think Nazi’s should hold public office. I think bigots shouldn’t be teaching students that they believe are lesser. I think racists shouldn’t be police officers. I am quite comfortable advocating for them to lose their jobs

    Contra Michael Reynolds, it isn’t a question of whose side is advocating but whether it is proportional and appropriate.

    2
  59. SKI says:

    @SKI: Nazis shouldn’t.

    I miss the ability to edit

  60. @Michael Reynolds:

    To the people insisting cancel culture is not a thing: Gamergate.

    This gets to my point about definitions. Gamergate was pretty bad, but how was it “cancel culture”?

    Is you definition of “cancel culture” any type of online harassment?

    I am not even sure how Gamergate fits with your kidlit examples in terms of being the same phenomenon, save that social media was involved.

    4
  61. MarkedMan says:

    @SKI: I wasn’t saying it was. I was talking about why I avoid Facebook and so don’t have a good basis for judging it.

    1
  62. KM says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You are just blind.

    And you’re taking this personally.

    Listen: if voters believe a thing is a political problem it IS a political problem

    Great – so any BS FOX spreads now needs to be treated legitimately because they managed to get a bunch of people to repeat it. Whatever happened to those caravans that were such a political problem a few years ago? Many people polled thought we were being invaded and got their rightwing politicians to send the National Guard to deal with it. Is it still a problem or has the public forgotten about it the way they’ll forget about CRT or this when the next outrage shows up?

    Yes, it’s something a lot of voters believe. Polling also shows they believe in ghosts and werewolves in alarming numbers. Why’s that not a political problem we need to work on?

    And how do you manage to demand concrete proof of every allegation made against CC, while at the same time blandly assuming that only the guilty are being punished? What’s the standard there?

    Why should we take CC as gospel anyways? Since when has the standard ever been blindly accept all claims are true?

    I’m asking for solid examples of innocent people getting screwed. Show me someone who got cancelled over BS instead of something they actually did that was objectionable. Show me someone getting railroaded over nothing – not yours or their definition but actually nothing like in a witch hunt. So far we’ve gotten stuff from FIRE, which like VERS is self-report so anyone can claim what they want on it. However when pressed for details, magically they don’t appear or it turns out there really was a fire generating all that smoke.

    Where’s the student “afraid to speak up in class” and what did they want to say? Did someone get fired for an insensitive tweet? Why yes they did but prove it was CC and not violating company standards. Has someone lost a job because they couldn’t stop pushing their viewpoint in public? Hell yes but was it CC or was it because they were jeopardizing the bottom line? People are using it as a catch-all for being held accountable for their actions but nobody seems to be able to give a good example of it hurting someone who didn’t do a damn thing.

    The standard should be what it’s always been – show your work and bring the receipts. You’re the one making the claim so you should be able to back it up. Otherwise, it’s literally a baseless claim that anyone can make or an urban legend about someone’s cousin’s brother’s best friend’s roommate having it happen to them.

    7
  63. Mu Yixiao says:

    @mattbernius:

    Frequency is not a useful framework to use. Leaving aside issues of confirmation bias (I’m more attentive to this topic therefore I see it more), it’s not a useful comparative tool.

    Frequency as straight numbers might not be, but frequency as percentage (or some other statistical measurement) would be. Though, as stated, finding hard numbers is probably impossible.

    Those who feel that current CC is a bigger issue than previous incarnations, aren’t focusing strictly on published material (whether traditional publishing or social media). Students, for example, are afraid of speaking up in class to question what the prof is saying for fear of being expelled from the class or punished in grading.

    To create a hypothetical: An American history class is discussing the American Civil War and the prof says “it was fought because of slavery”. In the past, a student could speak up and say “I thought it was about states rights” and argue their point. There would be discussion about why the student is wrong. Education in action.

    In a class today, the assertion is that student might get piled on in class–verbal harassment–by other students, and/or the prof. Might get told to leave the class. Might get harassed–or even threatened–outside of class. And/or might get punished in the grading process.

    None of that is dependent on publication.

    Now… whether the hypothetical above is a common occurrence, a common fear, or not is one of the questions we need to ask in deciding if cancel culture is a real thing. And remember: If it’s a common fear which is causing people to self-censor, it’s still a problem regardless of the actual frequency of the occurrences.

    3
  64. Andy says:

    @KM:

    Gamergate was incels and dudebros showing their ass in public and doing what they do, not specifically cancel culture…. unless the argument is they are inherently cancel culture-ish.

    I disagree with you here. Gamergate is an example of cancel culture. The fact that it is motivated by misogyny doesn’t change that. Online mobs attempting to suppress or harass others is exactly what cancel culture is.

    The point that I think Michael is making, is that cancel culture doesn’t magically become righteous or justified when it’s used to police values you agree with. The problem with that should be obvious – everyone has different values and priorities and if everyone thinks that canceling is justified to support their values, then that is a recipe for social warfare. IMO the way for society to achieve consensus over time on such disputes is through debate. Cancel culture is specifically about preventing debate and imposing a dogma. That is what the misogynists of gamergate wanted to do.

    4
  65. @Andy:

    Cancel culture is about policing speech through other means, usually forms of coercion. Threatening someone’s health, safety or job has nothing to do with White’s “First Speaker Problem.”

    If we could narrow the definition to something like “Cancel culture is when people lose a job or a gig because of something they said” then we are moving in the right direction. The problem, of. course, is still in parsing out the reality that some things should get a person fired (no one would object if, say an employee at the National Holocaust Museum was tweeting out neo-Nazi propaganda, so just getting fired for speech still isn’t a perfect definition).

    The thing is, this places something like Gamergate outside of “cancel culture” but it also does not include MR’s example of an author being criticized on Twitter and then being too upset to write for a period of time.

    It precludes things like Louis C. K. and Bill Cosby as well.

    Most canceling takes place with co-partisans as a means to prevent ideological heresy and enforce in-group norms. Most of the people canceled by the left are not right-wingers, but others on the left. Same with the right. Trans activists, for example, have canceled a lot of liberals and almost no conservatives.

    I am open to this being part of the definition (in-group speech policing) but I am not sure this is correct. Examples of campus speakers being canceled have not been in-group cancelations.

    2
  66. @Michael Reynolds:

    I tested my position to see if anyone could knock it down, and none of you brought anything but semantic debates and denial.

    Weird–but I bet a lot of folks in this thread likewise think they are right. 😉

    Also: given that this is a semantic debate, what else should people bring?

    12
  67. drj says:

    @Andy:

    Cancel culture is specifically about preventing debate and imposing a dogma.

    Excactly. And there was never a moral panic about this – until the lefties started trying it out, too.

    In case you missed it: nobody is arguing for cancel culture (unless we’re talking Nazi’s, flat earthers, or similar types).

    It’s just that we shouldn’t pretend that cancel culture is a new thing. Because that whitewashes all the canceling disadvantaged groups had to endure in the past – which is exactly what most people jammering about it want to achieve.

