"these debates seem plagued by conceptual brittleness"
July 23, 2020 8:57 AM   Subscribe

These, then, are three distinct questions that the current debate over “free speech” runs together in a sloppy fashion: is the state engaging in acts of censorship? Are social sanctions against speech or beliefs too harsh? Is our media ecosystem sufficiently open? Failure to disentangle these questions has resulted in the current abysmal state of the conversation.
Adam Gurri tries to unravel some of the free speech/'cancel culture' debate.
posted by MartinWisse (142 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think it may have been David Roth on a podcast I was listening too who made this observation, but what I take a way from a lot of this is that these so called elites never had to deal with actual differences of opinion before, they thought they were bestowing these takes on a grateful public and their socialite buddies never told them their dumb ideas were dumb. Now they can't handle some schmo on twitter pushing back on a half-baked, stupid take and aren't able to handle it. There's an undercurrent of these lesser people should be grateful!
posted by Carillon at 9:35 AM on July 23, 2020 [81 favorites]


Looking at one specific instance, Robert Wright asks and answers "Why is everyone so mean to Bari Weiss?"
posted by PhineasGage at 9:36 AM on July 23, 2020 [19 favorites]


I refuse to do whatever amount of googling it would take for me to develop a firm view on whether Alice Walker is indeed anti-Semitic, let alone get to the bottom of the famously slippery lizard Illuminati question

It would require one second of Googling to find that Walker has endorsed David Icke's books...
posted by BungaDunga at 9:54 AM on July 23, 2020 [19 favorites]


"In the early twentieth century, the Ford Motor Company established a Sociological Department, dedicated to inspecting employees’ homes unannounced, to ensure that they were leading orderly lives. Workers were eligible for Ford’s famous $5 daily wage only if they kept their homes clean, ate diets deemed healthy, abstained from drinking, used the bathtub appropriately, did not take in boarders, avoided spending too much on foreign relatives, and were assimilated to American cultural norms."

This I did not even know and hooooly crap
posted by noiseanoise at 9:57 AM on July 23, 2020 [70 favorites]


these so called elites never had to deal with actual differences of opinion before,

Okay, one of the best discussions of exactly this dynamic I have heard is the interview with Tressie McMillan Cottom on the recent episode of Open Source Radio. She's absolutely brilliant generally, but especially on this topic. Utterly destroys the pompous out-of-touch dork who speaks before her in the interview.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 10:09 AM on July 23, 2020 [19 favorites]


"Rather than hoping for self-discipline, or reasoned calculation, or the better angels of our nature, critics of “cancel culture” really ought to be thinking structurally. As long as employees can become PR liabilities for their employers, and employers have the power to fire them, they will do so."

This is a connection I had not made. Love it.

"Drawing proper distinctions between freedom of speech and the dangers of social sanctions in a free society can help clarify their criticism and shift the focus to the truly vulnerable."

Nodding my head a lot yes to this. Organize, unionize.

“Private” Facebook groups, discussion forums, and chats, moreover, form publics, small stages on which one can speak and be heard as much as listen and converse

Whoa shit, metafilter as a "Public" an interesting rabbit hole to go down...

"...the very concentration (of internet companies) that makes such potential virality possible also puts most online content under the governance of a handful of corporations."

This is a really interesting article that breaks down what is being colloquially called "cancel culture" into a set of structural fundamentals that has me really thinking about this.

Thank you for sharing this and I hope everyone engages the content of the FPP with a notion that it's not trying to be click baity. It actually gets into some interesting structural positions that I hadn't connected to what the article calls "social sanction". To which, if we wanted to really dig into social sanction then maybe we ought to be looking at the US carceral system and the total lack of the idea of rehabilitation or restorative justice as yet another brick in the wall of why "cancel culture" exists in the first place. In the US at least, punishments are perceived as a kind of cultural finality.
posted by noiseanoise at 10:11 AM on July 23, 2020 [18 favorites]


also smoking. That program was phased by by 20' or 21'.
posted by clavdivs at 10:11 AM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]


I've only skimmed TFA but I think a couple things often get left out of this conversation and I didn't see either mentioned there.

1) "Cancel culture" is usually framed as a dynamic/problem in leftist movements and spaces but there's equal if not more amounts of social pressure and social sanction for speech that goes against community norms on the right. I mean, a queer kid getting kicked out and/or disowned by their parents for coming out could easily be understood as an intense form of cancelling but it's hardly ever framed that way.

2) Also, is it a cultural issue? A lot of what people point to when they critique cancel culture is, IMO, overblown or intentionally misinterpreted or just something they disagree with. But the examples of stuff that does seem, at least to me, genuinely not great often boils down to people being jerks on social media. And there's a lot of infrastructural factors on social media -- lack of moderation, algorithms that reward controversy, the prioritization of the most fresh content which pressures immediate responses (though there is arguably some cultural stuff there too), the generally opaque, unresponsive, and monopolistic nature of social media corporations -- that push people towards being jerks.
posted by overglow at 10:12 AM on July 23, 2020 [27 favorites]


Mod note: A few comments deleted, let's not derail this please.
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 10:12 AM on July 23, 2020


lack of moderation, algorithms that reward controversy, the prioritization of the most fresh content which pressures immediate responses (though there is arguably some cultural stuff there too), the generally opaque, unresponsive, and monopolistic nature of social media corporations -- that push people towards being jerks.

The article doesn't specifically address how the UX of social platforms pushes people towards "engagement" specifically but alludes to the need for more distributed forms of social media, which might be part of a deeper examination on how social media platforms weaponize us against each other for money?
posted by noiseanoise at 10:17 AM on July 23, 2020 [8 favorites]


In the early twentieth century, the Ford Motor Company established a Sociological Department, dedicated to inspecting employees’ homes unannounced, (...)

In the early twenty-first century, this became 'Now you can be in the meeting when you're on the beach!'
posted by Cardinal Fang at 10:45 AM on July 23, 2020 [8 favorites]


I am struggling to see the good-cause termination and unionization arguments as a sincere response.

Are people saying that there should have been a law that kept Google from firing James Damore assuming his code was good, or a union contract that keeps Tucker Carlson on the air no matter how many advertisers boycott his show?

A lot of the most furious "cancel culture" fire has been directed people who can't (easily) be fired (tenured academics, JK Rowling) in part because they can't be fired.
posted by MattD at 10:57 AM on July 23, 2020 [14 favorites]


In the early twenty-first century, this became 'Now you can be in the meeting when you're on the beach!'

As someone who has WFH for about 50% of my 20 year career, I can say that every time I dialed in from the beach my boss would have been extremely correct to decide I wasn't being a very effective employee at that moment.
posted by sideshow at 11:02 AM on July 23, 2020 [4 favorites]


This was disappointing.

He specifically mentions Hoder as someone thrown in jail by a repressive regime for his writing - and then fails to mention why Hoder had trouble getting people to read his writing after he was released.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 11:02 AM on July 23, 2020 [4 favorites]


As mattd points out, the workplace protections aspect of the "cancel culture" discussion is complicated and in some ways a distraction. Loathsome people have been fired from their jobs, many of them in ways that wouldn't be possible if there were laws and regulations protecting the good folks we here would like to see protected.
posted by PhineasGage at 11:14 AM on July 23, 2020


My apologies for the earlier derail.

I think some of the things discussed in the article - freedom of speech, coupled with social sanctions against harmful speech, coupled with overzealous social sanctions - are fundamentally at odds. But as far as why the current ecosystem looks like it does, a lot of it really is structural.

For example, retweets and reblogs take someone else's argument out of their own space (facebook, instagram, twitter, whatever), and put it on your space. So now the discussion is on *your* turf which is the ideal place from which to launch an attack.

Not only that, but (getting back to "what words mean") we are currently so polarized that anyone with a small army of followers can throw their weight behind basically any issue and see some success.

All of this is easy, not just because there's "no moderation" on the big platforms but because they are purposefully designed to take people's content away from them. People can't edit, delete, or control who comments on their own words. And there are also so many demands on our attention that most people will not take the time to research, or even read, beyond the small excerpt of text that has been placed in front of them.

It's easy to take words out of context and twist them. People use "cancel cancel culture" to argue against holding people accountable for their public opinions that have continuing, harmful effects on marginalized groups. But the original meaning of "cancel cancel culture" is more like "this person did something bad ten years ago due to ignorance, apologized for it, changed their behavior, but we’re still bullying them off twitter anyway".

All of this goes hand in hand with the loss of privacy and anonymity online, where employers can see what employees are saying on their own personal time, not in connection with the company and take action against them. Here's an excerpt from "The Destruction of Privacy in America" (2000):

Law is too clumsy an instrument to protect individuals from false statements in cyberspace except in the most egregious cases, and there would be serious risks to freedom of speech if individual cyber-gossips had to fear being bankrupted by libel judgments every time they took to the keyboard. Nevertheless, if one of the purposes of libel law is [to reintegrate the person who was falsely accused back into the community], it’s not clear that cyber-gossip should be completely unregulated. In a truly extreme case involving cyber-libel against a private figure, perhaps a declaratory judgement that wrongdoing has occurred (rather than ruinous punitive damages), would be an appropriate way of acknowledging the victim’s injury, and correcting the mis-impression, without inhibiting the free flow of ideas. (pg 191)

There's a lot of interesting stuff in this book... for instance did you know that when DoubleClick.net proposed to link users personal browsing histories with their real names in the 90s, there was a huge outcry against this? Investors dropped the company and the stock value plummeted. But Google (who bought DoubleClick.net) just recently announced that they would link user's browsing histories with their real names and not much happened, even though the future where employers are fired for what they say online is easier to predict than ever.

In TFA they mention the dawn of printing and the era when anyone could access a printing press. Exactly as now, with so many printing presses it allowed anyone to print gossip and it produced a drive toward an excess of conformity. Here's what John Stuart Mill said about the printing presses:

“Everyone lives on the eye of a hostile and dreaded censorship… Society has now fairly got the better of individuality… it does not occur [to the individual or the family] to have any inclination except what is customary… They exercise choice only among things commonly done; peculiarity of taste, eccentricity of conduct are shunned equally with crimes; until by dint of not following their own nature they have no nature to follow.”

Anyway, personally I think that what will happen is that more and more discussion online - especially of anything that is "not commonly done" - will move to spaces that are more private.
posted by subdee at 11:15 AM on July 23, 2020 [14 favorites]


Damore is actually a great example about why the whole "cancel culture" discussion is stupid.

He got fired because because the words "...an employee of Google..." appeared in the headline or first paragraph of every story written about him. He did not get fired for his actual manifesto (although, couldn't have been good for him come review season), but for the ocean of shit that he caused to come raining down on his employer. People like to whine about how Google showed him the door because of his EDgY IdEas, but it was 100% the fact he embarrassed the brand.
posted by sideshow at 11:17 AM on July 23, 2020 [31 favorites]


I am struggling to see the good-cause termination and unionization arguments as a sincere response.

