Cancel Culture

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Contextual Quote

"‘Cancel culture’ teaches its adherents to focus on weaknesses of people in order to tear down their strengths, rather than uniting with people’s strengths to overcome those weaknesses, in light of the common threats we all face. It trains people in suspicion, fear, hyper-sensitivity, and overreaction, and thrives on decontextualization and sensationalism. It teaches people to weaponize vulnerabilities and to instrumentalize others as means to an end, rather than treating them as human ends in themselves. It traffics in moral posturing more than political strategy, expressing a burning impatience with wrongdoing in the world—this is its positive aspect—but too-often directing that impatience against regular people, against comrades, and often against intellectual discussion or due process itself: all things we need if we are to change the world for the better. Unable to strike meaningfully at the heights of the system, CC tends towards ‘horizontal violence,’ with callous disregard for those it harms or the work it wrecks. ... CC seizes upon the faults of others as if those who have strayed thereby become irredeemable monsters—infiltrators to be purged, punished, or eliminated from pristine existing spaces. Faced with a complex world of developing human beings, always operating in conditions not entirely of their own choosing, cancel culture insists on Angels and Demons. It thereby discourages genuine openness, intimacy, trust, friendship and understanding, while silencing those who don’t abide its wild swings of judgment. As we’ve seen above, cancel culture traffics in guilt by association, expresses cynicism about people & their potential to change, and embodies an anti-intellectualism mired in narrow identitarianism, as well as deeply problematic notions of evidence & epistemology. It also evinces a profound lack of strategy, for which it substitutes performative moral panic and self-righteousness. At times, to be sure, cancel culture is instrumentalized deliberately to forward individual careers, or to deliberately destroy movement-organizations, whether by those with personal vendettas or in the employ of the enemy state (see COINTELPRO). Such deliberately destructive actors, however, could not succeed without the help of many well-intentioned people, who, nonetheless, tacitly enable cancel culture’s destructive practices. Even as, on some level, they may know better."

- Red Goat Collective [1]


Jonathan Rauch:

"So what, exactly, does a cancellation consist of? And how does it differ from the exercise of free speech and robust critical debate?

At a conceptual level, the difference is clear. Criticism marshals evidence and arguments in a rational effort to persuade. Canceling, by contrast, seeks to organize and manipulate the social or media environment in order to isolate, deplatform or intimidate ideological opponents. It is about shaping the information battlefield, not seeking truth; and its intent—or at least its predictable outcome—is to coerce conformity and reduce the scope for forms of criticism that are not sanctioned by the prevailing consensus of some local majority.

In practice, however, telling canceling apart from criticism can be difficult because both take the form of criticizing others. That is why it is probably impossible to devise a simple bright-line test of what should count as a harmful instance of cancelation.

A better approach might therefore be diagnostic."


What does it mean to be canceled?

Canceled People Database:

"There has been some controversy over whether or not cancel culture is real. Obviously, we do think it is real - that is the whole reason this database exists!

Part of the problem when discussing cancel culture’s prevalence and existence is that there has been no clear definition of what it means to be canceled."

For the purposes of this database, we will use the following definition:

  • The canceled person has been targeted for behavior that falls within the boundaries of “reasonable expression” (see more on this below). The “offense” may not be recent, and it may not even be their own action.
  • The canceled person has lost their job or position (this includes forced resignations). Their future professional opportunities have been limited. If they are self-employed, they have suffered financial losses from a boycott or sabotage of their company.
  • The canceled person has faced a coordinated effort to silence them. The effort seeks to render their person or their ideas unfit to discuss.
  • The canceled person has faced a coordinated effort to shame them and destroy their reputation. The effort seeks to damage their self-worth and will likely target their personal or professional relationships."


What is reasonable expression?

Canceled People Database:

"You may notice that the obvious and unavoidable problem with this definition lies in the use of “reasonable expression”. What behavior falls within the realm of “reasonable”, and what does not? What can be discussed? What should be silenced?

