by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 4
March 2021
Response
14:12

The moral bankruptcy of cancel culture

The NYT's Nikole Hannah-Jones makes a misguided and ahistorical claim
by Peter Franklin

Are we making too big a fuss about cancel culture?

Nikole Hannah-Jones is a Pulitzer-winning reporter at The New York Times. With so many cancel culture stories in the news right now, including those concerning her own newspaper, she took to Twitter to express her frustration:

 

People do tend to ‘whine’ when they have their livelihood destroyed for no good reason. But, yes, Hannah-Jones is right; there is a long history of silencing the marginalised for what they say as well as for as who they are. There is nothing new about cancel culture.

But in what way can it help to have parallel injustices perpetrated against supposedly non-marginalised people in the present day? One might discern an answer to that in what Hannah-Jones says next:

“Nothing ever exists until it happens to the people used to being in power. Only then is it real. Only then is it a problem. Even as they still hold the ultimate power.”
- Nikole Hannah-Jones, Twitter

I don’t think this should be read as a justification for cancel culture. However, the claim that injustices are only ever acknowledged by the powerful when they suffer the things done to the powerless is just plain wrong.

Look at the social progress made over the 19th and 20th centuries. Was the slave trade abolished because white people were enslaved? Were women enfranchised because the vote was taken away from men? Were working conditions for miners improved because the upper classes were sent down the pit?

No. In all these cases, and many more besides, injustice was defeated because its evil was exposed — not least through the courageous witness and protest of its victims.

Sometimes it can take a war — whether literal or metaphorical — to bring down the active perpetrators of injustice, but that is not the same as making an example out of innocents. Indeed, the injustice of revenge plays into the hands of those who perpetrated the original injustice. Suddenly, they can opportunistically portray themselves as victims — and as the defenders of the blameless.

Of course, in the twisted logic of wokeness there are no innocents — at least not within the ‘wrong’ identity groups. Should you fall under a ‘privileged’ category — then you share in its collective guilt.

You don’t need to be a historian to see where that line of thinking leads us.

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Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago

Cancel culture is a symptom of arrested development. It is basically an exercise of power by those who haven’t progressed beyond the moral level of a narcissistic fifteen year-old girl. There is nothing more cowardly and craven than to appeal to a higher authority to punish someone who offends you with mere words.
What surprises me the most about cancel culture is the amount of institutional cowardice I have seen on display by organizations I once respected.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

The knowledge that they can get someone who displeases them sacked is intoxicating.
Institutions who pander to this are the problem.
The Wells person lives in a privileged dreamworld if she thinks it only affects the powerful. You just don’t hear about the ordinary people affected.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Wells is an idiot. What shocks me is the Zuckerberg, Dorsey, Sundar P, and the Youtube CEO cabal uniting to censor an entire segment of political view, and then that they actually do have the power to do it, and get away with it!

The lifestyle Coach/guru who makes a side job out of right leaning comedy video, JP Sears, does youtubes which sail close to being canceled, he has to watch very carefully as he remains on their threatening watch list, and thus threatened to pull his very lucrative business from him if he does not be careful. Try his video on ‘The Great Reset’ how you will own nothing and you will like it, to see what it looks like hovering on the edge of allowed political right leaning comedy… He has been warned, https://youtu.be/bEQcyIGH_vQ

Tobye Pierce
Tobye Pierce
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

Re: institutional cowardice-at least we know who they are. Disappointing perhaps, but useful.

Pierre Pendre
Pierre Pendre
1 year ago

I wonder what role Hannah, the uncrowned queen of the NYT, had in the firing of science reporter Donald McNeil who used the N-word in a perfectly responsible way in reply to a legitimate question from a white adolescent that featured the N-word. If BLM were to achieve the power they seek, the odds are that they’d use it implacably for their own ends rather than for justice.

M Spahn
M Spahn
1 year ago
Reply to  Pierre Pendre

Her whole career–make that her whole life–is an endless whine. This is a person who wrote a letter to the editor of her college newspaper describing whites as subhuman devils who erased the history of Africans peacefully discovering America first. Her thinking and writing since then hasn’t gotten much better, and yet she still was still rewarded with a Pulizer Prize. And yet she does nothing but complain.