Are people saying that there should have been a law that kept Google from firing James Damore assuming his code was good, or a union contract that keeps Tucker Carlson on the air no matter how many advertisers boycott his show?

A lot of the most furious "cancel culture" fire has been directed people who can't (easily) be fired (tenured academics, JK Rowling) in part because they can't be fired.


Well one of the common arguments against "cancel culture" on the left side of the political spectrum is that while the rich and famous may be able to withstand this kind of thing - in fact in some cases they may be essentially un-cancellable, raising the question of what's the point - when it trickles down to ordinary people they don't have the same resources to fall back on (and there are fewer people really checking the receipts). So I think it is a legit response that framing these issues in terms of the culture of cancelling is missing the real point of what's wrong with that picture, and curiously un-structural.

Of your examples Damore comes closest to being relevant but he did what he did at work (or through workplace networks) which was ultimately an issue because it upset people at work, although Google did not take action until the memo was leaked. It's not quite the same as people getting fired over poorly contextualized video or social media history which is what people tend to worry about.
posted by atoxyl at 11:22 AM on July 23, 2020 [9 favorites]


Are people saying that there should have been a law that kept Google from firing James Damore assuming his code was good, or a union contract that keeps Tucker Carlson on the air no matter how many advertisers boycott his show?

While I see your point here, how does one draw a bright line between these examples and Whole Foods disciplining people for wearing Black Lives Matter masks?
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:23 AM on July 23, 2020 [5 favorites]


obligatory reference to Marshall McLuhan's notion of World War Three being a guerilla information war with no distinction made between military and civilian targets.
posted by philip-random at 11:23 AM on July 23, 2020 [7 favorites]


Obligatory infowars - One problem with relying on the wisdom of crowds is that crowds can be manipulated:
Containment Control for a Social Network with State-Dependent Connectivity

And here's some more excepts from the Jeffrey Rosen book about the loss of privacy online, and why privacy is necessary to keep us from being judged "out of context":
It's on tumblr, I'm sorry
posted by subdee at 11:32 AM on July 23, 2020 [5 favorites]


"cancel culture" is largely an imagined anxiety that oppressors internalize as something that can happen to themselves while they actually erase and "cancel" those they oppress.
posted by noiseanoise at 11:32 AM on July 23, 2020 [58 favorites]


I see the whole phenomenon of "cancel culture" as a form of gaslighting that mostly punches laterally and down. And what we perceive as "cancelling" in an upward direction are instead social sanctions.
posted by noiseanoise at 11:36 AM on July 23, 2020 [28 favorites]


The thing about Tucker Carlson is, he does have a contract. He's protected, in a way that a normal employee never would be. He doesn't have to worry that he has to narrow the focus of his opinions, or else be fired; he lives in a different world from the rest of us who worry that we'll say the wrong thing, hold the wrong opinion, and be fired at just the moment all our political engagement is being funneled through a tiny handful of companies who are keeping track of everything we say.

So yes, at-will employment is a structural problem, and even if it doesn't result in cancellation, it definitely results in a narrowing of what can be said. A polarizing of what can be said too. I don't think it's a coincidence that we are being prompted to be anxious about the outcomes of speaking our thoughts, at the same time the places we speak our thoughts seem hell-bent on making us boil them down to the shortest, fightiest phrases we can find.
posted by mittens at 11:39 AM on July 23, 2020 [10 favorites]


On the subject of employment: I think it's important to recognize that in a country with a minimal social safety net and in which access to health care is contingent on employment, loss of a job is hazardous and even potentially deadly. I hear "nobody has a right to a job" and that's certainly true. But health care and freedom from poverty are human rights (as poorly realized as they may be in some places). And obviously the structures around this necessarily favor the oppressors over the oppressed.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:42 AM on July 23, 2020 [8 favorites]


Cancel culture is real and it can and has been used in turf wars online.

Here's an example.

Here's another example

Whether this is most of "cancel culture" or just a couple outliers and the price we have to pay for progress, you can decide. But it's a real thing.

I agree many people who have real-world power and influence are hiding behind "this is just cancel culture and haters" to excuse their actions and avoid social sanctions from the crowd who now have a platform to voice their disgust.

But this gets back to what "cancel culture" actually means. In the most narrowest sense, it is the practice of combing someone's blog for the most embarrassing thing they have ever said or done, and using that to discredit them. This absolutely does happen.
posted by subdee at 11:42 AM on July 23, 2020 [28 favorites]


the practice of combing someone's blog for the most embarrassing thing they have ever said or done, and using that to discredit them

This used to be called "calling out" and it's probably as old as the web. But I think the decline of blogs and forums, and the rise of social media, has made this practice a lot more prevalent. In the old days, it was generally considered kind of creepy and antisocial behavior to crawl through someone's post history. It's definitely against social norms here on Metafilter. On Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook, though, crawling through someone's post history is the default mode of interaction. Scrolling through everything a stranger has ever said is the basic way social media works, and no amount of moderation or UI tweaking can fix that.
posted by theodolite at 11:59 AM on July 23, 2020 [8 favorites]


A high-profile recent example was discussed at length last week: "How a Famous Harvard Professor Became a Target Over His Tweets."
posted by PhineasGage at 12:05 PM on July 23, 2020


For the view from the other side, "What the Conservative Version of Cancel Culture Looks Like."
posted by PhineasGage at 12:17 PM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]


I wish scrolling though everything a stranger has ever said or done was the default. That would allow people to get a sense of the whole person. But I think the default is to just take someone else's word for it that this user is problematic and cancel them without looking further.

And again I think the reason for this is reblogging/retweeting. That takes the post from your blog, where commenters are guests in your comment section and need to behave themselves, into an ecosystem where you have no way to control what people say about you and no way to correct misinformation about you. On tumblr until recently the posts didn't even have timestamps. And it was designed this way on purpose to keep viral posts circulating forever, because viral outrage increases engagement.

On livejournal, for example, if I decided to delete my account, I could also delete every comment I'd ever made across the entire site. (And there was a distinction between a "private" space like a personal blog, and a "public" space like a community blog.) That would be annoying for other people who'd replied to my comments but it still gives me ownership of them. Ownership on facebook, twitter, tumblr, instagram goes to the social network.

Now the only way to control the content you see, since it's whatever is in tags or that your friends like and reblog, is to either use block tools or harass the creator off the platform. And it's not just famous people who get harassed, but anyone with any kind of follower count.
posted by subdee at 12:18 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]


A high-profile recent example was discussed at length last week: "How a Famous Harvard Professor Became a Target Over His Tweets."

Good old New York Times, the "paper of record" I think it's called? It is indeed difficult, in these trying times of "fraught cultural battles" of anti-racism, in the truly oppressive "current climate" of being against racism, of being a racist. Poor Steven Pinker, truly a victim if there ever was one.

a two-word phrase he used in a 2011 book

You mean, this book?

(Disclaimer: John Gray is himself not what you'd call balanced. But it conveys the academic consensus of Pinker's book quite well, if emotionally.)
posted by Pyrogenesis at 12:23 PM on July 23, 2020 [7 favorites]


Are people saying that there should have been a law that kept Google from firing James Damore assuming his code was good, or a union contract that keeps Tucker Carlson on the air no matter how many advertisers boycott his show?

Those are both bad examples. Damore was fired for workplace conduct -- he was writing an internal memo at Google and for Google. Carlson is a bad example even if they were to fire him because (a) it would in all likelihood be for his workplace behavior and (b) they would be able to point to clear and definitive harm in the boycott.

But, yes, there should be laws that protect people from being fired because their employers just didn't like something they said or did while off the clock and not representing the company, at the *very* least until the company can document that they're suffering some real harm.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:24 PM on July 23, 2020 [12 favorites]


I'm an older, cis, white guy. I have LGBTQ children. I see "cancel culture" responses to various people by my kids. Sometimes, I think it seems a bit extreme. But, "freedom of speech" does not mean "freedom from consequences" for shitty stuff you say. It feels quite often in discussions with my children that the leftist "circular firing squad" is on full display.

Didn't help that Biden is the candidate FWIW.

All that being said, "cancel culture" as a phrase, has joined "political correctness" as a giant red flag to indicate someone is probably a Trumpist asshole. Also, given the trend of apologies to be "not apologies" isn't helping. There doesn't seem to be any space left for people to apologize and be acceptable.
posted by Windopaene at 12:30 PM on July 23, 2020 [24 favorites]


I see people being held accountable for shit they've said, and that the consolidation of social media into the hands of a few companies has weaponized that into something that approaches a new form of structural oppression.

If we want to call that newly emerging structural oppression "cancelling" then okay, I can do that. What I'm trying really hard to be specific about is the difference between being rudely held accountable by populist movements and actually being oppressed and erased.

Also, perhaps what oppressors are calling "cancelling" is more accurately called "de-platforming"?
posted by noiseanoise at 12:38 PM on July 23, 2020 [7 favorites]


For the view from the other side, "What the Conservative Version of Cancel Culture Looks Like."

Slow Burn has a piece on how the Louisiana Republican Party treated Beth Rickey after she exposed David Duke as a Nazi, and pushed the party to censure him.

A Hero to many, she died alone.
posted by eustatic at 12:58 PM on July 23, 2020 [5 favorites]


Also, perhaps what oppressors are calling "cancelling" is more accurately called "de-platforming"?

I suppose, although my understanding is that the term "cancelling" comes from the people doing it, and it's not uncommon to see "such-and-such is cancelled" as a term.

For the view from the other side, "What the Conservative Version of Cancel Culture Looks Like."

I think that for people, like myself, who worry about this sometimes, the claim is certainly not that this is a phenomenon unique to the left. On the contrary, it's something I've always thought of as a particularly reactionary impulse.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:02 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]


and it's not uncommon to see "such-and-such is cancelled" as a term.

I know for certain in my social media circles we use that term very ironically and sarcastically, and I'm literally right now considering that there are people who use that term in a different manner.

And y'all, I'm....I'm kinda scared lol.
posted by noiseanoise at 1:04 PM on July 23, 2020


The various twitter et al. mass 'unlikings' and cancel campaigns may essentially be a fad. Over time it will be less in the news as a cultural event, and the effect of all but the biggest celebrity influences will be muted and less effective.
posted by sammyo at 1:21 PM on July 23, 2020


Not sure if anyone else felt this way, but I found this piece unexpectedly hard to follow because it kept making assertions where the conceptual problem or motivation wasn't obvious in the preceding paragraphs. There are few typical essay and argumentative structures like topic sentences, concluding and transitioning sentences, assertions vs warrants vs examples, to guide the reader along the author's thinking. And the outside references (one including to Scott Alexander) presume a liberal (classical liberal)'s familiarity with those media sources.