This is extremely tricky for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the window of reasonable expression should be considered within the context of the individual’s nation and culture; different cultures have different social norms. Secondly, the window of reasonable expression shifts over time, but the “offense” for which someone is canceled is typically not judged by the window of the past, but by the window of the present. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, the window is subjective and may shift depending on a person’s politics, values, and opinions. What is reasonable to someone on the far left will not be reasonable to someone on the far right, and vice versa.

In fact, cancelations can be seen as an attempt to shift the window of reasonable expression itself and exclude the canceled person’s behavior or speech from what is acceptable, rational, and debatable into what is unacceptable, dangerous, and unspeakable.

The only way to combat this issue of subjectivity is to acknowledge it directly. Our database moderators will need to use subjective decision-making to determine what can be included.

However, there are a few guiding principles we will follow:

  • "Hate speech is not considered “reasonable expression” although it is technically protected in America under the First Amendment.
  • Facts matter. Data and scientific evidence should fall into the realm of “reasonable expression”, even if they can potentially lead to controversial conclusions or have the potential to be used in a hateful way.
  • Intent matters. Saying a racial slur in an academic context (for example, reading from a book) is very different from using a racial slur in a way intended to harm another person. Intent and context are important when judging a person’s actions.
  • When in doubt, we will not restrict what is considered “reasonable”. In a free society, speech, opinions, and expression should be allowed to be as broad as possible, even if a majority disagree with it.
  • Something important to note: cancelation is not a permanent state. Being canceled means that something important was taken away from a person. However, canceled people are not victims barred from the possibility of a happy and productive life."



Jonathan Rauch:

"Six warning signs make up my personal checklist for cancel culture.


Are people denouncing you to your employer, your professional groups or your social connections? Are you being blacklisted from jobs and social opportunities? Does what is being said to or about you have the goal—or foreseeable effect—of jeopardizing your livelihood or isolating you socially?

A critical culture seeks to correct rather than punish. In science, the penalty for being wrong is not that you lose your job or your friends. Normally, the only penalty is that you lose the argument. Even the phenomenon of retracting papers is new and deservedly controversial, because the usual—and very effective—method has been for science to simply discard mistakes and move on. Wrong answers and bad science die on the vine and disappear. Incentives are mostly positive, not punitive: for being right, you win citations, promotions, fame and fancy prizes. Taking a punitive attitude toward mistakes undermines the scientific process because knowledge advances by trial and error.

Canceling, by contrast, seeks to punish rather than correct—and often for a single misstep rather than a long track record of failure. A professor swears to “ruin [a graduate student’s] reputation permanently and deservedly.” Campaigners against an art curator declare he “must be removed from his job, effective immediately.”

The point is to make the errant suffer.


Are campaigners attempting to prevent you from publishing your work, giving speeches or attending meetings? Are they claiming that allowing you to be heard is violence against them or makes them unsafe?

A critical culture tolerates dissent rather than silencing it. It understands that dissent can seem obnoxious, harmful, hateful and, yes, unsafe. To minimize unnecessary damage, it goes to great lengths to encourage people to express themselves in a civil manner. But it also understands that, every so often, an obnoxious dissenter is right—and so it opposes silencing and deplatforming.

Canceling, by contrast, seeks to shut up and shout down its targets. Cancelers often define the mere act of disagreeing with them as a threat to their safety or even an act of violence. Staffers at the New York Times claimed that the mere act of publishing a controversial op-ed piece endangered them. Staffers at the New Yorker demanded that Steve Bannon be deplatformed. Shout-downs, disinvitations and demands for retractions and withdrawals are cancelers’ stock in trade.


Does criticism appear to be organized and targeted? Are the organizers recruiting others to pile on? Are you being swarmed and brigaded? Are people hunting through your work and scouring social media to find ammunition to use against you?

Critical culture relies on persuasion. The way to win an argument is to convince others that you are right. Often, of course, schools of thought form, and arguments between them can grow heated; but organizing pressure campaigns against political or ideological targets is usually considered out of bounds.

By contrast, it’s common to see cancelers organize hundreds of petition-signers or thousands of social media users to dig up and prosecute an indictment. Recently, for example, campaigners picked through the social media posts of the psychologist (and member of Persuasion’s Board of Advisers) Steven Pinker in the hope of digging up some kind of case against him. Though they only came up with trivial charges, such as that he had twice used the terms “urban crime” and “urban violence,” they got hundreds of signatories to join a group denunciation.

Secondary Boycotts

Is there an explicit or implicit threat that people who support you will get the same punitive treatment that you are receiving? Are people putting pressure on employers and professional colleagues to fire you or stop associating with you? Do people who defend you, or criticize the campaign against you, have to fear adverse consequences?

With its commitments to exploring a wide range of ideas and correcting rather than coercing the errant, a critical culture sees no value in instilling a climate of fear. But instilling fear is what canceling is all about. By choosing targets unpredictably (almost anything can trigger a campaign), providing no safe harbors (even conformists can get hit), and implicitly threatening anyone who sides with those who are targeted, canceling sends the message: “you could be next.”

Thus, a canceled journalist was quickly dropped by his employer, his professional association and his publisher, becoming “radioactive,” as he put it. (At last check, he was applying to law schools.) In the resulting climate, people will often join public denunciations or refrain from defending targets they believe to be innocent, to avoid becoming controversial themselves.

Moral Grandstanding

Is the tone of the discourse ad hominem, repetitive, ritualistic, posturing, accusatory, outraged? Are people flattening distinctions, demonizing you, slinging inflammatory labels and engaging in moral one-upmanship? Are people ignoring what you actually say—talking about but not to you?

Precisely because speech can be hurtful, critical culture discourages extreme rhetoric. It encourages people to listen to each other, to use evidence and argumentation, to behave reasonably and to avoid personal attacks.

Cancel culture is much more invested in what philosophers Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke call “moral grandstanding”: the display of moral outrage to impress one’s peer group, dominate others, or both. Grandstanders who condemn someone are not interested in persuading or correcting her; in fact, they are not really talking to her at all. Rather, they are using her as a convenient object in a campaign to elevate their own status. Pile-ons, personal attacks and bidding wars to show the most outrage are all ways of engaging in moral grandstanding.


Are the things being said about you inaccurate? Do the people saying them not even seem to care about their veracity? Do they feel at liberty to distort your words, ignore corrections and make false accusations?

Concern for accuracy is the north star of a critical culture. Not everyone gets every fact right, nor do people always agree on what is true; and yet people in a critical culture try to present their own and others’ viewpoints honestly and accurately. Though I may fail to live up to this standard in some cases, I recognize that I should address what you actually said, not an inflammatory caricature or some out-of-context quotation.

One of many reasons Donald Trump is a menace to democracy is that he views truth instrumentally, as something to use, abuse or ignore depending on the needs of the moment. He repeats discredited assertions again and again—or shifts ground to another when one assertion is definitively debunked. Cancelers often play the same kind of rhetorical Calvinball.

Cancelers’ characterizations of a paper by the philosopher Rebecca Tuvel, for example, were demonstrably incorrect. The person who initiated the campaign even admitted to not having read the supposedly objectionable paper. “So little of what has been said … is based upon people actually reading what I wrote,” Tuvel lamented in a public statement.

But that did not stop anybody. For canceling is not about seeking truth or persuading others; it is a form of information warfare, in which truthiness suffices if it serves the cause."



For reference, see the [[Canceled People Database.

Conor Friedersdorf:

University of Chicago economist Harald Uhlig

"The University of Chicago economist Harald Uhlig tweeted that Black Lives Matter “torpedoed itself” by supporting calls to defund the police. “Time for sensible adults to enter back into the room and have serious, earnest, respectful conversations about it all,” he wrote. “We need more police, we need to pay them more, we need to train them better.” In response, other academics organized a campaign to remove him from the editorship of a scholarly journal; and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, a quasi-governmental institution, cut ties with him, asserting that his views are incompatible with its “commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.” Yet the beliefs that defunding the police is a bad idea, and that protesters who advocate for it will lose political support, are common. Many at the Fed surely hold them. All political litmus tests in public institutions are fraught. That litmus test is farcical.

