Some Thoughts on “Cancel Culture”

Thomas gets the ball rolling, and I take off from there.

Cancelled stamp

I was going to comment on this in my previous post, but it got too long (as did this post, for that matter). The following, also from the AP story previously cited regarding Justice Thomas’ speech on Friday. caught my attention:

“I’m afraid, particularly in this world of cancel culture attack, I don’t know where you’re going to learn to engage as we did when I grew up,” he said. “If you don’t learn at that level in high school, in grammar school, in your neighborhood, or in civic organizations, then how do you have it when you’re making decisions in government, in the legislature, or in the courts?”

Thomas was born in 1948 and therefore was in grammar and high school in the 1950s and 1960s. While I certainly cannot speak to whatever his lived experience was specifically, I can extrapolate from what I know of the period to say that the idea that this was a period, especially for most Black young men, wherein unbridled debate was the order of the day is absurd.

Beyond that though, the things that are likely to get one “canceled” these days (more on that in a minute) are either blatant racism or sexual predation. Can I note that in 1955, to pick a year in the middle of Thomas’ school days, one could be both a public racist and/or misogynist and be socially accepted? Perhaps, therefore, the issue is less about some pervasive “cancel culture” than it is about changing social mores for the better?

(Side note: his reference to neighborhood and civic organizations made me think of Robert Putnam’s thesis in Bowling Alone, which I find semi-persuasive, but I am not sure if he was making that connection or not).

I would also note that a major shift that plays into this entire conversation is social media, which can amplify both an act of malfeasance (large or small) and lead to a feeding frenzy about that act.

Still, I will admit to struggling with the concept of “cancel culture” insofar as I don’t think that there is a movement afoot that rises to the level of a “culture.” Further, I have my doubts that “cancellation” is all that it is cracked up to be.

Generally speaking, I think that cancellation in this context means either literally losing a job or gig because some number of persons, likely via social media, has managed to draw enough attention to a given person so as to make employing them difficult. The idea of it being a culture suggests, at least to me, a pervasiveness that then leads people to substantially self-censor for fear of the mob or other social opprobrium.

I would further say that it seems to me to largely be used in an amorphous way not dissimilar to previous concerns about “political correctness.”

Still, I am not sure it has a precise definition, but I am sure the commentariat can provide their own.

To me, the clearest example of “cancel culture” gone mad happened in 2013 when Justine Sacco, a person with 170 Twitter followers at the time, made a bad joke that catapulted her to trending globally on Twitter and to her losing her job and suffering a substantial disruption of her life (see this New York Times Magazine piece for the whole story: How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life).

This was a case of someone losing a job and having profound consequences to the basic direction of their everyday life as the result of one utterance. There is no broader evidence of racism or malice, just one ill-considered tweet. This, to me, underscores the real potential danger of social media and the Twitter mob and I agree it is concerned. I am sure other examples along these lines can be conjured, but I also don’t think this is what most people mean by “cancel culture.”

A lot of other examples are less clear cut to me.

I guess another Twitter mob story would be John “Bean Dad” Roderick, whose backwash almost prevent Ken Jennings from being Alex Trebeck’s replacement on Jeopardy!

One thing is for sure: comedy on Twitter is fraught.

An example of cancelation linked to speech that comes to mind (but is far older than the term “cancel culture”) is when Bill Maher said on his ABC show, Politically Incorrect, about the 9/11 hijackers: “We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building. Say what you want about it. Not cowardly. You’re right.”  This led to his firing, as it was not a, well, politically correct thing is to say in the aftermath of 9/11. He lost that job in the middle of 2002 and was never heard from again, hence underscoring the power of cancellation before we had the term.

Just kidding, he started a new show with HBO the next year, which is still in production (and wherein he frequently inveighs against cancel culture).

Another example from that era was the backlash the Dixie Chicks received for their criticisms of George W. Bush.

A more serious recent example would be comedian Louis C. K. who was allegedly driven from the world of entertainment (i.e., “canceled”) because of some egregious behavior sexual behavior. After a pause in his career, he is working again. So, was he canceled or not? Granted, that wasn’t about speech, but conduct (so should it even be in the same conversation?).

How about Gina Carano, whose tweets lost her a chance at a Star Wars spin-off show? ‘The Mandalorian’ Star Gina Carano Fired Amid Social Media Controversy

Gina Carano will not be returning to The Mandalorian or the Star Wars galaxy after sharing a post on social media implying that being a Republican today is like being Jewish during the Holocaust.

“Gina Carano is not currently employed by Lucasfilm and there are no plans for her to be in the future,” a Lucasfilm spokesperson said in a statement. “Nevertheless, her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.”

Carano has also been dropped as a client by UTA, an agency spokesperson confirms.

Did Lucasfilm overreact to a tweet? Was it, as the story also suggests, the last straw in a string of other circumstances? IMDB suggests she is still working, but granted not for as much money as she would have at Disney. Is this a good example of cancellation?

I think about entertainers like Mel Gibson and Woody Allen who have been highly criticized, Gibson for anti-semitism, and Allen for very questionable behavior, he said using his gift for understatement. Yes, for a while Gibson seemed unemployable, and yet both continue to work.

The only entertainer of prominence who can truly be said to have been canceled is Bill Cosby, but for me at least, the behavior he engaged in has truly tainted his work to the point that I cannot consume it (for the record, this is true for Gibson and Allen), and can understand why it is no longer broadcast. I guess we can put OJ Simpson in the mix, too.

Maybe we are talking about AL Franken, who’s past antics led to his resignation from the Senate?

It is true that J. K. Rowling has taken a lot of flack for her stances on the transgender issue, but has she been canceled in any way that matters?

I recall James Gunn getting fired off of Guardians of the Galaxy 3 for some old tweets, but then getting hired for one of the Suicide Squad movies before being rehired for Guardians of the Galaxy 3. So, canceled, but not really, and then uncanceled?

Are we talking about the fact that there have been some incidences in which some student activists have protested, or even sought to have canceled, speeches on campus by certain political speakers (or to have certain commencement speakers disinvited)? While I agree that there should not be an attempt to literally cancel speakers, I also think that protests are legitimate as long as they do not seek to deploy the heckler’s veto (which, has been tried, sometimes successfully).

I googled a bit to try and find some other examples of cancellations and found things like Ellen DeGeneres’ show ending in the middle of allegations of a toxic workplace (and lagging ratings) and Chris Noth losing work due to sexual assault allegations. But isn’t that (like some of the other examples above) just people losing work for being bad people?

James Joyner has written about criticism of Dave Chappelle, but has he been canceled? It doesn’t appear to be the case to me.

It may be that I simply don’t understand what “cancel culture” means (nor do a lot of people, it would seem). Maybe I take both the encompassing nature of “culture” and seeing the finality of “cancellation” far too seriously.

Is it about speech?

Is it about actions?

(Based on a lot of the examples above, it is often about tweeting, which may be the cautionary tale in all of this).

Apart from the social media mob, which I agree is problematic, a lot of this (along with discussions of “wokism”) strikes me altogether too vague to mean much.

I recognize that this also intersects into the conversation we were having on a recent open forum about this essay by a UVA student: I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead. The more I have thought about that piece, the less convinced I have been that it presents some kind of generalizable warning about higher education in the US. And, perhaps to the disgruntlement of some, I still find it hard to take it as indicative of “cancel culture” if the account is being published in one of the most significant publications on planet Earth under the byline of the person who felt silenced. At a minimum it indicates that the UVA culture, even it is as presented, is not as successfully censorious as the thesis of the piece claims. (And yes, I know I am opening a can of worms).

At any rate, this post is much more of a think piece than it is a direct analysis, and I am sure it will spark debate. I will even confess to thinking about not finishing it, because who wants the grief that this subject tends to generate. As such, I did have an impulse to self-censor, but then overcame it. So, hooray? (Who knows?).

Ultimately, for me to ratchet up my concern level on this topic, I would need to be convinced that concern over “cancel culture” isn’t just the latest iteration of moral panic over “political correctness” or “multiculturalism” in days gone by (and I feel like I am forgetting at least one other such buzzphrase).

I would also need to be convinced that it really is pervasive, and not the domain of some very specific examples (which would allow it to live up to a “culture” or even just an “agenda”). Moreover, I would need better definitions and clearer examples of cancelation.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    If you shoot a gun at a man and miss, is it not still a crime?

    I’ll give you a specific. Let’s call the guy Frank, definitely not his name. Frank is a kidlit writer and the diametric opposite of me. He’s not tough, he’s not cynical, he is sincere and genuine down to his bones. Frank is the guy people want to believe all kidlit writers are.

    A few years ago he was attacked in social media for not having enough female characters in his books. He responded reasonably that as a writer he feels he understands boys more, having been one, and having raised a son. He was roasted for this.

    Never mind that the same people attacking Frank for not writing enough female characters are the same people who insist on ‘authentic’ voices for every category of character, apparently excepting females. And never mind the fact that Frank is an ally of the LGBTQ community, a supporter of feminism, a man who has regularly risked his teaching job in a conservative community by standing up for what’s right.

    Frank, who is normally prolific, did not write again for years. He’s a sweetheart and the attacks wounded him. He’s now started writing again, so by your standards, Steven, I guess no harm was done. I would disagree.

    Forcing someone into retirement is not the appropriate measure to gauge cancel culture.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Here we go again…

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  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’ll give you a second example, in this case it’s just the fear of cancel culture. Another writer, a woman, let’s call her Jane. Jane would like to write about lots of things. History. Injustice. Racism. Misogyny. She doesn’t write about any of those things because she’s White, and it is simply not safe in the current environment.

    Again, it would not matter in the slightest that she is a lifelong feminist, pro-trans, pro-gay, pro-choice, a bona fide lefty. The environment created by cancel culture dictates severe limits on what she can write.

    Again, she still has a career, so by your standard, Steven, no harm done. I disagree.

    I could go on. These are not effects I’m imagining. People have had their reputations trashed. People have simply quit and walked away – like me. People are self-censoring. There is an unmistakable air of McCarthyism.

    During the McCarthy era a few people committed suicide. Others quit. Many self-censored. Others survived. The fact that some survived is not evidence that McCarthyism was overblown.

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  4. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Serious question for you: When Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc., have removed users for spreading Covid misinformation or 2020 election misinformation, do you regard all that as examples of cancel culture?

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  5. @Michael Reynolds: @Michael Reynolds: I wrote this paragraph with the inevitable kidlit examples in mind:

    I would also need to be convinced that it really is pervasive, and not the domain of some very specific examples (which would allow it to live up to a “culture” or even just an “agenda”). Moreover, I would need better definitions and clearer examples of cancelation.

