Right Wing Cancel Culture Is the Real Threat — Why Are We Ignoring It?
Over the past few years, there has been an explosion of commentary on YouTube and Twitter about the “authoritarian left” and “cancel culture.” By their own account, the free speech warriors have led a brave charge against far left marauders. According to many people, the authoritarian left is tantamount to the Thought Police, every bit as dangerous, a real and present danger to free speech and Enlightenment values.
The list of free speech warriors include Sam Harris, the Weinstein brothers, Andrew Sullivan, James Lindsay, Joe Rogan, Claire Lehmann, and more. These commentators claim that there is a new, rising left-wing conspiracy, whose aim is to quell speech and thought, and to “cancel” those who don’t toe the left wing line.
Some of these commentators, like Lindsey and Lehman, focus entirely and exclusively on the perceived sins of the left. They claim they’ve uncovered a pernicious threat to free speech and democracy, a new and dangerous version of the Stasi. They praise each other for their bravery, risking censure or cancellation, all in the name of protecting free speech.
Here’s the truth, though: None of this is new. We used to call this “political correctness” in the 1990s. We were writing about the problems with political correctness in the early 1990s when I was the president of the Texas A&M College Republicans as well as the Editor in Chief of the Aggie Republican newspaper. Seriously, this is nothing new. We’ve been through this before. To borrow a phrase from the times, Lighten up Francis.
Have any of our free speech warriors read ”Illiberal Education” by Dinesh D’Souza, who I (somewhat embarrassingly, now) personally hosted for dinner and a speech at a Texas A&M College Republican event?
Give it a read. Please.
From the Amazon description: “Illiberal Education” “documents how the politics of race and gender in our universities are rapidly eating away traditions of scholarship and reward for individual achievement”
It says the exact same thing our free speech warriors say now, only 35 years earlier. (For the record, I have long since abandoned my college political beliefs). You are mini-D’Souzas.
Political correctness isn’t new, my friends. It’s been with us for a very long time. I imagine most of the free speech warriors probably don’t remember the early 1990s too well because by their own admission, many of them drank, smoked, sexed, snorted, or meditated their way through their early 20s. (which is fine — no judgment — they probably had a better time in college than most of us).
Anyway while they were busy drinking, passing joints, taking acid, and going on meditation retreats, some of us were fighting against political correctness on campus. We were talking about this long before you folks awoke politically. You’ve stumbled upon a river and think you discovered water.
The problem here is that when you think you are one of the few people “woke” enough (yes, irony intended) to defend us all from these scary left winger cancel monsters, you tend to overestimate the originality of your ideas and the importance of your work.
You become a hammer, and everyone who disagrees with you from the left is automatically a nail.
Notice, please, that you only hammer the left. Only the far left wing students, professors, journalists and Hollywood do-gooders are to fear. That’s the real danger, according to the free speech warriors.
It’s far easier to focus on the low-hanging fruit, the untalented academics with no power, the ones who are easy to take down because their ideas are so silly.
Here’s the formula: Pick easy targets. Gang up on them. Then, delegitimize the targets on the left ahead of time. No need to engage with their arguments, you’ve already placed them into a trap from which there is no escape. They are illegitimate a priori.
And just like that, you’ve become what you claim to fight against.
It’s a nice rhetorical trick. And it is completely and totally illegitimate. The way we fight ideas is with ideas, not by pasting generalized and ambiguous labels on entire groups of people. (“Marxist!”, “SJW!”).
Right Wing Cancel Culture is the Real & Present Danger
The real and present danger is right-wing cancel culture, which goes almost completely ignored by our free speech warriors.
Why do we ignore the sins of the right? Why is the battle so lopsided?
There are a few reasons, I think.
First, some of our free speech warriors are quite obviously right wing thinkers themselves (Lehman, Eric Weinstein, James Lindsey) (right wing would include Libertarians, under this usage). This is not a criticism. Just a factual observation. Anyway, it’s far from surprising that right wing thinkers think right wing thoughts.
Second, as for the putatively left wing commentators, Professor Weinstein went through a horrible experience. Who could blame him for being angry, and focusing on the sins of the left? But what the heck do you expect when you volunteer to teach at a school whose student body is 99.5% hard left liberal? It wasn’t like going to teach at the University of Chicago or Texas A&M. Why would we be surprised when a student body comprised of far left students would act out in far left ways? Is this surprising to anyone?
Of course we can’t blame Professor Weinstein for being angry, wanting revenge on his persecutors. We can’t blame him for being entirely and exclusively focused on left wing cancel culture. He experienced first-hand a scary experience that would color anyone’s views. It would be far more surprising if this experience didn’t color his thoughts.
But honestly, why the panic about bad conduct from a tiny far left liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest that no one has ever heard of? Why do people claim that Evergreen College is some sort of proxy for the rest of the United States, some sort of canary in the coal mine? Does Evergreen and it’s radical student body even remotely resemble most of America? Does anyone outside elite academic bubbles even know that a school called Evergreen exists? Do they care what happened when a liberal professor at an extremely liberal school was attacked by liberal students? Why the pearl clutching?
