The Mask Debate: Personal Accountability
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Diversity of Thought Under Attack by the Cancel Culture

Is it right to do?

How can we value diversity in society and in the workplace but not in thought? It would seem counter-intuitive. It does, however, demonstrate the divide in American society. It does illustrate the inability to discuss differences of opinion in a civil manner. It does show that we are no longer able to discuss these differences without being disagreeable.

The cancel culture is redefining how people act towards each other. In the cancel culture, those offended by the comments of another party become denounced online by those who object to the behavior. It’s a form of social and cultural boycott driven by “groupthink” meaning the intolerance of others with a point of view that diverges from group norms. Taken to an extreme, it’s like excommunicating someone from the community.

Diversity of thought promotes equality and freedom of speech yet not everyone believes it is a valuable cultural variable and seek to cancel it out. Those who promote it claim the following.

  • Expressing oneself by taking others to task is part of the democratic process and free speech.
  • Canceling others is a manifestation of holding others accountable for their behaviors.
  • Calling-out is one way to challenge provocateurs, who deliberately hurt others, or powerful people beyond our reach.

But the cancel culture may be harmful to others and their reputations. Those who argue against it make the following points.

  • Canceling someone is an attempt to stifle their free speech rights.
  • Tweeting about others in anger begets more anger and can lead to more serious practices such as bullying.
  • Canceling can create a so-called ‘tit-for-tat,’ which can create an endless stream of venomous comments instead of a community that listens to each other.

There is a difference between calling someone out and cancelling them. In the call-out culture a mistake, ill-advised statement, or other expression of one’s views are taken to be a misstep – an error of judgment – that doesn’t define that person. Oftentimes it occurred years ago. It might have been a questionable post on twitter. By calling-out the individual, we allow for the fact that they can learn and do better the next time. Cancelled

The motivation for cancelling someone out is a lack of respect for something they said or did such as making offensive comments towards another. It is much more extreme than just calling them out. It has as its goal embarrassing them in their community.

The cancel culture can create an ethical slippery slope event. Where do we draw the line between a statement or action that should be canceled and one that should only be called-out or even ignore? It can be difficult to distinguish between a statement or action that should be canceled and one that should only be called-out or even ignored.

Cancelling someone promotes intolerance and stifles diversity of speech. It can promote shame and a feeling that one has committed an offense that likely would be universally condemned by offended parties and society in general.

Cancelling is the opposite of being understanding, kind, and compassionate. After all, we should be willing to forgive others if they admit their mistake, be remorseful, make amends, promise not to do again, and change their behavior accordingly.

One way to look at the cancel culture is that even though a person may have the right to cancel someone out that does not mean it is the right thing to do. To make that determination, we have to use ethical reasoning such as whether the action is just, treats others equally, respects their rights, and brings more benefits to society than harms.

If a decision is made to cancel someone out, any chance of reaching an understanding of divergent views is unlikely. Disrespecting another can lead to a closed mind that negates the possibility of encouraging thoughtful debate in society and, especially colleges and universities. It prevents defining the difference as a “teachable moment.:

Ironically, if one person in the cancelling group does not agree with cancelling the offender, and makes his/her opinion known, the group may cancel that person for failing to conform to groupthink.

The cancel culture is one reason there is so much incivility in society. It is not listening to others’ perspectives because of pre-conceived notions that their point of view doesn’t count. Interestingly, a recent poll on civility in society by Weber Shandwick found that 93 percent identified civility as a problem in society with 68 percent of them seeing it as a major problem.

I believe the cancel culture will only grow in the future because of divisions in society. Over time, we have morphed into an ‘us versus them’ mentality. Taken to an extreme, it can promote hatred. Can we reverse course? I doubt it primarily because we no longer have leaders at the top, especially in government, who can serve as role models for society to emulate instead of showing disrespect for others’ point of view.

Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on August 4, 2020. You can sign up for our newsletter and learn more about Dr. Mintz’s activities at: Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter .