The effects of “cancel culture” are all around us. A popular conservative social media site with more than 10 million users is suddenly shut down. It essentially disappears from the Internet. A particular pillow brand is not to be found at stores that previously carried and advertised the product. Even a can of beans is eliminated from grocery store shelves due to a different or “unacceptable” philosophy or political idea held by company leadership.
The practice of cancel culture is threatening the very foundation of America and further polarizing our great country. It assumes that those who hold differing viewpoints from our own are “bad” and should not be given the respect of healthy discussion or debate. This is an unfortunate change in our culture. In the past, opposing ideas were allowed. There was a belief and hope that people could reach a mutual solution. Diversity of thought was not seen as threatening but healthy to our society. There was optimism that truth would win in the end. Cancel culture undermines this basic tenet of democracy.
Recently a new low was reached when a member of the House of Representatives called for everyone who worked for the outgoing President’s campaign to have their names placed on a list with the intent to punish them with payback and retribution. The goal was to blacklist and “cancel” those who supported him.
The First Amendment’s very foundation is being undermined by this increasing desire to render obsolete specific ideas and beliefs. Speech now has to “qualify” as either acceptable or unacceptable. We are allowed to fully speak our mind, as long as what we are saying is not deemed “hate speech.” Or we can say what we want, but not if it is “inaccurate speech” or “untruthful speech.” And of course, that which is considered “dehumanizing speech” or “hurtful speech” will not be tolerated.
The question becomes, who determines these qualifications? What group of people will decide what is truthful, accurate, hateful or hurtful? Recently we have been shown the answer to this question. Social media giants such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google have censored, suppressed information and banned certain individuals from using their platforms.
The First Amendment, as written, primarily has to do with the government not prohibiting, controlling, or limiting free speech. But today we see corporations, the press and other entities control speech through their concentration of power. We have moved from physical discourse in the marketplace to virtual discourse. Those who manage the airways (radio, television and the Internet) believe that they have the right to “pull the plug” for any reason. When this occurs, free speech is no longer possible because the mechanism to operate this right has been removed.
To continue as a country that embraces and practices free speech, we must ensure that the vehicles for expression remain open and unimpeded.
This past summer, we saw a ray of hope in this arena from an unexpected non-conservative source. Harper’s Bazaar published “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate.” It stated, among other things, “We uphold the value of robust, even caustic counter-speech from all quarters … The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.”
May we work together to return to one of America’s great founding principles. Free speech must be a protected commodity, and diversity of thought not viewed as a threat but an asset. The unlimited exercise of free speech is essential for our democracy to survive.
Green Eggs and Cancel Culture
San Diego-based Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced in early March that it will cease the publication and licensing of six Dr. Seuss titles:
“And to Think That I Say It on Mulberry Street”
“If I Ran the Zoo”
“On Beyond Zebra!”
“Scrambled Eggs Super!”
“The Cat’s Quizzer”
Dr. Seuss Enterprises, with a panel of experts, claim these books have racial undertones and portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.
Critics also have faulted the “Curious George” books for their premise of a white man bringing home a monkey from Africa.
And Laura Ingalls Wilder’s portrayals of Native Americans in her “Little House On the Prairie” novels have been faulted so often that the American Library Association removed her name in 2018 from a lifetime achievement award it gives out each year.