There has been a lot of talk about the idea of “Cancel Culture” in recent days. Public figures are “cancelled” because of their opinions or sometimes even because of something from their past, even potentially far in their past. This usually involves the elimination of their voice from the world of the person who is cancelling them. You might block them on social media or say you refuse to ever watch their show or sport or buy their products again. In some extreme examples, it has involved more aggressive tactics including group shaming by having everyone attack the person who is cancelled (usually by media) or even “doxing” the person by publicly outing personnel details about their life to make it easier for people to harass them for their viewpoints.
When this idea first started trending, it was usually related to something that was more universally considered to be wrong and often criminal behavior. Prominent figures who were caught with their hand in the cookie jar were not only arrested and tried, but they were tried and shamed in the court of public opinion as well. This has happened many times in the past before the concept of cancelling anyone was ever talked about, but the main difference now is the walls between public and private are much thinner. Social media makes most people public figures and the amount of information that can be learned and quickly passed on has grown on an accelerating curve. In the past, some of those in trouble ducked out of sight for a bit and came back not long after. Now, the shame seems to linger.
Over the last 2 years, the targets for cancelling have moved out of the realm of the criminal and landed more on what could be called “popularly out of favor”. It is not unusual to see someone lose a job or an opportunity because of an opinion they hold (or perhaps held a long time in the past) and for that to cascade into calls for a type of ban on this person to continue long into the future. Movies let go of actors and directors, companies fire staff and even CEOs and it can even spread and happen on smaller, more local levels like communities and schools. People find themselves cancelled with little opportunity to defend themselves.
When this type of thing becomes commonplace, it is highly problematic. Rational dialogue and discourse is thrown out the window. Instead of going to someone and asking, “what did you mean by that,” we make the assumption that we are perfect interpreters of another person’s words and thoughts and our condemnation and criticism spreads the interpretations faster and farther than the original message. Many people read these type of scripted misinterpretations without ever hearing the original context. This doesn’t just happen on social media, but through the news media as well. The extreme reaction to an opinion is found to be more interesting and newsworthy than the original opinion in its proper context.
There is of course an arrogance in always assuming our perspective is the correct one. We are all guilty of Fundamental Attribution Error at some levels. It is the assumption that our motives are pure, but to refuse to give another person the benefit of the doubt. Of course, just like sometimes we do have mixed motives, sometimes the person we are criticizing really does deserve it, but to move away from the opportunity to engage the person and find out more about the why behind the what they said is to engage in our own form of fascism.
Fascism is another trending topic and accusations of this abound. It seems that seeking to cancel someone over fascist-like views is on the docket for one of our next trends in cancel culture. Fascism is frequently applied to controlling governments, but it also can be applied to the behavior of individuals and groups. At it’s core, it involves a ruling elitist class that inflicts their preferred viewpoint through force. For 19 years, I lived in a country that trended sharply in this direction. People were arrested and thrown in prison regularly for having opposing viewpoints. I heard many stories of people whose family members were picked up because of what they shared on social media. 10,000’s of people lost their jobs because of their viewpoints. All press except that which was controlled by the government was eliminated. This is what fascism in government looks like.
Can Cancel Culture be fascism? It can be applied in a fascist way, but cancel culture isn’t fascism unless it has the power. Power defines the outcome in these circumstances. When a large company that has total control of an industry begins to systematically eliminate viewpoints that don’t fit their perspective that goes beyond censorship and enters the realm of fascism. When a powerful media conglomerate forces out anyone who has a different opinion that also moves in that direction. Fascism has to have the power to succeed, then the entity or person is able to force their perspective of the world on whoever they want.
In the time leading up to the election, it seems cancel culture has evolved yet again. In the past, it was focused on a type of punishment for past or current behaviors, but this election seems to have brought out the worst in many people, including some who call themselves believers. From both sides of the voting divide, I have heard very strong statements to the effect of, “If you vote for “ “, I will cancel you. Sometimes this is cloaked in Biblical rhetoric. Jesus wouldn’t vote for…. or x# of reasons why you can’t vote for so and so. Other times the threat is not about faith, but about relationships. If you vote for this person, we cannot be friends anymore. They are in effect, threatening everyone who reads their post or hears their proclamation.
This type of threat is the social media equivalent of putting a gun to someone’s head and demanding that they comply with your directions. Instead of having reasoned conversations with people and being willing to listen to opinions that may be vastly different than our own, we assume that all the wisdom lies on our side of the aisle and the other side’s perspective must be eliminated. This is the type of fundamentalist perspective that certain groups have been accused of, but it seems to be more and more common across the majority of groups now. By threatening our friends, neighbors and family members concerning their opinions, we continue to reinforce the walls of our own echo chamber of ideas as we eliminate all discourse across groups.
Ultimately, this sort of thinking has 2 possible destinations if it continues. One is fascism and the other is terrorism. Fascists have all the power, so they enforce their viewpoint and that viewpoint alone on everyone they have authority over. Terrorists recognize their lack of power, but still refuse to acknowledge the validity of any differing viewpoint, so they act in violence, abuse and destruction in order to do as much damage as possible to those in power. Both of these alternatives destroy lives and leave wreckage behind, the only difference is in the nature of the way the damage is done. Our country hasn’t known either of these evils in their truest forms and for that we can be grateful, but if we aren’t careful, absolutism and cancel culture can force us further down these roads.
We do have an election coming up very soon. One side will end up with more votes than the other. Some of those who threatened their fellow citizens will end up on the losing side, others will be on the winning side. No matter which side wins, if we continue on the path that we are on, we will all lose. Don’t wait for the election, engage the opposition now. Build bridges, not walls. Listen first and seek to really understand. Don’t cancel your relationships. There really is much more at stake than just the election.
For believers, if you don’t already know, cancel culture is not an option. We can disagree with people, but people are too valuable to cancel out of our lives over opinions. Here are just a few of the things the Bible says about disagreements with one another:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, ..
Ephesians 4:1–3 (ESV)
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.
Romans 14:1 (ESV)
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
James 4:11 (ESV)