The new meat here is the discussion of free association—just compare the lengths of the three sections, for a liberal journal the first section about the state is just 2.5 scrollbars long, presumably since the argument is deemed accepted and understood by the journal's lowercase-liberal audience.

However, my most critical point would be that it is telling that the essay casually lets slip the word punish at the end. Liberalism is not a punitive ideology and that is worth being cognizant and forthright about, especially if the conclusion only goes so far as framing free association / speech / state / press/media as tradeoffs or an assessment of "costs"; I think by recognizing the role of punishment wrt activism and how that fundamentally conflicts with liberal ideals reveals moral premises behind the liberal position and thus advances an assessment of liberalism itself.
posted by polymodus at 2:37 PM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]


Interesting survey indicating majorities of Americans at most points along the political spectrum say "the political climate these days prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive."
posted by PhineasGage at 2:56 PM on July 23, 2020


All that being said, "cancel culture" as a phrase, has joined "political correctness" as a giant red flag to indicate someone is probably a Trumpist asshole.

This.

Never type the phrase (nor the verb on its own, when used in this context) without quotation marks.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 3:02 PM on July 23, 2020 [6 favorites]


the political climate these days prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive.

aaaaand....complete the sentence, please? "might find them offensive and..."?

Since when was "someone might be offended" itself a stifling qualification? Is it more than just "might be found offensive", and actually, "are sufficiently loathsome that they might have social repercussions"?

We're simultaneously told that people are "afraid to say their beliefs" and "live in echo chambers, surrounding themselves with people who believe the same thing." Which is it?

But also, the context of that poll seems to be in the work environment, which, yeah, duh. It's always been good advice to not be particularly political in the workplace.
posted by explosion at 3:09 PM on July 23, 2020 [17 favorites]


ctrl+f "freedom from consequences" -- nope.

Also, written by someone in the US, where "freedom of speech" is worn as a shield against criticism to a degree that is not common world-wide. For example: New Zealand man jailed for 21 months for sharing Christchurch shooting video (BBC, 18 June 2019)

Sharing the original video, and a modified video to glorify the killing of Muslims, was deemed a hate crime.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:16 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]


they might seem offensive

Once again people are missing that the point is not that you don't say things. It's that you don't actually BE a sexist or racist or asshole in general. Having problems with that is making the statement, "Yes I'm a racist, but I shouldn't feel any consequences for that. Gosh!"
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:19 PM on July 23, 2020 [6 favorites]


What if most of what passes for “cancel culture” is just good and healthy reproaches of shitty thinking, but some of it is overly aggressive policing of the boundaries of acceptable speech? It can be both. I mean, the Left is known for its occasional collective autoimmune disorder. No problem with guarding against that.
posted by argybarg at 3:40 PM on July 23, 2020 [17 favorites]


I'm annoyed that we have to debate a made-up term used pretty much exclusively in bad faith.

I didn't hear the words "cancel culture" a single time when in 2017 the President of the USA demanded the firing of a private citizen on a private football team for daring to kneel for black lives. If anything should qualify as cancel culture, that should have been it.

So let's call it what it is: bullshit. "Cancel culture" is similar to "political correctness" and "virtue signaling": cunningly crafted catchy buzzphrases that sound neutral and vaguely academic but in practice are shallow bad-faith tactics that are exclusively used to attack the left.
posted by splitpeasoup at 3:58 PM on July 23, 2020 [99 favorites]


I think ""cancel culture"" is difficult to talk about because it is adjacent to discussions about harm, policing, and punishment.

And because there are many many harmful patterns with which we deal with harm (see: prisons, police), we end up falling into similarly patterned conversations about "cancel culture" that are similarly harmful.

Honestly I feel like many discussions about this come from a culture of punishment. "What is the right way to punish these bad people? This way, or that way?" And to me this is a dead end spiral of anger and retribution. There are practices of harm reduction that are much better that might still use similar tools (deplatforming, etc) but focus on supporting people healing.

Jackie Wang (writer of Carceral Capitalism) has a good (non-take) take:

i dont have a hot take on cancel culture. as an abolitionist im against a culture of punishment but i think a lot of what mollycoddle boomers call punitive isnt. re: free speech debates—liberalism does not have an adequate theory of power which is why i dont identify as a liberal


A difficult truth is that a culture of punishment does exist on the left, but of course on the right, and everywhere. AND people with privilege are unused to have their voices be challenged. AND people are saying and doing many racist things. And these three all mix together.

I feel like this whole discussion (not on mefi, but in the world) would be best if it was oriented in the opposite direction: What's the ideal culture? What are ways to stop cycles of harm that focus on supporting the people that were harm? Are the actions we are clamoring for retributive or punitive? Or are they constructive and building?
posted by suedehead at 4:18 PM on July 23, 2020 [27 favorites]


Cancelling is the practice of no longer supporting or patronizing a merchant, artist or entertainer.

Dog-piling is the practice of overwhelming someone (whether deserved or not) with excess comments.

Muck-raking is the practice of searching for something to be upset or outraged about.

A lot of the complaints about "cancel culture" are actually complaints about the latter two. Of those, a lot of the dog-piling tends to happen only after someone refuses to acknowledge or apologize.

I've seen plenty of celebrities come out clean as a whistle (or even looking better than ever) because someone said, "yo that was shitty" and their response was an immediate, "you're right, that was shitty. I said it years ago, I regret it, and here's how my views have changed."
posted by explosion at 4:32 PM on July 23, 2020 [21 favorites]


I just know that participating in a community in which everybody agrees to an overly high degree, and in which there is a high price for disagreement, is unpleasant. Call that what you will. I don’t think it makes up the entire ecosystem of the left, but it is a real phenomenon. If you don’t experience it, then that’s your experience and mine’s mine.
posted by argybarg at 4:49 PM on July 23, 2020 [9 favorites]


I'm sorry, the very fact we are debating "cancel culture" instead of the billion other more real, more pressing, more consequential things happening on the planet this very second, is the very proof that the concept is bullshit.
posted by flamk at 4:55 PM on July 23, 2020 [9 favorites]


Honestly I feel like many discussions about this come from a culture of punishment.

Thank you for putting it in these terms; this is really insightful.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:20 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, the very fact we are debating "cancel culture" instead of the billion other more real, more pressing, more consequential things happening on the planet this very second, is the very proof that the concept is bullshit.

This is nonsense. People can care about different things (even simultaneously), to differing degrees and with different weights of consequences. Otherwise nobody can justify any activity that isn't, I don't know, activism for the dismantling of nuclear weapons or [insert most pressing cause here].
posted by axiom at 5:58 PM on July 23, 2020 [27 favorites]


Yeah, but the fact that a relatively small group of "cancel culture" critics can raise such a stink over the subject that it seems to dominate public discourse at the moment, points in the direction that maybe it's chilling effects on debate are more than a wee bit exaggerated? Whose being effectively "cancelled" when we have this discussion and not a myriad of other (imo) more pressing and deserving discussions?
posted by flamk at 6:06 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: there are a myriad of other more pressing and deserving discussions.
posted by PhineasGage at 6:31 PM on July 23, 2020 [12 favorites]


I think the answer is to judge each scenario on its own merits. Labeling it cancel culture is about as useful as generationalism (Millennials dance like this) or the term “liberal”. There are good and bad reasons to call someone out, and appropriate and inappropriate ways to do it. Then there’s whether to register your personal dissatisfaction or mount some sort of campaign. Personally I think as long as we have inequality and marginalized groups, those groups are going to feel rightfully discriminated against, and if you can’t fix the underlying system today, or just got home from being tear gassed, maybe you get a little picky with someone’s language or are more likely to see antagonism that isn’t always there. And of course no amount of helping decrease a disliked author’s future book sales via Twitter is ever going to equal in importance the more visceral assaults against POC, sexual orientation, whatever.

I do think there’s a conversation to be had about the shutdown of honest dialogue, but Cancel culture is a super loaded term and the things that celebrities do and say don’t really map to regular folks’ needs anyway. I feel lucky myself that I’m from a pre internet generation and don’t really engage with social media much, so I don’t see a lot of these battles. Is the author of some book i love a terrible person? I’ll probably never know! I’m also glad that the thoughts and statements of 20 or 30 year ago me aren’t online for people to find fault with. I love folks on metafilter but even as a die hard progressive, there are some things I’d like to chat about but wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole.
posted by freecellwizard at 6:37 PM on July 23, 2020 [4 favorites]


Whose being effectively "cancelled" when we have this discussion and not a myriad of other (imo) more pressing and deserving discussions?

I’ve really enjoyed reading what people have had to say in this thread, and am, as always, really impressed by the depth of thought that Metafilter members bring to this kind of discussion.

I’m sorry you don’t find it worthwhile.

Maybe if you think there are more important things to discuss you could make a post about one of them?
posted by mr_roboto at 6:40 PM on July 23, 2020 [9 favorites]


Pointing out that the proponents of shutting down "cancel culture" are creating a distraction is not asking to shut down discussion here. Or at least that's not how I took flamk's comment.
posted by tiny frying pan at 6:49 PM on July 23, 2020 [6 favorites]


My main point isn't that other topics are more worthy (though, yes, I do believe that to be true), but rather the fact that the whole damn internet seems to be discussing a topic near and dear to the hearts and minds of a narrow, select group of elite members of our society and that this fact is the very proof that whatever scariness associated with "cancel culture" is, as splitpeasoup above says, bullshit.

People seem to believe that the concept of "cancel culture" can be divorced from the power wielded by those who advance it as a real phenomenon that (just so happens to) reinforces their own position of privilege in our culture. We are talking about this because Barri Weiss, et al want to discuss this over other pressing and more consequential topics (to me and a lot of other people). That is power and I'm not in the habit of carrying water for powerful people.
posted by flamk at 6:55 PM on July 23, 2020 [12 favorites]


That assumes everyone who expresses a concern on the subject is either acting in bad faith or unknowingly abetting people who are. I know this is a popular view, but I don’t agree. I think a certain ideological rigidity and tendency to overpolice boundaries is a salient feature of the present-day left, especially online, and I think it has some negative effects. I don’t think it’s the totalistic or malevolent issue it’s made out to be, but I experience it as real.

