It’s 2020, and cancel culture has taken hold. The movement to cancel artistic, historical, literary, cultural, and social icons both past and present feels like a prominent feature of modern liberalism, even if it isn’t. But hold it a minute. Who decided we should cancel anyone? Here are five reasons why cancel culture is dangerous — to freedom, to American democracy, and to you and me.
1: Cancel culture endangers justice.
In America, we have this thing called “trial by jury.” Ever heard of it?
I’m not here to talk about the American justice system. But suffice to say that its flaws have led people to seek alternate forms of justice. “Trial by media,” for example, in which cancel culture triggers a firestorm around an individual accused of a crime — who may or may not be guilty.
The problem with trial by media is that sometimes the media “hangs” someone who isn’t guilty at all. There’s a reason why we presume people innocent until proven guilty. Our justice system is built on this fact: that we would rather let one guilty person walk free than let ten innocent people be imprisoned. The unfortunate thing about trial by media is that it’s often so biased and politicized that it both lets guilty people walk free and “hangs” innocents.
If you want to change innocent until proven guilty, then you want to change the basis of American justice. If you want to change the basis of American justice, say it straight and have the right conversation about it. Don’t address it obliquely and don’t bring it on without meaning to. Examine the consequences of cancel culture and trial by media. Cancel culture is dangerous because it endangers justice.
2: It threatens free speech.
In America, free speech is a right and a privilege. People are allowed to say what they want. If you don’t like what they say, you’re allowed to talk back to them, no matter who they are. Don’t like what Trump says? Tell him what’s wrong with what he’s saying.
If you have a view, raise your voice and speak your mind.
Only nowadays, if you’re famous (or even if you’re not), you run the risk of being canceled for your views.
Honestly, this takes away from discourse. People like me like having many-sided discussions and hearing many points of view. Only by hearing all sides of an issue can you reach your own individual verdict. Since when is it good form to lambaste anyone who doesn’t think the same way you do? Unfortunately, some people have begun hanging anyone who doesn’t agree with their politics out to dry. This isn’t the right way to have a reasoned debate or to prove your point. It only throws fuel on the fire — and will come back to bite you in the ass, pardon my French.
3: Cancel culture undermines history.
There used to be a saying in elementary school — we study history so we can avoid repeating our mistakes.
To tell the truth, this isn’t why I study history, and I don’t necessarily believe that humans have ever showed proof of learning from their mistakes, but I do know that history makes me, as an individual, a better person. It deepens my understanding of the world and allows me to see from different points-of-view.
The right way to “fix” racism in our society leftover from slavery is not by canceling the Civil War. Not by obliterating all memory of the Confederacy. Should people be flying Confederate flags? No, they shouldn’t. But in order for them to understand why, they need to understand history. Unfortunately, cancel culture in particular has politically polarized history in a way history hasn’t been polarized before. History should be something for all people, not a tool wielded by political parties against each other.
Modern liberals have pandered to Blacks by “canceling” Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy. They’ve pandered to advocates for Native American rights by “canceling” Christopher Columbus. But Black Americans and Native Americans have eyes and ears, and many are unhappy because amidst all the canceling and promising, modern liberals have done little in the way of lending a hand.
If we’re going to better society, this needs to change. We need to foster an understanding of the history of various groups — across the political spectrum — and act accordingly. We need to educate, not pick and choose bits of history to cut out and cut in. Cancel culture is dangerous because it undermines history.
4: It limits artistry.
The following point is a personal point-of-view.
Recently on Twitter, I stumbled across a question: Should you separate the art from the artist, or not?
I answered that yes, you should always separate the art from the artist, because bad people can still create good and even meaningful art.
Another person answered that no, you must always consider the artist’s character, point-of-view, and time period and only then make up your mind about what to do with their art.
These things, believe it or not, are not mutually exclusive. One can separate art from artist while still examining the artist’s character, point-of-view, and time period. In fact, I always consider all of these things when looking at a piece of art, because for me they’re integral to the meaning of the piece.
I understand why someone who listened to Bill Cosby growing up doesn’t want to listen to him now. But I, personally, do not have a problem separating an artist’s books, movies, humor, art, etc. from their personality and personal actions.
Plus, when culture becomes more homogeneous as a result of cancel culture, art will become more homogeneous. Homogeneity does not equal beauty.
The decision to view art by any given creator is a decision we all have to make for ourselves.
I’m all for people picking and choosing which artists they like and which they don’t like. If you find the narrative of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn racist, then by all means steer clear of it and speak out against it if you feel called to do so.
The problem arises when a movement seeks to plaster over an artist, taking away the right of future individuals to choose to view that artist’s work. I believe that art, no matter how controversial, should be preserved for the future. When cancel culture seeks to destroy the reputations and the work of artists, it damages the collective body of art humans have produced during their time in being.
What constitutes art? Well, that’s a question for another day…
5: Cancel culture promotes fear and conformity.
No one likes walking on eggshells. In fact, love and relationship advice columns are always telling people to walk away before walking on eggshells!
Thanks to cancel culture, many of us feel like we have to tiptoe around issues. Some people are even calling cancel culture toxic, like you might call a significant other or friend toxic. This, of course, goes back to my point about free speech. If you’re afraid of being cancelled, you’re probably not going to speak your mind. You’ll limit your own free speech. And the number of individual viewpoints will decrease, and society will conform to meet a standard. A quiet, unobtrusive, and disgustingly bland standard where no one states their true opinions and in which, ultimately, everyone will become miserable.
Ever heard of the Red Scare?
Nowadays, people don’t worry about being labeled Communist, but they do worry about being canceled. The effect is the same. Cancel culture is two-faced. Cancel culture is dangerous because it promotes fear and conformity.
If you enjoyed this article…
Start a conversation in the comments.
Share your view on cancel culture. Do you have another reason why cancel culture is dangerous? Does dangerous always mean BAD? Is it okay to cancel people? Is it right? Should it change? Does it have a place? Is there a way in which it could make the world better? Agree or disagree with my points — I want to hear your voice!
Read more political, social justice-oriented articles.
Try these ones to start:
Read about the 1950s, a period of great conformity:
- Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era by Elaine Tyler May — my favorite book about the Cold War era, which also covers the Great Depression and World War II briefly.