    I am not going to argue with you about your kidlit examples. Not only would it be pointless, but I also am genuinely not an expert in that arena, so I am going to try and do what I wish others would do sometimes and recognize I am speaking to someone who knows something that I don’t.

    How about this: let’s stipulate the kidlit is experiencing a kind of McCarthyism at the moment. I would not be in favor of such a thing.

    However, you will have to admit that when most people talk about cancel culture, they are almost certainly not talking about kidlit.

    None of your comments, however, really address the post.

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  6. @OzarkHillbilly:

    Here we go again…

    Maybe, maybe not. I knew kidlit was coming, for what it’s worth.

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  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    For me, this is a better starting point:

    Florida Lt. Governor: They will try to bully us like Disney doing. How dare they. They have no right to criticize legislation by duly elected legislators… Governor DeSantis and I won’t stand for it pic.twitter.com/iIhWtrElZC— Acyn (@Acyn) March 12, 2022

    At it’s core the complaints about “cancel culture” are about a group of people in this country that think they have a right to never be criticized or contradicted and are looking for ways to make sure no one will ever dare criticize them again.

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  8. Tim D. says:

    If someone “self-censors” because they fear criticism, is the only solution that those critics should preemptively self-censor their criticism? Honest question for Michael — should Frank or Jane’s (or JK Rowling’s) critics self-censor and keep their criticism to themselves? That feels to me like weird arbitrary special treatment given only to certain people.

    Obviously no one enjoys being criticized, and especially the idea of 10,000 people saying horrible, personal, unfair things about you online feels especially awful and traumatic.

    For this reason, I think this debate isn’t really ever about “free speech” — it’s more about normative judgments about speech. Is it true or false? Is it fair or unfair? Is it honest or dishonest? Is it kind or cruel? Even discussions of “cancel culture” itself are a form of normative judgment rather than a defense of free speech.

    Obviously those are subjective types of judgments, and one person’s righteous truth to power will be another person’s censorious bullying. I think that’s why we see “canceling” coming from all political quadrants, some of which seems fair and just, while some of it seems unfair and disproportionate. YMMV.

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  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    To put it another way, complaining about “cancel culture” is often just an example of the DARVO (Deny, Attck, Reverse Victim and Offender) tactics that abusive people use when confronted about their abuse

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  10. @Michael Reynolds:

    I guess no harm was done.

    It seems fair to note that examples of harm (and differing degrees of harm) can be cited without their being evidence for a widespread belief system that leads to people losing their livelihoods.

    Perhaps it would help if you provided a definition of “cancel culture”?

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  11. @Tim D.:

    Honest question for Michael — should Frank or Jane’s (or JK Rowling’s) critics self-censor and keep their criticism to themselves? That feels to me like weird arbitrary special treatment given only to certain people.

    This is an interesting question, especially since it seemed the other day that some folks were using the concept of self-censorship as evidence of cancel culture and/or wokism (it is hard to keep track, so I may be misremembering).

    For this reason, I think this debate isn’t really ever about “free speech” — it’s more about normative judgments about speech. Is it true or false? Is it fair or unfair? Is it honest or dishonest? Is it kind or cruel? Even discussions of “cancel culture” itself are a form of normative judgment rather than a defense of free speech.

    Also a a very good point.

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  12. MarkedMan says:

    Here’s the problem with this whole post and it’s responses: (Uh Oh, no good can come from a comment that starts this way…)

    There is almost no one complaining when people are being censured and ostracized for terrible behavior ala Bill Cosby. And on the other extreme there are people who have suffered extreme abuse and lost jobs or job prospects simply for expressing an opinion different from the loudest leftists (also true for the loudest rightists). But rather than explore those boundaries and truly try to understand each other’s perspectives and see if we can reach some agreement, there are a few people on here (not Michael and not Steven) who only seem interested in getting cranked up on self righteous rage. This derails every attempt at discussion and turns every exchange into nothing more than extreme virtue signaling.

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  13. Kathy says:

    I wonder whether Thomas was asleep or too young to understand McCarthyism.

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  14. Kylopod says:

    @MarkedMan:

    There is almost no one complaining when people are being censured and ostracized for terrible behavior ala Bill Cosby.

    Actually, there were once quite a few conservatives (and occasional Hollywood liberals like Whoopi Goldberg) who were coming to Cosby’s defense when the charges first started coming in. These defenses gradually faded as the evidence against him became so overwhelming. Of course, evidence is often irrelevant when it comes to complaints about cancel culture (see Covid & election misinfo), but I guess his defenders just decided at some point he wasn’t a hill worth dying on.

    On the other hand, people do still invoke the cancel culture charge when it comes to sexual harassment & assault controversies; Cuomo just did the other day, and it’s been used repeatedly in defense of accused Republicans, from Matt Gaetz to Madison Cawthorne to Trump himself.

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  15. @Kathy: Good call that I should have put in the original post.

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  16. Beth says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It is true that J. K. Rowling has taken a lot of flack for her stances on the transgender issue, but has she been canceled in any way that matters?

    For what it’s worth, Joanne is about a step and half from blaming everything on “The Jews”. She’s getting wild with her Transphobia. I give it a year or two before she runs for office on an explicitly hard Right platform.

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  17. MarkedMan says:

    @Kylopod:

    On the other hand, people do still invoke the cancel culture charge when it comes to sexual harassment & assault controversies

    It’s most certainly true that bad actors use whatever is at hand to try to defend themselves, Cuomo included. In fact right now here’s in Baltimore we have yet another crooked politician crying “racism!” as the only reason she’s being investigated. It is disgraceful and diminishes the many people who have been harassed by the law merely for the color of their skin.

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  18. steve says:

    You can create a definition of cancel culture if you want but it is too late. At this point, just like with political correctness, CRT, socialism, social justice, woke it is just another word that means whatever the user wants it to mean.

    Steve

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  19. @steve: Well, in some ways that my point.

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  20. Beth says:

    @steve:

    I think worth pointing out though, is that all of those terms are things that basically had accepted definitions until bad faith actors got their hands on them for their own ends.

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  21. Tim D. says:

    @steve: Yeah, ironically use of “cancel culture” is bad writing. It’s broad enough to encompass both good and bad things, disappears like smoke if you think about it too closely, inflames outrage, but doesn’t point to any solutions — which is why every hack politician and op-ed writer loves it.

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  22. Kylopod says:

    @Beth: One thing that occurred to me the other day when looking over commentary on Bari Weiss’s (completely voluntary) departure from NYT is that many of these people want to be canceled so they can grift off their martyrdom, and when it doesn’t actually happen, they pretend it does. I think that’s much of what Rowling’s doing now. Of course what she’s been doing is orders worse than anything Weiss has done, but it’s the same strategy, and does fit into the basic template of supposedly left-leaning people who shift rightward and, as a result, become increasingly isolated from their former friends and welcomed by the hardcore reactionaries whose views they become increasingly aligned with. But their being “renegade lefties” is part of the grift; they’ll never stop reminding everyone where they came from in order to bolster their narrative that the intolerant left has canceled them.

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  23. Modulo Myself says:

    It seems to serve as a placeholder for having to make any actual subjective arguments within the parameters of free speech. It’s like saying the purpose of free speech is for black people to know that eugenics is still around or for you to have science’s views on the safety of vaccines to be challenged by a guy who believes that Covid was a government plot. Our culture just puts forward a lot of crap and instead of wondering why the crap is out there, the people who get angry at cancel culture are trying to say this is the best of all possible worlds.

    There’s also the fact that mediocre things are taken wayyyy to seriously. You’re not a comedian or a podcast host. You’re a brave dissident, telling the truth at all costs.

  24. Jon says:

    /me sees the headline and reads the post, notices who has commented so far, and slowly backs away trying not to make eye contact or any sudden moves.

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  25. Modulo Myself says:

    Also, I read a recent David Brooks piece where he’s talking about Putin’s identity being that of somebody fighting the ‘cool kids’ at Davos. The phrase ‘cool kids’ is so telling. For an adult to use that phrase in their rhetorical repertoire to explain an aggressive war points to a severe reductiveness. The ‘cool kids’, I think, are still in the brains of many successful adult americans, and it’s twisting cancel culture into something that ‘cool kids’ are doing to the outcasts.

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  26. Stormy Dragon says:

    @MarkedMan:

    But rather than explore those boundaries and truly try to understand each other’s perspectives and see if we can reach some agreement, there are a few people on here (not Michael and not Steven) who only seem interested in getting cranked up on self righteous rage.

    Since I suspect I’m one of the people you’re referring to, let me be clear: it’s not self-righteous rage. It’s FEAR. As an LGBT person, there’s growing numbers of people out there who want to murder me, so the various “Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines” out there cashing in on spreading anti-LGBT stuff need to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

    And I increasingly suspect that when the mob does come for me, Michael is going to be one of the people cheering them on because putting me in my place for not being sufficiently deferential is more important to him than stopping the mob. After all, he’s rich, so he can always run off to Canada or what not if things get too bad and resume laughing at the people suffering who weren’t sufficiently eloquent to be worthy of his empathy.

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  27. Beth says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I want to second the point about fear. Except I would call it pants-crapping terror. Cis-Hets don’t have to worry about a whole host of things. I’m going to FL in two weeks and I’m honestly terrified I’ll get hassled or worse for using the bathroom. All the while people like Thomas, DeSantis and Joanne, whine about how our legitimate fight against their bs is “Cancel Culture”.

    As for the second point, while I believe Mr. Reynolds is the resident crank around here (and I love his crank-itude), I doubt he would cheer our march to the gallows. But I do worry that he doesn’t fully grasp that he’s next. When I’m discussing Trans issues in person with people who are not White or not Christian, I find myself having to remind them that after Desantis, Thomas and Joanne are done with people like me, they will be joining me on the gallows.

    And for people like Desantis, Thomas and Joanne, to whine that they are being canceled for their evil really allows people to shut their brains off to the very real terror many LGBT people exist with.

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  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Actually, the opening salvo was a god-send for me. I was able to skip the first comment (I’ve already seen what MR thinks about the topic–50 or 60 times, this year alone) so I was able to avoid that part of this conversation almost entirely. Bypassing Stormy, too, left only fresh comments that gave me new insights into the question. Worked well! I think I read slightly over half the comments. The ones I read were really interesting!

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  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jon: Or, in another sense of it, walked over to the other side of the room where the interesting people were talking.

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  30. OzarkHillbilly says:

    If everybody dumps on Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine, is that cancel culture?

    Of course it is. But it’s OK in that case.

    If everybody dumps on JK Rowling for her POV on trans rights, is that cancel culture? Depends, has everyone stopped buying her books? Viewing her movies? In other words, making her feel uncomfortable because she has a few 19th century POVs about sexuality while continuing to buy her books is NOT cancel culture.

