When You Claim Cancel Culture Doesn't Exist
You're Saying A Lot About Yourself And Nothing About Reality
Everyone knows that cancel culture exists.
Simply type in cancel culture harm and instantly you will be rewarded with dozens and dozens of links giving specific instances of people who have been materially harmed by cancel culture. You will find stories of doxxing, threats, job loss, suicidal ideation and more. It’s very easy to find the actual names of real people who have had their lives ruined by cancel culture.
Cancel Culture is mob rule writ large, and we all know it.
So what’s behind the refusal from some to admit it even exists?
Well, it seems a few different issues are at play. Fear, ignorance, group conformity and compliance, plausible deniability, schadenfreude, and occasionally pedantry, with a dash of cognitive dissonance.
Let’s talk about that.
Fear. People denying the existence of cancel culture are dog-whistling to the group they perceive as powerful, the group they wish to be accepted by, that they adhere to groupthink. They are ensuring their loyalty is flagged and that there are receipts proving their support, in the hope this will ensure their own safety. They’re well aware, even if it’s subconscious, that they can be caused material harm by the mob. And that the mob is unpredictable. “Others refused to participate in trials or accusations–and paid the price. For example, John Willard, Salem’s deputy constable, developed doubts about the guilt of some of the so-called “witches.” When he expressed those concerns, accusers turned on him instead.”
Ignorance. Some haven’t bothered to research the issue, so genuinely think it’s not that big a deal. Unfortunately, just because someone is clueless that won’t usually prevent them from offering an opinion.
Group conformity and compliance. Without realising it, we all conform to social pressures. It’s part and parcel of how the human mind works. Standing up to a mob can be terrifying, and it’s not how most of us are wired. If you find yourself enmeshed in the cancel culture apologists mob you may also already have invested a lot, so sunk cost fallacy can come into play.
Plausible deniability. If you pretend you didn’t realise how dangerous and harmful cancel culture behaviours are, you can pretend (perhaps even to yourself) to be shocked when someone kills themselves, loses their job or is assaulted as a result of cancel culture. You’re not that person, of course not. How terrible, of course I never wanted that to happen!”
Schadenfreude — the malicious delight in another’s misfortune. Humans are often arseholes. We enjoy the lamentation of our enemies — or perceived enemies — and destruction of people we dislike. Watching someone being torn to shreds that you don’t agree with can be quite a satisfying experience.
The pedantic pretender. They are fully aware of what cancel culture is, and how harmful it can be. But they’ll argue backwards and forwards about the definition of the word and it’s parameters, rather than just say “mob rule is harmful.”
Cognitive dissonance. The ability to hold two opposing views at the same time. “I don’t agree with mob rule — except when it’s MY mob rule. Because OUR position/stance/belief is different”. By not accepting that your mob is just as unjustified as any other mob, by turning your face away from that reality, you can continue to pretend this you have the moral highground.
Inside the mind of the denier If you’re a Cancel Culture denier and have managed to read this far, you will by now be finding yourself extremely uncomfortable. You’ll probably try to deny or dismiss that discomfort, it might surface as what you imagine is righteous anger or you will feign, disgust, disinterest etc.
You’ll almost certainly try to alleviate your discomfort in one of a few ways.
Most unlikely (but always possible) you might alter your view to the rational, truthful one — cancel culture definitely exists, has caused immense harm, and cannot be justified More likely, you’ll try to find a way to disbelieve and dismiss the reality. Since it’s not possible to do so rationally and critically, you’ll have to find a reason to dismiss me. You might do this by reading through some of my work to try to find something that you think pinpoints me as unethical, because if you can come up with a reason to find me offensive, you can throw the article out with the bathwater.
One of the pillars of cancel culture is, if you dislike someone, everything they have ever said or ever will say again can be nuked.
So, if you can find an excuse to disregard me as a human, you give yourself an excuse to disregard my work.
If you choose this course, your discomfort will lessen and you will no longer have to consider the reality that cancel culture mobs and their defenders are not, in fact, the white hats.
When someone denies Cancel Culture exists, is harmful and does not serve the purpose they want it to, just remember that we are — all of us — emotional, not logical thinkers. I’ve said elsewhere:
“Never forget that we are all highly emotional naked apes, who one day learned how to think. We make decisions based on feelings, rarely facts, and once we’re persuaded to emotionally bond to a concept or a person, it’s really difficult to shift us. Certainly, logic alone will rarely do it. Confirmation bias and emotional thinking accounts for some of that. We often use emotional reasoning to defend a conclusion that we’ve already reached, based upon our feelings.”