UCLA, Gordon Klein

At UCLA, Gordon Klein, a lecturer who has taught at the institution since 1981, dismissively declined an emailed request to alter the requirements of his final exam for Black students during the George Floyd protests. “Are there any students that may be of mixed parentage, such as half black-half Asian?” he wrote. “What do you suggest I do with respect to them? A full concession or just half?” He concluded the email, “One last thing strikes me: Remember that MLK famously said that people should not be evaluated based on the ‘color of their skin.’ Do you think that your request would run afoul of MLK’s admonition?”

Denying the student’s request was within his discretion, as UCLA’s Academic Senate’s Committee on Academic Freedom affirmed. Nevertheless, a petition calling for his dismissal accrued 21,000 signatures, and he was suspended pending an investigation. “This investigation is almost certainly based on the tone or viewpoint of his email, which was—however brusque—protected expression on a matter of profound public interest,” the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education argued. “Klein must be immediately reinstated, and UCLA’s leaders must make clear that their commitment to academic freedom is stronger than an online mob.”

In Vermont, a public-school principal

In Vermont, a public-school principal posted her thoughts about Black Lives Matter on Facebook:

I firmly believe that Black Lives Matter, but I DO NOT agree with the coercive measures taken to get to this point across... While I want to get behind BLM, I do not think people should be made to feel they have to choose black race over human race. While I understand the urgency to feel compelled to advocate for black lives, what about our fellow law enforcement? What about all others who advocate for and demand equity for all?

Her school board quickly announced that despite the principal’s “meaningful and positive impact,” her “glaring miscomprehension” of Black Lives Matter would damage the school and its students if she remained in charge. They removed her for speech that is clearly protected by the First Amendment, engaging in viewpoint discrimination. That is an unlawful violation of her civil rights.

data scientist, David Shor

A respected data scientist, David Shor, tweeted a link to Princeton Professor Omar Wasow’s recently published academic paper concluding that violent protests diminish the electoral prospects of the Democratic coalition. As a result, he was banned from a listserv of left-of-center data analysts and appears to have been fired from his job at Civis Analytics. (Emerson Collective, the majority owner of The Atlantic, is a minority investor in Civis Analytics.) “For those of you who don’t realize what makes the tweet problematic,” one member of the listserv wrote, “try not to overanalyze the statistical validity of the research paper and think about the broader impact it will have if people perceive it to be true.” That standard demands that people self-censor the truth.

A group of policing-reform advocates

A group of policing-reform advocates identified eight use-of-force policies that are statistically associated with fewer police killings. Then they successfully lobbied dozens of cities to adopt their “8 Can’t Wait” measures, such as banning chokeholds, mandating de-escalation, and requiring cops to intervene to stop excessive force. In a sign of the times, their website now leads with a mea culpa. “Even with the best of intentions, the #8CANTWAIT campaign unintentionally detracted from efforts of fellow organizers invested in paradigmatic shifts that are newly possible,” they wrote. “For this we apologize wholeheartedly, and without reservation.”

Because even insufficient radicalism from allies draws ire, many may feel tempted to keep quiet and observe. But “silence is violence,” some insist. That phrase is chanted on the streets, and its logic is being applied to individuals and institutions. In The New York Times, the author Chad Sanders urged shunning of the silent, advising his white friends to text their relatives and loved ones “telling them you will not be visiting them or answering phone calls until they take significant action in supporting black lives either through protest or financial contributions.” Those are cult tactics.

The theater producer Marie Crisco created and circulated a Google Doc titled “Theaters Not Speaking Out” naming and shaming more than 400 performing-arts venues that “have not made a statement against injustices toward black people.” The Los Angeles Times reported that many theaters then posted messages of solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Crisco told the newspaper that the words seemed to come from a place of shame and “felt slapped together and hollow.”

How could they not? Before this month, no one expected theaters to release statements on worldly injustices or for theater staffers to be skilled at drafting them with the right tone and substance. Yet many institutions are treated as if a failure to quickly publish something that conforms absolutely to highly contested interpretations of anti-racism renders them deserving of opprobrium.

