Cancel culture makes for an excellent political weapon—it’s a great way to neutralize political opponents and simultaneously signal your own virtue. It’s also a great way to accuse your opponents of hypocrisy, given that cancel culture is used rampantly as a political weapon, which means bad-faith actors are easy to spot.
Of course, politics is a sport of bad faith, and emotion, so people are going to be blind to their own biases. My point is that inevitably both sides will dabble in cancel culture because it’s effective. The left is the undisputed champion of the craft, having imported its toxic standards into our culture.
There’s really no competition. Leftist cancelers control all our major institutions, and are wreaking consequences for working people, girls, minorities, and the country. While the left throws gasoline on the fire (sometimes literally), the right is engaged in a meaningful effort that most people on the left would probably agree with after throwing back a couple of cabernets in the privacy of their own wine bars.
So what of Emily Wilder? Nikole Hannah-Jones? Chrissy Teigen? Each of these leftists suffered professional consequences last week amid backlash against their beliefs or prior wrongdoing. Conservatives, the emergent argument goes, either complain about cancel culture only cynically or hypocritically because they’re content—even excited—to watch people like Wilder suffer for wrong think.
Wilder actually did violate her company’s social media policy by betraying her biases on Twitter. The policy may be dumb, but it’s important to the AP and she compromised their (false) pretense of neutrality.
Despite her Pulitzer Prize, Hannah-Jones is a reckless journalist—a glistening example of what not to do. The University of North Carolina’s decision to withhold tenure from her (not fire her) after bipartisan critics raised legitimate issues about her qualifications may well have nothing to do with viewpoint discrimination, unless the viewpoint in question holds that it’s cool for journalists to get major facts wrong, lie, and act unprofessionally.
I don’t think brands should be distancing themselves from Teigen over an old mean tweet, but I do think it’s absurd and telling they ever aligned with her in the first place since Teigen conducted herself like Regina George for years in full public view. Because, however, she cloaked herself in vague leftism, Teigen became a media darling whose childish behavior went under the radar.
In each of these cases, of course, some subsection of the right was acting cynically or hypocritically. But the mounting leftist consensus that conservative criticism of cancel culture is categorically cynical or hypocritical is absurd, reflexive, and facile.
If you’re hired to be a neutral reporter by a purportedly neutral news outlet, you should probably not put “Black Lives Matter” in your Twitter bio and criticize “objectivity.” Wilder could be a great reporter at a leftist outlet, but ideologues operating under the pretense of neutrality is wrong and it’s destroying public trust in media. Good riddance.
Further, while the Very Online know that Hannah-Jones is controversial, she’s a Pulitzer winner whose work ended up in school curricula around the country. It hardly seems unreasonable to imagine some stakeholders at UNC only became aware of her many, obvious journalistic failures after controversy bubbled. Who cares if she’s a leftist? Hannah-Jones is an unprofessional fabulist who has no business teaching students to do journalism.
But, of course, the Enlightened Consensus among Reasonable Observers held that Wilder and Jones were victims of cancel culture. This is a consequence of cancel culture’s inevitable weaponization, its murky definition, and the elite consensus that conservative bad faith is always disproportionate to bad faith on the left.
The murkily defined “cancel culture” is becoming increasingly useless as a category because the left and right are becoming increasingly aware some things truly warrant cancelation, that moral codes matter, whether you side with Tipper Gore or Jessica Valenti. I happen to be a free-speech absolutist and a believer in maximum grace, like most conservatives I know, but it’s okay if want to outlaw pornography or isolate every straight white male to an island so long as you own it.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden both became president in part because a lot of this country despises the cultural revolution sweeping from coast to coast. Nearly everyone without a Tumblr account wants the boundaries to be relaxed back to where they were, not in the 1920s, but not now either. It’s a priority for a lot of voters. Conservatives are on the right side of the fight, not merely because it’s politically expedient but because it’s the moral argument and their constituents know that.
But while we’re canceling cancel culture, the mostly progressive cancellers should recognize they’re also fighting a libertarian culture order with relaxed standards of behavior. I don’t think it’s the government’s role to fire liberal professors, nor do I think employers should generally punish employees like James Damore, but I think we should be working to alleviate alienation and secularism. A leftist, however, might want government and business to create a culture that shames any future Damores from committing wrongthink in the first place.
The purest definition of “cancel culture” refers to unjust consequences for speech, whether it’s bad but years old, whether it’s heterodox but recent. The left wishes to subject even J.K. Rowling to deplatforming over her narrow opposition to trans ideology applied to children. They should just say they love cancel culture and come to terms with it. It’ll save us a lot of time, a lot of bad-faith hackery, and a lot of meta-analysis whenever these stupid controversies erupt.