William Hickey
William Hickey
1 year ago
Reply to  Pierre Pendre

She was decisive. She threatened in a tweet to conduct her own “investigation” into McNeil’s actions on the Peru trip. The next day he was gone.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

I think that should read ‘Pullitzer-whining’, not ‘Pullitzer-winnning’. And it is many years since anyone has taken either the NYT or the Pulitzer Prize seriously. Or, indeed, any such prizes and baubles.

Nikita Kubanovs
Nikita Kubanovs
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I swear everyone now a days is a prize winning journalist. I’m starting to think these prizes don’t mean all that much…

Linda Brown
Linda Brown
1 year ago

Much like the participation awards given out in grade schools

Patrick O'Connell
Patrick O'Connell
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

It’s not even Pullitzer-whining, it’s Pulitzer-whining

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

One ought to cancel their NYTimes subscription – we did – why support the lunacy they display on a regular basis? It’s stopped being a newspaper and now operates as a propaganda sheet / tabloid. Support ‘The Herd’ instead : )
New more honest institutions are needed.

Last edited 1 year ago by Cathy Carron
Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago

All I’m seeing is rerun of Savonarola’s Florence. Those demanding the cancelling think they are on some sort of moral high ground, when in fact they are cheer leading for dark forces of intolerance and division. When do good people do evil? When institutions tell them that’s what they have to do.

Jonathan Oldbuck
Jonathan Oldbuck
1 year ago

I don’t think this should be read as a justification for cancel culture. 
This tells us Franklin doesn’t understand the extent of the problem nearly as much as he thinks he does. The clue is in the words used by NHJ: “they still hold the ultimate power.” None of this activism is about helping minorities. It’s about power and authoritarianism, or tyranny.

Fred Dibnah
Fred Dibnah
1 year ago

Were working conditions for miners improved because the upper classes were sent down the pit? The answer may well be a qualified yes. As 40,000+ randomly chosen bevin boys were sent down the pit from 1943 to 1948. The second world war was a very levelling experience.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred Dibnah

Good point, perhaps it made a difference. There was a chap in our village who had been a Bevin boy. He would often sing ‘South of the border down Mexico way’ while accompanying himself on the guitar.

Last edited 1 year ago by Fraser Bailey
Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

I don’t think this should be read as a justification for cancel culture.
How else does one read it? An action is not made right or wrong by whom it affects. It is right or wrong on its, and the fraud that is the “journo” at the NYT should know better but pretends not to.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

There are two sides to every argument.
My side is that I am a scientist and the academics who push Cancel Culture are not – in fact they are probably afraid of science, so they try to belittle it and pretend that it is not important. Science and progress go hand in hand together so you stop science and stop progress.
But there is another side. Science and progress has slowly destroyed the planet. For every person who has thrust themselves forward into the melee, to grow a business or to discover a new material, there are thousands of people who have been left behind and feel they’ve been left out. Cancel Culture is an escape for those people.

Mark H
Mark H
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I would have upvoted that but for the final sentence – unless you are referring to middle-class people who would previously have expected to get a nice job. I don’t see any signs of cancel culture among the genuinely deprived (though to be honest since moving to the UK it’s very rare that we interact with people who are genuinely hard-up, so my sample size is smaller).

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark H

Surely, Cancel Culture is middle-class. It actually takes the place of religion. By defining progress as ‘bad’ or ‘the prerogative of aggressive white males’, CC says,
“Come and join us and we will uplift you to the point where you feel good about yourself. Those evil people who have been fighting wars are not for us. We believe that we, our group and only our group, know the truth.”
As you say, CC is not for poor people. It is for people who ‘feel’ deprived for other reasons. In fact, its main weakness is that it doesn’t speak for poor people. Strangely, the Tory Party has become a party of the Left and replaced Labour as the party of the poor people, while the Left pursue middle-class academic fantasies. However, the Tory Party is trying to keep a foot in each camp.

