15 April 2021

Cancel Culture


Cancel Culture – topic by Ignacio

Essay by Lawrence


Although by definition cancel culture includes the idea of people being ostracised in real life, the damage and preliminary hate is mostly done on social media. The term cancel culture is relatively new and prospered in the on-line environment.


Basically, cancel culture is a consequence of people turning against an individual either professionally or socially to expel the targeted individuals from their social or professional circles. What causes this approbation is usually a discretion which annoys or angers a large group of people. For example, people might be ostracised for racial comments, legitimate activities such as playing a role in a film as a slave master, or simply because they are successful.


And although there are many cancel culture instances based on racism, political correctness, extreme feminism, religious ideology, there are also examples in corporate culture, wars, medical issues, and so on.


The unpleasant side of cancel culture is that it is the individual that is targeted not the organisation for example Wall Street or Hollywood. It also does not matter whether the accusations against the individual are true or false or justified. This is more like mob rule: we believe it, so it must be true and we are right. To mitigate these detestable attributes, culture cancel is mainly a North American phenomenon more than anything else although no one is immune these days. After all cancel culture is mainly an internet phenomenon.


So what are the main philosophical issues about cancel culture? One of the most relevant issues is that there is no collective ethics or etiquette to help us know the norms for participating on the internet. This does not mean that the internet ought to be censored, but rather the basics of participate on the internet similar to the etiquette of walking in the street.


The rational of cancel culture is to right a wrong.  The wrong, of course, is a subjective wrong, something someone disagrees with but that does not matter. What matters is that the individual is punished. Hence the question is whether cancel culture is based on hatred or on a false sense of entitlement based on subjective emotional criteria? There is a difference between objecting to a film made thirty years ago about slavery, and a viciously attacking someone who played a role just because we disagree with the film. Especially when in modern society we have some legal redress to activities we feel are illegal or immoral.


The problem is not so much that these overzealous ideologues can do quite a lot of harm but rather how to ostracize people who are really causing real harm to society. For example, politicians who arouse passions of hatred or racism in a mob. The fact that these politician are in parliament suggests that the electoral system does not have any mechanisms to exclude these trouble makers.


In contrast, social media platforms seem to be relatively quick at removing trouble makers from their platform: for example ex President Trump although it took Twitter four years to remove him from the platform.


Moving away from the extremist of cancel culture, people can still create legitimate environments (or groups) that would exclude others. Indeed even a philosophy group that welcomes everyone and excludes no one would still be intimidating for some people who might find it difficult to debate in public. The idea of exclusion is not necessary an affront, but probably a natural selection process. There is nothing more natural than choosing one way or another on the pure belief that it is better for us.


In effect although the term cancel culture and the internet context is new, the idea of ostracising people with malice for perceived wrong doing is as old as the first holy books.


Best Lawrence


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