Three reasons why cancellation culture is ineffective (and three that show it is counterproductive)

Three reasons why cancellation culture is ineffective (and three that show it is counterproductive)

As we pointed out the other day, the culture of cancellation has even reached academics, such as Steven Pinker , and 150 intellectuals have already signed a letter to have the right to disagree on hegemonic opinions without fear of being ostracized , among which are Noam Chosmky, Salman Rushdie or Pinker himself.

The intentions of the cancellation culture can be laudable . The problem is that its consequences can also be very pernicious, and we must not remember that the biggest disasters often come from policies that pursue the good.

Three reasons

The culture of cancellation (from the original English cancel culture ) refers to the widespread phenomenon of withdrawing moral, financial, digital and social support from people or media entities considered unacceptable, generally as a consequence of certain comments or actions. But several concerns arise when we attribute punitive consequences to people’s speech based on its perceived moral wrongfulness (rather than simply arguing that it is wrong or false ).

There are three basic reasons why the cancellation culture is counterproductive:

  1. Claims of moral wrongdoing in a debate assume immediate urgency and distract from the debate itself . For example, suppose that in an immigration debate, one person says something that offends another. The discussion on the original problem (immigration) will be bracketed until the problem of moral wrongdoing is resolved.
  2. Claims about wrongfulness, harmfulness or offense are open to debate. As the English philosopher, politician, and economist John Stuart Mill observed in his best-known work, On Liberty , back in the 19th century: "The usefulness of an opinion is itself a matter of opinion: so debatable, so open to question. discussion and that requires as much discussion as opinion itself. " It is also mandatory to define "good" and "bad". Those are lysological concepts , they change over time, sometimes they change according to the criteria of each person (even the laws adapt to those changes, not the other way around). Good or bad acts cannot be isolated, they are part of and are ingrained with the needs, desires or lacks of other people, and also with their conceptions of what is good or bad, better or worse, acceptable or unacceptable.
  3. Accusations of unacceptable irregularities in an opinion create friction . Few people respond constructively to allegations of wrongdoing. Retaliation in kind is often retaliated against, escalating the conflict.
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There are also three reasons why these types of dynamics are unsuccessful or even counterproductive, that is, they feed what it is precisely about fighting :

  1. Democracy itself assumes that citizens can hear different arguments, evidence, and perspectives. If significant parts of the political spectrum are no longer tolerated, then social institutions lose this kind of legitimacy. We are all less free .
  2. Listening to and relating to others with different opinions can help us understand their views and develop more informed versions of our own positions. Failure to do so makes us more tribal and intensifies We / Them relationships, the source of conflict between groups of people. On the other hand, being constantly outraged by opposing views provides a robust reason not to consider them. This directly feeds the confirmation bias and groupthink – that is, it makes us more stupid , more intolerant, and more reactionary. The perfect fertilizer for totalitarian states.
  3. Shaming, censoring or parodying the points of view of other groups can cause just the opposite : that the group feels no longer so much that the legitimacy of their opinions is questioned as their own individual and group freedom. The feeling that they are trying to control them will cause the group to become more cohesive or the individuals to embrace their opinions more strongly. The current university censorship is a good proof of this.

None of these concerns categorically rule out attributing punitive consequences to hate speech, least of all libel and slander. But viewing erroneous views as intolerable speech carries ethical costs that should not be overlooked . And put to take risks, it is preferable to run them by giving a letter of nature to certain opinions that seem aberrant to us rather than allowing opinions to be censored in a way that we can hardly argue is not arbitrary (and that those same reasons do not serve to censor many more opinions, including ours).

Others, courtesy of Stuart Mill , on why we should never censor opinions, unless the law considers that opinions are treading the field of slander and defamation :

First, if any opinion is forced to remain silent, that opinion may, as far as we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility. Second, although silenced opinion is an error, it can, and very commonly does, contain a part of the truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is seldom or almost never the complete truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the rest of the truth has any chance of being achieved. Third, even if the received opinion is not only true, but the whole truth; Unless it is seen to be, and indeed is, strongly and seriously contested, it will be viewed by most recipients as bias, with little understanding or feeling of its rational foundations. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of doctrine is in danger of being lost, weakened, and deprived of its vital effect on character and conduct: dogma becomes a mere formal profession, forever ineffective, but shaking the ground, and avoiding the growth of any real and sincere conviction, of reason or personal experience.