    7
  68. @Mu Yixiao:

    To create a hypothetical: An American history class is discussing the American Civil War and the prof says “it was fought because of slavery”. In the past, a student could speak up and say “I thought it was about states rights” and argue their point. There would be discussion about why the student is wrong. Education in action.

    In a class today, the assertion is that student might get piled on in class–verbal harassment–by other students, and/or the prof. Might get told to leave the class. Might get harassed–or even threatened–outside of class. And/or might get punished in the grading process.

    I expect that in 99.99% of cases, the first scenario is what would play out in most classes. (Although there are a lot of places wherein the views might be flipped: the instructor playing the “states’ rights” card and the student asking about slavery).

    What is the evidence that pile-ons (0r the other penalties listed) are the norm (or even frequent)?

    4
  69. KM says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    An awful lot of “mights” in there.

    In your hypothetical, the someone saying “I thought it was about states rights” being corrected that the state right in question was owning slaves might view it as “verbal harassment” from their peers or teacher. If the harassment is “It’s 2022 and you still believe that?!”, that’s not cancelling. Getting piled on for this would be something that happens but being told to leave class? Unlikely unless they really kept pushing the point in which case it’s them being disruptive, not their opinion. If they are getting harassed outside of class it’s because they’re persisting in holding onto “states rights” instead of “states right was to own slaves” aka they want to keep their original problematic framing and are getting called out for it. I supposed they might get sh^t from their peers for having been taught that tired old excuse but if it keeps coming up, it’s because the student’s still holding on to it. It’s also HEAVILY associated with certain movements and political beliefs so it can be an indicator of others issues. As for being punished in the grading process, it’s not a correct answer but a partial and frankly politically motivated one. If you’re putting that as the answer to the test, you don’t get an A and shouldn’t because it’s not correct aka you’re being “punished” for your answer. Should that be considered acceptable for kid telling the teacher MAGA talking points about current events? Is it fair to not grade “Trump won the election” the same?

    1
  70. @Andy:

    Gamergate is an example of cancel culture.

    Now I am confused. Gamergate was not ideological in-group policing, as per your semi-definition.

    7
  71. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “But of course I’m not impoverished and living in a cardboard box so @wr and @Stormy Dragon will just dismiss anything I say. Because if you’re successful apparently you have no right to complain.”

    It’s really impressive how well you type with those big iron nails sticking through your palms.

    8
  72. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy:

    The appropriate response to speech one doesn’t like is more speech.

    Although this sounds good it is a semantic null. While more speech can help individuals and society as a whole come to better understanding, it is also the tool of liars and con men. In the 80’s and 90’s when the mighty tobacco companies started losing in court and their internal correspondence was at last opened up for discovery it was revealed (no surprise) that the “debate” about the dangers of tobacco was totally manufactured. The PR departments paid scientists and subsidized cranks to parrot their propaganda and construct flawed experiments that gave inconclusive results. As was clear, their goal was never to convince anyone, but rather to promote “debate” which in turn gave their for-hire politicians the cover they needed to continue to protect them. “More speech” was all they wanted or needed to keep from paying for the deaths of millions.

    The best response to such speech is to give it no platform. Once someone has been outed as an unreliable source, a responsible news organization shouldn’t set up phony debates between professional liars and legitimate researchers. You can’t get to the truth by mixing a little Kellyanne Conway or a little Sean Spicer, literally professional liars and very good at their job, with actual investigative journalism. And Cargo Cult magazines like “Reason”, which promote sham “thought pieces” in the hopes of sucking in actual thinkers, should be binned, not quoted.

    4
  73. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Sort of like confessing that a perm was a bad idea, but first you have to have a period of denial.

    God help us, given the 70’s revival, does this mean the perm is about to make a comeback!?

    1
  74. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I’m not obsessed with the definition because cancel culture is like Justice Potter Stewarts’ famous quote about pornography. Like pornography, where to draw the definitional line is inherently subjective, but that doesn’t mean that pornography doesn’t exist.

    It precludes things like Louis C. K. and Bill Cosby as well

    As noted in previous discussions the distinction between those two and cancel culture is behavior. They weren’t canceled for having subjectively bad or unpopular ideas or opinions – they were canceled for their criminal behavior. Getting canceled for having the wrong opinion about the appropriate use/mention distinction when using the N-word is not the same thing as getting canceled for raping people.

    But I really do think Freddie eBoer’s essay on “Cop Culture” really gets to the heart of the matter.

    1
  75. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: And, in all fairness, there are maybe 4 or 5 people here with that maximalist view. There is virtually no chance you are going to move them and, of no course,no chance they are going to move you. But there are many more leftists here, myself included, who are nowhere near that extreme.

    4
  76. @Andy:

    Justice Potter Stewarts’ famous quote about pornography.

    Which is a fun quip, but shouldn’t actually be used in making legal distinctions (despite the context of the quip).

    This is the problem: if cancel culture is in the eye of the beholder, then the term is worthless.

    My late grandmother thought that James Bond movies were pornographic, did she really know it when she saw it?

    5
  77. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: Well said

    3
  78. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “And if the issue were simply a Twitter phenomenon and no one cares about Twitter, how did 80%+ of American citizens of both parties come to be concerned about it? 80% of Americans are not in the Church of YA, yet they seem pretty darned convinced CC is a problem.”

    It is indeed astonishing. I mean, just because an entire political party and their in-house propaganda networks have been screaming about the terrible danger of cancel culture for years, how did any ever start to think it might be a problem?

    5
  79. wr says:

    @Kathy: “I suggest for the next cancel-themed post, an ancillary one for a pool on how many comments the cancel post will get.”

    Could be worse. We used to do this about guns. Finally everybody got really bored with having the same conversation over and over again, and the responses dwindled away.

    2
  80. MarkedMan says:

    @drj:

    And there was never a moral panic about this

    A statement like this makes me realize we are so far apart on our view of the world that there is almost no common ground. Moral panic is the mechanism behind almost every progressive advancement in history. To say that moral panic is only on the right flies in the face of 250 years of American history.

    1
  81. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: ” I’m content that I’m right, and furthermore, five years from now almost all of you will grudgingly admit it.”

    Okay, I’m done. I respect you, Michael, and I like you, but if I wanted to argue like a 13 year old I’d find an actual middle-schooler.

    4
  82. MarkedMan says:

    As often happens in threads like this, people are talking past each other. Look, for something to be a political problem doesn’t mean it has to be a legitimate problem. If you want to get a bill passed and 80% of the voters think that it will raise their taxes, you have a political problem whether or not it is true.

    4
  83. drj says:

    @MarkedMan:

    A statement like this makes me realize we are so far apart on our view of the world that there is almost no common ground. Moral panic is the mechanism behind almost every progressive advancement in history.