    Michael, bless his heart, is afraid of the mob. He does not want to be subjected to mob justice. I don’t blame him. The mob is not very discriminating. At the same time he wants to mine the mob for as much money as he can without any of them judging him. Sorry Michael, you can’t have it both ways. You can stick your neck out and say unpopular things, risking having your gravy train cut off, or you can play it safe and make lots of money. The choice is yours. Life is rough all over.

    FTR, there are worse things in the world. Just read some of the the comments above.

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  31. Jon says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    twisting cancel culture into something that ‘cool kids’ are doing to the outcasts.

    I actually think you have that backwards. It seems to me that part of the freak out over so-called “cancel culture” is that it is something the outcasts are doing to the ‘cool kids’, many of whom are not used to being held to account for the things they say or do.

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  32. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Do you have any examples that aren’t kid-lit? Because that’s more like a cancel cul de sac, rather than a cancel culture.

    It’s a weird subset of a weird subset, and hardly reflective of society as a whole. There are a tiny number of decision makers there who can influence everything with bad ideas.

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  33. Gustopher says:

    @Beth:

    I’m going to FL in two weeks and I’m honestly terrified I’ll get hassled or worse for using the bathroom.

    You must have damn good reasons for going. I am sorry.

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  34. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jon: 2, no, 4 thumbs up.

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  35. Chip Daniels says:

    A lot of what is called cancel culture is really just the continuation of the most ancient of human social tools which is gossip and social ostracism.

    These tools have been used since forever as a way to enforce a set of social norms, from everything from premarital sex to physical abuse.

    And the tools, and rules on when to apply them, have never been fairly conceived or applied. They always have fallen hardest on those who were marginalized to begin with, and with copious amounts of special carveouts for the holders of power.

    So now the rules of social norms are shifting- its no longer considered ribald to call someone a “fag”, just ill mannered and rude.

    And of course, some people transgress that rule and escape consequence while others are punished wrongly, or rightly but too harshly.

    If a critic of cancel culture just objects to rules that are too stifling or unevenly enforced, they are probably on solid ground.
    But more often, it conceals an objection not with cancellation, but the new rules.

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  36. gVOR08 says:

    @steve:

    You can create a definition of cancel culture if you want but it is too late. At this point, just like with political correctness, CRT, socialism, social justice, woke it is just another word that means whatever the user wants it to mean.

    Too true. Thomas is using “cancel culture” as a catchall for anything vaguely having to do with criticism of conservatives. Just as CRT means anything vaguely tied to race that some parent might object to. But let’s be fair. If we required Republicans to define terms precisely, they’d have precious little to talk about.

    (There’s something of a mirror problem on the left with “racism”, but it’s pretty much the only term the language provides to cover a wide range of attitudes and behaviors.)

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  37. Gustopher says:

    Thomas was born in 1948 and therefore was in grammar and high school in the 1950s and 1960s. While I certainly cannot speak to whatever his lived experience was specifically, I can extrapolate from what I know of the period to say that the idea that this was a period, especially for most Black young men, wherein unbridled debate was the order of the day is absurd.

    No one cancels as hard as Jim Crow.

    I think we should keep in mind that cancel culture, such as it is, is a reaction to the entitled and powerful treating others like shit. There are sporadic moments of excess and pile on that are inappropriately large, but no one is getting lynched. And it’s far more often that some asshole is being called out for being an asshole, and they get their little fee-fees hurt.

    Say racist shit, you’re going to get people calling you on it. If you want to say racist shit online, I think Trump’s new social network is supposed to be starting up — that’s where that belongs. Same with sexist shit.

    Gina Carano will not be returning to The Mandalorian or the Star Wars galaxy after sharing a post on social media implying that being a Republican today is like being Jewish during the Holocaust.

    Do you know what’s like being Jewish in the Holocaust? Being gay in the Holocaust, being Muslim in Serbian held Bosnia, and other scenarios involving death camps.

    If your job is 50% self-promotion, maybe don’t go out of your way to offend people by comparing trivial things to the holocaust. And it wasn’t just a few one off tweets — she’s pretty Q adjacent and toxic.

    Whoopi Goldberg put her foot in her mouth a month ago on the Holocaust, and she got some flack (more than I think she deserved) and she wasn’t “cancelled” — largely because she’s merely ignorant and not downright willfully stupid and mean. Goldberg noticed people were upset and listened and understood at least a little bit.

    (And I can see why she thought the holocaust was white on white violence… she misses a whole lot of subtleties to racism because for her experience it’s always been black and white)

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  38. Chip Daniels says:

    @gVOR08:
    If there is anyone less qualified to speak on free speech issues, it is Justice Thomas.

    Everyone has seen that article about the Texas woman whose doctors were terrified of speaking to her about her miscarriage and she had to fly out of the state to get accurate information?

    The law silencing those doctors was appealed, and Thomas didn’t see fit to block it.

    So for those keeping score:
    Forcing doctors to avoid giving accurate and life saving information to their patients?
    Acceptable!
    Criticizing a writer for homophobic remarks?
    Unacceptable!

    3
  39. MarkedMan says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    it’s not self-righteous rage. It’s FEAR. As an LGBT person,

    I read that and thought, “I have to remember that the stakes are very different. As a straight white male it’s all too easy to be having an intellectual discussion and forget that other people have a whole lot more skin in the game than I do.”

    And I increasingly suspect that when the mob does come for me, Michael is going to be one of the people cheering them on

    … and then I read that and, while it doesn’t change my sympathy or empathy towards your you, I think, “There is simply no way for me to have any kind of a conversation for someone who believes this.”

    11
  40. grumpy realist says:

    I find Justice Thomas’s present-day hoohaa about “cancel culture” to be pretty hilarious, considering back when he was born, it was extremely likely that people of his skin colour would regularly not be let into clubs and other organisations, being considered “not of our kind.”

    Ditto as to what happened to people of the Jewish persuasion (and in certain times and locations, Catholics.)

    Dude: admit it. We’ve ALWAYS had “cancel culture”. It’s just that now sometimes upper-middle-class WASP males are getting the brunt as well and are whining in shock that they’re also the target.

    7
  41. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher:

    Whoopi Goldberg put her foot in her mouth a month ago on the Holocaust…. she misses a whole lot of subtleties to racism because for her experience it’s always been black and white

    This makes a lot of sense to me. But don’t you think that J.K. Rawlings lifelong fight against sexism and men that belittled her and tore her down, who told her that she would never amount to anything and how she overcame all that to go on and show them all wrong might give some insight at how resentful she might be if she thinks men are taking over feminism and telling her and other women they are wrong about feminism? Understand, I don’t think her perspective is correct, but I do empathize with why she speaks out about it. She has never let anyone push her around and now she’s feeling pushed around about something. She doesn’t understand that “something” but her instinct is to fight back. I get that, and for me it does more harm than good to form a mob and go after her so relentlessly.

    And, realizing I am going to be crucified by this group for saying it, I watched the HBO Harry Potter anniversary special and felt my heart go out to her because almost every mention of her was cut from it. A 90 minute special on Harry Potter and if that was the only thing you knew about it you would be completely unaware that there was a woman named Joanne Rowling that wrote the books because, yes, she had been canceled, at least as far as the special was concerned.

    The distinction between being cancelled and just being excoriated isn’t really all that difficult. You are cancelled when the mob mentality takes hold and the feedback loop starts. And I’d contend that is dangerous even in the case of someone like Cuomo or Dan Snyder or Cosby. We don’t need a mob to realize they are contemptible and dangerous. We can come to that conclusion as individuals.

    5
  42. Gavin says:

    I think this article includes the reasons why the phrase Cancel Culture is both obscure and all-encompassing. Many forms of BS are addressed with the term Cancel Culture. Some of the forms overlap within the same person. A few are:

    1] It’s used as an catchall to avoid unwanted challenges of questionable ideas.. Cuomo recently asserted he was Cancelled rather than admit he got caught doing a ridiculous amount of stupid stuff. Can he not admit reality to himself? Are these words he publicly uses to not take responsibility? It doesn’t matter really..

    2] It’s used as an excuse by people whose words aren’t interesting, funny, or otherwise captivating [Gutfeld, Adam Carolla, etc] as a reason why they’re not popular — rather than the fact that the free market of ideas has accurately judged them incapable of being entertaining.

    3] It’s used as an excuse by right-wingers who in the past have done the cancelling of others and are not used to being held accountable themselves, so suddenly they’re outraged because how dare anyone hold Republicans accountable for anything.

    4] It’s stated as the reason why something happened .. when in reality the person asserting Cancel Culture is refusing to admit the objective reality of the situation. Cancel Culture was asserted as the reason why MLB moved the allstar game out of Atlanta in 2021.. only by people who don’t want to accept that MLB was just being a profit-seeking enterprise and doing the best thing for their bottom line.

    7
  43. Beth says:

    @Gustopher:

    Somewhat ironically, I’m going to a music festival in Miami. It was supposed to be my Transition gift/celebration for my social/legal transition. I was originally going to go in March of 2020. You know, when things were less aggressively hostile. I’m tired of the radical act of existing in a hostile place.

    @MarkedMan:

    She has never let anyone push her around and now she’s feeling pushed around about something. She doesn’t understand that “something” but her instinct is to fight back. I get that, and for me it does more harm than good to form a mob and go after her so relentlessly.

    So, I’m not going to crucify you, but I will gently try to explain to you why this is wrong. Hopefully I can do this in a away that is useful to the broader discussion.

    The problem isn’t that Joanne (to be clear, I am being disrespectful using her first name) doesn’t understand something, it’s that she refuses to and refuses to allow anyone to enlighten her. If the problem was that she said some stupid things there might be some hurt and anger, but it would have been moved past.

    Instead, she took her ignorance and used that to push a destructive agenda. An agenda not based on confusion of what it is to be Trans, but that Trans men do not exist and Trans women are hostile predators no matter what. She was then latched on to and herself latched on to truly vile people. She is very clearly and unambiguously working her self farther to the Right. I’m not kidding when I say she’s about to start blaming “The Jews”.

    They effect that Joanne is working for is exactly what is happening in TX, FL, and ID. What Republicans are attempting there is nothing short of genocide. They want LGBT people to be afraid. They want us to suffer and they want us to die, preferably by our own hands. They want us to feel terror at using the bathroom, going to the store, existing in public.

    Trans people aren’t fighting against Joanne simply to “cancel” her or shut her up. We are literally fighting for our existence. Imagine me for a moment, you’ve never seen me, but you’ve seen my words. You might have read that I transitioned at 41 I spent the vast majority of my life huddled in the closet terrified of existing. I was alone and had no family support. I didn’t even have the words for what I was and what I needed. Now, imagine a 14 year old in a similar situation, but they have the love and support of their family. Imagine how full of a life they could have without all the weight of self-torture the closet brings.

    Joanne seeks to stop that. She seeks to hurt us and doesn’t care. That’s what we are fighting against. There is zero difference between Joanne, Abbot, Desantis or that little gremlin that called us all groomers.

    It’s very simple and pat to say “oh well, cancel culture” and ignore all the effects of what she’s doing. That’s what Justice Thomas wants. Ignore all the horrible crap that comes out of their politics. All the dead woman. All the dead children. Just ignore them because of “cancel culture”.

    12
  44. Gustopher says:

    @MarkedMan:

    But don’t you think that J.K. Rawlings lifelong fight against sexism and men that belittled her and tore her down, who told her that she would never amount to anything and how she overcame all that to go on and show them all wrong might give some insight at how resentful she might be if she thinks men are taking over feminism and telling her and other women they are wrong about feminism?

    Is there any group more hated and marginalized than trans women? They aren’t taking over anything and someone would have to be either willfully stupid or blinded by prejudice not to see that. (And I’m pretty sure no one realizes trans men exist…)

    Ms. Rowling could be wrong AND treat people with compassion and respect. She doesn’t.

    She could listen to people who have transitioned — and she would hear that they actually do face some of the same challenges that cis-women do. Discrimination in the workplace, being talked over in meetings, a greater risk of being assaulted by strangers…

    Instead she chooses to believe that they are men in drag who are infiltrating women’s spaces to rape and pillage.

    And she uses her platform to propagate those lies.

    And, yes, that’s a choice. There’s plenty of information out there, lots of people she could talk to, and it’s not like this is some obscure thing that she hasn’t heard of before last week.

    She goes beyond “not an ally” into “an actual harmful bigot.”

    Trans folks bring up lots of uncomfortable questions in a society that divides people so thoroughly by gender. Damned if I know the right and the wrong on those questions.

    But I do know that there are people who are so misaligned with their bodies — in ways that I cannot understand — that they cannot live happily without forcing some alignment. We don’t have the mental health solutions, so the only alternative we have to help people who need help right now is to change the body. They aren’t sexual predators wearing camouflage.

    And this is something Ms. Rowling could know too, if she actually took the effort. And then she could be wrong in a less vile and hateful way, and people would roll their eyes and just whisper “well, she’s old, she’s always been like that.”

    As for excluding her from a documentary on Harry Potter — that seems like a mistake. Surely there is some trans journalist who could have shown up to interview her and just completely sidestep the issue while asking about the wizards shitting themselves and just magically sending the poo away, or other ridiculous topics. (Those were the fun J.K. Rowling controversies).

    8
  45. Modulo Myself says:

    @MarkedMan:

    This is just delusional nonsense. Men are not ‘taking over’ feminism. JK Rowling is simply a bigot, and the fact that the humans she is bigoted against are being persecuted by the state in America makes her plight completely meaningless. She’s been given enough chances to walk her bigotry back. This is not the case of one twitter post gone awry. This is her choice.

    4
  46. DK says:

    An entire discussion about CAncEL cULtUrE and neither Colin Kaepernick or the Dixie Chicks are mentioned once.

    That tells you all you need to know about how phony and self-serving the silly debate about CAncEL cULtUrE and wOkeNesS really is.

    Cancel Culture = when overly online Xers and Boomers are aghast at overly online millennials and Zoomers exercising their free speech right to criticize and boycott.

    Le yawn.

    5
  47. Kylopod says:

    @DK: The Dixie Chicks were mentioned in the original post:

    Another example from that era was the backlash the Dixie Chicks received for their criticisms of George W. Bush.

    4
  48. wr says:

    @Kylopod: “Actually, there were once quite a few conservatives (and occasional Hollywood liberals like Whoopi Goldberg) who were coming to Cosby’s defense”

    If you look back, you’ll discover that almost no one in Hollywood came to Cosby’s defense, with the exception of Phylicia Rashad. This isn’t because Hollywood as a whole was so much more alert to this kind of problem — it’s because everybody knew Cosby and pretty much everybody who knew Cosby hated him and knew enough about his personal behavior to believe it. The constant stream of women was no surprise — those stories circulated everywhere. I don’t think anyone knew about the drugging and raping — but when that it was revealed it was greeted pretty much universally with “yeah, figures.”

    3
  49. ptfe says:

    @Beth: Aside from being ambiguous in general, “cancel culture” is being used to describe a situation where the person refuses to listen or learn.

    I think about this like white people using the N word. A kid might be able to drop it into a conversation without immediately being considered a social pariah. But the instant someone knows the unabashed terror of that word and the reason it’s simply Not OK, any use crosses the line. (And around 16 we can pretty reasonably assume you’ve been told.) Saying it more is inflaming, and doing it without remorse is vile.

    Most of us can accept this socially.

    Which is what makes it weird that when someone proclaims the gender binary knowing that there is harm in that asserted binary, you find a lot of people defending it against social objection as mere “cancel culture”.

    2
  50. Wesley Sandel says:

    I’ve been getting “canceled” (fired) for years for simply pointing out that me doing all the work while the owners collect all the wealth created is unjust. They usually cited it as “bad attitude.” In the 1950s thousands of Americans got “canceled” for “suspected communist sympathies.” Now I’m torn between continuing the struggle for emancipation from greed and selfishness and just finding a place to bunker down and enjoying the show as end-stage capitalism results in widespread violence and mass die-offs. Frankly, I think that most Americans deserve what’s coming, but I grieve for the children who my generation royally fucked not just with predatory capitalism but through the destruction of the environment.

    I always enjoyed apocalyptic science fiction stories and would fantasize about what I would do in that situation. Now I view it more as the real Book of Revelations – Man doesn’t need any superstitious nonsense or magic to create hell on earth, he’s doing a bang-up job all by himself.

    2
  51. KM says:

    @ptfe:

    Aside from being ambiguous in general, “cancel culture” is being used to describe a situation where the person refuses to listen or learn.

    Honestly I think this is the key – being “cancelled” isn’t the criticism reaction itself, it’s how the person reacts to it. Social pressure to correct behavior is one of humanity’s oldest and most effective tools so all cancel culture is jerks rebranding their ostracism as a form of self-martyring. The best example is the Right never cancels but is always being cancelled – it’s a bad thing done to them, never by them. That’s it has become a point of pride on the Right to be cancelled (gets ya street cred real fast!) while at the same time being this horrible thing done to righteous people just sayin’ shows they don’t care to adjust their behavior, merely profit of it.

    Much like the “j/k” defense isn’t a joke as the target was never intended to laugh about it, cancel culture is the kneejerk defense response of someone being a jerk and not like being held accountable for it. If you are so worried you’ll be attacked for what you are going to say, may stop and think about WHY that it. The phrasing for this contemplation used to be “talk sh^t, get hit” btw. Are you talking sh^t and putting out for the whole world to see? Don’t be surprised the digital hits start flying.

    If you walk into a biker bar and run your mouth, it doesn’t end well for you. Most folks understand this and don’t call it cancel culture, but rather the natural consequences of your actions. Why people think social media is any different is beyond me. Read the damn room and understand not every thought in your head needs to be manifested to the internet.

    4
  52. Michael Reynolds says:

    1) Sorry to have bailed again. I’m embarrassed but I just forgot about the thread.

    2) @Tim D.:

    Honest question for Michael — should Frank or Jane’s (or JK Rowling’s) critics self-censor and keep their criticism to themselves?

    As it happens I am one of JK Rowlings loud and public critics – over trans issues. I don’t attack her books, or her right to write books. I tell her that she’s punching down, and that’s unattractive. I think she’s terrible on some issues but a very talented writer. I have no problem calling her out . . . and I’d have no problem reading her books.

    Likewise I expect people to voice criticisms of me – my politics or my writing. Criticism is not cancel culture. Honest critics are not trying to destroy you or your work.

    Here’s one way you can tell the difference. Honest critic on Twitter says, “I had a problem with X book.” Person trying to cancel you says, “Come on everyone, let’s dogpile this person and try to get their publisher/network/streamer to take them off the shelves/theaters/air.”

    It’s not really very hard to see the difference. Unless you just don’t want to see the difference.

    6
  53. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kylopod:

    Serious question for you: When Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc., have removed users for spreading Covid misinformation or 2020 election misinformation, do you regard all that as examples of cancel culture?

    Excellent question. Taking someone off social for the equivalent of yelling ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater is not cancel culture. Taking someone down for spreading lies troubles me, to be honest. I don’t dispute Twitter’s right to do so – it’s their company – but I instinctively distrust this new power structure. OTOH, given that we Twitter users are on Twitter’s property, so to speak, I tend to defer to the property owner to decide whether they want to have crazy people screaming lies in their front yard.

    In cases where what we’re dealing with are state actors working through sock puppets, I have no objection at all. Russia is a country, not an individual and thus do not have individual rights.

    4
  54. Michael Reynolds says:

    @DK:

    Cancel Culture = when overly online Xers and Boomers are aghast at overly online millennials and Zoomers exercising their free speech right to criticize and boycott.

    That’s just smug bullshit. By that definition Gamer Gate was just a big yawn. Is that what you think?

    4
  55. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    You’re generally not very bright, but this is offensively stupid:

    And I increasingly suspect that when the mob does come for me, Michael is going to be one of the people cheering them on because putting me in my place for not being sufficiently deferential is more important to him than stopping the mob. After all, he’s rich, so he can always run off to Canada or what not if things get too bad and resume laughing at the people suffering who weren’t sufficiently eloquent to be worthy of his empathy.

    Listen, asshole, if a mob ever comes for you or anyone else I’ll be the old man out there standing in their way. In fact, I actually have a record of doing that – putting myself at physical risk to protect people I didn’t know from being abused. I did it – twice – when I was still a fugitive which meant taking on extra risk in addition to the possibility of being stomped.

    I make a joke out of it when I tell the story but I also stepped in front of a gun to shield one of my employees back in restaurant days. Ever stood there with an automatic pistol in your face and calmly told the waitress to walk away so you could deal with it?

    You’re neither wise nor perceptive. You don’t read character at all, if you did you might recognize an oppositional personality, which is to say that I am the very last guy ever to go along with a mob. I am the world champion of not going along. I’m one of those schmucks who walks toward the trouble, not away. In fact, you dim bulb, I’m rich (your word) in part because I never, ever, ever just go along.

    Indeed what I’m doing right here and now is trying (albeit at no physical risk) to oppose online mobs of people like you, who are great at being outraged where you put nothing on the line. Got news for you, you paranoid, self-aggrandizing snowflake, you’re the mob, and as a minor point, you’re a perfect demonstration of my contention that progs are incapable of being allies, because I guarantee you I’ve done more to support gay and trans charities, and done more to publicize them, than you have.

