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Is it Time to Cancel the Cancel Culture?

Online Shaming: Good or Bad?

A great deal has been said and written about the existence of a “cancel culture.” The cancel culture is mainly an Internet phenomenon where those offended by the comments of another party become denounced online by those who object to the behavior. It’s a cultural boycott according to Lisa Nakamura, a professor at the University of Michigan. Simply stated, it’s akin to an Amish shunning.

Cancel culture, formerly known as Call-out Culture, is an unofficial system of boycotting initially directed at celebrities expressing seemingly unpopular opinions or views on the internet. Sarah Saccomanno writes about it in an article, Cancel Culture: Cancel Actions, Not People, and likens it to “the concepts of Groupthink, Political Correctness and the shift in the political spectrum.”

People get called out for all kinds of offensive behavior. Roseanne Barr was canceled after a series of racist tweets that led to her removal from a television show. Kanye West was canceled after he expressed support for President Trump. Then there are those who commit offensive acts and get canceled like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein.

Canceling someone on Twitter or elsewhere sends a message that you disagree vehemently with their espoused positions or actions. It’s quite understandable that millennials turn to it given they live out their lives out publicly online. Indeed, it’s become something of a cultural norm.

I can understand the motivation to cancel a famous person to hold them accountable for their words and deeds. Many famous people have thousands of followers and their message affects millions of people. However, I draw the line when a young person gets canceled by their schoolmates for something said perhaps because they lack the maturity to consider the consequences of their words on others. Offensive remarks are harmful and deserve being called-out but how will we ever get past the cultural divide and lack of civility in society if we don’t talk to each other to better understand each other, learn from each other, and feel free to debate issues of concern. Canceled

Open communication is essential to a free society. Unfortunately, the cancel culture is turning people away from voicing their opinions on social media. Kanye West backed away from it after being broadly criticized for his comments about President Trump. In an interview with The New York Times, Kanye anguished about being canceled because he didn’t cancel Trump.

Moral values are essential to a free society and that includes civil discourse. But, how will we ever have civil discourse if we shut each other out whenever we don’t agree with a different, albeit offensive, point of view?

It goes beyond the Internet and threatens to close the mind of today’s college students to alternative perspectives, something that should be debated in the classrooms. We see speaking engagements canceled because of student protests and shouting down speakers who have to leave the stage. Such actions threaten freedom of speech.

Our cancel culture reflects intolerance of others with a point of view that diverges from group norms, This is where Groupthink comes into play. As a society, we have morphed into an ‘us against them’ mentality that we see played out daily on cable news television.

What can be done about it? I’d be naïve to say we should simply not follow the canceled person; not buy their records; or just tune them out. We’re way beyond that as a society. It’s too logical to expect it in an era of social media-driven emotional behavior where offensive comments or deeds go viral with the click of a mouse.

What we do need to do is discuss the harms and benefits of canceling someone. In fact, a broad discussion in society about civility and civil discourse might go a long way to help us understand why the very fabric of society is being torn apart by narrow-mindedness. It would be nice if the moderators of the next Democratic debate on November 20 raise these issues as they are important to a free society and our ability to remain a beacon of hope for others.

Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 12, 2019. Dr. Mintz recently published a book, Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior, that explains how doing the right thing and being a good person can enhance well-being. The book is available on Amazon. Visit his website, sign up for his newsletter, follow him on Facebook and “Like” his page.