Denver bookstore, The Tattered Cover

A Denver bookstore, The Tattered Cover, felt compelled earlier this month to explain why it had not released a statement on protests in its city. “We want to make a statement of support and take a moment to explain why we’ve been quiet,” the book store’s owners declared. “We agree with, embrace, and believe that black lives matter. We reject the statement ‘All Lives Matter’ as an either valid or helpful response ... We stand in solidarity with our black friends and neighbors, and grieve the senseless and brutal loss of life; not just of George Floyd and other recent victims, but of all lives lost from centuries of oppression and abuse. We believe there must be systemic change.”

So why had it kept quiet? The bookstore explained that it had maintained a “nearly 50-year policy of not engaging in public debate,” premised on a belief that even proclaiming “simple and unalterable truths” would be anathema to a mission it holds dear: “to provide a place where access to ideas, and the free exchange of ideas, can happen in an uninhibited way.” As they saw it, “If Tattered Cover puts its name and weight either behind, or in opposition to, one idea, members of our community will have an expectation that we must do the same for all ideas. Engaging in public debate is not, we believe, how Tattered Cover has been and can be of greatest value to our community.” The owners closed by pledging to feature more titles by Black authors, to schedule more events with Black authors, and to continue to hire and promote employees from diverse backgrounds.

Their statement of supposed neutrality affirmed everything most businesses say when supporting Black Lives Matter. But because it did not treat solidarity as preeminent, it was deemed too problematic to abide. “I’ve just told my publicist to cancel my 6/23 event in conjunction with Tattered Cover,” the author Carmen Maria Machado announced. “Unlike the owners, I know that choosing neutrality in matters of oppression only reinforces structural violence.”

Soon, the owners released a second statement apologizing for the first one. “We are horrified at having violated your trust. We deserve your outrage and disappointment,” it began. “Tattered Cover will no longer stand by while human rights are being violated. To be silent is to be complicit, to be neutral in the face of injustice is an act of injustice itself.” In fact, statements of solidarity and self-flagellating apologies for wrongthink don’t advance social or racial justice any more than displaying and exalting the American flag after 9/11 made the U.S. safer from al-Qaeda. For now, the bookstore has failed to release statements condemning America’s campaign of drone strikes, War on Terror detainees still held in indefinite detention, or the epidemic of rape and sexual abuse in juvenile-detention facilities. Is the bookstore complicit in all of those evils?" (

Effect on Ordinary Working Class People (non-celebrities)

A threadreader of 43 tweets, which profiles 200+ cases of cancellations of ordinary people, 25 June 2021, By Eva Tallaksen,

"Is cancel culture real, or a right-wing bogey man?

I decided to dig in and was taken aback by how many stories I came across of 'canceled' people. I expected a few dozen, found well over 200.

In this🧵, I will post some of these stories. But first, some context👇 First, what do I mean by cancel culture? I was not interested in celebrities or politicians whose living is intertwined with their public image.

Instead, I wanted to know how many ordinary people were affected.

My criteria were therefore:

1) non-public figures ... ... 2) called out by others – sometimes a mob, sometimes publicly – for an alleged perceived offense *which is not punishable by law* and does not constitute hate speech

3) Suffered a real life impact as a consequence, many times without due process

Why these criteria?... ... Because IMO these are the cases that separate a rule of law from a rule of the mob.

In this age of growing censorship by tech companies, it is scary to observe ordinary people getting fired or otherwise punished for perfectly legal personal or professional views and deeds. "


More incidents

Directory of incidents related to identity politics in general, not exclusively cancel culture events:


Ten Theses about cancel culture

By Ross Douthat:


Cancellation, properly understood, refers to an attack on someone’s employment and reputation by a determined collective of critics, based on an opinion or an action that is alleged to be disgraceful and disqualifying.

“Reputation” and “employment” are key terms here. You are not being canceled if you are merely being heckled or insulted — if somebody describes you as a moron or a fascist or some profane alternative to “Douthat” on the internet — no matter how vivid and threatening the heckling becomes. You are decidedly at risk of cancellation, however, if your critics are calling for you to be de-platformed or fired or put out of business, and especially if the call is coming from inside the house — from within your professional community, from co-workers or employees or potential customers or colleagues, on a professional message board or Slack or some interest-specific slice of social media.