Really, every human group that attempts of cohesion around some set of ideas struggles with these issues, with maintaining a balance. Why on earth would the left be exempt? And what is the value of making it forbidden to discuss it?
posted by argybarg at 7:13 PM on July 23, 2020 [21 favorites]


It's hard to talk about this stuff in the abstract without using specific, concrete examples of what should and shouldn't be tolerated, and then unless you take an absolutist position it becomes a kind of arbitrary exercise of "drawing a line somewhere" based on your feelings, where people will inevitably disagree. For example, I'm fine with deplatforming David Irving style Holocaust deniers, but I disagree with taking the same censorious stance towards "colourblind conservatives" who argue against affirmative action and separate representation and the like, but I'm sure others will disagree. I don't want to sound like an old fart who thinks that the society of his youth was in the Goldilocks zone between preventing hate speech and allowing free speech, but now the younger generation have taken things too far, but the younger generation have really taken things too far.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:24 PM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]


I dunno man, when kids are in cages, thousands of Americans are dying because a whole national party of knuckle-draggers refuse to engage with reality, when illegal raids and kidnappings are happening with the what seems to be an intent to foment social strife and civil war . . . . worrying about whether or not JK Rowling can deny the humanity of my fellow trans brothers and sisters without social sanction (less lavish praise, gets to keep all the money) or whether or not Bill Maher can say some stupid shit about millennial or black people without social sanction (again, gets knocked down a few pegs but his wealth and therefore much of his power, is left untouched) . . . well, worrying about things like that as a non-elite member of our society who accrues no benefit from the advancement of the "cancel culture" debate seems foolish. But I'm not powerful, so we sit here and discuss this stuff as if whether or not whoever is writing editorials and commentary in the NYT is as immediately consequential to 99% of us on the planet as literally anything else happening to non-powerful people in this very moment.
posted by flamk at 7:28 PM on July 23, 2020 [5 favorites]


Is there anyone saying that conservatives, en masse, should be banned from Twitter for not supporting affirmative action?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:32 PM on July 23, 2020


No.
posted by argybarg at 7:38 PM on July 23, 2020


Is there anyone saying that conservatives, en masse, should be banned from Twitter for not supporting affirmative action?
I didn't claim there was did I? That was just an example of a "disagree with but don't want to censor it" viewpoint. But I guess then the question is "why disagree with it?" and the answer for many people would be "because it's based on racist assumptions and white privilege", and then why is that acceptable when more overt racism isn't? I don't really have a convincing answer to that other than that you can't just disallow the viewpoints of half the voting population.

I can give an example of a conservative politician being deplatformed from a university for colourblind conservatism and that's Don Brash who was speaking against establishing separate Maori voting wards for local councils in New Zealand.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:44 PM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]


According to the Wikipedia page, Brash’s invites talk At a university was cancelled. He wasn’t “deplatformed”. No one is entitled to be honored and feted and invited to speak at a university.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:50 PM on July 23, 2020 [6 favorites]


If you like Wikipedia so much maybe read the page on deplatforming? Disinviting speakers from speaking at universities is a common form of deplatforming.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 8:01 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]


I hear "nobody has a right to a job" and that's certainly true.

Minor derail: While it is true, people always forget the counterpoising truth -- nobody has a right to profits.

To the extent "cancel culture" (wtf that is) can be weaponized against people who lack power (the poor, the marginalized, the minority) it is a supremely dangerous thing. It is curious, however, that is never what people are pointing to when they decry cancel culture. It is always some person with power over others fretting about how another person with similar power suddenly has to face pushback (not even necessarily consequences) for their shitty behavior.

So, yeah. Nothing is absolute but this discussion is largely serving people we don't need to serve.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 8:02 PM on July 23, 2020 [9 favorites]


let's call it what it is: bullshit. "Cancel culture" is similar to "political correctness" and "virtue signaling": cunningly crafted catchy buzzphrases that sound neutral and vaguely academic but in practice are shallow bad-faith tactics that are exclusively used to attack the left.

Quite so. When I hear somebody use any of those phrases in a disparaging way, I can be 80% certain that I'm going to hear "SJW" used similarly within the next three minutes; and that's my cue to cease interacting with that person as fast as circumstances allow because what they have to say is mere shibboleth, not argument.

The argument put in the Harper's Letter rests squarely on the old saw that "the way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away", and I'm sure there are many whose exposure to the Internet is still low enough to allow them to believe that. I used to believe it myself.

But this is 2020, the age of the megaphones of chaos. Ideas have faster and wider reach than ever before, the ideas that spread fastest and furthest are those with the most emotional rather than intellectual heft, and the simple fact that almost all of the ideas specifically crafted to trigger emotional responses are bad and easily debunked and long-refuted is nowhere near enough to stop them from finding and convincing enormous numbers of people.

So we absolutely need severe real-world consequences applied to those who choose to spread such ideas. The way to defeat bad ideas, in 2020, is to make real social pain a widely understood consequence of choosing to publish them.

Note well: for publishing them. Not for holding them, and not for discussing them in smallish groups with people likely to be better informed on their content. As long as that distinction remains clear in the minds of people of good intent, I can't see any degree of non-State-sanctioned pushback against bad ideas leading us all down a path into totalitarianism at anything like the speed that the Gish Gallop of bad ideas freely circulating today is manifestly doing already.
posted by flabdablet at 8:09 PM on July 23, 2020 [18 favorites]


Mod note: One comment deleted; please don't drag this back to old pat examples or the same old fights. This is a newer essay, isn't talking about universities or examples from many years ago; it's carefully trying to separate things out carefully that get combined in the present day discussion.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:19 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]


So we absolutely need severe real-world consequences applied to those who choose to spread them. The way to defeat bad ideas, in 2020, is to make real social pain a widely understood consequence of choosing to publish them.

Let’s be plain: let’s say I have an aunt who posts vaguely QAnon crap on Facebook; clearly dangerous fascist nonsense. She’ll be in real day-to-day danger if she loses her job; chronic health problems, not easily employable. Does the social pain with real consequences that you propose include her losing her job? The family that would support her—and have to undertake real economic hardship to do so—are not fascists. Maybe one of them is a social worker who has dedicated their life to serving marginalized communities.

If the social consequences you’re proposing apply only the the elites, fine: guillotines.

In this society, punishment will always fall on the weakest hardest, no matter what that punishment is intended to prevent.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:20 PM on July 23, 2020 [11 favorites]


As Adam Gurri's piece makes clear, that's more of an argument against at-will employment than against the high-visibility deplatforming and disparagement of prominent spreaders of toxicity, which is the thing that opponents of "cancel culture" seem to be all twitterpated about.

It's also an argument for giving your aunt a heads-up about the way things seem to be shaping and maybe exercising a bit more caution about what she chooses to post on Facebook.
posted by flabdablet at 8:27 PM on July 23, 2020 [7 favorites]


As Adam Gurri's piece makes clear, that's more of an argument against at-will employment than against the high-visibility deplatforming and disparagement of prominent spreaders of toxicity.

Well, it's an argument against human rights depending on the graciousness of capitalists. I think we'd both be happy to see capital go away. But we can't pretend that it's going to anytime soon.

In the meantime, people need healthcare. And my aunt is only going to respond to my facebook comments with invective, especially if I make it seem that antifa is coming for her.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:31 PM on July 23, 2020


(holy shit I just realized Donald Trump made me a Marxist)
posted by mr_roboto at 8:35 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]



If the social consequences you’re proposing apply only the the elites, fine: guillotines
.

well, well. Caryle called the French Revolution: The Age of Pamphlets’.

"The number of printing establishments in Paris tripled in the Revolutionary period, with 55 new shops in the years 1789–90 alone. With deregulation, book publishing virtually collapsed but the output of journals, newspapers, almanacs and pamphlets was enormous."

Wonder what'a woulda happened Blogger © wasn't "free".

"As Benjamin Constant later wrote, ‘pamphlets, and handbills, and especially newspapers, are produced quickly, you can buy them for little, and because their effect is immediate, they are believed to be more dangerous’."

There's a comparison. There's the danger.
That was whole point of drab semantics. They would or could have consequences, and by '93, deadly ones. But I still reject the comparison model as it explains France, even with it's diverese culture of language, as a country while the paradigm has shifted to beyond one country or region but a planet wide communication dynamic.
posted by clavdivs at 8:42 PM on July 23, 2020


And if my uncle were a Nazi and got punched, our family might need to handle his medical bills. But that seems like a poor argument against punching Nazis.

It’s fucked, because yeah even racist family members deserve healthcare. But their words and actions are impacting the health of others.

I don’t like people muckraking and going hunting for it. But if people put it out on display, they reap what they sow.
posted by explosion at 8:44 PM on July 23, 2020 [5 favorites]


According to the Wikipedia page, Brash’s invites talk At a university was cancelled. He wasn’t “deplatformed”. No one is entitled to be honored and feted and invited to speak at a university.

I don't particularly think deplatforming is always bad as a tactic but if someone is trying to get somebody's speech cancelled that's a textbook example of what deplatforming is.
posted by atoxyl at 8:49 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]


Overall I think that "cancel culture" is a great example of a name being put to something that has been around a long time. It has clear continuities with the agitation, boycotting and social shaming through published arguments on editorial pages, etc. which was a major part of our culture during the entire Cold War period, for example. Getting your opponent - whether Henry Kissinger or Noam Chomsky or one or another member of a given Administration "deplatformed" by jumping on a newspaper giving them space on the page or a university offering them a speaking opportunity isn't new at all, for example. More recently the Bush Administration, in it's glory days between 9/11 and the Iraq War, was a high-tide period of right-wing cancel culture (the Dixie Chicks, for example).

I think that what is different if anything is the emphasis on headhunting as the primary strategy. Instead of, for example, telling a company "we're going to encourage a boycott of your goods until you establish corporate rules about using racist language to promote your product and take steps to enforce them" the cancel culture approach says you should find someone at that company who has evinced racist behavior and say "we're going to encourage a boycott of your goods until you fire this person". The idea being, presumably, that the fear of being targeted in future will lead to other employees of that company and of other companies from evincing racist behavior more effectively than formally established rules would be. It's also fully retroactive - whereas traditional goals of establishing new practices tended to assume that the goal would be to enforce them going forward, the new cancel culture looks backwards as far as is necessary (or convenient).

The strengths of that approach aren't hard to find - a fear of being personally targeted is more visceral and immediate (and thus presumably psychologically effective) than formal rules, or a formal process which can be gamed or might not be strictly enforced. The new approach has also the attraction of a few big early "wins" (MeToo's success against Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, for example) that indicate the strategy can overcome entrenched networks of influence to some degree. And of course there's the simple fact that of a growing sense of frustration because what was being done before this strategy was applied didn't seem to be working, or at least not at an acceptable speed.

The weaknesses of the approach aren't hard to find, either. It's easily directed in an unsystematic way by the loudest voices in the conversation, and it selects not so much for the worst offenders as for those less effective in maintaining wide networks of friendship and influence, or as effective at masking themselves. It also, as people in this thread have noted, has and will doubtless again run up against a perennial liberal/left concern for workplace rights - powerful police union defenses against firing being the most obvious case at present. It also depends (except when actual laws have been breached) on the cost/benefit analyses of private actors such as corporations, which can and has been counterbalanced by large enough movements from another part of the spectrum. It can even be monetized by clever actors, corporate or political - "give us your votes/money, we're standing up to left-wing lynch mobs trying to throw American workers out on the streets". The retroactive nature of the strategy also narrows the range of potential sympathizers. "They'll come for me too eventually" is a likely response, even from members of some of the groups ostensibly being defended (black men for whom a present or previous affinity for rap culture makes them a soft target for accusations of homophobia or sexism, for example, women who took the long road with regards to transgender issues, etc.). This latter point is exacerbated by the fact that more and more of our past thoughts are now engraved indelibly on the electronic backdrop of our society.

