The Cancel Culture: Did Obama Get It Right?
Several weeks ago, former President Barack Obama was interviewed about youth activism at the Obama Foundation summit. He took on the woke culture that is spreading among the younger generations by saying: “This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and your always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff. You should get over that quickly.” Obama pointed to uncertainties in the world and one approach to social activism was too simplistic. To his credit, Obama did not shy away from talking about social media and activism including the cancel culture.
I have blogged about the cancel culture before criticizing those who use it indiscriminately to shun others from society because of their words and actions. I addressed a variety of perspectives in that regard. I also criticized the cancel culture because it can create a workplace where those who do not support a corporation’s prevailing politically and socially correct ideas may be canceled. Additionally, I pointed out how mental health issues can arise in youngsters called out for something they did by being bullied on social media.
I agree with Obama that the cancel culture has gone too far and threatens the First Amendment. Stifling speech by isolating others for their position cuts off the flow of information that is needed to have productive dialogue about critical issues facing America. Ironically, those who do not support the position of the cancel culture may be canceled themselves.
The cancel culture is a phenomenon with wide-reaching effects on American culture in all forms. From politicians to famous authors, sports figures, entertainers, and everyone in between, the cancel culture is dangerous because it seeks to deny someone the freedom of speech. It stifles dissent and creates an environment of fear in the minds of those cancelled by the public.
However, there are instances when the cancel culture is justified, especially when it results in the boycott of a person for egregious behavior. Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby come to mind. But that is the point. Canceling someone, anyone, regardless of the hurtfulness of their actions is a bridge too far. It can result in the ethical slippery slope phenomenon where no lines are drawn as to when canceling is justified and when it is not. We need to establish some rules of the road so to speak.
The broad picture about the cancel culture is whether it is a justifiable way to hold someone accountable for their behaviors or is a form of censorship and punishment. There is no easy answer. Former President Trump made many remarks about cheating in the 2020 election that remain unverified and stoked the fires of political insurrection on January 6. Is he worthy of being canceled for his words and how they fomented dissent? One point of view is if he is not then when is someone ever canceled.
Alternatively, should Trump have been censured, something Congress could have done, and leave it at that? This would not go so far as to restrict his free speech rights, which is government censorship and violates the First Amendment. Private companies like Facebook and Twitter are under no such restrictions so they could, and did, restrict his free speech rights by not letting him use their social media platforms to express his point of view.
Looking at the bigger picture, as a society we no longer know how to disagree with each other without being disagreeable. The anonymity of social media is a contributing factor. Many folks feel free to say whatever they want because they don’t have to be specifically identified. It is much less likely this would occur when talking to someone face-to-face.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on June 15, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.