    5
  56. Michael Reynolds says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Michael, bless his heart, is afraid of the mob. He does not want to be subjected to mob justice. I don’t blame him. The mob is not very discriminating. At the same time he wants to mine the mob for as much money as he can without any of them judging him. Sorry Michael, you can’t have it both ways. You can stick your neck out and say unpopular things, risking having your gravy train cut off, or you can play it safe and make lots of money. The choice is yours. Life is rough all over.

    Unlike SD, I actually respect you, so let me calmly correct you. I picked the fight with kidlit six years ago knowing full well it would harm my career. I did it because I knew others wouldn’t or couldn’t. I did it as myself, in the open. IOW, the opposite of being afraid of the mob. If I wanted to take safe and easy cheap shots I wouldn’t be here using my own name, or using my own name on Twitter, now would I? Instead I took risks and accepted the consequences and there were consequences.

    If you think Twitter mobs scare me, dude, I’d like to introduce you to the last 67 years of my life. I fear two things, neither of which is death or a Twitter mob: danger to my kids, danger to my wife.

    3
  57. Michael Reynolds says:

    @KM:

    Honestly I think this is the key – being “cancelled” isn’t the criticism reaction itself, it’s how the person reacts to it.

    No. That’s not it. It’s how publishers, producers, bookers etc… react. Creatives are in business. Our fee fees are one thing (even for the sweetheart I mentioned above) our business is a whole different thing.

    3
  58. Mu Yixiao says:

    My (unrefined) definition:

    Punishment for inconsequential or perceived offenses (usually called for by groups), which is disproportionate or inappropriate–along with the pervading idea that not only are these punishments allowable, but that they are the (only) appropriate response.

    @Steven

    You appear fixated on two aspects which, in my opinion, are limiting your view that cancel culture may be a real thing:

    1) That the “cancelation” must be permanent
    2) Offenses by the rich and powerful–yes, they have the resources to bounce back. Others don’t.

    Some examples of cancel culture that don’t involve famous people:

    * A professor removed from teaching an international business class because he mentioned a word that Chinese speakers say with exceeding frequency (na yi ge–meaning “that”, a filler word like we say “well” or “um”)

    * An editor removed from a student newspaper for writing an editorial in support of tighter immigration laws

    * A student kicked out of school athletics and pressured by the university to withdraw her attendance because of a 3-second video from when she 15

    * A professor forced to resign for asking international students to speak English.

    * A professor removed from teaching, suspended, and the subject of death threats for not being more lenient in their grading for black students (i.e., he said all students should be graded on an equal level)

    3
  59. Tim D. says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It’s not really very hard to see the difference. Unless you just don’t want to see the difference.

    I get the difference. I just don’t understand what you think should happen.

    You seem to be saying here that some types of speech should in fact be self-censored. The distinction you’re driving here is between “speech as criticism” and “speech that calls for consequences, like firing/etc.” And you’re saying that the latter type of speech should be stopped. Which is a perfectly fine normative position to hold (“all speech that tries to get someone fired is bad!”), but it’s totally incoherent as a defense of free speech itself.

    You can’t defend free speech by saying “those people over there need to shut up.”

    But maybe you’re not making a general point? I dunno. Maybe you’re just saying “in the case of my friends, Frank and Jane, they were treated poorly and it sucks even if there’s not much we can do about it.” In which case, great! But this is what people mean when they say “cancel culture isn’t a thing.”

    4
  60. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Tim D.:
    I never support censorship, full stop.

    I’m calling for a change in manners, not in law. And personal pique aside, my larger strategic political interest is in progressives being useful and effective, as opposed to obsessing over trivia and making enemies. On all the important issues, I am a progressive.

    Look, to take one example, I am a very vocal public supporter of trans rights. I want trans people to be accepted and to be safe. So I’d like their defenders to be helpful and not commit self-harm. My eldest is trans, and a progressive, down to the point where she has protective gear to wear to confrontations with police or with fascist demonstrators. If she had a partial lobotomy she could be Stormy Dragon. I want her to have a future in this country, a future where I won’t be around to support her, so I want the defenses to be strong, which to me, includes making allies and not alienating them.

    In the last year trans rights activists have been taking a beating – Florida, Texas and other states. I suggest this points to trans supporters not being very good fighters. Enthusiastic, yes? Competent? Clearly not.

    Similarly, “Defund” has accomplished the opposite of what was intended. Defund helped to gut the power of BLM, and now what are we seeing? Pols falling all over themselves to support the cops while BLM has diminished in influence.

    I have the same issue with CRT and 1619. For the record, I have no major issue with either, but presentation matters, and timing matters, and the net result is that history is no longer being taught in schools. When ‘they’ weaponized the issue, we should have been prepared with more than scorn.

    My complaint is basically, ‘Can no one play this game?’ Because thing one – if we’re actually trying to win as opposed to virtue signal – is to stop the fratricide and stop making enemies we don’t need to make. Tiny minorities need allies or they have no power. Tiny minorities should not be in the business of magnifying their own weakness.

    Progressives are right. They’re also fukkin idjits who are getting their asses kicked and would not be getting their asses kicked if they weren’t such fukkin idjits.

    3
  61. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Tim D.:
    One last point: 1968.

    I opposed the war in Vietnam. But even at age 14 I could see that SDS and the Mobe were committing political suicide by attacking the Democrats in Chicago and waving Vietcong flags at demos and blaming the soldiers who were the actual victims.

    End result of their ineptitude? The war lasted another 11 years. Tens of thousands more dead Americans, God only knows how many dead Vietnamese. The anti-war movement had a goal and they failed spectacularly to achieve it.

    I don’t like losing. I take politics seriously. This shit is important.

    4
  62. @Mu Yixiao:

    You appear fixated on two aspects which, in my opinion, are limiting your view that cancel culture may be a real thing:

    1) That the “cancelation” must be permanent
    2) Offenses by the rich and powerful–yes, they have the resources to bounce back. Others don’t.

    1. It seems to me that the word “cancel” has a pretty dramatic implication and it connotes being removed from one’s job/whatever it was that one was doing prior to being canceled. Indeed, part of the moral panic around “cancel culture” is that you can be canceled. If cancellation isn’t really cancellation, what is the source of the moral panic.

    2. I would note that the case I state in the post that was the purest, and most concerning, was of a regular person who make a mistake on Twitter. If we can move the discussion of cancel culture to those types of examples, I would be more onboard. However, that is not the way it usually discussed.

    3
  63. @Mu Yixiao: And my question about the other examples would be: to what degree does all of that sum to new behavior (or a new culture) that is directly leading to people being afraid to speak (which is what Thomas, and others, claim).

    It not that I am arguing that dumb decisions are never made that affect people in unjust ways. Rather, I am asking if there really is actually a culture of such decisions that really is leading to sustained and regular consequences of a fairly dire type.

    3
  64. @Mu Yixiao:

    A professor forced to resign for asking international students to speak English

    BTW, are you talking about the case at Duke?

    If so, note that the professor wasn’t fired, but she did step down from her role administering the grad program after she sent an email that very directly implied that foreign students speaking in their native language might be denied internships (which was not an appropriate thing to do and was the kind of thing that might break trust with grad students, and thus lead to one stepping down from the role).

    This is a great example of my overall point: we throw this stuff around like it proves a prevailing “culture” rife with dire consequences for those who dare step of line, when the details are often a bit more nuanced.

    Here’s a link.

    If you are thinking about another story, please feel free to correct me.

    6
  65. @Michael Reynolds:

    In the last year trans rights activists have been taking a beating – Florida, Texas and other states. I suggest this points to trans supporters not being very good fighters. Enthusiastic, yes? Competent? Clearly not.

    This was true during previous civil rights movements, though. As a group gets increased rights, there is very often a backlash.

    I am not necessarily going to argue with some of your overall point here, but I think you attribute too much of the backlash to mistakes made by activists when the reality is that the backlash comes as a result of progress on the rights of the marginalized.

    After all, there is a reason that progress on rights has to be fought for in the first place, yes?

    7
  66. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    This was true during previous civil rights movements, though. As a group gets increased rights, there is very often a backlash.

    I agree, obviously. Make a step forward and someone will try to push you back. At the same time, make a step forward and you should understand that there will be pushback and seek to soften it or deflect it. The object is to win, not to boldly march off to battle, but to win. There’s no point taking a hill only to lose it.

    To this end, given that the opponent is dangerous, and given that trans/gays/Blacks etc… are minorities, we should learn to fight smart not just loud. There is an illusion that we have history on our side and that we have a majority with us. Well, when the shit hits the fan the majority tends to evaporate, and what’s left is the people actually at risk. A small minority whose only political power comes from alliances. As for history that will be written by the victors and I am not at all confident that’s going to be us.

    @Stormy Dragon is a perfect illustration. SD knows I support LGBTQ rights, but despises me because I criticize some of the methods used by other supporters of those rights. SD is right about one thing: I can run off to Canada. (Well, Portugal or Spain, I like sun.) SD will be left to deal with the aftermath and will be powerless to have much effect absent a whole lot of people like me. And his reaction to that criticism of method but not goal? He makes me out to be the leader of a mob determined to kill him. Good meet your sworn enemy, Perfect.

    To me that’s just stupid. But it’s of a piece with progressives generally. It’s all or nothing, 100% unquestioning support, or you’re a traitor. A very Putinesque way of thinking.

    5
  67. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Rather, I am asking if there really is actually a culture of such decisions that really is leading to sustained and regular consequences of a fairly dire type.

    127 universities have “bias reporting teams” in which students can report students and faculty for “infractions” that could include “microagressions”. I’d say that when these things are codified in academic institutions, it’s arguably a “culture”.

    And, again, you put in the qualifier of “dire”. How do you define “dire”? What does it take for you to consider it a cancellation? I would argue that losing a job, losing grants, being pressured into leaving school, being stripped of classes, suspended for even a year as all “serious consequences” with long-term repercussions. It seems you’re not accepting anything less than “living under a bridge”.

    It also ties in with the concept of Victimhood Culture. These are two sociologist who have put serious study into the concept. I haven’t read the actual book, but I’ve read quite a few interviews with either or both of them.

    What we call victimhood culture combines some aspects of honor and dignity. People in a victimhood culture are like the honorable in having a high sensitivity to slight. They’re quite touchy, and always vigilant for offenses. Insults are serious business, and even unintentional slights might provoke a severe conflict. But, as in a dignity culture, people generally eschew violent vengeance in favor of relying on some authority figure or other third party. They complain to the law, to the human resources department at their corporation, to the administration at their university, or — possibly as a strategy of getting attention from one of the former — to the public at large.

