[the people’s] object is more righteous than that of the nobles, the latter wishing to oppress, while the former only desire not to be oppressed.Machiavelli
When #cancelculture first entered the vernacular, it was perhaps only deserving of an eyeball-roll. An adult comparable to cyberbullying–where the solution was either to turn off one’s device for the day or simply refuse to apologize until the digital mob dispersed–it arguably provided a Rightwing comparable to the whiny complaints of “triggered snowflakes” on the Left. The endless fodder it lent to Rightist talking heads such as Ben Shapiro and Stephen Crowder even rendered it rather insincere–everyone needs a hobby, and complaining about affluent conservatives being #cancelled (or jeering at Lefties being “DESTROYED with FACTS and LOGIC”) was ours.
Other than a few worst-case exceptions, wherein said mob went after the #cancellee’s very livelihood by doxxing them and pressuring their employers, this state of affairs appears to have continued uninterrupted until 2018’s Alex Jones affair (here and here). In roughly a day, the internet’s most infamous Rightwing conspiracy theorist was expunged from all significant social media platforms–only his homebase at Infowars.com was left intact. In a single-stroke, the single-mindedness of Big Tech was confirmed, and with it, the defense of “Platform-Not-Publisher” was called into doubt.
Said defense, briefly, is as follows. If social media companies are platforms, they are not responsible for what individual users post, which is a great legal boon whenever content of questionable legality ends up on said platforms. If they are publishers, they are responsible for all content on their platforms. The definition becomes very murky indeed when the platform acts like a publisher by deciding to remove that which it does not like, even though that content is perfectly legal. In the common tongue, this subject is most often invoked when an average liberal defends platform #cancellation by saying, “they’re a private company; they can do what they want” (the one and only case where you will find the Left habitually defending/shilling for corporate rights).
An even simpler way to put it may be found in the statement, “Don’t love it? Leave it.” Such was the implication whenever social media companies appeared to be biased against the Right; you may not be allowed on Twitter or Facebook anymore, but you are perfectly welcome to build your own platform that will be hospitable to your views. This continued to have some validity even after Alex Jones’ and David Icke’s #cancellations; their personal websites were left up, their products available for sell, etc. It diminished the size of their soapbox in the public square, but it didn’t cut out their tongues.
However, this too was shown to be a sham during early 2021’s Parler incident (here and here). Parler was one such case of literally “not loving it and leaving it” and “building one’s own platform”; it quickly became a refugee camp for all of the center-Right that had been #cancelled off the larger platforms. When Amazon Web Services, the provider for Parler’s very website, decided with very little warning to discontinue business with Parler, the entire platform was (temporarily) relegated to Winston’s memory-hole. The message was clear. Big Tech has no intention of letting its ideological opposition build their own platforms if they can help it, and, emboldened by the refusal of incompetent or insidious U.S. leadership to enforce anti-trust / anti-monopoly laws against them (or legally define them as publishers), they no longer have any incentive to hide that fact.
Still, one may continue to sleep well at night with the knowledge that all this drama and political pettiness is confined to the internet–right? Unfortunately, #cancellation has escaped the lab of the internet and begun to spread IRL (in real life). Indeed, it is a massive mistake to assume that such segregation between unreal and real, digital and analog, still exists in a reliable, predictable, or enforceable sense. And even if it does, it is certainly not long for this world.
Some of my favorite recent examples, other than the pulling down of monuments, are the #cancellations of Shakespeare (here and here) and Dr Seuss (here and here and here). Roald Dahl’s family also got in on the fun by self-flagellating over their cash-cow’s wrongthink (here and here), while the likes of Disney and HBO have wishy-washily began removing or at least restricting some of their classics, ranging from Peter Pan to Gone with the Wind.
The common motives shared amongst these scatter-shot #cancellations are fairly well-established. It’s usually one of two things. Either, Representation Of is being confused with Endorsement Of, or one is engaging in Presentism (judging the past by present standards). However, I do not wish to dwell overly-long on either as many center-Right pundits do, because I do not believe the cultural upheaval these varied instances indicate is merely due to such logical inconsistencies and fallacies. It appears to me that the issue at hand is infinitely larger than a mere misunderstanding.
#Cancelculture did not happen in a vacuum. Like everything else of importance, it has a history and a legacy that can be traced. In some sense it has always been with us; the devices of rhetoric to strawman and ad hominen one’s enemy are older than the ancient Greeks, and Machiavelli enshrined such political machinations in his The Prince. Acolytes and aftermaths of Marx such as the Frankfurt School and Vienna Circle were quite open about the ways in which Reality Itself must be made utterly pliable and redefinable if the revolutionary utopia is to be achieved. Nietzsche, the leftist existentialist who accidentally inspired Hitler, taught that humanity’s only “salvation” is to generate its own meaning(s)–an ahistoric and quite possibly apocalytic proposition. Saul Alinsky, political mentor to the Clinton dynasty, modernized Machiavelli in his Rules for Radicals by summarizing that the whole of politics is to A. have no rules of one’s own and B. make one’s enemy have, and live up to, their own rules. This can be witnessed in real time as shrewd Democrats politically beat clueless good-ole-boy Republicans to a bloody pulp.
Additionally, every American and European college student for the past half-century has at least been cursorily initiated into the postmodern/deconstructionist cult of Foucault and Derrida, whose teachings can be rendered roughly as this: in the godless Darwinian universe, there is no objective Truth or inherent Meaning; therefore, every attempt to proclaim or even suggest such Truth or Meaning, be it in civilizations, artworks, or language itself, is a manipulative lie–a stratagem of game theory to move bananas from one ape to another. Therefore, “salvation” is to destroy all such constructs, leaving ourselves enlightened from any such value judgements. I refer to the latter two in particular as the “Evil be thou my Good” crowd, after Milton’s Lucifer.
So, while we continue to mentally masterbate to the cheeky cleverness of Shapiros and Crowders, who snicker at the (admittedly, very many) “useful idiot” leftists who spend their whole lives effectively defending the proposition that “the truth is that there is no truth,” we are utterly missing the fact that whether they are right or wrong does not matter. Debate itself is predicated on the good-faith principle that one idea can be shown objectively superior to another. The postmodernist/deconstructionist dwells in a subjective, Lebowskian universe wherein absolutely everything is “just, like, your opinion, man.” Their credo is that of morose gods and mediocre parents: it is, because I say so. This is a mindset that quite literally cannot be reasoned with. And it is being wielded to great effect by big-brained ideologues who are more than willing to let resentful plebeians parrot such soul-destroying propaganda. These elites’ own children, of course, will never be exposed to it–or, if they are, it will only be as an opportunity to gloat at how the low IQ may be incentivized to kill themselves.
So, I humbly suggest that we stop marveling at what our postmodernist/deconstructionist neighbor or nephew or niece or cousin or child has just posted to Facebook, and start thinking about what to do when they eventually send armed thugs to our doorsteps. If you think that is not the trajectory we are currently on, it’s time to be an adult, hit pause on Netflix, and read The Gulag Archipelago. “It could never happen here” is a fallacy as bad or worse than those the far-Left have pledged allegiance to.
“Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”Solzhenitsyn