    You should look up the definition of “moral panic.”

    moral panic, phrase used in sociology to describe an artificially created panic or scare. Researchers, often influenced by critical conflict-oriented Marxist themes, have demonstrated that moral entrepreneurs have demonized “dangerous groups” to serve their own religious, political, economic, social, cultural, and legal interests. Although the aims, forms, dynamics, and outcomes of moral panics vary throughout history, they have, with isolated exceptions, been initiated by powerful interest groups to manage the bodies and behavior of threatening groups—often, the poor and powerless.

    There are, of course, other definitions out here, but the one quoted above captures the gist of most of them.

    1
  84. MarkedMan says:

    @drj: My bad. I equated the term with “moral outrage”. I retract my statement.

    1
  85. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @drj: Cornell West was the first person I read saying that only whites can be truly racist. Not exactly a marginal individual.
    […]

    Twitter, in particular, tends to be dominated by voices from the left …

    Considering the territory conservatives have chosen to stake out, I think it’s difficult to not be a voice from the left. Just sayin’.

    1
  86. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “Students, for example, are afraid of speaking up in class to question what the prof is saying for fear of being expelled from the class or punished in grading.”

    “Students” are afraid. How many of them? What percentage of them? How do we know this aside from anecdote? What are they afraid to say? I’ve got a class of fifteen undergrads, and eleven of them never actually say anything — is that because I’m a big bad lefty and they’re afraid I’ll grade them down for saying something, even though we have never talked politics in this (screenwriting) class? Or is it because they’re 20 years old and just don’t want to be called on?

    This is the kind of nonsense that makes all the CC hysteria so ludicrous. “Students are afraid.” It’s right up there with “a lot of people are saying.”

    7
  87. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “Now… whether the hypothetical above is a common occurrence, a common fear, or not is one of the questions we need to ask in deciding if cancel culture is a real thing. ”

    So… you’ve made up a situation. Then you made up a bunch of possible responses to the situation. And because you were able to imagine a bunch of stuff with no idea if it’s ever happened, we all now have to worry about the “underlying issue.”

    Can you see how ridiculous that is?

    9
  88. drj says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Cornell West was the first person I read saying that only whites can be truly racist. Not exactly a marginal individual.

    You mean the guy who described Obama as “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black muppet of corporate plutocrats. And now he has become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it.”

    Somehow, this leads me te believe that he isn’t exactly mainstream either.

    Or did I miss the implied sarcasm? It’s hard to tell these days.

    1
  89. KM says:

    @MarkedMan:
    Slight disagreement – I don’t think it’s a political problem so much as a social one.

    There is overlap but in the end, its more social in that the concerns are mainly playing out in the social media and business spheres. It’s being dragged into politics/the law by the disagreeing side and that’s where my point about it being FOX BS comes from. Liberals aren’t trying to pass laws to make you automatically lose your job for a bad tweet for example. They boycott or use social pressure. Conservatives however are enshrining their cancel culture in to laws like the Don’t Say Gay bill. If 80% of voters “think it’s a problem”, that’s likely why – it now legally is for some. Thank a conservative for making CC legally actionable!! Yet ask if Don’t Say Gay counts as CC and you won’t get the resounding yes it logically should. Why? Because it hits their social sweet spot and they feel righteous, screw the teacher they think “might” punish a kid for asserting states rights caused the War of Northern Aggression.

    CC is a wedge conservatives have used like CRT and “woke” to seem like they’re being reasonable when doing the exact same thing. Societal corrections happen and people on the other side don’t like them; I’m sure if you explain CC to a Southerner in during Reconstruction and they’d swear that was what was happening to them. Ultimately what the internet hath wrought is a world were you can ruin your life with a few thoughtless words so you must be more vigilant in your phrasing or parsing. Being mindful of what you say and do is an anathema to a lot of people, I know – TS. You still have the right to be offensive, oppositional or just downright assholish but what you don’t have is the right to not get backlash for it.

    2
  90. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy:

    I suggest for the next cancel-themed post, an ancillary one for a pool on how many comments the cancel post will get

    They do seem to be the new gun posts.

    1
  91. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “My late grandmother thought that James Bond movies were pornographic, did she really>/em> know it when she saw it?”

    And Dick Van Dyke complained to Les Moonves that my partner and I were turning Diagnosis Murder into pornography when we painted the sets in actual non-beige colors and hired pretty young people as extras to replace the 80 year-olds. (Okay, call that ageism, but those 80 year-olds were playing hospital orderlies, so I think reality was on our side!)

    Fortunately Les agreed with us, and Dick graciously conceded.

    4
  92. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08: if only we could combine The two we could break the 300 post barrier! But who knows what would happen then?

  93. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: “Some talking head said the same books are in the library of the private school Cruz’s children attend.”

    True, but he’s not a board member, so it’s completely different. If he’d been elected to the board, those books would be off to the bonfire. (Which may also explain why the school won’t put him on the board, but I digress.)

    3
  94. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    In an early scene a main character is driving in an old pick-up with her grandfather, Joe, IIRC, down a desert dirt road beside a steep drop-off. I mention in passing that Joe is a member of a SoCal Indian tribe, the Chumash.

    Joe exists for one purpose: to provide exposition for the main character. His life span is two pages in a series that runs to ~3000 pages. Then, like literally every adult, he disappears. Poof! For this I was attacked by an Indian activist and accused of ‘erasing native characters.’ When I argued that Joe was never anything but a throwaway character,

    Congratulations, you have completed “Bury The Gays”, but with a Native American.

    https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BuryYourGays

    This trope is the presentation of deaths of LGBT characters where these characters are nominally able to be viewed as more expendable than their heterosexual counterparts.

    Using under-represented minorities as cannon-fodder, without also creating characters of that minority who are intended to last, comes across poorly to members of that minority who are eagerly looking for representation of any kind.

    It is something that straight, cisgender white men are completely blind to, as they basically never lack representation (and when they do, watch the fireworks — checkout the reviews of Star Trek: Discovery, later Star Wars or Doctor Who that mention the “wokeness” of having women in major roles — some men really get upset not being the center of attention)

    Similarly, women get used in comics to have their death be a motivating moment for some man’s character arc all the time.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Refrigerators

    It turns out, some women don’t like being stuck in refrigerators. Go figure. Gail Simone’s “Women In Refrigerators” site slowly led to a major change in mainstream comics that led to more women in the writer’s rooms and a lot less of the “women are just accessories for men.”

    Gail Simone has also become a fairly adept writer herself, not the greatest, but better than most and with a different set of flaws and blinders. She wrote a storyline than enraged the transgender community — I forget the details — and got the full twitter pile on.

    Here’s the really wacky part, though — she listened, and when she listened, she realized that the folks piling on were right, and she said so. She had the humility to acknowledge that she screwed up, and has been better. She’s always been pro-trans-rights and all, she just screwed up and wrote a storyline that depicted a trans character as some kind of complete loon without thinking about this being basically the only trans representation at DC comics.

