For all those whose blood pressure doubled when reading the title, the answer is unequivocally no. I spoke in an earlier essay about how I wanted to write about cancel culture, but I was having trouble understanding how I felt about it. Over the past 24 hours, two things happened that gave me some clarity: my girlfriend read a reddit comment to me and I listened to a podcast.
When my girlfriend and I were lying in bed last night, she was reading a reddit thread on r/AskWomen that asked, “What do you think of the death of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg?” She was reading some of the comments to me and we were talking about them (there were some about how basic rights are going to be stripped and, outside of abortion, someone will have to explain this to me). She came across one comment that read:
“Her passing is a great loss. We will keep pushing forward, and doing better for social rights. She inspired countless people to fight for justice, and those people are going to keep pressing forward.
We also have to recognize that RBG wasnt perfect, and learn from her mistakes. She has a history of hurting the BIPOC community; supporting piplines through indigenous land, fast-tracked deportations, and endorsed eugenics as a motivation for supporting legal abortion. Its important that we recognize these failings as we push onward with social justice to make sure we are fighting for justice for all.”u/Silvicultura
Honestly, it is a good message, that I think can be communicated better. I believe the commenter is claiming that RBG had some blind spots and we need to remember to do our best to fight for everyone’s rights. However, this commenter has given much more spotlight to the so-called “failings” of RBG’s career (although provided no sources), glazed over the incredible parts with generalization, and makes a point to exclude themselves from the people RBG inspired. I can confidently guess that this person is less than thrilled about RBG’s track record. While there is no suggestion of cancellation, I think her (suspected) view of RBG highlights the problem of Cancel Culture.
This morning, as I was showering, I was listening to Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying on their podcast The Darkhorse (Episode #46). They began to discuss how Bret encourages their children to be careful when saying that they are certain of something. Bret goes on to explain that we operate in a reality of probability, and that even saying “I am 100% certain the sun will rise in the east tomorrow” is based on assumptions that themselves are not 100% certain. In the case of the sun rising in the east, the probability that it will not is inconsequential and thus not worth considering, yet it is always important to note that the probability is not actually 100%. I am going to borrow this concept and transpose it onto humans.
In The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, the authors fictionally visit a “wise” man to ask what the three great truths are. This faux wise man gifts them the Three Great Untruths, and this is him explaining the third one:
“Third: life is a battle between good and evil people. Some people are good, and some people are bad. There is so much evil in the world. Where does it come from? Evil people! It is up to you and the rest of the good people in the world to fight them. You must be warriors for virtue and goodness. You can see how bad and wrong some people are. You must call them out! Assemble a coalition of the righteous and shame the evil ones until they change their ways.”
While it is easy to see the lack of wisdom in the faux wise man’s statement, I would wager this is an untruth we all accept from time to time. The driver who cuts you off is an asshole who has no regard for your safety. This untruth makes it easy for us to “other” people and stand firmly and dauntlessly against them. How often do we scrutinize ourselves in a similar fashion? When we (I actually don’t drive so perhaps “we” is a bit too inclusive) cut people off do we label ourselves assholes and unconcerned with the safety of others? No, of course we don’t.
Carson King, a college football fan, held up a sign in the crowd of ESPN’s College Gameday with his Venmo asking for beer money. Many people found it funny and obliged, quickly raising thousands of dollars. He showed great character when he decided to donate the money he raised to a children’s hospital and a few companies (mainly Busch Light and Venmo) pledged to donate alongside him bringing the raised money to over $1 million. Not long after, journalist Aaron Calvin, uncovered two racist tweets (during a “routine background check of King’s social media”) from when King was 16 and decided to shoehorn them into the piece he was writing on the incident. King experienced some of the companies breaking ties with him, even though he was apologetic and deleted the tweets. In a wonderful twist, it was soon discovered that Calvin had an incriminating Twitter history himself, and he was fired from his job.
None of us belong in this ‘coalition of the righteous”. We have all done things that were wrong or hurt others, and since we all have a certain level of… let’s call it badness (though that is hardly the right term) within us, there is a certain level of badness that is not really worth much of our focus just as there is a level of uncertainty that is always present that is not worthy of our focus.
P.S. These are not my complete thoughts on cancel culture. This essay is corroborated by the “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” concept introduced in John Chapter 8 in the New Testament. If we are to take this lesson at face value, it confounds the idea of enforcing justice within a society. If sinning or transgressing disqualifies you against acting as a judge, then we are going to be very short on judges. Obviously, I do not agree with that, but I think it is valuable to act with trepidation when enforcing justice. Cancel Culture relies on the “court of public opinion” which is not bound to operate along any rules and thus falls hopelessly short of our established justice system.
P.P.S. Another aspect of Cancel Culture that I do not touch on here is the motivation behind Aaron Calvin’s “routine background check of King’s social media”. I am sure many of you have observed a common pattern: people gain attention and then other people come forward with the results of “routine background checks”. Why do people so eagerly do this? In some situations, it makes sense. All of the women who came forward as Trump was running for president, one could say they were trying to protect the nation from someone who lacked enough moral character to treat a woman with respect. In some situations, such as Carson King’s, it makes less sense. What did his tweets from years ago have to do with his donation to a children’s hospital?
P.P.P.S. In the case of Carson King, I think Aaron Calvin made a very poor judgement when exposing King’s tweets. King was a young man who gained publicity for deciding to do a very generous thing, which is a wonderful motivator for someone with a chance to do something charitable. Calvin turned that on its head when he reminded King that publicity comes with scrutiny and a purity test that is virtually unpassable. (anyone who thinks that they would pass a purity test does not understand how purity tests work)
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