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris Wheatley
Ralph Hanke
Ralph Hanke
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Put me down as a great fan of science or the scientific method. And put me down as accepting that science is imperfect. To me, that implies that when we “do science,” we can sometimes screw up. But that hardly means we shouldn’t “do more science” to clean up whatever mess we created or that “doing more science” is incapable of cleaning up the mess.

Dan Martin
Dan Martin
1 year ago

How many who read this remember that some of the very same soi disant marginalized groups who now attempt to cancel people are the very ones who just a few short years ago were claiming they were victims of cancellation?
Pronouns, anyone?

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
1 year ago

An interesting analysis.
“Look at the social progress made over the 19th and 20th centuries. … injustice was defeated because its evil was exposed — not least through the courageous witness and protest of its victims.”
I think NH-J’s argument, and perhaps the analysis above, centre on the hidden assumption that societal norms, morals and ethical systems do not change over time. ‘As it was then, so it is now’ would need to be opened up to analysis and evaluation otherwise her argument is specious.
Further, that analysis and evaluation must eschew Moral Presentism if it is to avoid anachronisms such as labelling historical events as “evil”, in their time, for example.
“…making an example out of innocents. Indeed, the injustice of revenge…”
My interpretation of her argument does not suggest to me she is motivated by revenge nor collective guilt inasmuch as using a “standpoint epistemology” of critical social justice ideology, as a method for identifying a problem and solving it.
I think the guilt of present-day “people used to being in power”, is not established by NH-J, she just assumes it a priori by virtue of the fact that it is an oppressor identity group for reasons she has also not established.

Last edited 1 year ago by michael stanwick
Ernest DuBrul
Ernest DuBrul
1 year ago

All in all, a splendid commentary. The “Cancel culture” seems to me to be an extension of the middle school schoolyard where personal affronts are settled by nasty actions while major problems are ignored. You can pick all the nits you want, but the way to get rid of all the lice is a good, thorough, medicated shampoo

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
1 year ago

An eye for an eye” (Biblical Hebrew: עַ֚יִן תַּ֣חַת עַ֔יִן‎)[a] or the law of retaliation (Latin: lex talionis)[1] is the principle that a person who has injured another person is to be penalized to a similar degree by the injured party. In softer interpretations, it means the victim receives the [estimated] value of the injury in compensation.

marinazaven
marinazaven
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

Yes, but the “cancel culture” folks are often using their ancestors’ injury as an excuse to commit an injury on someone. The retaliation is often not on a person who has caused injury beyond having an alternative view.

James Moss
James Moss
1 year ago

So what about the intellectual bankruptcy surrounding the use of the term “cancel culture? This platform is just one of many, well-funded, media outlets complaining about – well – the lack of a public platform.

More often than not, the complaint of being “cancelled” is an attempt to gain attention by someone who for whatever reason (be it simple boorishness or worse) is not, in their view, getting sufficient attention

Peter Fisher
Peter Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  James Moss

Because this is not a pro neo-Marxist site, unlike the Guardian, you can write that and it will not be cancelled by the moderators for being ‘…against community guidelines…’, -translation, we don’t agree with what you have written so we are deleting your comment. Go onto any non-Marxist promoting site and they, generally, allow the free exchange of ideas.
Cancel culture is very real, people losing their jobs, the police calling to, ‘check your thinking’ etc.. The moral bankruptcy is in the cancelling of free thought and diversity of opinion that is endemic in so much of mainstream media, social media, and the education system. This is not just the silencing of voices, this is the very real threat of violence, with lecturers -Selina Todd- having security protection to go to classes, lecturers loing their jobs, people being doxed, etc..
To quote the US Supreme Court decision in Flint V Falwell 1988, “At the heart of the First Amendment is the recognition of the fundamental importance of the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public interest and concern. The freedom to speak one’s mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty – and thus a good unto itself – but also is essential to the common quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole.”
While you believe the free exchange of ideas is boorish and attention seeking, you are welcome to that opinion, others believe it is a fundimental right that is essential for liberty to exist.
I was having this conversation with a socialist today. When I was going up in the 70s and 80s it was the fascistic right who opposed freedom of speech, now it is the neo-Marxists. To me, they are two sides of the same coin.

Last edited 1 year ago by Peter Fisher