    Some of the pile on was by over the top assholes. Over the top assholes who felt betrayed after finally seeing a character that resembled themselves, and then seeing that character used to perpetuate stereotypes.

    Anyway, I’m sorry you felt attacked, I guess.

    8
  95. gVOR08 says:

    @MarkedMan:

    @gVOR08: if only we could combine The two (cancel culture and guns) we could break the 300 post barrier! But who knows what would happen then? (cross the streams link)

    Sorry I duplicated your earlier comment. That can happen in these long threads. To break 300 I think we’d have to work in evolution or atheism.

    1
  96. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    This is the problem: if cancel culture is in the eye of the beholder, then the term is worthless.

    I don’t agree it’s worthless. There are a lot of things that are in the “eye of the beholder” – that is fundamental to any disagreement. There are definitional disputes all the time about many things. That doesn’t make any of it worthless.

    People can disagree on where to draw the line between something that is or isn’t pornography. The fact that drawing such a distinct line is difficult and subjective does not make pornography a fantasy nor does it make the word worthless. Everyone understands what pornography is even if there is substantial disagreement about exactly what things do or do not fit the definition. It’s no different with cancel culture – or any number of other things – racism, hate speech, etc. Everyone understands what racist and racism mean, yet there are still significant disagreements about what is or isn’t racist. That doesn’t make racism “worthless” and that doesn’t mean we can’t debate racism until everyone agrees on one definition.

    So I think your focus on some kind of fixed and clear definition for cancel culture elides the discussion. Like pornography or racism, the definitional line for cancel culture will never be bright.

    @MarkedMan:

    Although this sounds good it is a semantic null. While more speech can help individuals and society as a whole come to better understanding, it is also the tool of liars and con men.

    Sure, there are always liars and con men. And the way liars and con men are exposed is through debate and critical examination. Because often the liars and con men are the powerful people who are doing the suppression and cancelling.

    I think your example of tobacco companies illustrates my point – it was the process of comparing and evaluating the claims of the tobacco companies with other voices (who were long suppressed by said tobacco companies), that their deception was exposed. More speech and debate is what ended the lock on the tobacco companies’ narrative.

    The best response to such speech is to give it no platform.

    The problem with that is the truth is always changing. It used to be that smoking was considered good for you. The norm was to deny anti-tobacco views a platform. The tobacco companies had a campaign of suppression to resist any challenge to their narrative. That is how their lies lasted so long because they suppressed debate on the issue. So, contra what you’re suggesting, it was “more speech” that eventually defeated the tobacco company stranglehold and exposed them.

    Secondly, if your goal is to suppress dissent once an issue has been decided, then you are doing what the tobacco companies did. Our understanding of things changes all the time. Declaring that some things are off-limits for discussion and that dissenting or heterodox views should not be given a platform is the same argument the status quo always uses to defend the status quo whether it was the tobacco companies, the Catholic Church, or online activists. And it is very often used as a tactic to avoid any challenge to certain ideas. It’s inherently intolerant in my view.

    Therefore, people who think that smoking isn’t dangerous should not be suppressed. Because at the end the day, the “smoking is bad” side of the argument will win the day because the evidence supports them – as it did when that view was finally allowed to challenge the previous status quo.

    You can’t get to the truth by mixing a little Kellyanne Conway or a little Sean Spicer, literally professional liars and very good at their job, with actual investigative journalism. And Cargo Cult magazines like “Reason”, which promote sham “thought pieces” in the hopes of sucking in actual thinkers, should be binned, not quoted.

    Who determines who are the “professional liars?” It seems to me that would include every politician alive in that category. Who determines which magazines are “cargo cult” and which ones aren’t? Should the world just take your word for it? What give you special insight or authority to declare who is or isn’t a professional liar or a cargo cult magazine?

    You have opinions on these things but so does everyone else. If you think it is appropriate to de-platform people and magazines you disagree with, then others also have a right to de-platform whatever they don’t like. Is that the world you want to live in, where competing mobs de-platform and suppress ideas, people and institutions they don’t like?

    Not me…

    We live in a society where media choices are endless. If you don’t like something, don’t watch, listen or read – it’s as easy as that. If you don’t like giving money to a platform that hosts content you don’t like, then stop paying them money and go somewhere else. If you don’t like someone’s speech, counter it with your own speech, don’t go running to third parties or the government or Twitter mobs, and demand they protect you from bad words or ideas you don’t like.

    Secondly, there’s the old cliche of giving someone enough rope to hang themselves with. That’s what happened when, for example, the ACLU helped to platform the Nazis in Skokie, which ended up doing more damage to them than suppressing them.

    The entire purpose of the Nazi’s wanting to march in Skokie was intimidation and showing people they were a powerful force in American politics and they were going to show everyone just how powerful they were. But it didn’t work out that way.

    It turned out they weren’t powerful and they were the ones intimidated by the counterprotesters. What was supposed to be an event to demonstrate the unity and power of the Nazi movement instead did the opposite – it showed their weakness. And the legacy of it is pretty clear – no one remembers Skokie as a “win” for Nazis and white supremacy.

    A holocaust museum was built in Skokie. “Illinois Nazis” became the butt of jokes, most famously in the Blues Brothers. It caused dissension within the movement and that Illinois branch dissolved a couple of years later. The bigger national Nazi movement stopped doing marches within a couple of years. The American Nazi/white power movement remained weak and inconsequential for a generation. All of that flowed from Skokie and the impact that it had – a confrontation that no one could ignore, not least the Nazis.

    Platforming bad ideas is often desirable because it exposes those ideas and the people who make them to scrutiny and criticism. At the other end, suppressing people and ideas is often bad because it is frequently used as a tool to prevent challenging the status quo.

    My view is that we don’t need to protect people from “bad” ideas and the best way to combat bad or wrong ideas is to show how and why they are wrong and present better alternatives. De-platforming, cancelling, or whatever you want to call it does neither of those things.

    4
  97. KM says:

    @wr:

    “Students are afraid.” It’s right up there with “a lot of people are saying.”

    “States rights as the cause” as the answer to the Civil War isn’t just a matter of opinion, it’s something that factually wrong. While reducing the Civil War to just slavery is overly simplistic (economics get bypass a lot) but still fundamentally true, states rights is based on specifically selected teachings perpetuated for ideological reasons. It’s propaganda, not fact or an interpretation issue. That we have founding CSA documents spelling out in clear English that the reason was they were taking this action was racist notions that it was their legal right to own another human for profit based on their skin color gets ignored. We know why they did it – they told us!

    When a student presents known propaganda in class and gets pushback from their peers or teacher, is that CC? If they reply back with “a lot of people are sayin’?” or “well, that’s what I was taught” and you don’t let it slide, is it CC? A teacher’s job is to teach and so they will teach something that proves the student wrong. Some folks do not accept correction gracefully and will feel resentful they got “piled on” by others. Even a debate, gentle redirect or failure to pretend they are right can feel like an attack; witness the whole “uncomfortably shuffling in seats” moment being presented as CC recently in an article.