    3
  68. @Mu Yixiao:

    Help me out first by confirming whether the “professor was fired” example was the Duke case, please.

    I am trying to understand whether you have a deep understanding of your evidence or whether you are you just casually citing things that you think make your case.

    3
  69. @Mu Yixiao:

    I would argue that losing a job, losing grants, being pressured into leaving school, being stripped of classes, suspended for even a year as all “serious consequences” with long-term repercussions. It seems you’re not accepting anything less than “living under a bridge”.

    Not at all. But again, if your example of getting fired above wasn’t actually a case of getting fired, I need to know what evidence I am dealing with here.

    There is also the issue of scale. There are hundreds and hundreds of universities, thousands of faculty members, and hundreds of thousands of students.

    I am not saying the dumb, bad things don’t happen. I am asking what the evidence is for “cancel culture” writ large.

    3
  70. Gavin says:

    @Beth:

    They want LGBT people to be afraid. They want us to suffer and they want us to die, preferably by our own hands. They want us to feel terror at using the bathroom, going to the store, existing in public.

    Sad truth is that when the objective reality of Republican fascist/totalitarian positions is stated in public, many people simply refuse to believe it Because That Couldn’t Possibly Happen Here.

    @Mu Yixiao:

    And all of that was initiated by conservatives declaring war on professors. This has been going on for a long time under innumerable names.
    2016 – Remember Professor Watchlist?
    2011
    2006

    Conservatives have never and likely will never deal with the cognitive dissonance between their fever dreams and the reality professors teach. The question is how much attention we bother to give blinkered hardcore conservatives on college campuses.
    If your opinion is that I’m wrong.. the response is there’s the door and we’re done here. That’s not An Opinion Worth Considering — nope, that guy is being a familyblog.. and if they don’t like it, suck it up buttercup — the free market of ideas has found their ideas failing.

    Also.. There’s a serious scope creep going on here regarding “what is cancel culture in 2022” and “what is anything I’ve had a problem with since the beginning of time” … Of course, that possibly intentional lack of specificity is half the fun of the phrase Cancel Culture.

    6
  71. KM says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    Ok – let’s assume I know nothing about any of these cases and go by your description only. Blind scenario reading here. Let’s play is it Cancel Culture or is it What Did They Think Would Happen?

    * A professor removed from teaching an international business class because he mentioned a word that Chinese speakers say with exceeding frequency (na yi ge–meaning “that”, a filler word like we say “well” or “um”)

    Is the speaker Chinese or speak Chinese regularly? What was the point of the gratuitous other language being dropped in there? Seems weird and makes me wonder why they would do that. Do they randomly use the German word for bathroom and the Swahili word for homework too??? Is it like when newcasters suddenly adopt a terrible Spanish accent every time they run across a word even remotely Spanish-looking and thus could be seen as mocking? Could be harmless habit but could be taken other way.

    Regardless, doubt that’s what caused it but rather was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Likely professor was asked to stop and it escalated from there.

    * An editor removed from a student newspaper for writing an editorial in support of tighter immigration laws

    Let me guess – rightwing editorial about the Wall in the age of Trump and how we should only certain people meeting certain criteria in. While they have a right to their own opinion, they do not have a right to a position on student newspaper, especially if the editorial was written in a way perceived to be hostile towards schoolmates and families. Unpopular political opinions have always gotten kids in trouble with school newspapers – go ask someone in school during the War in Afghanistan how those worked out for them…. (hint: they got kicked out too)

    * A student kicked out of school athletics and pressured by the university to withdraw her attendance because of a 3-second video from when she 15

    Young and stupid strikes again – guessing here but it was the N-word, wasn’t it? Hmmm, racist idiot when 15 is likely to still be racist idiot 3+ years later unless something intervened to change their mind. It’s been decades people – if you don’t know blackface or n-word isn’t edgy but ruinous you have only yourself to blame. You are not entitled to sports either ESEPCIALLY if your team members are likely minority and gonna have to deal with your racist ass.

    Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. You wanna make a video being all edgelord and ironically racist for sh^ts and giggles? The bill always comes due later. This has been a no-no for long, LONG time – no pass here.

    * A professor forced to resign for asking international students to speak English.

    In class or in general? To him and the class? And why exactly did it come up? They’re INTERNATIONAL students, meaning English is likely not their first language. If you have problem with languages other than English being spoken in your class full of international students, buddy are you in the wrong business.

    * A professor removed from teaching, suspended, and the subject of death threats for not being more lenient in their grading for black students (i.e., he said all students should be graded on an equal level)

    Calling BS on this as framed. Name names – I’m betting this is an urban legend that got out of hand.

    10
  72. Pylon says:

    Any discussion of unfair cancellation needs to include Colin Kaepernick and Sinead O’Conner. Just as any discussion of fake complaints about cancellation needs to include Bari Weiss, Scott Baio, etc etc etc.

    4
  73. Beth says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    In the last year trans rights activists have been taking a beating – Florida, Texas and other states. I suggest this points to trans supporters not being very good fighters. Enthusiastic, yes? Competent? Clearly not.

    Exactly what would you have us do? I constantly beat the drum for the team here, and quite frequently I doubt it does any good. But I’m a polite good minority here.

    In Texas we trotted out our children, some of the bravest and hardest people on the planet. We trotted out their beloved supportive supportive parents. One went so far as to invite one of those scum to dinner. What did they get for their politeness? They get investigated for child abuse. If politely trotting out Children and asking to please not torture us doesn’t work, what will?

    We also have a history of valorizing disruptive Trans people. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were not darling polite people. We stand on their shoulders as much as we stand on Aimee Stephens. We also stand on the graves of Brandon Teena and Gwen Arujo. We know very well what is coming for us. It’s genocide. The dumbest genocide since the day after they manage to kill every one of us, another Trans person will be born.

    And what good does it do to be polite when in Florida they passed a law to allow people to punish others for teaching about us or our history. Are we no longer going to be allowed to talk about Alan Turing? We can be polite as possible and still be murdered and tortured. One of the biggest lessons Trans people have learned from the larger Gay Rights movement is that we simply cannot trust Cis Gay Men. Being polite and having allies have gotten us crapped on by them.

    Instead, we’re going to be loud and messy AF. Me using the bathroom in public is a radical act that I’m sure many “allies” would prefer I not do. I go out and show off my wonderful (old, lumpy) Trans body and don’t let people make me feel bad about it. I mouth off here. These are all EXHAUSTING. I spent most of last week crying because of what’s coming out of ID. Today we learned that a friend, a Black Trans Woman is missing. I’m terrified cause I know how that story tends to end. She was the politest, quietest warrior. She’s not safe, I’m not safe and I don’t know what polite gets us.

    On your issue of competent, that tends not to matter. I’m a competent attorney. Every interaction I have with clients, other attorneys and everyone connected to my profession is a radical act. Here in IL it is entirely within in the bounds of our ethics for other attorneys to attempt to get me disqualified on the basis I have a “mental illness” and and that being Trans in and of itself is disqualifying. It would be entirely appropriate for other attorneys to malign and harrass me and the ARDC and IL Supreme Court will do NOTHING.

    Also, for what it’s worth, I doubt there is much daylight between my politics, your daughter’s and Stormy’s. Have I come off as a lobotomized progressive?

    11
  74. KM says:

    @JustAGirl:
    What do you mean “might not be”? It’s been mostly conservatives putting social pressure to keep liberals and minorities down – err, cancelled – for decades.

    Seriously, being out was a career ender until a few years ago. Even being suspected of not being 100% hetero was enough. Some of us are old enough to remember things like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the cooperate equivalent.

    There are places where being a known atheist in this country is a career killer.

    Try being a known liberal in deep red Trump country and we’ll talk about being cancelled. Have a Biden sign on your lawn or fly a pride flag in a small town in East TX and let me know how it goes for you.

    Cancel culture is people not used to be on the wrong end of shaming and social pressure finally getting treated like they treat others. Sooo weird how y’all think it’s never happened to liberals considering the Bush years weren’t that long ago……

    6
  75. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Not at all. But again, if your example of getting fired above wasn’t actually a case of getting fired, I need to know what evidence I am dealing with here.

    I listed five examples.

    You picked one and said “Oh, if it’s this one, then everything you’ve said is invalid”.

    Fine let’s ignore that one (since I don’t have the link handy). What about the other 4? What reasons are you going to come up with to disqualify them?

    You’ve made up your mind that cancel culture doesn’t exist. You’re requiring that we give you absolute proof (when you know all we can give you is evidence), while simultaneously saying nothing will convince you.

    Fine. It doesn’t exist. Tens of thousands of students, faculty, authors, journalists, scientists, and “regular Joes” are all just making it up to prank you. Every survey that says students are afraid to express opinions that run contrary to the officially sanctioned narrative are simply fake news, snowflakes, or excuses for some ism.

    You’re right. Everyone else is wrong.

    Glad we solved that.

    2
  76. cpinva says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    oh please, spare me the keening/wailing/gnashing of teeth/rending of garments already. who, exactly, “forced” him into retirement? we don’t know, because you conveniently neglected to identify that person(s). actually, you didn’t identify that person(s), because they don’t actually exist, except in your fevered imagination. same with your second example. they both got blow-back, for some position they took, and decided, on their own, to fade from public view. no one “cancelled” them, they’re still free to write/speak/etc.

    so how, exactly, has the government “cancelled” them?

    2
  77. @Mu Yixiao: Look, it is not my job to confirm your evidence, so if you don’t want to better document your argument, that’s your call.

    I looked up the one because it was familiar to me, but I couldn’t recall the details. Upon reading it struck me as a fairly typical kind of example insofar as it doesn’t really live up to the narrative that is supposed to be fueling.

    It strikes me as not unreasonable to then wonder if the rest of your examples fall in the same camp.

    And, again, I am not saying people don’t get in trouble for dumb reasons, but how that makes a culture of cancellation is another matter.

    You’re right. Everyone else is wrong.

    I have an opinion on this, so do you.

    5
  78. @Pylon:

    Colin Kaepernick

    That one is one I should have noted.

    3
  79. Gavin says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    You’ve made up your mind that cancel culture doesn’t exist.

    And you’ve made up your mind that it does exist. Steven, like the actual professor he is, is being far more respectful than those of us outside of academia who have no patience for BS.

    Tens of thousands of students, faculty, authors, journalists, scientists, and “regular Joes” are all just making it up to prank you

    100% of your examples were already taken apart by KM.

    You don’t have tens of thousands — you don’t even have tens.