In fact, and respectfully, Professor Weinstein and others have taken this horrible experience and turned it into a religion and a business. It’s the new crusade, as well as the new click bait grift, the put-upon “Professor in Exile.” The brave freedom fighter who was betrayed by his own troops, now out in the wilderness fighting a solo fight against the Mob, the unthinking authoritarian left.
Well, not exactly. Professor Weinstein went from unknown to being downloaded on Rogan millions of times. Totally uncensored. Famous now. Says whatever he wants. Uncancellable. Is this what it means to be “cancelled?” To be hanging out with Kanye and Elon Musk and Rogan?
If so, sign me up!
“Cancel Culture” = “Political Correctness”
Simply put, cancel culture = political correctness. The free speech warriors claim that the social justice warriors want to limit speech and thought about certain taboo topics.
Guys, we called this political correctness back when you were high on weed and acid.
You weren’t paying attention at the time, so it’s understandable that you’d be unaware that political correctness isn’t new.
In any event, I’ll concede your main point. There are academics in mainly small, liberal arts colleges who have ways of looking at the world that are authoritarian while claiming to be liberal. They try to “cancel” colleagues with whom they disagree. Point taken.
But so what? This has been true for a long, long time. And guess what? None of these people have any real power outside these tiny elite bubbles. They are powerless over society at large. Mechanics and electricians and firefighters and bricklayers don’t get laid off because of cancel culture. They don’t even know what it is, nor do they care. They care about real things.
What they care about, and what we should care about, is right wing cancel culture, which has real power, does real damage, and is now weaponizing the phrase “cancel culture” for its own aims. Here comes Dinesh again.
Where is the outrage from our brave free speech warriirs when Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman gets canceled by a right-wing President for doing his job? Where was your outrage at “cancellation” when Ellen Degneres was trying to come out? When Sinead O’Connor was being canceled? Why weren’t you standing with Kapernick when the NFL canceled his career? What about our representatives of color, who get death threats on a daily basis for voicing their left leaning thoughts? Who are told to “go back to their country?” Is that cancellation? Where were you when these folks were being canceled? Why don’t you fight for them?
When Republican politicians are afraid to voice their opinions because of the anticipated Twitter rant from the Canceller-in-Chief, you call them cowards and urge them to speak out. When a post-grad student says he “self-censors” for fear of retaliation on campus, you rush to his aid. What’s the difference here?
Why are the free speech warriors so fixated on people making bad arguments who have no true power?
This is not bravery. This is bullying. Constantly picking on people who have no power and often significantly smaller platforms isn’t brave. Come on. When James Lindsey goes on Rogan and attacks these weak academics, he just sounds like an asshole half the time, except to his right wing fans, who cheer him on in an endless feedback loop. The echo chamber indeed.
Go after someone with some real power and influence , someone with real ideas and real persuasive chops— then we will see how brave you actually are.
There are definitely crazy lefties who have authoritarian tendencies and thoughts. No doubt about that. We get it. You’ve made your point. Nice work.
Now can we talk about what matters? The fact that the real danger of cancel culture comes mainly from the right, that (at least in the United States), the right controls the Executive Branch, the Senate, most state governorships, a large part of the judiciary, and most of the C-suite? And we aren’t talking about how they exercise their cancel culture powers ruthlessly, Colonel Vindman being just one recent example.
They canceled Kaepernick. They canceled Sinead O’Connor. Rappers? The Dixie Chicks? What about Bubba Wallace? What about all these people who have been shamed and attacked and bullied by the right-wing cancel culture? Why don’t you defend these people? Aren’t they being canceled too? Do they matter?
Right wing cancel culture and totalitarianism is the real and present danger. How is it that the people with intelligence and persuasive skills and self-awareness have such an obvious and massive blind spot? They almost never talk about right-wing cancel culture. In fact, I don’t think they’ve ever used that phrase. Why do they attack the weak and ignore the strong?
Possible explanations: Professor Weinstein’s mind has obviously been shaped by the personal experience he went through. And I don’t blame Eric for defending his brother. I would do the same if it was my brother. And, further, I don’t blame Eric for focusing on the left, since he is a libertarian, with right-leaning tendencies. Claire is a libertarian too, so it’s not surprising she concentrates exclusively on the sins of the left.
Sam Harris truly confuses me. Sam Harris is one of my intellectual heroes. I wonder why Sam cannot see how he focuses far too much valuable attention on the wrong targets? I surmise that it’s because Sam is friends with all these folks, which is understandable and human, if also surprising, given his well-known views on Trump and Trumpism.
Sully is, I believe, a self described traditional Catholic conservative, so again, not surprising that conservative thinker thinks conservative thoughts.
Rogan is Rogan, the modern day alpha male echo chamber. Bros slapping bros on the ass for three hours. (For the record, I’m a big fan.)
Look, cancel culture on the left is real. It’s troubling. It should be exposed and talked about and argued against.
But you cannot ignore the exact same problem coming from the right, particularly when right-wing cancel culture actually has effects on the country at large.
Otherwise, the entire enterprise looks like nothing much more than the latest internet religion and click-bait grift.