    “Students are afraid” is an faulty assumption that a silent majority agrees with the problematic statement and is keeping their mouths shut. No details, no evidence – just the gut-feeling presumption they’re out there because the speaker needs them to be.

    3
  98. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08:

    To break 300 I think we’d have to work in evolution or atheism.

    I’m not sure that would work on this comment section. People here just don’t get that worked up on those, although they would do a treat on other blogs. For OTB though, how about this: Guns, Wokeness, Food, Music?

  99. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @gVOR08:

    Nuke the gay baby unborn whales *

    *Cracker and I used to annoy pretentious hipsters when eating ice cream on Capitol Hill back in the early 80’s. Who knew you could annoy people eating $3 ice cream samples by enjoying a 69 cent soft serve from the burger stand a block away?

    4
  100. KM says:

    @Andy:

    Because at the end the day, the “smoking is bad” side of the argument will win the day because the evidence supports them – as it did when that view was finally allowed to challenge the previous status quo.

    Oh you sweet summer child, to live in the world you propose!

    Evidence means very little to a growing number of people who believe rather then think. If evidence were enough for something to win the day, we wouldn’t have MAGAts or the Big Lie, climate denial wouldn’t exist and bigots wouldn’t be screaming about trans folks and bathrooms. How many people died waiting for “smoking is bad” to win the day? How many are dying right now even though it mostly has? (FYI it’s 1,300 deaths every day)

    I mostly agree that bad ideas and actors do have the right to present themselves. What they don’t have is the right to demand mainstream access or get cranky when they get pushed to lesser venues. You have the right to speak, not the right to be heard. FB don’t want you? Create your own venue – that’s the American way! Twitter says take a hike? There’s alternates, go join one. If your idea is powerful enough, it breaks through and becomes the dominant one as you noted. De-platforming can’t kill something that can thrive in the light without help. The Civil Rights movement is a good example about how, even after legit avenues were taken away, the movement thrived and became the accepted standard.

    However, no right is absolute including free speech. De-platforming is someone being shown the door because the public wasn’t interested in what they are selling. The street corner is always available but you’re not entitled to ground-level real estate in Times Square.

    4
  101. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am not even sure how Gamergate fits with your kidlit examples in terms of being the same phenomenon, save that social media was involved.

    White men felt attacked in both instances.

    In GamerGate, white men felt attacked by women entering incel spaces and trying to be both equals and women, so the white men spazzed out about it and created a harassment campaign.

    In KidLit, Michael Reynolds (a noted white man) felt attacked by the prospect of criticism and proceeded to complain in the comment threads of this website.

    Obviously, there are significant differences, but I think the fundamental issue isn’t “cancel culture” but white men learning (or not learning) to deal with an inclusive society.

    You can’t say or do whatever stupid thing pops into your head without any consequences or criticism when you fuck things up and you have to share spaces that women and minorities were traditionally excluded from which increases the chances of fucking things up. This doesn’t seem like it should be a major revelation, but it apparently is.

    MR’s Native American problem was that what he viewed as a throw-away character of no value who lasted two pages was viewed by others as a sudden and long-awaited recognition that they exist (a welcome, one might expect) on page one, and then a dismissal on page two.

    The character meant nothing to MR. The prospect of having a Native American character meant a whole lot more than nothing to those Native American readers, to the point where they will take a gesture with the chin when the hands are busy and recognize it as something they do (do they generally gesture with the chin? I have no idea, and neither does MR… but if that is in fact a cultural thing, it makes the welcoming inclusion (accidentally) greater, and the dismissal harsher)

    And I think it really is a white male thing, despite women often getting the worst canceling. The white men are more protected by their status, while the women are vulnerable because of theirs.

    The woman who lost her job during a flight to Africa, when she had tweeted a dumb joke about hoping she doesn’t get AIDS on her trip, got consequences that men would need to have threatened acts of violence to receive. She wasn’t protected by male privilege.

    There’s a reason no one has a name for male Karens — we only care about punishing the women.

    There’s a reason that Marjorie Taylor Green, Lauren Boehbert (sp?!?), Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann are so reviled, while idiots like Jim Jordan, Louie Gohmert and Mike Braun come and go comparatively unremarked — we punish women more than men.

    I had to look up which Senator said that the issue of interracial marriage should have been left to the states — Mike Braun — and there are countless other examples of crazy men in the Republican Party that come and go. Legitimate Rape Guy, the guy who supported the IRA, etc… they fade right back into the background.

    5
  102. wr says:

    @gVOR08: “if only we could combine The two (cancel culture and guns)”

    Cancel him… with extreme prejudice.

  103. Mu Yixiao says:

    @KM:

    I’m asking for solid examples of innocent people getting screwed. Show me someone who got cancelled over BS instead of something they actually did that was objectionable.

    {points to Popehat’s examples quoted in the OP}

    You mean… like this one?

    I’m off to cardio rehab, then a nice glass of scotch and food videos on YouTube. All y’all have a good evening.

    2
  104. wr says:

    @Andy: ” There are definitional disputes all the time about many things. That doesn’t make any of it worthless.”

    Someone beat you to this… by about 150 years:

    “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    ’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

    3
  105. wr says:

    @Andy: “My view is that we don’t need to protect people from “bad” ideas and the best way to combat bad or wrong ideas is to show how and why they are wrong and present better alternatives. De-platforming, cancelling, or whatever you want to call it does neither of those things.”

    Isn’t the idea of these ravaging Twitter mobs exactly to show how and why ideas are bad and possibly to present better alternatives? I mean, using Michael’s example, these people piling on him must have thought his ideas were bad and were trying to show him that. What made it a “cancel culture” situation was the sheer number of people involved, as far as I can tell.

    So what’s the difference between what you’re criticizing and what you’re calling for?

    4
  106. Kathy says:

    @wr:
    @gVOR08:

    What would a discussion about cancelling guns be? 🙂

  107. KM says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Not the slam dunk you seem to think it is. Took me two seconds to find it.

    From that very article:

    The students said some of them had voiced their concern to Patton during his lecture, but that he’d used the word in following class sections anyway. They also said they’d reached out to fellow Chinese students, who “confirmed that the pronunciation of this word is much different than what Professor Patton described in class. The word is most commonly used with a pause in between both syllables.”

    So he was told this might be an issue and that he was saying it wrong in a way that sounds like slur…. but did it anyways? Wow – it’s almost like he was warned and chose to do what he wanted, only for it to turn out badly like the warning foretold. He could of at least put a warning in there about words potentially being misheard that would have been relevant to the material on hand and served as a CYA. A soft FAFO but when you ignore advice, you run the risk of bad things happening.

    I repeat – I’m asking for solid examples of innocent people getting screwed. Show me someone who got cancelled over BS instead of something they actually did that was objectionable.