2. All cultures cancel; the question is for what, how widely and through what means.

There is no human society where you can say or do anything you like and expect to keep your reputation and your job. Reputational cancellation hung over the heads of Edith Wharton’s heroines; professional cancellation shadowed 20th-century figures like Lenny Bruce. Today, almost all critics of cancel culture have some line they draw, some figure — usually a racist or anti-Semite — that they would cancel, too. And social conservatives who criticize cancel culture, especially, have to acknowledge that we’re partly just disagreeing with today’s list of cancellation-worthy sins.

3. Cancellation isn’t exactly about free speech, but a liberal society should theoretically cancel less frequently than its rivals.

The canceled individual hasn’t lost any First Amendment rights, because there is no constitutional right to a particular job or reputation. At the same time, under its own self-understanding, liberalism is supposed to clear a wider space for debate than other political systems and allow a wider range of personal expression. So you would expect a liberal society to be slower to cancel, more inclined to separate the personal and the professional (or the ideological and the artistic), and quicker to offer opportunities to regain one’s reputation and start one’s professional life anew.

“It’s a free country,” runs the American boast, and even if it doesn’t violate the Constitution, cancellation cuts against that promise — which is one reason arguments about cancel culture so often become arguments about liberalism itself.

4. The internet has changed the way we cancel, and extended cancellation’s reach.

On the other hand, a skeptic might say that it wasn’t liberalism but space and distance that made America a free country — the fact that you could always escape the tyrannies of local conformism by “lighting out for the territory,” in the old Mark Twain phrase. But under the rule of the internet there’s no leaving the village: Everywhere is the same place, and so is every time. You can be canceled for something you said in a crowd of complete strangers, if one of them uploads the video, or for a joke that came out wrong if you happened to make it on social media, or for something you said or did a long time ago if the internet remembers. And you don’t have to be prominent or political to be publicly shamed and permanently marked: All you need to do is have a particularly bad day, and the consequences could endure as long as Google.

5. The internet has also made it harder to figure out whether speech is getting freer or less free.

When critics of cancel culture fret about a potential online-era chill on speech, one rejoinder is that you can find far more ideas — both radical and noxious — swirling on the internet than you could in a sampling of magazines and daily newspapers circa 1990. It’s easier to encounter ideological extremes on your smartphone than it was in the beforetime of print media, and easier to encounter hateful speech as well.

But at the same time the internet has hastened the consolidation of cultural institutions, so that the New York Times and the Ivy League and other behemoths loom larger than they did 30 years ago, and it’s arguably increased uniformity across cities and regions and industries in general. And the battle over norms for cancellation reflects both of these changes: For would-be cancelers, the chaos of the internet makes it seem that much more important to establish rigorous new norms, lest the online racists win … but for people under threat of cancellation, it feels like they’re at risk at being shut out of a journalistic or academic marketplace that’s ever more consolidated, or defying a consensus that’s embraced by every boardroom and HR department.

6. Celebrities are the easiest people to target, but the hardest people to actually cancel.

One of the ur-examples of cancel culture was activist Suey Park’s 2014 hashtag campaign to #cancelColbert over a satirical tweet from the Twitter account of “The Colbert Report.” Six years later, Stephen Colbert is very much uncanceled. So are Dave Chappelle, J.K. Rowling and a much longer list of prominent pop culture figures who have faced online mobs and lived to tell, sell and perform.

Their resilience explains why some people dismiss cancellation as just famous people whining about their critics. If someone has a big enough name or fan base, the bar for actual cancellation is quite high, and the celebrity might even have the opportunity — like a certain reality-television star on the campaign trail in 2016 — to use the hatred of the would-be cancelers to confirm a fandom or cement a following.

However, not everyone is a celebrity, and …

7. Cancel culture is most effective against people who are still rising in their fields, and it influences many people who don’t actually get canceled.

The point of cancellation is ultimately to establish norms for the majority, not to bring the stars back down to earth. So a climate of cancellation can succeed in changing the way people talk and argue and behave even if it doesn’t succeed in destroying the careers of some of the famous people that it targets. You don’t need to cancel Rowling if you can cancel the lesser-known novelist who takes her side; you don’t have to take down the famous academics who signed last week’s Harper’s Magazine letter attacking cancel culture if you can discourage people half their age from saying what they think. The goal isn’t to punish everyone, or even very many someones; it’s to shame or scare just enough people to make the rest conform.

