Everyone has preferences, tastes, leanings and even biases of various kinds and the reasons for that are many indeed. Everything from belief systems right down to the most trivial experience. These are elements that contribute to ‘culture’, both individual and collective.
Cancel Culture happens when many of these more consequential elements of these subjective spheres are believed to be considerably more than just the ‘F’ words of culture – fad, flavour, fashion or formula. When we become entrenched as ‘right’ and ‘a right’ that generates a disguise for egocentric prejudice that then insists, in its ‘rightness’ to have all other perspectives on any given issue, coalesce with it – or be eradicated from the marketplace.
So, some questions before we begin – What is crafting your cultural lens?
- What are your ‘values’ – your right and wrong?
- What informs those values?
- What schema, what paradigm, worldview and/or meta-narrative frames those informing elements? Do you know? Do you care?
- As worldviews are not just descriptive, they end up also being prescriptive (how you believe the world should be) Is your prescriptions worthy of informing all of society?
- Last, but not least, what or who is the final authority in that prescriptive narrative?
How did you go? Hmmm?
One disturbing element that has emerged in the vacuum of sustainable objective narratives, and the rabid individualism these produce is that in marketplace influencer ‘brand acceptance’ becomes everything and in this exclusive space in the West, people metaphorically ‘live and die’ in this arena. Image and perception are everything. One of the most egregious harms one can sustain in this arena is ‘embarrassment – looking like a fool or weak or bad’. Consequently, all energies are focused on avoiding, negating or otherwise ensuring this does not happen. It is here that we become complete slaves, but to what have we enslaved ourselves?
Back in the early 1990’s a gentleman was sighted in New York City clad with a large sandwich board. On one side the bold text stated, “I’m a fool for Jesus!”; as he turned the board read “But whose fool, are you?”
That is the question we all must answer...
I’m no Cancel Culture practitioner…am I?
I’m not part of this cancel culture, well except for….
As I alluded to earlier, eradication required a pretty ruthless posture. I know I once had a career in vermin and noxious weed control. When it comes to noxious weeds and non-native predator animals’ eradication is the best practice. Leaving just a few can see a complete re-emergence of their toxic and ravaging elements. I’ve seen complete small farms taken over by such, rendering their land not only unproductive, but a source of infection for all around them.
However, when it comes to culture, eradicating ‘ideas’ or attitudes and governing sentiments that are deemed toxic and by whom is significantly more complex. Not least in that it ends up determining whether the ‘humanity’ attached to those deemed ‘toxic ideas’ is erased or eradicated with it.
History is replete with the extreme version of this conduct, that invariably brings a brutal tyranny – Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Fundamental Islam, Spanish Inquisition, French Revolutionaries, Marxists, Nazis, and all more recent such tyrants from Pol Pot to Pinochet.
So, looking at these extremes and feeling good about our relative tolerance, we clearly don’t have a cancel culture lens, do we? Are you part of the Cancel Culture or more influenced by it than you realize?
I know I have been – to my shame.
Core modes of Cancel Culture are at the mildest end, commence with tools to ignore, then embarrass. Then to move through ridicule, mocking, shaming, disassociation or abuse to add to coercion, intimidation and of course, in the end violence is employed to ensure my ‘rightness’ is deployed and embraced by those around me.
Let’s do a quick inventory to see if you and I have been enlisted or at very least infected by this renaissance of cultural coercion?
In the age of democratized ‘everything’ with its invasive broadcasting tools and mediums, we now see everyone’s voice and their proclaimed rights and prescriptions, being heard. But what makes your voice any more important, better, or required listening, than anyone else’s?
We are told, ad nauseum, we have ‘rights’ and that they include (apparently) free speech, freedom of thought and freedom of platforms, arrangements and collectives that endorse, permit or celebrated that. Exactly from where we derive these ‘rights’ is now an endless and often tautological debate.
US Senator and Ambassador, Daniel Patrick Moynihan once quipped, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”
Let’s focus on the that first assumption. If we are told that this is universally true, then opinion can be held and expressed; how that is received or what weight it may or may not carry is tied to a number of factors, most of which are within the jurisdiction of the audience. However, now in our neo-cancel culture context that opinion may not even be permitted, let alone expressed.
In the manufacturing of consensus – on any issue – the first rule is to pretend that perspectives matter, but only allow, foster, promote or embrace those that add to your culture shaping narrative. Once, you get momentum, then even the feigning of regard to divergent ideas can be dropped, and of course once you have critical mass, you can then actively silence dissenters with impunity.
Now, as I alluded to at the start, we all practice some level of this in our personal worlds. Everything from activities engaged in, to relationships we invest in. We discriminate based on our personal taste, preference and other subjective choice making criteria.
When this spills over into the public square and how it is shaped, then opinions and the people who hold them may be at odds with the consensus driving agenda of the public square ‘managers’ and must be expurgated.
