by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 4
March 2021

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.

Join the discussion

  • 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.

  • 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,

  • 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.

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