    6
  108. wr says:

    @Kathy: “What would a discussion about cancelling guns be? ”

    Long, tedious, and useless…

    5
  109. Gustopher says:

    @Mu Yixiao: From your example:

    Patton, who has worked in China but is not a scholar of Chinese, did not warn students that 那个, or ne ga, (alternatively spelled nà ge and nèige) sounds something like the N-word — which it does. And some or all of the Black students across three sections of the course were offended by what they’d heard. So they wrote a letter to the dean of the Marshall School of Business, Geoffrey Garrett, among others, describing Patton as insensitive and incapable of teaching the three-week intensive communications course.

    I’m sorry, but if you’re teaching a course on communications, and are managing to use something that sounds like the N-word repeatedly, and you’re not recognizing it and apologizing in advance… maybe you’re doing a shitty job in communications.

    Preparing students to hear random filler words — good.

    Not preparing students for the fact that the random filler words sound like an ethnic slur — bad.

    Doing it in three different sessions of the class — either stunning tone deafness or deliberate.

    I don’t think he should have been fired, unless there was more going on (and let’s not assume there wasn’t), but at the very least this should have been a “teachable moment”.

    Given that this happened in three sessions of the class, I suspect that the teacher may have been a casualty of the apparently never-ending quest to figure out when a white man can say the n-word aloud and get away with it.

    —-
    I so want to spell out the n-word in that last sentence. I’m pretty sure I would have been a good use — not directed at anyone, and it reads so much stronger. But does the sentence need that extra strength?

    6
  110. Gustopher says:

    @KM: You beat me by 15 minutes. And you read further down. And didn’t wander away to clean a cat box.

    At least I have a cleanish cat box and cats less likely to get annoyed and pee on something else. (Yes, Porkchop, I saw you eyeing the blanket on the couch, pawing at it and circling…)

    4
  111. Gustopher says:

    @MarkedMan: I think we’ve all given up on guns, or quietly acknowledged that we are going to need to get guns to defend our country against a right-wing, white-supremacist insurrection with the Proud Boys as cannon-fodder.

    I’ve tried to bring white privilege into the conversation. We can get to 300 if we try.

    4
  112. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy:

    it was the process of comparing and evaluating the claims of the tobacco companies with other voices (who were long suppressed by said tobacco companies), that their deception was exposed. More speech and debate is what ended the lock on the tobacco companies’ narrative.

    This is just wrong. My wife is in public health and her department head when she was getting her MPH was one of the heroes who led the decades long fight against the tobacco companies. This was a battle fought by poorly paid researchers in tiny threadbare offices up against some of the largest corporations in the world with virtually unlimited PR budgets and perfectly willing to kill people in horrible ways if it increased their profit margins. The platforms available to the Public Health professionals were tiny, those available to the tobacco company’s PR offices were as big and wide as they could buy and their slick and reasonable spokesmen were perfectly tailored to fit into the time slots available on talk shows or column inches available to guest op-eds. The Public Health professionals were researchers and government bureaucrats, and they normally engaged with other researchers and bureaucrats who were evaluating the facts and figures, not people trained to politely but devastatingly sow doubt on everything they said. The debate, to the non-expert public, was woefully lopsided.

    So in the end, what turned the corner were a few things, and none of them involved increased public debate. First, the PH people focused on professional medical organizations, who actually looked at the science and were used to seeing it in raw form and weren’t taken in by the slick packaging of the lapdog researchers the tobacco companies employed. Second, they gradually demonstrated that the lapdog researchers were not publishing in good faith, that they were cherry picking their data or raising invalid objections to legitimate research. This led the journals to stop giving the lapdogs a professional platform, which in turn let the legitimate researchers get on with new research rather than constantly having to engage with paid liars. Third, they approached the insurance companies and worked with them to calculate how much smoking cost them in everything from long term illness, early death, to fires, etc. This caused the insurance companies to raise rates substantially on companies that allowed smoking on their premises. Unfortunately, during all this the slick PR people were still welcomed to come onto national media platforms and “debate” the issue, because the worked so hard on providing good entertainment, and so kept doubt alive in the publics mind despite the unanimity of the legitimate medical and public health experts. But the thing that finally broke that was, indirectly, State’s AG’s getting a whiff of all the money that could come from a tobacco settlement, as well as the boost it would give the AG’s political careers. They sued and got discovery and eventually this whole strategy of a phony “debate” was laid out in thousands upon thousands of memos in black and white. And that was enough to finally pull in the welcome mat. Since it was clearly outlined that the tobacco PR firms literal strategy was to play the media editors as fools, those platforms became hostile and no longer willing to just show “both sides”, but instead ask the difficult hard questions.

    Note that none of the four above were the outcome of more public debate and, in fact, two of them were the result of less public debate. So the idea that “more speech is always the answer” is just a slogan propagated by the wealthy and powerful who want to pit their well paid and well practiced liars against poorly paid and poorly spoken researchers and government bureaucrats. What actually works is de-platforming liars whenever they have revealed their true agenda.

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  113. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy:

    The entire purpose of the Nazi’s wanting to march in Skokie was intimidation and showing people they were a powerful force in American politics and they were going to show everyone just how powerful they were. But it didn’t work out that way.

    While I agree that the Nazi’s had the right to march in Skokie, you have a very odd view of their dynamic. I grew up in Chicago in that era. The idea that Skokie was a turning point is nonsense. By then I and everyone knew realized the Nazi leaders were just morons playing dress up and parading around like the open carry bozos of today. The real danger came from those attracted to them. I worked with a guy, Daniel, who sometimes fell in with them. He had nothing against black people or anyone else, but he sure as hell liked to fight. He had no respect for their leadership, thought they were clowns.

  114. mattbernius says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Frequency as straight numbers might not be, but frequency as percentage (or some other statistical measurement) would be. Though, as stated, finding hard numbers is probably impossible.

    Frequency as a percentage is not frequency. It is in fact, exactly what I described in the rest of my post.

    I realize this comes across as pendantic, but words and modes of analysis do in fact matter in these conversations.

    To create a hypothetical: An American history class is discussing the American Civil War and the prof says “it was fought because of slavery”. In the past, a student could speak up and say “I thought it was about states rights” and argue their point. There would be discussion about why the student is wrong. Education in action.

    In a class today, the assertion is that student might get piled on in class–verbal harassment–by other students, and/or the prof. Might get told to leave the class. Might get harassed–or even threatened–outside of class. And/or might get punished in the grading process.

    This entire just so and might story reminds me of this debate question from a classic episode of the Simpsons:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xm6GiHomqG4

    This part in particular:
    Birch Barlow: Mayor Quimby, you are well-known sir, for your lenient stance on crime. But suppose for a second that your house was ransacked by thugs… your family tied up in the basement with socks in their mouths. You try to open the door, but there’s too much blood on the knob.
    Mayor Quimby: What is your question?
    Barlow: My question is about the budget.

