Cancel Culture Can Be, But Isn’t Always, Dumb

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First, a definition. Cancel culture: a form of boycott in which an individual (usually a celebrity) who has shared a questionable or controversial opinion, or has engaged in past behavior that is perceived to be offensive, is “cancelled,” or ostracized and shunned by former friends, followers, and supporters alike, leading to declines in careers and fans.

Life is too short for jerks. I strongly recommend that you ruthlessly purge them, both online and offline. But progress is going to be very hard if everyone who you disagree with—and perhaps even demonstrates occasional ignorance—is “cancelled.”

It is important to separate these two groups: the jerks, and those with whom we simply disagree. Too often, we confuse them. We keep jerks around for too long and purge those with whom we disagree too quickly.

Having an open mind means being willing to tolerate disagreement. Working for improvement means being willing to educate those who are ignorant. Neither requires you to accept people who are hateful. But perhaps you shouldn’t be so quick to deem someone hateful, beyond saving, in the first place.

Social media doesn’t help with any of the above. If anything, it promotes the opposite. It’s hard to make a nuanced argument in 280 characters. The surest way for someone to feed their addiction to likes, comments, retweets, and followers is to post something inflammatory. Social media may be great for sharing ideas, research, practices, and pithy one-liners; but it’s not great for debate and disagreement, especially when it comes to one’s person-hood and morality. If you want to have a day of fame on the internet go dig up something questionable about a well-known person and cancel them. But doesn’t that sound like a pretty miserable way to spend your time?

Make no mistake, I am not suggesting that you, me, or any of us tolerate scum. Nor am I saying that we shouldn’t call out evil when we see it (we should). I’m just offering that we shouldn’t always be so quick to let anger take the wheel. Some things and some people are worth being that angry about. But others are not.

Perhaps the best we can do is hold these juxtaposed concepts at the same time. Life is too short for jerks. Life is too long to go around cancelling everything and everyone who offends you. The work is to be clear about what and who falls into each of those categories.  And then to be quick with the former and patient, even if doing so is hard, with the latter.

— Brad

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