8. The right and the left both cancel; it’s just that today’s right is too weak to do it effectively.

Is it cancel culture when conservatives try to get college professors disciplined for anti-Americanism, or critics of Israel de-platformed for anti-Semitism? Sure, in a sense. Was it cancel culture when the Dixie Chicks — sorry, the artists formerly known as the Dixie Chicks — were dropped by radio stations and tour venues, or when Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect” was literally canceled, for falling afoul of patriotic correctness? Absolutely.

But as the latter examples suggest, the last peak of right-wing cultural power was the patriotically correct climate after Sept. 11, a cultural eon in the past. Today the people with the most to fear from a right-wing cancel culture usually work inside Trump-era professional conservatism. (And even for them there’s often a new life awaiting as a professional NeverTrumper.) Attempted cancellations on the right are mostly battles for control over diminishing terrain, with occasional forays against red-state academics and anti-Trump celebrities. Meanwhile, the left’s cancel warriors imagine themselves conquering the entire non-Fox News map.

9. The heat of the cancel-culture debate reflects the intersection of the internet as a medium for cancellation with the increasing power of left-wing moral norms as a justification for cancellation.

It’s not just technology or ideology, in other words, it’s both. The emergent, youthful left wants to take current taboos against racism and anti-Semitism and use them as a model for a wider range of limits — with more expansive definitions of what counts as racism and sexism and homophobia, a more sweeping theory of what sorts of speech and behavior threaten “harm” and a more precise linguistic etiquette for respectable professionals to follow. And the internet and social media, both outside institutions and within, are crucial mechanisms for this push.

It’s debatable whether these new left-wing norms would be illiberal or whether they would simply infuse liberalism with a new morality to replace the old Protestant consensus. It’s arguable whether they would expand the space for previously marginalized voices more than they would restrict once-mainstream, now “phobic” points of view. But there’s no question that people who fall afoul of the emergent norms are more exposed to cancellation than they would have been 10 or 20 years ago.

10. If you oppose left-wing cancel culture, appeals to liberalism and free speech aren’t enough.

I said earlier that debates about cancellations are also inevitably debates about liberalism and its limits. But to defend a liberal position in these arguments you need more than just a defense of free speech in the abstract; you need to defend free speech for the sake of some important, true idea. General principles are well and good, but if you can’t champion controversial ideas on their own merits, no merely procedural argument for granting them a platform will sustain itself against a passionate, morally confident attack.

So liberals or centrists who fear the left-wing zeal for cancellation need a counterargument that doesn’t rest on right-to-be-wrong principles alone. They need to identify the places where they think the new left-wing norms aren’t merely too censorious but simply wrong, and fight the battle there, on substance as well as liberal principle.

Otherwise their battle for free speech is only likely to win them the privilege of having their own ideas canceled last of all." (

More information

  • Twitter thread by Wokal Distance:[2] ; [3]

Recommended by the Red Goat Collective [4]:

  1. Socialist feminist Liza Featherstone forcefully frames some of the problem in terms of the hegemony of neoliberal individualism and consumerism, in her February 2022 Jacobin essay, “The Political is Not Personal”: .
  2. Black linguist and conservative social critic John McWhorter frames part of problem in religious terms of the “Woke Elect” in his 2021 best-seller Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America.
  3. Katha Pollitt’s May 2022 column in the Nation magazine, “Cancel Culture Exists” documents several specific instances of unjust cancellation, while arguing that many more such cases remain publicly unknown: .
  4. See also Ben Burgis’ 2021 book Cancelling Comedians While the World Burns: A Critique of the Contemporary Left,, and
  5. Ngoc Loan Tran’s 2013 essay, “Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable,” , as well as
  6. Bill Fletcher Jr’s Feb. 13, 2019 article in The Nation, “Rethinking Ralph Northam”:
  7. This recent piece in The Intercept by Ryan Grim details how a ‘cancel culture’ dynamic can interrupt and undermine even an honest democratic socialist attempt at transformative justice: ↑