So, if it is important for my voice to be not only heard, by given value in the public square then my crafting of not only the message by mode must be carefully considered – especially if I don’t want to be ignored or worse, actively marginalized by the perceived dominant ‘brand’ in the public square. Again, the brand managing imperative of ‘looking extremely attractive’ requires a hypervigilance in not only the message I present, but how I hold it, ensuring not opportunity for embarrassment or other image diminishing elements finds its way in. Of course, for those whose only informing ethic is their ‘positive profile’ then all means, and measures can be used to keep my brand palatability in place – lies, subterfuge, manipulation, coercion, intimidation, bribery and the list goes on!
Not only that, but I must also be as careful in how I engage with other perspectives, most specifically when engaging perspectives that the consensus manufacturers have deemed unworthy, foolish, or worse, abhorrent. So, the brand managing enslaved wanna-be ‘influencer’ will do anything to avoid pejorative labels, particularly those labels ending with and ‘…ist or …phobe’!
And so, the dance begins.
Of course, not wanting to be insulting, inflammatory or offensive, is the default posture of any civilly minded person, but ‘cancel culture’ doesn’t deal in civility, it deals only in compliance. So, the re-framing of terms like ‘offensive’, ‘inflammatory’ and ‘bigoted’ are all geared to the coercive compliance lexicon.
Again, all culture dominators have exercised some form of this from Alexander to Antifa.
Back to our Moynihan quote first assumption that if a person is permitted an opinion, and the freedom to express in civilly, then it should be ok for the hearer to exercise their freedom to listen or not and to weigh it and respond, or not, as they believe – again civilly. However, in cancel culture even that fundamental engagement cannot happen. You see this ‘cancel’ posture cannot permit and position it believes, in any shape, does not fit its required narrative and censorship is swift, if not severe. The minimum of which looks like a question on your sanity, to an immediate disassociation.
This ensures that one cannot even ‘look’ at a diverging perspective, let alone investigate it, unless that scrutiny is only for the purpose of tearing it down, not discovering if it has any objective validity.
Such is the fear of being pejoratively labelled, that even the ‘sideways’ glance at an opinion, post or posture, that the ‘exclusive public square’ does not approve of has people silenced, or worse, afraid to even glance at a potential truth, because it has been framed by the ‘dominators’ as leprous. Such is the tyranny we, as ‘brand managers’, permit.
Again, I’ll ask, where are you on the Cancel Culture spectrum? Are you silenced by it? Have you become part of the intimidating or ridiculing mechanism?
So, how do we stop being lead in a coercive and one-dimensional dance of cultural manipulation? How do we civilly and intelligently evaluate if an opinion held should or could have weight in shaping collective culture?
The second part of the Moynihan quote can give at least a pointer to at least one objective mechanism – objective truth and fact.
What’s frightening for the reasonable and rational mind, is that our now perceived Post-Truth culture, believes itself ‘free’ from rule of objective truth and fact-based examination.
Of course, removing these ‘rules’ ensures manipulation is all that is left and of course, that is exactly what consensus manufacturing thrives on.
The, arguably, forensic sciences, such as history, anthropology, archaeology, and even geology, can be undermined by opinion. This is simply done by interpreting the evidence through varying worldview lens. However, the material sciences such as medicine can be manipulated simply by commencing with simple influencers like confirmation bias, which starts with a preferred outcomes and thus simply ignores, or worse deliberately changes evidence that doesn’t verify the pre-assumption - which we are seeing more and more of as we ‘progress’.
Let’s be clear, all of us are subject to the confirmation bias default. We all want to be, if not right, then at least agreed with. It’s emotionally and socially easier to surround yourself with affirming elements that minimize conflict or critical examination. But, if truth is what we seek, not just a sad egocentric comfort, then courteous yet robust investigation and scrutiny are necessary. I believe it was Socrates who said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” For those who want the very best for this world, would want to at least find out where we go to find out what is best practice.
As a Christ follower, I already have pre-determined set of pre and proscriptions, as well as a meta-narrative that ticks all the boxes for credibility and sustainability. And those questions asked of it that have mystery or paradox attached to them, are the same questions that other worldviews have to answer more credibly to even get onto the same playing field. Certainly, the naturalist or materialist worldview fails on many counts and other genre of meta-narratives, the religious/spiritual ones, see Judeo-Christianity covering all the key anthropological questions better than any other offering.
How can those statements be made?
By applying a sound epistemological lens that enables us to really ‘know’ what is closest to the truth, not just redefining ‘truth’ to be either a non-starter, or a passionately held subjective emotional zeal
I do not want to be just another zealot who inadvertently adds to community discord, but I also don’t want to surrender to the thought police bullies of cancel culture tyranny either, but it would appear the latter has more influence over me that I thought.
- I find myself at times not leaning in to close to the non-PC perspectives.
- If I do want to check out a cancel culture censored position, I’d better do it very discretely, so I don’t become associated with it, just by investigating it.
- If I do hold a position contrary to that PC narrative, I’m self-abnegating, agnostic or at the very least silent about it in the public square.
- Worse, I may feign agreement with the intimidating consensus, in hope of being left alone.
- Worse still, the anxiety, insecurity or just plain fear of being marginalized and my ‘brand’ cancelled, may even stop me looking for truth and simply join the Machiavellian fray.
So, Ambassador of Christ, where are you on this continuum?
Also See Cancel Culture - An Introduction Conversation
S.W. Varcoe September 2020