    2
  80. cpinva says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    “And, again, you put in the qualifier of “dire”. How do you define “dire”? What does it take for you to consider it a cancellation? I would argue that losing a job, losing grants, being pressured into leaving school, being stripped of classes, suspended for even a year as all “serious consequences” with long-term repercussions. It seems you’re not accepting anything less than “living under a bridge”.”

    no, I won’t accept anything short of the government arresting/imprisoning people, for vile speech/actions, as legitimate “cancellation”. no one has a right to a college teaching position/tv show/podcast/newspaper column/etc., and people in those positions get hired/fired all the time, for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with poor performance (this includes saying/doing something stupid, that makes their employer look bad to the public.). they haven’t been “cancelled”, they’ve just been fired. they’re free to go elsewhere and sell their services, or not. their choice.

  81. Andy says:

    I don’t have time to give this topic my full due diligence, but I’ll just say that I agree almost entirely with what Michael wrote.

    Steven,

    Ultimately, for me to ratchet up my concern level on this topic, I would need to be convinced that concern over “cancel culture” isn’t just the latest iteration of moral panic over “political correctness” or “multiculturalism” in days gone by (and I feel like I am forgetting at least one other such buzzphrase).

    What evidence would it take to convince you of that, considering that you’ve rejected the evidence presented so far.

    I would also need to be convinced that it really is pervasive, and not the domain of some very specific examples (which would allow it to live up to a “culture” or even just an “agenda”).

    How pervasive would it have to be to convince you?

    Moreover, I would need better definitions and clearer examples of cancelation.

    This is probably where I agree with you the most – “cancel culture” means different things to different people.

    My view is that “cancel culture” is any organized attempt to suppress speech or dissent not only through direct action, but also through fear and intimidation. The goal of cancel culture is to enforce compliance or the appearance of compliance to norms, usually within or near an in-group.

    Hence why most people “canceled” by the left are also on the left, and those “canceled” by the right, are on the right. It’s ultimately about power and enforcing compliance to a dogmatic viewpoint to prevent heterodoxy.

    Cancel culture in this sense isn’t new (see organized religion throughout much of history), but some things have changed to make it different and more salient for some compared to earlier generations – many are the same things that have made our politics worse.

    Social media, ideological sorting and other things have given the those who want the power to enforce certain norms more tools to accomplish that.

    And the goal is self-censorship. Problematic individuals are made examples of as a warning to others. Most people then comply. This is how it always works.

    But some of it is the result of people in positions of authority lacking the spine to resist these efforts. For example, the NYT doing an about-face on Donald McNeil. People laugh about Bari Weiss, but one primary reason she quit was because she was harrassed on internal Slack channels by other employees and management did nothing about it. The Tom Cotton op-ed. People openly wonder whether the NYT’s editorial and human resources processes are as much controlled by young staffers and Twitters as by editors and management. This isn’t, in my view, a problem with cancel culture, but a problem of bad management at the NYT.

    During the BLM protests, an emblematic example of this was David Schor, who got fired thanks to a Twitter mob for the thoughtcrime of tweeting a link to peer-reviewed research by a black scientist. The problem here isn’t so much stupid and vindictive people on Twitter, but businesses and managers who are either afraid to stand up to them, or agree with them. Schor got hired at a new firm, but had to keep his employment secret for a number of months out of fear of the Twitter mob. All for one tweet that wasn’t offensive and was a true and valid point.

    The crusade against “CRT” by the right is another example of this. But most of the popularized examples we have come from the left, because the left much more prevalent in the commanding heights of the culture – entertainment, media and education.

    Systemically, it’s promoting ideological sorting and conformity in places it should not be. This is the concern expressed in the “Harper’s Letter.” Clearly, the signatories think something is going on, as do many others, even if you do not see any problems.

    And honestly kind of strange to me when university professors claim there is no such thing as cancel culture considering protection from cancellation is the entire purpose of academic tenure. If there is no cancel culture or cancel culture is no threat, then why do professors need this special employment protection, or why should it only be reserved for that profession?

    4
  82. KM says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Every survey that says students are afraid to express opinions that run contrary to the officially sanctioned narrative are simply fake news, snowflakes, or excuses for some ism.

    “Opinions” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that statement. Not all “opinions” need to be expressed in public or validated. What if that opinion is murder is cool and they feel oppressed not being allowed to get their Dahmer on? Free speech means Nazis have a say but that doesn’t mean it’s something you want college students running around feeling comfortable expressing their love for.

    Let’s be brutally clear here: there has NEVER been a time or place when people weren’t afraid to “express opinions that run contrary to the officially sanctioned narrative “. EVER. Who and what is what changes. Right now, conservatives are finding their “opinions” are not what civilized society approves of – their turn on the other side of the scale. They don’t like it. 30 years ago (the 90’s!!), you’d get fired for vocally pushing for government-recognized-at-every-level SSM and ostracized by your social circle in a lot of places. Today, it’s the opposite if you went around demanding the company not recognize your gay coworkers. Why isn’t what DeSantis doing considered cancel culture by conservatives by literally banning opinions on school grounds in his Don’t Say Gay bill? Wonder why…..

    All those students crying because they’re afraid to get their Shapiro on? Good. Do we really need more Tucker Carlsons out there, or would the world be a better place if he’d been “cancelled” in college? It means we’re finally coming to terms as a society that you may have the right to be an asshat but not to suffer not consequences from it. Welcome to the world the rest of us have lived in for ages. I said it before – it’s the digital version of “talk sh^t, get hit”. Think before you post, ponder why people are reacting the way they are to you. Consider the fact your position is on the wrong side of history and maybe, just maybe that the people cancelling you are trying to tell you something and not just For Teh Evulz.

    6
  83. MarkedMan says:

    @Gavin:

    100% of your examples were already taken apart by KM.

    There wasn’t enough detail in Mu’s examples to have any real opinion about what happened, so KM didn’t take anything apart. He opined about how things might have happened, setting up a bunch of straw men to whack away at. For anyone trying to reach an understanding both posts contributed nothing.

    4
  84. Andy says:

    If anyone wants examples from education, FIRE has plenty.

    1
  85. @Andy:

    This is probably where I agree with you the most – “cancel culture” means different things to different people.

    So (and this is not snark, honestly): if a thing is so amorphous that it means different things to different people, does it mean anything at all?

    This is a huge part of my point.

    And note: I am not saying that it never happens that people get in trouble for something they say and then suffered disproportionate consequences. I am simply not convinced that it is new, or worse, in the current moment.

    Again, cancel culture suggests a widespread way of thinking that has been adopted. I am unconvinced this is true, and I am especially unconvinced that it is having a serious chilling effect on speech. Do I think that there are examples of overzealous shaming? Yes. I also believe that the Twitter mob can be a real thing (see, again, my post).

    And honestly kind of strange to me when university professors claim there is no such thing as cancel culture considering protection from cancellation is the entire purpose of academic tenure. If there is no cancel culture or cancel culture is no threat, then why do professors need this special employment protection, or why should it only be reserved for that profession?

    Tenure is roughly a hundred years old, so it strikes me as a not very good example of why I should be concerned about some new cultural movement that has emerged.

    6
  86. @Andy:

    Hence why most people “canceled” by the left are also on the left, and those “canceled” by the right, are on the right. It’s ultimately about power and enforcing compliance to a dogmatic viewpoint to prevent heterodoxy.

    But is that true? It isn’t true for the old school examples of Bill Maher and the Dixie Chicks, nor for Colin Kaepernick. It wasn’t true of Bari Weiss, either.

    It doesn’t apply to the MeToo types of “cancellation” either, nor to a lot of the attempts to cancel speeches/commencement speakers on college campuses that are also often termed “cancellations.”

    I think the lack of a coherent definition strikes again, yes?

    3
  87. @Andy:

    If anyone wants examples from education, FIRE has plenty.

    So, just to be clear, this would suggest that any kind of regulation of speech is an example of cancel culture by your definition of the term, yes?

    That strikes me as a pretty expansive view of the concept. (Or am I misunderstanding?).

    Here’s an example that was just easily clickable:

    There is no blanket “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment. But Fort Lewis College, a public school in Colorado, maintains a policy that bans students from posting materials on campus that include “unprotected expressions” such as “hate speech.” The policy is inaccurate and misleading, earning its spot as FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month for March.

    Fort Lewis’ Campus Posting policy states, “Regardless of the medium used, the following materials are not allowed for posting . . . Materials that contain unprotected expressions such as libel, obscenity, or hate speech.”

    Libel and obscenity actually are two of the narrow categorical exceptions to First Amendment protection carved out by the Supreme Court, and have exacting legal standards. But “hate speech” doesn’t have a set definition, and while hateful speech could be included in expression that meets a categorical exception to the First Amendment, not all speech that could be seen as hateful necessarily meets those legal standards.

    Ok, so I am familiar with FIRE and I understand why they wouldn’t like this policy, but would you consider this cancel culture? (I ask to help me calibrate your definition).

    3
  88. Tim D. says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I agree politics is important and it’s imperative for progressives to be smart and win victories that actually improve life for people.

    I do think there is a range of people saying a range of things about those subjects, so it’s not all counterproductive messaging, and I know there are politicians and groups out there who are smart, savvy and effective. There is a tendency to fixate on the most annoying thing you’ve read and tune out the more reasonable stuff. I know I do that.

    In particular, if elected Democrats find they are getting knocked off message by the latest twitter outrage or whatever, I think that’s a symptom that 1. they have weak or generic messaging for the stuff they want to talk about, and 2. the Dems need to invest more in better communications infrastructure so the good messages get heard.

    2
  89. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    So (and this is not snark, honestly): if a thing is so amorphous that it means different things to different people, does it mean anything at all?

    This is a huge part of my point.

    I don’t think it’s as amorphous as you’re suggesting.

    And part of the problem here is that a lot of cancel culture is actually a battle regarding definitions and controlling language for ideological reasons and for use as weapons.

    Who gets to decide what is transphobic? Who gets to decide when mention of the N-word is or isn’t appropriate (and who can mention it)? Who gets to decide if something is racist? Who gets to decide, in Michael’s kidlit example, what characters an author should have in their book, what characters white/black/asian authors are allowed to write about, etc? Who gets to decide what constitutes hate speech? Who gets to decide was is patriotic? Who gets to decide what is sexist? Etc.

    Cancel culture is when people and groups have absolutist views on these questions (one way or another), and then seek to impose those views on others through coercive means, or the threat of coercion. They are not interested in debate, they are interested in compliance.

    Controlling definitions allows them to be used as weapons against ideological and other opponents to silence them and their ideas. And another goal is getting institutions to adopt and enforce these definitions. This latter is most evident in the debate around CRT in K-12 education with various sides seeking to force their particular view onto everyone. The right, in particular, successfully weaponized CRT.