We can also hold opposing notions in our mind at the same time, a type of doublethink. You will typically notice cognitive dissonance when you’re trying to believe conflicting ideas.
Inside the mind of the apologist When not actually denying its existence, cancel culture apologists will typically claim people are free to say what they like and accept the consequences.
What they perhaps haven’t realised is that this makes them sound a lot like the sort of men who beat the hell out of their wives and then say “Look what you made me do”. The claim that people hounded into unemployment, mental breakdown and worse by hateful mobs is a fair and equitable punishment is not a reasonable one.
And even if you could make an argument that those who cancel culture fixates on deserve their punishment, you cannot be unaware that this teaches nothing but terrified compliance.
Terrified compliance only works while you are there to enforce it.
No lesson learned Being hounded, abused and harassed for speaking words, making a movie, or otherwise putting something into the world that others don’t agree with doesn’t actually teach anyone anything except to be sneakier and more deceitful the next time they wish to share an opinion.
Those who might have agreed with you may now perceive the group as a bully.
By chasing Frankenstein’s monster through the town with pitchforks and torches, you make him appear sympathetic and strengthen his position. Although, in the short term you will have the undeniable satisfaction of causing harm to the monster, in the longer term this does not help your cause. You cannot bully, nag or force people to agree with you. It simply doesn’t work. This is an interesting article, worth a read, discussing how aggressive tactics won’t improve matters for those who want to defeat racism.
Cancel culture deniers seem to think that they’ll be spared the mob.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
Remember the Salem Witch Trials? When you encourage mob hysteria you cannot control which way it turns. You’re not safe from the same practices that you’re applauding.
You can never be woke enough to consider yourself safe. Allowing the mob hysteria of cancel culture to become the dominant paradigm eventually ends in 1984 being played out in real life.
Letters: 'Cancel culture' ushers in living embodiment of Orwell's classic '1984' George Orwell published "1984" in 1949 as a warning against totalitarianism. The book describes a dystopian society…www.theadvocate.com
The Straw Men Are Burning You needn’t worry, there are already existing laws for hateful behaviour. Strengthening those laws, instead of trying to circumvent them, is the way to go. So, no need to claim that I am trying to defend instigators of violence or hatred, or that I wish to go unchecked any of the isms or phobias you are so keen to label others with. I’m not.
We do not need any further shackles on free speech. You can say “I hate (insert group)”. Ugly, but perfectly legal. You cannot say “Attack (insert group). You already know the difference.
Hear, hear In conclusion: here’s what we all hear when you say “Cancel Culture doesn’t exist”:
“I dislike that person and their views so I’m fine with any treatment they suffer up to and including being harassed, hounded, harmed, doxxed, driven to suicide, losing their job or otherwise having their entire life upended and made a misery”
And yes, that actually makes you sound like a worse than the person you disagree with.
Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote of Voltaire’s attitude: ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’ Every single one of us should be aiming for that.
We need a lot more defenders of free speech and much less of the pretence that howling hatefulness will make the world a better place.
If you are one who enjoys cancel culture and its poisoned fruits, and actually think it’s making the world a better place, I guarantee that when The Party turns on you, you’ll be just as exposed and just as defenceless as those you were helping to stone.
‘The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power — pure power.’
So you don’t have to care about cancel culture. You don’t have to do anything about it. You don’t have to speak up when you see a mob slavering and spittle lipped hunting down someone you dislike.
But you do have to stop saying cancel culture doesn’t exist. Unless you want to everyone to know that, actually, you’re enjoying the show.
And finally, you’d love to believe I was right wing, wouldn’t you? Manichean thinking and cancel culture approval go hand in hand.
Here I am talking about Trump:
Uh-oh. In a surprise twist, it turns out you can have a nuanced opinion and dislike both sides of the coin equally. Bet you didn’t see that coming.
Alison Tennent, Queensland, Australia, July 2021 Copyright Alison Tennent 2021, all rights reserved. Scottish by birth, upbringing and bloodline, Australian by citizenship. If you’re reading this anywhere but The Garrulous Glaswegian, Vocal+ or Medium, this work may have been plagiarized.