Frankly, for all the excited conversation about it, I don't think that this sort of scalp-taking iteration of "cancel culture" has been around long enough to really judge whether it will prove more or less effective than previous iterations. I don't have very high expectations of it myself, but we'll have to see. Any of these strategies are going to run up against the problem that most people in America simply don't sympathize with the Left's agenda on main points of "cancel culture" and therefore see themselves as its potential victims in a way that they don't when faced with, for example, the Right's attempts to cancel "unpatriotic" individuals.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:52 PM on July 23, 2020 [12 favorites]


And if my uncle were a Nazi and got punched, our family might need to handle his medical bills. But that seems like a poor argument against punching Nazis.

My Uncle was punched by Nazis, starved by Nazis and two days after his capture was in a cattle car on the way to STALAG when a spitfire straffed the train killing 2 men, wounding 9. Is that a good reason to punch the pilot? The point is that these analogies filled with holes counter, imo, discussion.
posted by clavdivs at 8:56 PM on July 23, 2020


And if my uncle were a Nazi and got punched, our family might need to handle his medical bills. But that seems like a poor argument against punching Nazis.

It’s fucked, because yeah even racist family members deserve healthcare. But their words and actions are impacting the health of others.


I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the argument that we're facing an oncoming wave of fascist white nationalism and that this wave must be thrown back by any means necessary. There's a lot of discussion to be had about strategy here.

I'm still somewhat wed to the liberal tradition that distinguishes between words and actions. I think there's value to that? I think that punishing someone for posting on facebook that Hillary is a Satanist pedophile is different than punishing someone for bringing a gun to Comet Ping Pong.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:58 PM on July 23, 2020 [5 favorites]


"A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

We've got people dying because others feel free to lie, to dissemble, to spread conspiracy theories.

Words ARE actions. Throwing a Nazi salute or flying their flag isn't just speech, it's support for the actions, encouragement to others to commit violence.

Of course different actions require different responses. A robbery is different from a murder. But pretending that words are different from actions is facile.

It's tough to identify where the tipping point ever is, but when violence and terrorism results from conspiracy theories, there's a modicum of culpability to any and all who spread those conspiracies.

We've got people dying of COVID right now, and yeah the President and his team are responsible for a lot of our shitty response, but I'm not going to pretend that all of the anti-maskers with their "1st amendment rights" aren't also responsible. Encouraging others to not wear a mask? An action.
posted by explosion at 9:19 PM on July 23, 2020 [10 favorites]


OK; I think we profoundly disagree, but this probably isn't the format for working that out.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:25 PM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]


Perhaps this isn’t an urgent analysis, but it is a valid reflection of contemporary times. I don’t think the lower cost of delay on this conversation detracts or distracts us from our more pressing matters at hand. To be blunt though, I think the encroaching realities at our midst creates an urgency to capture as many points of analyses as we can muster.
posted by noiseanoise at 9:55 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]


Disinviting speakers from speaking at universities is a common form of deplatforming.

It strikes me as a pretty minor form of deplatforming. I may be an outlier, but my understanding of deplatforming is when major services like twitter/facebook/NYT stop talking about or allowing access to the likes of say, Richard Spencer. If you don't get a speaking gig, which might allow you to talk to a few hundred college kids, that's not really a platform in the same sense. The reach is different.
posted by axiom at 10:20 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]


fwiw: "persuasion is far superior to deference, and effective persuasion is about relationships and lived experience of aligned interest than it is about debating points." (viz. cf.)
posted by kliuless at 10:56 PM on July 23, 2020


I'm annoyed that we have to debate a made-up term used pretty much exclusively in bad faith.

A zillion times this.

Imagine if this were a discussion about eugenics and the term "Final Solution" appeared in it 52 times without irony.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 12:28 AM on July 24, 2020 [3 favorites]


Failure to disentangle these questions has resulted in the current abysmal state of the conversation.

I doubt this. I think the very purpose of the term "cancel culture" is to condemn and attack certain groups/behaviors. I think it is a political term, in the sense that its purpose is to create a dichotomy between those who are "pro-cancel" and those who are "pro-speech". As such its opacity (its resistance to analysis, or if you will, its meaninglessness) is not a failure, but a feature. Because the aim of politics is not "better conversation", but to legitimize your grievances before the public and thereby win their support. This becomes easier if the public can think of your position as reasonable ("pro-speech") without actually having to reason. And the more resistant your language is to analysis, the less grip there is to facilitate or -- even worse -- encourage reasoning.
posted by dmh at 2:15 AM on July 24, 2020 [3 favorites]


What a lot of discussions of cancel culture miss is that there is one issue in which the bounds of discourse are artificially narrow because of a manufactured outrage machine that will make someone’s life hell if they say the wrong thing. I’m of course talking about speech critical of Israel. It’s gotten better in recent years but every scholar working on Israel/Palestine has engaged in a sustained practice of keeping their mouth shut because they know that it doesn’t take much to be a target and the consequences are very bad.

None of this is a concern of “free speech” warriors however.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 3:59 AM on July 24, 2020 [3 favorites]


...though it may well be exactly what motivated the likes of Chomsky to co-sign the Harper's Letter.
posted by flabdablet at 4:46 AM on July 24, 2020


Why would anyone want to "platform" dangerous and dehumanizing ideas? Because free speech? Nah, not for me.
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:16 AM on July 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


He did not get fired for his actual manifesto (although, couldn't have been good for him come review season), but for the ocean of shit that he caused to come raining down on his employer.

Which means that he did get fired for his manifesto, because that was why said fecal Pacific crashed down on Alphabet, forcing the CEO to cut his family vacation short. This sort of argument where the underlying reasons get dismissed to leave us with a contextless action is really problematic, because too often (as we saw with the Harper's letter) it's used to make completely justified actions seem sinister.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:01 AM on July 24, 2020


The people I see moaning the loudest about "cancel culture" are the exact same folks who moaned about "political correctness" 20 years ago. And by that I mean high-seated, privileged folks who have come to expect being able to say what they want without consequence or even criticism, and who are now being challenged. People are under no obligation to buy your products or attend your lecture, and to cry about people encouraging others to boycott your output is the height of entitlement.

Funny enough, these same people are remarkably silent about actual impugning of freedom of speech, like what's happening in Portland and other cities right now. That's because the complaints about "cancel culture" where never about freedom of speech; they're about freedom to operate from a privileged position with impunity.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:08 AM on July 24, 2020 [27 favorites]


I really appreciate the Gurri piece for, among other things, talking about the historical context, *potential* audiences, the 1968 example, and freedom of association as a key liberty. And, for what it's worth, I found the essay a smooth read and reasonably easy to follow. MartinWisse, thanks for posting it.
posted by brainwane at 7:09 AM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


A huge part of it seems to be that lots of elite writers are using social media that opens them up to direct criticism and having specific odious things they say highlighted. People like Weiss, Stephens and Rowling want to have their cake and eat it too; they want to play around on twitter and say whatever they want, but god help us if someone has the temerity to call them out on their bullshit.

People like this are used to being literal ivory tower prognosticators and the fact that they can't have twitter as a personal playground forces them to rely on the bogeyman of cancel culture to shield them from critique and consequence.
posted by Ferreous at 7:14 AM on July 24, 2020 [8 favorites]


obligatory reference to Marshall McLuhan's notion of World War Three being a guerilla information war with no distinction made between military and civilian targets.

further to this. If you accept that, one way or another, we're all in this war whether we want to be or not (because that's what a world war is -- it respects no boundaries) then so-called cancel culture is just another form of weaponry, a tactic, a tool. This is my take anyway. I've certainly witnessed it in action -- both out there in the mediasphere and closer to home. I've seen it take out assholes and cheered the result. I've also seen people I know get hit by it, and hard. Did they deserve it? In the two cases I'm thinking of, I'd say yeah and nah -- they deserved something, but ended up getting way worse than they deserved (ie: the punishment far outweighed the crime).

So what we have is a tactic (a weapon, a tool) that has a tendency sometimes to do more damage than is intended. And too often, it lacks precision. It exerts collateral damage, ends up hurting people who just happen to be in vicinity. It's a shotgun blast applied where the situation demands a rifle, with a scope, in the hands of someone who knows how to pull off a killshot.

And further on the weapon/tactic analogy, it really doesn't take sides. It's just there to be used, or not, by whatever army gets their hands on it. I guess I wish we (the so-called progressive left) would at least acknowledge the metaphorical deadliness of this tool and, as a soldier does his rifle, respect it.
posted by philip-random at 7:32 AM on July 24, 2020 [7 favorites]


I guess I wish we (the so-called progressive left) would at least acknowledge the metaphorical deadliness of this tool

and don't get me wrong. I think many in this thread do acknowledge this.
posted by philip-random at 7:34 AM on July 24, 2020


The people I see moaning the loudest about "cancel culture" are the exact same folks who moaned about "political correctness" 20 years ago. And by that I mean high-seated, privileged folks who have come to expect being able to say what they want without consequence or even criticism, and who are now being challenged. People are under no obligation to buy your products or attend your lecture, and to cry about people encouraging others to boycott your output is the height of entitlement.


Trump's twitter, 20 minutes ago:

"I spoke to highly respected (Chairman) Senator @JimInhofe, who has informed me that he WILL NOT be changing the names of our great Military Bases and Forts, places from which we won two World Wars (and more!). Like me, Jim is not a believer in “Cancel Culture”."
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:49 AM on July 24, 2020 [3 favorites]


As an example of bad analysis and bad writing, take this concluding passage:

One recurring theme in the struggle for liberty is that its defenders too often imagine a free world to be far more pristine and peaceful than any world ever is. As a corrective against this, Sean Illing suggests that “all the excesses [and] the speech policing isn’t a short-circuiting of a free society but its outcome.”

What Sean Illing's tweet thread was saying is that cancel culture is a problem, but that liberals (again, classical liberals) misunderstand why and the real explanation is that new freedoms (today, in the form of an open internet) give rise to new unfreedoms (cancel culture, punitive sanctions). So this is basically liberals trying to self-flagellate themselves for introducing freedom-as-a-liberal-value to the rest of the world. And did I mention that they nevertheless think cancel culture is bad? It's a very meta discursive position.
posted by polymodus at 8:08 AM on July 24, 2020


On the subject of employment: I think it's important to recognize that in a country with a minimal social safety net and in which access to health care is contingent on employment, loss of a job is hazardous and even potentially deadly.