    We all can make up just-so scenarios based on our preexisting biases. Those tell us very little about what is acutally happening in the world and far more about said biases.

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  115. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy:

    That is how their lies lasted so long because they suppressed debate on the issue.

    Just in case I wasn’t strong enough in my rebuttal, this is exactly the opposite of the what happened. We know from their own memoranda that their strategy, successful for decades, was to constantly debate everything, to contend that the “science wasn’t clear” and the “there are researchers on both sides.” You are just factually wrong on this.

    Not coincidentally, when they started losing their platforms due to 30 years of constant lying, they then switched to “the PH people are stifling debate!”. This playbook is used today by the energy companies and other people with a vested interest in sowing doubt about well proven facts.

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  116. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Flat Earth Luddite: Three. You lose. 😀 😛

  117. Gustopher says:

    @MarkedMan: And we are seeing it with the 2020 election big lie, and the Ivermectin Camp.

    Does fostering and hosting a vibrant debate about these things help society as a whole come to a reasonable conclusion by debunking the asinine claims, or does it elevate the asinine claims to the point where people get confused and pick what they want the truth to be?

    I think @Andy has a very different notion of the marketplace of ideas.

    On the subject of the marketplace of ideas, in a real marketplace we have regulations about unsafe products. We have people selling ideas that are basically toasters with frayed cords and maybe even propane tanks next to the heating elements, along with bread soaked in gasoline.

    Or perhaps the better analogy is that people have figured out how to sell crack in the marketplace of ideas.

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  118. KM says:

    @MarkedMan:
    I think there’s a lot of Sorkin-like fetishizing of “debate” that misses the forest for the trees. We like to hold it up on a pedestal like free speech, the Founders, the American Dream and all our mythos. Social change – often achieved by violent, less then civil or messy means – gets framed as a “debate” between two sides since it makes the losing side seem less, well, wrong. They weren’t being *mean* intentionally, it was a difference of opinion being worked out whitewashes a lot of sins in our history and even our present. Truth is, debate doesn’t functionally exist in the public sphere.

    You cannot have an actual debate with someone intentionally pushing lies; it’s merely a back and forth rebuttal. For instance, you cannot “debate” what’s happening in Ukraine with some folks who keep insisting on repeating Russia’s talking points of “de-nazifying”, being provoked or civilians not suffering. It’s not a matter of having a different position or discussing value and nuance – one side is denying reality and the other is stuck trying to combat the crazy. No matter what evidence you put forth, they will stick to their preferred reality and cry you are cancelling them by not accepting their propaganda.

    You cannot debate someone who chooses to live in a bubble – see COVID for realtime examples. Anti-maskers chose to frame it as cancelling their freedom temporarily when it could easily be stated they were cancelling people lives permanently. It’s no coincidence the rise of CC as a concept came about the same time fake news, COVID is a hoax, QAnon and other reality-defying conspiracy theories took hold. If realty is up for debate, how can you even hold one anymore?

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  119. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “Students, for example, are afraid of speaking up in class to question what the prof is saying for fear of being expelled from the class or punished in grading.”

    Let me introduce you to Luddite’s (and my) senior (high school) English teacher, who put two grades on each of his papers–the grade she would give to any other student in the school and the grade he was receiving because he was “a troublemaker.” And I have in my history not that I was expelled from a class because of what I said, I was expelled from a university school because of it.

    I’ll be 70 this July. What you’re describing isn’t new. It wasn’t even new in 1972 (the year the school of education said I couldn’t take any more classes until I changed my attitude). The current impact may well be different, but that may be only because we’ve become too focused on the credential and where it comes from. I had a lot less to lose from being the square peg in my day, but I wasn’t treated better.

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  120. Grewgills says:

    I haven’t read every response, but I think that several takes together with the OP and White’s piece are very close to what I have been thinking.
    In bullets because I don’t have time to make it a narrative:
    1. The term culture within ‘cancel culture is part of the problem. All cultures ‘cancel’ (whatever that means to anyone in particular) people and ideas they find odious. There isn’t a cancel culture unless we decide that segregationists, gamergate bros, trans rights activists are all a part of the same culture. If that is true, then we are all a part of ‘cancel culture’ since it is just American culture. Cancel culture, isn’t a culture, it is a natural societal reaction to norm-breaking. Chimps do it and so do we. The primary difference is what the norms are.
    2. The current outrage is not over cancellations in general, but over who is being canceled. Cancellation, if we mean by that a disproportionate and unfair response to speech (in its broader definition), has been with us since there have been groups of people with opinions.
    3. Two things have changed with cancelations: a. who is being ‘canceled’ and b. modern media democratizing who can cancel, who can be canceled, and how easy it is to whip up a mob (and I guess what a mob can be).
    4. It is a political problem, but it is about misperceptions more than a real concrete and new underlying problem.
    5. The better response, IMO, is not rationalizing or nuanced argument, but immediate reframing. We shouldn’t engage with politically motivated framing within the frame they have chosen.
    6. If we are going to discuss this rationally and productively, I think the framing needs to be broadened in who we are speaking about and narrowed in what behaviors we are speaking about. As it stands (and where the political problem lies) is that ‘cancel culture’ is generally perceived as a problem of the left, as opposed to a problematic part of the human condition, and that it is generally poorly defined to be a term that holds all critical speech I don’t like. I don’t know exactly how to shift this framing, or I’d be paid much more to do something much different than what I do.

    4
  121. MarkedMan says:

    @Mu Yixiao: I can vouch for the fact that his comment was 100% appropriate in a class on filler words in different cultures. When I lived in China, before I was attuned to the tonal nature of the language, I was nearly knocked over by one of my employees answering a question by him apparently calling me the n-word 3 or 4 times in a row. I quickly grew accustomed to hearing it all the time, and once I could hear the tones, realized that it was no closer to that slur than “Niagara” was.

    1
  122. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: ““More speech” was all they wanted or needed to keep from paying for the deaths of millions.”

    Moreover, more speech isn’t the answer to arguments based on articles of faith (“abortion is murder” comes to mind); it only serves to perpetuate the quarrel. (See the sub thread conversation between MR and everyone else on this post. [eyeroll]) Thus, our English department at one of the colleges I taught at had a short informal list of topics that were unsuited to writing argument papers for Eng 102 because we believed (I still do) that you can’t learn argument by parroting cherry picked “truths.”

    3
  123. MarkedMan says:

    @KM:

    You cannot have an actual debate with someone intentionally pushing lies; it’s merely a back and forth rebuttal.

    I really enjoy having Andy’s input in the comments section (Andy, I really do), as he is someone who, whether I agree or disagree with him, always argues logically and in good faith. But on this I think he is getting caught up in sloganeering. It sounds so good as a slogan that “the answer to bad speech is more speech”, but it’s simply not the way the human beings work. I think Andy envisions these noble debates where everyone gets the truth they want. But what you really get is this.