    Here’s another hypothetical example. The N-word has been used on this site many times over the years. If some individual or group came along and tried to get you and James fired or otherwise damage your reputations with accusations of racism because you are two “old” white guys using a racist word and are therefore racist, then that would be cancel culture. And if either of you are unfortunate enough to piss off the wrong people on Twitter, that very likely to happen.

    Again, cancel culture suggests a widespread way of thinking that has been adopted. I am unconvinced this is true, and I am especially unconvinced that it is having a serious chilling effect on speech.

    I mean there is ample polling and surveys on this. A lot of people believe that speech is being chilled. But the reality is that self-censorship is inherently difficult to measure.

    How widespread? I think it’s mostly confined to elite circles and doesn’t much affect the average American – at least until they are randomly blown up and become viral.

    So I don’t want to overstate this problem. I think it is real and it is a problem and it is hurting real people who don’t deserve to be hurt. It’s also stifling needed debate about important topics, but it’s not some kind of national crisis. But our elite institutions and elite discourse is important, I am concerned about ideologically-driven groupthink enforced by real or implied threats of professional and social harm.

    Tenure is roughly a hundred years old, so it strikes me as a not very good example of why I should be concerned about some new cultural movement that has emerged.

    As I noted, cancel culture is not new, it’s just taking a different form and the pendulum appears to be swinging in that direction (IMO). The desire to enforce conformity is part of the tribal tendencies of our species. Tenure is and remains an important bulwark against cancel culture in academia IMO. If you do not agree with this, then I’d be curious to understand why. Because if cancel culture does not exist, or is not very important, or there aren’t actually many significant threats to free speech, then it would seem that tenure protection is anachronistic and unnecessary.

    But is that true? It isn’t true for the old school examples of Bill Maher and the Dixie Chicks, nor for Colin Kaepernick. It wasn’t true of Bari Weiss, either.

    Of course there are exceptions but of your list I think only Mahar and maybe Kaepernick are actually exceptions. For example, the Dixie Chicks were cancelled from the country-music in-group.

    But as a general rule it’s true, because cancelling someone requires some kind of power or influence over them. And heretics are always the first targets of cancel culture. The left, for example, cannot cancel Shaun Hannity, all they can do is keep him from joining MSNBC or the NYT because that is where they have influence, unlike Fox. Same thing in the other direction. The only people who could conceivably cancel Rachel Maddow are on the left.

    It doesn’t apply to the MeToo types of “cancellation” either, nor to a lot of the attempts to cancel speeches/commencement speakers on college campuses that are also often termed “cancellations.”

    Metoo is about behavior, not speech. Canceling someone for sexually assaulting women is not the same thing as cancelling someone for using the N-word.

    So, just to be clear, this would suggest that any kind of regulation of speech is an example of cancel culture by your definition of the term, yes?

    That strikes me as a pretty expansive view of the concept. (Or am I misunderstanding?).

    No, that’s not what I’m suggesting though many attacks on free speech are related to cancel culture. Again, I think a big part of cancel culture is controlling definitions and language and that is inherently hostile to free speech.

    Ok, so I am familiar with FIRE and I understand why they wouldn’t like this policy, but would you consider this cancel culture? (I ask to help me calibrate your definition).

    For the example you pulled from FIRE, it’s just noting a hate speech policy. It’s not clear how it is applied. As noted at the end:

    At minimum, the policy may have a chilling effect on speech, as students will assume the policy will be applied to restrict anything an administrator applying the policy finds hateful. At worst, the policy could be applied to punish students over their constitutionally protected expression, as the policy says individuals who violate the policy may be subject to “Student Conduct Code proceedings.”

    The policy itself is not cancel culture according to my definition (though attempts to regulate hate speech are still wrong IMO). For it to become cancel culture would depend on how the school administration would define and enforce the attempted ban on hate speech.

    4
  90. Matt says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    I listed five examples.

    You listed five very vague examples with no detailed information which prevents anyone from investigating them. Considering you’ve been busted multiple times in the past here on this site for providing false and misleading information I’m not surprised you’re keeping things vague.

    3
  91. @Andy: As always, thanks for the thoughtful comments. I am sure we could more easily hammer out the issue in a real conversation.

    A few thoughts:

    As I noted, cancel culture is not new,

    But here’s the thing, the narrative around cancel culture is that it is is new. Note the Thomas quote above. The narrative is that in the here and now we have reached a new level of intolerance that was heretofore not the case. I think it is a fundamental part of the conversation.

    If we recognize that it is not some new thing, then that changes the narrative

    As I noted in the post, and in other comments, the thing that is new is social media.

    Metoo is about behavior, not speech. Canceling someone for sexually assaulting women is not the same thing as cancelling someone for using the N-word.

    Agreed, but the general usage of the term is done in a blanket way. We are in some amount of agreement here, but my response is to call into question the efficacy of the term “cancel culture” and yours is to just use a more refined application, discarding the cases that don’t really fit (but if that is a necessary approach, it strikes me as proving my point about the term).

    For example, the Dixie Chicks were cancelled from the country-music in-group.

    You initially made it left cancels left and right cancels right, and the DC cancellation, was clearly right v. left. Now, if you want to say, for you definition, that cancelation is in-group to member of said group, we can see that as a refinement of the concept. But I don’t think that fits what, say, Thomas was saying (or what Aaron Rodgers meant when he opined that the cancel culture mob was coming for him, or what Andrew Cuomo means when he uses the term).

    If some individual or group came along and tried to get you and James fired or otherwise damage your reputations with accusations

    To be honest, it has absolutely occurred to me that someone might attempt to hold things that commenters say on here against us. Ironically, I the things that I have been more concerned about have been things like MR’s anti-religious rants than some other things that have been said, given where I live.

    To be clear, I am not saying that there are not examples of people being overwhelmed by negative input that then led to serious and unjust consequences. Justine Sacco strikes me as the purest example. What I am not convinced of is that there is a prevailing sense of dread out there that is systematically chilling speech in some new way that is specific to our current moment in time (and yes, I think that a definition of “cancel culture” is time-delimited in some way).

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  92. Modulo Myself says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    To be clear, I am not saying that there are not examples of people being overwhelmed by negative input that then led to serious and unjust consequences. Justine Sacco strikes me as the purest example.

    What happened to Justine Sacco is an extreme example of what happens to anyone in the social media age. Many employers google the names of potential employees. They’re looking for what others might see if the google the name of a real employee.

    What’s changed are the rules of acceptable behavior. In the mythic past of 15 years ago if you sent an CV from an email titled ‘Bong_God_420@gmail.com’ you did it to yourself. You were probalby not going to get the job. Unfair? It’s just a harmless name. But that’s how society works and it’s how it has always worked. At the same time, harmless jokes about AIDs and Africa were okay. Then, suddenly, they were not, especially if you put them on social media. Unfair, sure, but that’s how society works.

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  93. @Modulo Myself: Which again suggests that if there is something new here, it is social media.

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  94. Assad K says:

    Re: Justine Sacco,
    Happily, she did eventually land back on her feet. It’s an amusing (?) irony that the person who retweeted her later ended up being on the wrong side of a Twitter mob himself. And it’s interesting that the two seem to have reconciled (no idea what the current state of affairs is, of course).

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  95. Jon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: The ‘something new’ is also to whom this is happening; folks in positions of power and/or members of historically privileged groups. Marginalized groups have always been silenced by various means, including by not being given opportunities to write op-eds in the NYT about their experiences. Social media is, to a degree, leveling that playing field.

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  96. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    We are in some amount of agreement here, but my response is to call into question the efficacy of the term “cancel culture” and yours is to just use a more refined application, discarding the cases that don’t really fit (but if that is a necessary approach, it strikes me as proving my point about the term).

    and

    Now, if you want to say, for you definition, that cancelation is in-group to member of said group, we can see that as a refinement of the concept. But I don’t think that fits what, say, Thomas was saying (or what Aaron Rodgers meant when he opined that the cancel culture mob was coming for him, or what Andrew Cuomo means when he uses the term).

    I would just say that a lot of people will call something cancel culture that isn’t. I’ve given my definition of it, I can’t vouch for how others use the term. And part of this goes back to what I noted about a battle over definitions – defining cancel culture is one of those battles.

    Maybe there is a better term for what I’m specifically trying to describe, that is more rigorous and accepted than “cancel culture” but I don’t know what that term is.

    But here’s the thing, the narrative around cancel culture is that it is is new. Note the Thomas quote above. The narrative is that in the here and now we have reached a new level of intolerance that was heretofore not the case. I think it is a fundamental part of the conversation.

    As an analogy I would use cyberwar. Cyberwar is “new” in the sense that it requires certain technologies and interconnections, but it is not new in the sense of “politics by other means.” War is enduring, but the methods scale and scope of warfare are changing.

    I look at cancel culture the same way. “Canceling” people is as old as time. The Scarlett Letter, for example, is a book where canceling is a major theme. Hester and Dimmsdale perhaps could have run away to start a new life. Today, you can’t run away from your Google search results.

    So what’s new is all the novel an effective ways we can cancel people that didn’t exist in Puritan times. We don’t even have to know the person personally! The online element of canceling people is new and definitely abetted by social media, a highly connected world, and the “internet never forgets” concepts. As is the case in many other areas, these things have made canceling easier and more pervasive. In my view, that is what is makes this “new.”

    Going back to the comparison to war, modern cancel culture is a new form of social warfare.

    To be honest, it has absolutely occurred to me that someone might attempt to hold things that commenters say on here against us. Ironically, I the things that I have been more concerned about have been things like MR’s anti-religious rants than some other things that have been said, given where I live.

    That’s possible, but I mentioned the N-word because there are many posts on the site over the years that use the actual word. And there are plenty of examples where purveyors of cancel culture will engage in internet archaeology to find material (usually out of context) to use as a weapon.

    Another way to think about it is the difference between how I grew up and my kids. You might agree with me that I’m very glad I grew up in a time when cell phones and social media were not a thing. There are dumb things I did that I’m glad are lost to time and I’m sure there are dumb things that I’ve forgotten.

    My kids don’t live in the world that you and I grew up in. I’ve had to press on them that the internet is forever anything the put online can come back to haunt them later in life. I’ve had to talk to them about the dangers of “sexting” and that once they allow others to have images of their body, those images are no longer under their control. Sexting blackmail is a thing and something that happened to one of my daughter’s friends.

    @Modulo Myself:

    Unfair, sure, but that’s how society works.

    Hester Prynne and Dimmesdale should have kept their clothes on too. Cancel culture means that you are never safe from mistakes you made in the past and it also means you can never escape mistakes you make in the present. Yes, that’s how society works and it’s why I, and others, think it is a problem.

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  97. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You could stop being so fucking parachiol about it for a starter.

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