This is the thing that I think has a lot of relevance and that honestly I think about a lot. There’s a difference, I think, between deplatforming someone (getting them off twitter, YouTube, etc) and preventing them from being employed in even low-wage work, thus condemning them and their entire family to crippling poverty (and in an era of Covid, even potentially death) because of really most things they have done. If you are a prison abolitionist because no matter what folks have done it doesn’t justify them being brutalized, then similarly I think it’s important to focus on the violence that capitalism can inflict on people that damage or endanger it by harming “their brand”.

Social stigma, to me, is a different thing than preventing people from putting food on their table. It would be different if we had a robust social safety net, but we don’t. Instead it runs the risk of making folks houseless and in danger of medical consequences in the greatest depression of our lives.
posted by corb at 8:09 AM on July 24, 2020 [8 favorites]


But what does that mean for someone like Damore who was part of creating a culture at Google that was explicitly against marginalised groups? His continuing presence was a sign that those groups weren't welcome. Making a space unsafe or unwelcoming for them has repurcussions for lots of people wrt work, support and livelihood.
posted by Ferreous at 9:20 AM on July 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


between deplatforming someone (getting them off twitter, YouTube, etc) and preventing them from being employed in even low-wage work

This has been an issue for a long time for professional athletes who break the law - I think the idea that anyone is prevented from doing low-wage work is a bit strong, but higher wage work they are qualified for is definitely a 'thing'. The idea that our employment should continue to punish where our justice systems let off.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:20 AM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


The idea that our employment should continue to punish where our justice systems let off.

The problem is for lots of people, this is the only means of any semblance of justice. Consider Amy Cooper, her fabricating a police call on a black man could very well be interpreted as attempted assault or murder. In the past she would have gotten away with it and continued to be a threat to people of color, hell she still could be now! However, public attention caused her to actually face consequences for her actions. Maybe the consequences aren't equivalent to the crime but positing it as unjust because it puts her at economic/social risk is punching down on people who rarely get justice as is.
posted by Ferreous at 9:34 AM on July 24, 2020 [14 favorites]


Let’s be plain: let’s say I have an aunt who posts vaguely QAnon crap on Facebook; clearly dangerous fascist nonsense. She’ll be in real day-to-day danger if she loses her job; chronic health problems, not easily employable. Does the social pain with real consequences that you propose include her losing her job? The family that would support her—and have to undertake real economic hardship to do so—are not fascists. Maybe one of them is a social worker who has dedicated their life to serving marginalized communities.

If the social consequences you’re proposing apply only the the elites, fine: guillotines.

In this society, punishment will always fall on the weakest hardest, no matter what that punishment is intended to prevent.


You can look at any situation where a bad actor is doing harm to people and where those they're hurting and those in solidarity with those who are being hurt are proposing to punish them and find a way in which that punishment hurts innocent people. Any time somebody proposes to boycott Hobby Lobby or Chick-Fil-A, for example, there's always cries of "but that will hurt their employees!" At some point you have to come to the understanding that when somebody is doing harm and somebody else punishes them for it, the blame for the splash damage falls upon the people doing harm and not on the people fighting to protect themselves and each other from that first-order harm. To do otherwise is to reward hostage-taking and allow the social bonds and economic power of wrongdoers to become a shield that protects them from being confronted and fought.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:46 AM on July 24, 2020 [23 favorites]


But what does that mean for someone like Damore who was part of creating a culture at Google that was explicitly against marginalised groups?

I think it means we create a society where people don’t starve or are at risk of being houseless or at medical risk simply because they lose their jobs. That is a world that is possible and would have so many more benefits than just this aspect.
posted by corb at 10:06 AM on July 24, 2020 [15 favorites]


I mean in the here and now. That's an admirable goal, but right now Damore caused more total damage to people by being employed than by he faces from being fired.
posted by Ferreous at 10:10 AM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


This is the thing that I think has a lot of relevance and that honestly I think about a lot. There’s a difference, I think, between deplatforming someone (getting them off twitter, YouTube, etc) and preventing them from being employed in even low-wage work, thus condemning them and their entire family to crippling poverty (and in an era of Covid, even potentially death) because of really most things they have done. If you are a prison abolitionist because no matter what folks have done it doesn’t justify them being brutalized, then similarly I think it’s important to focus on the violence that capitalism can inflict on people that damage or endanger it by harming “their brand”.

Social stigma, to me, is a different thing than preventing people from putting food on their table. It would be different if we had a robust social safety net, but we don’t. Instead it runs the risk of making folks houseless and in danger of medical consequences in the greatest depression of our lives.


Yes, I am completely aligned with this. But I think there are a lot of carceral feminists/liberals who cannot let go of their punitive worldview because the alternative is so much messier and difficult to actually think through.

For example, if a cancel-worthy offense are so awful to lose one's job and be deprived of employee driven healthcare, private housing, and freedom from deprivation in this current dystopian world, does it mean those cancel-worthy offenses are also still so awful that the accused should also lose access to public healthcare, housing, and other public services in a future utopian world?

What should be the punishment in that future socialist state?
posted by Ouverture at 10:15 AM on July 24, 2020 [4 favorites]


What should be the punishment in that future socialist state?

Maybe I'm oversimplifying, but the future socialist state would already be suspicious of any voice with too large and loud a platform, and would use ridicule as a social sanction to limit the effectiveness of that platform.
posted by mittens at 10:35 AM on July 24, 2020


In case anyone was wondering, the image really does show a dog in a guillotine.

Anyhow, one of the brave fighters for freedom from the consequences of speech recently won an undisclosed sum from a news website that pointed out that her views were deeply unpleasant so I'm not a million percent convinced of the purity of motivation there.

This article is great, though: it's good to get granular on this, as an antidote to it just being another culture war.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 10:36 AM on July 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


Maybe I'm oversimplifying, but the future socialist state would already be suspicious of any voice with too large and loud a platform, and would use ridicule as a social sanction to limit the effectiveness of that platform.

I'm talking more about non-famous people saying or doing things other people find offensive and then being fired instead of celebrities/famous people with large platforms. A common liberal response in these situations is "we should get rid of at-will employment and employer healthcare!", but that doesn't address what the actual punishment should be in that future world.
posted by Ouverture at 10:56 AM on July 24, 2020


It strikes me as a pretty minor form of deplatforming. I may be an outlier, but my understanding of deplatforming is when major services like twitter/facebook/NYT stop talking about or allowing access to the likes of say, Richard Spencer. If you don't get a speaking gig, which might allow you to talk to a few hundred college kids, that's not really a platform in the same sense. The reach is different.

I suppose I think of it as a central example of deplatforming primarily because it was one of the first kinds of deplatforming to be discussed as such. And while being kicked off social media might realistically be more impactful for a lot of people today, if you're the kind of person who gets invited to speak on campuses - not counting also-social-media grifters like Milo Y. - losing a major one is probably taken as a greater personal and professional insult than losing Twitter.
posted by atoxyl at 11:04 AM on July 24, 2020


Yes, I am completely aligned with this. But I think there are a lot of carceral feminists/liberals who cannot let go of their punitive worldview because the alternative is so much messier and difficult to actually think through.

I'm not a carceral feminist/liberal but I'm pretty sure women have watched perpetrators of violence against them and their gender time and time again not being held accountable by the non-carceral side of society and attempts to keep this violence non-carceral (simply by virtue of the perpetrator being straight, white, and male) has resulted in women being forced to accept non-accountability as "justice" against their will since time immemorial.

If any carceral feminists wish to correct me I look forward to the perspective but using empathy that's what I derive from their worldview.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 11:40 AM on July 24, 2020 [4 favorites]


I'm not a carceral feminist/liberal but I'm pretty sure women have watched perpetrators of violence against them and their gender time and time again not being held accountable by the non-carceral side of society and attempts to keep this violence non-carceral (simply by virtue of the perpetrator being straight, white, and male) has resulted in women being forced to accept non-accountability as "justice" against their will since time immemorial.

Much of the work around community accountability and restorative justice come from women of color who specifically built these frameworks around issues of gender-based violence after seeing the massive amount of damage done by the union of white feminists and the carceral state.

"The non-carceral side of society" is not the same thing as community accountability and restorative justice. This binary only exists if you accept carceral ideologies as the only way to structure our lives. There is a ton of reading if you are interested in this.

Carceral ideologies believe police, prisons, and throwing people away all play a critical and necessary role in our society even though all the evidence pointing out just how unhelpful all are to victims of violence and how they instead further propagate existing systemic injustices. The carceral mindset, like other belief systems, is not something you can simply self-identify out of by saying "I'm not a carceral feminist/liberal".
posted by Ouverture at 11:52 AM on July 24, 2020 [10 favorites]


...state would already be suspicious of any voice with too large and loud a platform, and would use ridicule as a social sanction to limit the effectiveness of that platform.

Like Charlie Chaplin.
posted by clavdivs at 11:59 AM on July 24, 2020



It's hard to talk about this stuff in the abstract without using specific, concrete examples by L.P. Hatecraft

I agree, L.P. Hatecraft. It's hard to see so many people below claiming that this isn't a real problem, or is some sort of conservative hoax. So let's hear from a transperson who claims she was cancelled (SLYT) about whether or not this is a real phenomenon.


--------References

"cancel culture" is largely an imagined anxiety by noiseanoise

All that being said, "cancel culture" as a phrase, has joined "political correctness" as a giant red flag to indicate someone is probably a Trumpist asshole. by Windopaene

Never type the phrase (nor the verb on its own, when used in this context) without quotation marks. by Cardinal Fang

I'm annoyed that we have to debate a made-up term used pretty much exclusively in bad faith. by splitpeasoup

he very fact we are debating "cancel culture" ... is the very proof that the concept is bullshit.by flamk

maybe it's chilling effects on debate are more than a wee bit exaggerated? by flamk

worrying about whether or not JK Rowling can deny the humanity of my fellow trans brothers and sisters without social sanction...as a non-elite member of our society who accrues no benefit from the advancement of the "cancel culture" debate seems foolish by flamk

The way to defeat bad ideas, in 2020, is to make real social pain a widely understood consequence of choosing to publish them. by flabdablet

I think it is a political term, in the sense that its purpose is to create a dichotomy between those who are "pro-cancel" and those who are "pro-speech" by dmh

The people I see moaning the loudest about "cancel culture" are the exact same folks who moaned about "political correctness" 20 years ago. by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane

To the extent "cancel culture" (wtf that is) can be weaponized against people who lack power (the poor, the marginalized, the minority) it is a supremely dangerous thing. It is curious, however, that is never what people are pointing to when they decry cancel culture. by Big Al 8000


I understand that contrapoints still has some privilege, Big Al 8000, but hopefully the above video will at least partially satisfy you.
posted by yeolcoatl at 12:11 PM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


There's been some repeated comments in recent past MeTas about discomfort with people linking to Contrapoints unhedged // pointing to them as a spokesperson, so I'd softly encourage keeping that in mind. (and then there's getting into "transperson" as descriptor)

I think to points above, this also fits into categories of "People speaking out against 'cancel culture' who have been eager to wield that power themselves" and "People unhappy that their erasure/behavior towards more narrow sub-communities is being spoken about negatively".

