In arriving at the final installment of a series that is titled think for yourself, I will confess that I had a motive all along. Nothing nefarious. At least not to me. I just wanted to contextualize an issue that has made think for a while now.
I’d previously introduced the steps that work for me when I am faced with something that requires critical thinking. Slowing down. Stepping back from the fire and the speed of the news cycle and the division of popular opinion. Challenging my own reactions and questioning their motivations. Looking at all sides of the argument. Fostering an internal dialogue through reflection and writing. Allowing an unforced opinion to reveal itself naturally, organically and earned.
Time and silence.
Time to think and the silence from outside narratives. They are both costly. They both take us away from fun activities and the seeking of pleasure and leisure. Sometimes it’s undesirable; being locked away in our mind and forced to think when everyone is out there playing. I get it. It’s not always the easiest or sexiest choice. But it’s important.
The idea of cancel culture scares me.
I don’t fear that my art deserves or would warrant a cancellation. But, pieces of it, read hastily or taken out of context, most definitely would.
It’s not merely out of self-preservation that I feel people should think for themselves and come up with their own thoughts. It’s for everyone’s: the artist, the fan, the script-less pundit, the cat who tells one bad joke, the cat who didn’t keep up with times.
Cancel culture, aside from being reactionary and desensitizing, is lazy. It’s a shortcut whereby the intention and context is ignored for a soundbite and an vote of confidence. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach to socio-cultural phenomena. It’s short-sighted groupthink at best and mob mentality at worst. It’s a cheap method of gaining support through cherry-picking and brow-beating and, can ironically, shame by shaming.
It can also establish an divisiveness that is based purely on raw emotion, which widens and intensifies the gulf between warring groups, building in hate on both sides, for reasons that might’ve never happened if a moment or reflection was taken, instead of torches and pitchforks.
I’m not talking about the shit that we all look at and say: “Jesus, yeah, that’s… wow, that’s pretty bad of them.” There are those instances, many. I’m talking about the ones that give the average person an immediate tinge of anxiety, the queasy feeling of witnessing a bullying that they can’t stop, an unjust usage of provocation and newfangled power.
For instance, if someone was to stop reading or listening prior to what I’m about to say, then any number of foul things could be said about me and my character. I do believe that the spirit behind cancel culture has done great things and dug spurs into a people and a culture that were largely ignorant to many bad people and systemic travesties. It is a by-product of the activism that forced a much-needed social upheaval in order to advocate for respect, promote understanding, and wake everyone up to the struggles of marginalized groups. It made longstanding gate-keepers of industry and fearsome untouchables check their privilege (as the kids say). It has established a safer place for the next generation, all generations, to feel freer to express and to be themselves without fear of persecution, in theory.
Is it a case of it being too much of a good thing, falling into the hands of the wrong people, having been proven a too-effective life-hack for the lazy, the hurt, or the eagerly offended?
In all honesty, I find the wording of that last point somewhat troubling. Who’s to say what someone can or can’t be offended by? You can tell someone not to look or listen, but i the reality of said thing’s mere existence can be enough to offend and even threaten.
Why are some people more sensitive to some things? All things? Why aren’t others? And why do some people enjoy the things that make some or all people offended? Whether they are sensitive or not? What is the motivation? How can you quantify sensitivity? Or offensiveness?
I don’t have the answers to these, and few answers would satisfy the many. However, it powers the notion that we desperately need to take a second to shut out the external ruckuses and think about how we feel. We as the individual. We as the independent thinker.
So, if one person can be offended by everything while another may be offended to nothing, what can we do? When one side’s safety causes the other side’s resentment. The world has become a place where contrasting tastes are reasons to hate while niches looking for an attic or a cellar to hide in.
Do we take an approach to sanitize art until every last mfer is satisfied, safe and heard? Or, do we barrel forward and create what we want, engaging in a war to tell trivial sexist and racist jokes, using freedom of speech as a shield.
You know, thanks to some cats, that shield has seen better days. Some use that most beautifullest right as a scapegoat to say or do terrible things. But, Voltaire said: talk your shit, even if I don’t like it, I got you, playboy. Or, close to that.
It can be so easy for a cat, or a movement, to gain a cult of personality overnight. To appeal to cat’s emotions and amass a following. To mobilize them swiftly and without question. To rally against a institutional injustice, a public figure, a book, a tweet, anything.
Again, positives and negatives.
Has the movement accelerated because a black man got murdered by a cop in broad daylight, on camera? Or, did someone dig up an insensitive, insignificant social media post, written 12 years ago, in a time when many people both couldn’t fathom the long memory of the internet, and were in high-school.
Where my apprehension is at its zenith is with the break-neck mobilization against content, rather than intent. I do believe in freedom of speech, fiercely. I’d rather someone say exactly what’s in their head and allow me to decide whether or not I accept their delivery and what may have motivated them. Good people say bad things. Smart people say stupid things. All of us can have our words selectively warped and our meanings corrupted. Just as all of us have it in us to hop on or hop off of a train headed for a hastily organized lynching over something that we are potentially under or misinformed about.
Look, we’ve decided as a group that some things are not ok. We’re simply making these decisions at a quicker rate now, with less time for research and less time to think. It’s the speed of transmission. I don’t have a problem with this, per se, so long as we hold back on flicking the guillotine switch with equal speed.
I believe that everything is fair game to be written or spoken about. Everything. Because to me, it’s either everything, or nothing. It fuels the wheels of the dialectic where, after an overblown reaction and subsequent back-stepping, we find a place that the majority deems acceptable. Personally, I’m fine with ignoring things that don’t jive with me if they don’t cause me harm. I don’t exist in opposition to them, they don’t get to define how I live.
You say something harmful, I’m glad you did, because I know who I don’t want to support or waste my time with.
I realize that many people can’t do this.
Once something has been said or done, it can be eschewed and thrown asunder, but it’s never eradicated. We can’t educate ourselves if we deny ourselves a history to learn from. In trying to cancel something, you give it strength, attention, and galvanize its supporters; creating opposition and broadening that gap of understanding. We can tear down statues and burn old books as easy as we can delete accounts, but those are only symbols. Who are we doing it for, really? Is it for protection?
It’s interesting that we can, at the same time, turn our anger on centuries old symbols of sexism while making a newer form become a hit song. Because it’s got a good beat, right? Because we can dance to it, right? And that’s not a bad thing, it’s how we determine what is acceptable and what isn’t on a generational basis. It highlights what makes a debate like this so complex and why it is crucial to stop and think about how you feel.
Again, there are sick cats with victims and crimes who rightfully deserve their comeuppance. But, there’s a difference. That’s not cancelling, that’s a rightful use of justice on a social and legal level.
I’ll leave it with this. You can misinterpret a quote or catch feelings at an bad joke. For this, you can scorn them, pile on them, get them fired, have them banished from society, strip them of everything they’ve ever owned and turn the people against them. So what? It’s not going to make others like them stop, it’s not going to teach them. It’s going to make them scrub their past and find new ways to do the same old things.
What if they didn’t do anything in the first place?
What if it was you?