    5
  124. KM says:

    @MarkedMan:
    It wasn’t that it wasn’t appropriate for the class, it was how he was doing it that got him in trouble.

    If it’s that easy to mishear, shouldn’t have lead with that??? FYI y’all I’m about to say something that’s commonly misheard as a slur so when you hear it in the wild, you don’t think you’re getting insulted. Maybe play a voice clip of a native speaker so he’s not the one with the poor accent /tonal control doing it? How hard is that? This man cannot be the only person to teach this information so how is everyone else managing to not eff it up?

    Honestly, this example is a great illustrator of why people get cancelled in the GOP definition of the word. He received feedback from students that it was coming off in the wrong way to the audience and kept doing it. At least twice. Stubborn adherence to what they want to do or think is right when something problematic comes up or failing to accept criticism leads to GTFO. Don’t double down or persist if you don’t want them to do the same…..

    3
  125. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: Not for me. I have too little hair left to do a convincing perm and mine was too fine to hold a perm even then. (Out of curiosity once, I asked the person who did my hair about a perm. She told me that she could certainly perform the task, but that my hair was unlikely to hold the perm more than a couple of days. I might have been a candidate for jheri curls later, but I’d lost too much hair by then and would have looked silly.)

  126. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @wr: It dwindled away here. Where people are stakeholders (real or imagined) in the conversation about who should have guns, not so much.

    We’re stakeholders in this issue. Not going away any time soon.

    2
  127. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @drj: Yeah. That Cornell West. And my comment was only noting that the statement in question is not new, nor does it represent a marginal view. Consider it an aside.

  128. wr says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: “Not going away any time soon.”

    I’m not saying it should — you see me participating. But at some point we we all have repeated all our points several times, no minds will be changed, and something more novel will come along to spark debate.

    Doesn’t mean that the issue fades, just the threads…

    4
  129. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: “There’s a reason no one has a name for male Karens…”

    I thought they were “Kevin”s. Personally, I liked First Dog on the Moon’s version–Qaren and Qevin, and their children Qooper and Qala (not the real kids’ names, but I’ve forgotten what they were).

    1
  130. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Damnit, c’mon, Daddy, Baby needs new shoes!

    1
  131. grumpy realist says:

    @KM: You’ve reminded me of an acquaintance who managed to get himself in a peck of legal trouble by not understanding that even if what you’re doing falls in a grey area legally, if it’s concerning a topic that everyone is feeling panicky about, no one is going to give you the benefit of the doubt.

    (This is, of course, contingent upon his activities having been just in the grey area. Since this was a story I only heard his report on, I’ve always wondered whether the overly disparate reaction from the legal authorities was in fact all that unreasonable…)

    1
  132. DK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The political case was made conclusively when I cited the NYT poll the other day showing that 80% of both Democrats and Republicans think cancel culture is a problem.

    Confirmation bias has entered the chat lol

    The NYT article was not conclusive. It’s contradictory to repeat “this is a political problem” while failing to define exactly what “this” stands for, and while saying the alleged problem has no legal or statutory solution.

    You can make anything a “political problem” by asking vague, ambiguous push poll questions about an undefined phenomenon. When cancel culture is so undefined everyone from Cuomo, Cosby, Rogan, Rodgers to random writers, college kids, and Twitter users are all claiming to be targets, of course 80% think it’s a problem.

    But so what? I could poll, “Should you be a millionaire?” and get 80% of people to say yes. Could I reasonably claim the fact everyone is not a millionaire is a grave political problem, while I offer few or no further details, specifics, data, or solutions? No.

    5
  133. DK says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Look, for something to be a political problem doesn’t mean it has to be a legitimate problem. If you want to get a bill passed and 80% of the voters think that it will raise their taxes, you have a political problem whether or not it is true.

    Not the same. That’s a defined, time-limited problem — misinformation about a specific bill — to be combated with clear political counteraction.

    Cancel culture lacks such clarity. Cancel culture is probably not a serious political problem until those claiming so define what it is and isn’t, with data and with political solutions, and prove its importance in the hierarchy of issues.

    The left has used polling on “universal healthcare” to make statements like “80% of Americans want this, those opposing it have a political problem!” Yes, until you define universal healthcare as one thing or another, including details on taxes and regulations. Then the responses to vague poll questions like “Do you support universal healthcare?” do not indicate as big a political problem as advertised.

    Same with “90% of voters support background checks!” Okay, but is that a priority issue over abortion, education, public safety, economics, foreign policy etc? No? Then it’s not a political problem.

    5
  134. de stijl says:

    The problem with the concept is that everyone wants to be immune from criticism while still retaining the right to criticize everyone else without consequence.

    Sorry, but consequence is universal. Say a loaded thing and people will react. Either learn to deal with that, or learn to only say anodyne things.

    It has always been this way. What is new is that until recently voices who had no power and were routinely dismissed or actively punished for being uppity now have societal power.

    Unless you were a supporter of voices from the disenfranchised in decades past, you really need to re-evaluate your criticism of so-called “cancel culture”.

    There has always been cancel culture, but until it impacts you most folks don’t realize it exists.

    Majoritanarism is a thing. Has always been a thing. Viewing it from the other side when you were convinced you were unassailable must suck.

    Boo frigging hoo. Welcome to the other side.

    Sucks, doesn’t it?

    We will find a way to cope, but a few years of assholes getting their mean-spirited crap stuffed back at them strikes me as just.

    Societal consequences for intemperate speech. It has always been so.

    3
  135. de stijl says:

    It sucks to be on the outside looking in. Knowing that your point of view is disdained and actively suppressed. This I know personally firsthand. Sucks, doesn’t it?

    And I had it so easy. I was a straight white male. Give me a haircut and a suit, and I could easily assimilate. I did.

    Many could not easily, or had to suppress who they were to get and hold a professional salaried job. Present as x or else.

    No more with that hiding of who you are nonsense. That reflexive obligatory flattening of yourself just to get a shot at the first rung.

    In their defense, corporate America has gotten exponentially better at employing folks in my lifetime. Night and day better in one lifetime. I call that a win.

    2
  136. @Andy:

    There are a lot of things that are in the “eye of the beholder” – that is fundamental to any disagreement. There are definitional disputes all the time about many things. That doesn’t make any of it worthless.

    At some point the intersubjective nature of “eye of the beholder” based definitions requires either a declaration that the concept is too vague, and therefore worthless, or the terms has to be refined to allow some increased level of shared understanding.

    If we stick with “eye of the beholder” as the standard, all we can do is talk in circles. (Indeed, at some point that standard degenerates into a “Yes it is/No isn’t” cycle a la Monty Python’s argument clinic sketch.

    1
  137. @Grewgills:

    b. modern media democratizing who can cancel, who can be canceled, and how easy it is to whip up a mob (and I guess what a mob can be).

    Let me underscore this, as I think it is central to the current debate.

    3