Not that I'd want for this to dive into the weeds there enough to be a derail, but it's definitely pertinent to the topic in perhaps unexpected ways.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:26 PM on July 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


Much of the work around community accountability and restorative justice come from women of color who specifically built these frameworks around issues of gender-based violence after seeing the massive amount of damage done by the union of white feminists and the carceral state.

"The non-carceral side of society" is not the same thing as community accountability and restorative justice. This binary only exists if you accept carceral ideologies as the only way to structure our lives. There is a ton of reading if you are interested in this.


I think you're right to a certain degree. It's just that there have traditionally been huge amounts of pressure on women who have been raped to forgive, or worse, marry their rapist which has been fully sanctioned by civil society. A certain part of accountability is both sides coming together in good faith and I don't doubt that certain people will hijack that in order to accept the minimal amount of accountability to get away with things. I don't see this as a deal breaker, mainly the restorative version of "I'd rather 1,000 guilty people go free then one innocent person falsely seen as guilty".

However, I'm not going to deny people who have had to deal with these circumstances since forever the ability to feel that carcereal methods might be valid and I don't think invalidating their feelings is a great thing to do and is just another flavor of *that* priest telling a raped young woman that Jesus has forgiven her rapist, why can't she?
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 12:27 PM on July 24, 2020 [4 favorites]


To quote a Tweet, "the "cancel culture" thing radiates powerful late stage dying empire vibes, everything is collapsing and elites decide to flip out about whether plebes are curtsying deeply enough or violating the sumptuary laws."

Or how about JKR whining about "cancel culture" then suing a website for children?

I am not terribly concerned about rich people getting feedback or having their careers ended for their terrible opinions.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:34 PM on July 24, 2020 [11 favorites]


It's just that there have traditionally been huge amounts of pressure on women who have been raped to forgive, or worse, marry their rapist which has been fully sanctioned by civil society. A certain part of accountability is both sides coming together in good faith and I don't doubt that certain people will hijack that in order to accept the minimal amount of accountability to get away with things. I don't see this as a deal breaker, mainly the restorative version of "I'd rather 1,000 guilty people go free then one innocent person falsely seen as guilty".

However, I'm not going to deny people who have had to deal with these circumstances since forever the ability to feel that carcereal methods might be valid and I don't think invalidating their feelings is a great thing to do and is just another flavor of *that* priest telling a raped young woman that Jesus has forgiven her rapist, why can't she?


The carceral state already has countess perpetrators accept no accountability! The travesties of injustice we have seen with Jeffrey Epstein, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and other serial predators all happened under a society at its most carceral, not because they were somehow shielded by a shadowy cabal of abolitionist women of color who just love protecting powerful abusers.

In my years of working extensively with survivors of sexual violence, I consistently saw just how little the carceral state actually cared about victims. The inability of the carceral state to center the needs and wants of survivors (and importantly, prevent future violence) was a significant driver behind the rise of restorative justice and accountability over the past few decades.

If you somehow think this is akin to priests telling victims to forgive their rapists, then I recommend you read through the information I have provided.
posted by Ouverture at 12:41 PM on July 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


As mentioned above, one of the issues with this discussion is that "cancel culture" can refer to many different kinds of possible scenarios. Are we talking about famous/powerful people? People who aren't famous or powerful? Did they say or write something? Did they do something?

For me, a central issue with cancel culture is just exactly what meets the threshold of cancellation. Why does Amy Cooper meet that threshold as opposed to the person who murdered a 16-year old person of color and countless other innocent people of color?
posted by Ouverture at 12:52 PM on July 24, 2020 [6 favorites]


A common liberal response in these situations is "we should get rid of at-will employment and employer healthcare!"

I know what you mean but that sounds like quite a left-leaning liberal ;)
posted by Beware of the leopard at 12:55 PM on July 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


@crystaldave

Fair enough. Thanks for pointing that out.
posted by yeolcoatl at 1:11 PM on July 24, 2020


There's been some repeated comments in recent past MeTas about discomfort with people linking to Contrapoints unhedged // pointing to them as a spokesperson, so I'd softly encourage keeping that in mind.

Contrapoints's pronouns are she/her not they/them.
posted by overglow at 1:11 PM on July 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


Partly because my words are quoted in reference to the statement that cancel culture "isn't a real problem, or is some sort of conservative hoax" I would like to add a few thoughts.

I think most people have a finely honed sense for injustice, but a poorly developed sense of justice. It is very easy to look at someone -- anyone -- and find something wrong with them. I will quote Richelieu: "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."*

I think this turns conversations on global, unmoderated social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook into a kind of tribal spectacle, oscillating between meaningless gestures of support and impotent expressions of rage. Because if you're competing for attention, which I think for many people is the purpose of participating on a social media platform, then a low-effort, high-reward way of getting attention is to stir up controversy. And because most people have a good sense of injustice but a bad sense of justice, what gets the most attention are accusations of injustice. The more damning the accusation, the more attention it garners, and the bigger the witch, the bigger the splash. Tabloids know this. (Incidentally, the authors of the recent Harper's open letter on cancel culture knew this as well.)

There is little that leaves me feeling more dejected than the righteous anger and furious glee of a public stoning, justified because ~everyone knows~ the woman is a ~whore~. It's an important reason I don't use Twitter or Facebook. I don't think that's necessarily a flaw (intentional or not) of those platforms in particular. In thirty years of being online I've never seen global, unmoderated forums not devolve into gladiatorial spectacles.

But that's not what "cancel culture" is. "Cancel culture" is (or has become; or is becoming?) the phrase people use when they want to stir up strong emotions and signal tribal allegiances; when they want to, eventually, preside over a stoning themselves.

* Fittingly, it is disputed whether Richelieu ever actually said that, but who cares, right? The point is that ~we all know~ Richelieu is ~evil~.
posted by dmh at 1:52 PM on July 24, 2020 [10 favorites]


Coverage of the coverage, from the Washington Post: "The Harper’s ‘Letter,’ cancel culture and the summer that drove a lot of smart people mad."
posted by PhineasGage at 2:50 PM on July 24, 2020


"The Harper’s ‘Letter,’ cancel culture and the summer that drove a lot of smart people mad."

I can't wait until they notice what happened to the dumb people.
posted by AdamCSnider at 2:54 PM on July 24, 2020 [6 favorites]


Cancel culture isn't real, but if you link to Contrapoints God help you if you think the discussion will stay on topic and not just become about her and why you shouldn't link to her.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:22 PM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


Contrapoints's pronouns are she/her not they/them.
My apologies, yes of course. I need to remember to avoid the ambiguity of using indefinite-they when it could be read as definite/pronoun-they.
posted by CrystalDave at 3:28 PM on July 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


So let's hear from a transperson who claims she was cancelled (SLYT) about whether or not this is a real phenomenon.

Contrapoints is also an example of why "cancel culture" is kind of a broad and ill-defined term, though, because the conflict around her can also fit into frameworks like "(longstanding) divisions within trans/NB/queer communities" or even "leftist infighting" etc. The way it has played out is characteristic of social media, for sure, and I think if pressed to identify a real, recent cultural shift having to do with "cancellation" the dynamics of social media are probably going to be core to what one comes up with. But the story of Contrapoints is prettty different from the story of... I dunno, Aziz Ansari or James Damore or Woody Allen or David Shor or James Gunn or 15-minute-famous people who milkshake-duck/get the James Gunn treatment.

(Note that I chose those examples to be pretty different from each other, too, and to cover a range in how sympathetic one might find them.)
posted by atoxyl at 4:46 PM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


Most of the comments here are accurate re: the inherent bad faith of the phrase and how it may as well have been coined by Frank Luntz to specifically wedge the left and/or kindhearted. I want to also share this tweet from @edburmila:

"the "cancel culture" thing radiates powerful late stage dying empire vibes, everything is collapsing and elites decide to flip out about whether plebes are curtsying deeply enough or violating the sumptuary laws.
Sure there's an actual plague and paramilitaries are snatching people but you would not BELIEVE the insolent tone a commoner used toward me the other day"
posted by panhopticon at 6:43 PM on July 24, 2020 [7 favorites]


I think the idea that "cancel culture" is rooted, in part, by a sense of powerlessness and an accurate perception that the law, the rules as written, the entire system of justice, is not functioning for the benefit of anyone but billionaires is worth exploring.

Vigilantism is not good. But when justice is denied, it's not surprising if people turn to it. Cancel culture is, basically, a form of non-violent vigilantism.

Look at Central Park Karen for example. Absent the vigilante action that cost her her job she would have been able to successfully invoke the police to murder, or at the very least beat, a Black man she found inconvenient. Is it surprising that some people look for **SOME** semblance of justice, or at least retribution, if real justice is denied?

Like any form of vigilantism it's a crude instrument that has unpredictable effects, no oversight, no error checking mechanism to assure that the right target is being attacked, just the supposed wisdom of the crowd. I'm in agreement that those are all bad.

But I'd argue the way to prevent "cancel culture" is to provide real justice, not to berate people denied justice by the official system.

The rich people whining about it are, of course, just very rich people who have lived in a criticism free bubble for so long that they are shocked (shocked I say) that any mere peasant has the temerity to disagree with them on the interwebs.
posted by sotonohito at 6:49 PM on July 24, 2020 [16 favorites]


To me "cancel culture" seems very like "political correctness" -- largely used by people who are opposed to it, but who can't describe it consistently, and with most examples proving to be fictional on examination or quite reasonable.

Having said that "at will" employment is barbaric and causing people to lose their livelihoods capriciously is a blunt instrument at best. But the "cancel culture" debate extends outside the US to more civilised places too. It would be useful to distinguish ostracism and shaming from getting people fired.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:34 PM on July 24, 2020 [7 favorites]


I think a certain ideological rigidity and tendency to overpolice boundaries is a salient feature of the present-day left, especially online, and I think it has some negative effects.

This framing situates it as a feature unique or particular to the present-day left, which is I think is insufficiently nuanced. We live in a culture that, as other commenters have noted, focuses on punishment and retribution rather than justice and restoration. It's the soup we all swim in, even those of us who spend a lot of time in groups that aspire to more radically progressive values. Saying that it is a feature of the present-day left implicates leftist ideals as a causative factor. I think it's more accurate to say that a certain ideological rigidity and tendency to overpolice (boundaries, values, social norms, whatever) is a feature of Western culture in general, that being on the left does not automatically or immediately banish from people's learned behavioral patterns. Just like white folks who ideologically oppose racism still act in racist ways from time to time, or men who value feminism can still end up acting in sexist ways.

The contrast between ideals and behavior is a little more obvious on the left than when folks on the right engage in similar behavior, but this is simply a cognitive optical illusion. We need to be careful not to fall into the same trap as a couple of the signatories of the Harper's letter seem to have fallen into, of being mislead by that optical illusion or by an overly simplistic analysis to think that leftist or progressive ideological values or goals(*) are a root cause of ideological rigidity and tendency to overpolice or reach for punitive approaches or retribution as a response to harms caused, or that there is something about the left qua leftists that makes them susceptible to such behaviors. The issue, when it causes infighting on the left, is more often one of individuals not living up to their ideals because the broader cultural influences are very strong and we never notice all of the ways they affect our thinking.

To address the problem, inasmuch as it is a real problem and not just reactionary complaint by people trying to avoid responsibility for actual harms that they have caused, we need to attribute the source correctly.

(* There are some subsets of "The Left" that legit hold retribution as a value or goal. But they're in the minority.)
posted by eviemath at 8:59 PM on July 24, 2020 [5 favorites]


Mod note: Just popping in to note the language used in a comment above, and reiterate that "transperson" is not a word to use to describe a trans woman or trans man. If you are speaking of a mixed group and it's important to note that they are transgender, "trans people" or "transgender people" is fine. Also, please remember that trans people are not a monolith who all share the exact same opinion on all matters, and using someone's marginalized status as sort of trump card (ie, this minority member agrees with my point of view, so ...) isn't a good idea. If you want to know what transgender people are thinking about an issue, you can listen to trans members here, and / or seek out the many articles, posts, tweets, etc., where that issue is being discussed by members of the trans community. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:25 AM on July 25, 2020 [10 favorites]


First, cancel culture is, to me, a misnomer, a term for a collection of events or circumstances that are treated as more similar than they seem to be. Cancelling is a tactic. It can be used on the powerful and the weak, on the guilty and the innocent, and it's used by a variety of groups. The results can also vary widely, in large part because people who call for cancellation are generally not the ones with the power to implement changes.

This article is right to differentiate between censorship, social sanction, and loss of audience, but it doesn't go far enough in breaking things down.

Second, people who lack privilege don't get the same opportunities and second chances for platforms and positions as people who have privilege recieve. We don't refer to that as those who lack privilege as being cancelled because they didn't get hired in the the first place, because it is largely hidden from us, but I would argue that it's something we should consider.
posted by Chrysopoeia at 8:24 AM on July 25, 2020 [4 favorites]


Hi everyone. I’m posting this here because I recently read this and think it’s the most thoughtful, compassionate, and caring piece on “cancel culture” that I have read since by Adrienne Maree Brown (who is an amazing organizer if you haven’t heard of them)!

It’s really worthwhile. honestly I feel like saying: if anyone reads one piece, it should be that one.
posted by suedehead at 2:13 AM on July 27, 2020 [2 favorites]


"Also, written by someone in the US, where "freedom of speech" is worn as a shield against criticism to a degree that is not common world-wide. For example: New Zealand man jailed for 21 months for sharing Christchurch shooting video (BBC, 18 June 2019)

Sharing the original video, and a modified video to glorify the killing of Muslims, was deemed a hate crime."
posted by filthy light thief at 11:16 PM on July 23


Bit more to that story, of course, which I'll get to in a moment.

But just wanted to compare restrictions of freedom of speech and compare different moral arguments.
First, do you have a moral right to watch a video of a child being sexually abused, or someone being raped? No.
It's video of a crime taking place, the filming itself is a further crime, it's not taken with the victims consent, and the involuntary sharing of which constitutes further harm against the victims or their loved ones.
Footage of innocent members of our community, mothers, fathers, family, children, taken involuntarily while glorifying their being injured, tortured, and murdered *by* the perpetrator - this is the same category. It is an offence to "the dignity, the rights, and the privacy of the victims".
It is intended to glorify and incite violence, it is the proceed of a crime, it belongs to the victims and their families, the perpetrator is not entitled to it, and neither are the rest of us.


But! Arps! More than just distributing the video, and adding a target and kill count to it, it
was more of a 'three+ strikes and time to throw the book', on the ol' Hate Crimes situation.
I'm not kidding about the hate crimes.
As well as 30 previous criminal convictions for indecent assault, guns, drugs, burglary, and fraud etc.

His earlier hate crime conviction, was filming himself with two other Nazis, delivering pigs heads & offal to the same mosque that was much later targeted by the Christchurch shooter, within which 40 people were killed, including a victim Philip Arps confronted at the door of the mosque. During the delivery of dead pig heads and offal, all three of them were delivering Hitler salutes for the camera, while declaring:
"White power, my friends, my family, my people. Let's get these f***ers out. Bring on the cull."
Referring to the boxes filled with pigs heads and offal, he said:
"White power, I don't go to a mosque often, it should be f***ing molotovs."
He did get convicted at time, but just got fined (NZ$800).

He's been the center of a group of Nazi's in Christchurch, they were producing and distributing Nazi and white supremacist propaganda, anti-semitic posters etc.


But most blatantly, and weirdly, he was running a Nazi-themed Insulation company.
You may be wondering exactly how a Nazi themed Insulation company is even possible or would work? But I'll get there.
Then you'll be wondering how on earth this absolute bullshit was allowed to fly for this long, and what the hell is wrong with Christchurch/

So, how blatant was his company? Apparently most of Christchurch didn't notice this, but if you've been keeping up with the semi-regular AskMefi's of Nazi imagery:

His staff, in military style orange camo uniforms, driving around in his fleet of white Vans, had as their only, really prominently large decorations:
* Logo - a flaming Nazi 'Black Sun'.
The Black sun is common amongst modern Nazis, it's a sun wheel variation commissioned by Heinrich Himmler, with 12 'sig' runes, paired to represent the SS.
* Business name - Beneficial Insulation, short for 'Beneficial Insulation Installs Guaranteed'. Why so clunky? I'll get to that.
* "$14.88 per m2" Yeeeep. 88 for HH, Heil Hitler. 14 for the '14 words'. Nazi's often sign off with those numbers.
* The website on the back, where it turns out clunky long name is merely to set up the acronym BIIg, which turns out to be a really laboured reference to a sector at Auschwitz concentration camp where victim belongings were stored. Please see everything else he's ever done for evidence that yes, this was deliberate.

And then, you know, he'd go off at customers who hired him not realising he was a racist Nazi, and he'd include real and fake quotes from Adolf Hitler in his emails.

Actual Vans:
https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/111334884/christchurch-shootings-anger-at-insulation-company-with-white-supremacy-branding


Anyway, despite his company branding (which he can continue), and actions which constitute harassment of everyone Nazi's tend to hate over a long period of time, he got just over 10 months, he's been paroled already.
posted by Elysum at 2:35 AM on July 27, 2020 [9 favorites]


“cancel culture”

Nobody is owed our time, attention, or money. Also, yeah, this term is a giant signifier of some right wing asshole who is pouting about having their asshole-ness pointed out.
posted by JenMarie at 2:20 PM on July 27, 2020 [5 favorites]


Also, yeah, this term is a giant signifier of some right wing asshole who is pouting about having their asshole-ness pointed out.

...Except it isn't? There are plenty of leftist, abolitionist critiques of this centrist notion that one can improve society by throwing people away.
posted by Ouverture at 4:39 PM on July 27, 2020 [2 favorites]


[previously, some thoughts from activists on distinguishing character assassination from accountability]

Doug Muder of The Weekly Sift wrote a roundup noting, among other things, that we seem to be in a revolutionary period where the definition/parameters of "political common sense" are shifting and uncertain.

suedehead: Thank you for linking! It's a really great piece -- I appreciate how brown approaches feeling, emotion, with deep reflective rigor, asking a ton of questions. It makes me want to spend less time in wide-open internet venues full of strangers, and more time in small conversations with a strong layer of trust, so that we can explore our scary thoughts, because, as brown writes, "how do we adapt together if the clues to our next pivot are unthinkable?"
posted by brainwane at 4:55 AM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


...Except it isn't? There are plenty of leftist, abolitionist critiques of this centrist notion that one can improve society by throwing people away.

Then perhaps it's time for them to look for a new term, because the continued embrace of "cancel culture" by them is starting to feel a lot like "but it's about ethics in games journalism". Not to mention that the idea of people asserting their their right of association to exclude bigots, abusers, and fascists is "throwing people away" has some rather problematic implications.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:16 PM on July 29, 2020 [4 favorites]


And we get Yglesias trying to argue how l'affaire Shor shows problems with progressives talking about issues while continuing to ignore the elephant in the room. The sad part is that he's right that we do need to be able to talk about this - the problem is that he ignores the core of why we can't, namely the long history of white people trying to dictate how to protest to black protestors.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:23 PM on July 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


Then perhaps it's time for them to look for a new term, because the continued embrace of "cancel culture" by them is starting to feel a lot like "but it's about ethics in games journalism".

I don't think carceral liberals, of all people, should be advising leftists on strategy or even morality.

It is a supremely bizarre ideology where the subjective, arguable perception of participating in "the long history of white people trying to dictate how to protest to black protestors" via a tweet has far more serious consequences attached to it than the objective, actual reality of actually killing and jailing innocent people of color and in some cases, participating in white supremacist genocides that have killed millions of people of color.

Mass incarceration, the Iraq War, and the Yemen genocide are just a few white supremacist horrors perpetrated by people still glowingly celebrated and ardently defended on Metafilter. It is telling which long histories of victimization are cancel-worthy and which ones aren't. It is telling whose lives actually matter to carceral liberals.

Moreover, should people on Metafilter lose their jobs for supporting the white supremacist actions of their favorite politicians? I have seen liberals on this site defend war crimes because it's being done by "their side". There have been extension comments from myself and other people of color about the depressing amount of racism on this site. Should Mefites lose their jobs for their bigotry and fascism?

Not to mention that the idea of people asserting their their right of association to exclude bigots, abusers, and fascists is "throwing people away" has some rather problematic implications.

You are confusing me with someone else because I am not talking about the right of association, but whether or not people should be deprived jobs, healthcare, housing, and other material needs because they aren't powerful/wealthy/popular enough to avoid cancellation (see above).

If everyone has implicit and explicit biases when it comes to racism, then what triggers cancellation and deprivation? And why is it that the most ardent supporters of cancellation and deprivation always seem to move the goal posts just before their own biases? Hmm.
posted by Ouverture at 10:11 AM on July 30, 2020 [6 favorites]




« Older Mars in 4K   |   My harp session turned into a Disney movie Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments