Conversations not Cancellations: An Alternative to Shutdown Culture - America's Future

March 19, 2021

CulturePolicy

Conversations not Cancellations: An Alternative to Shutdown Culture

By: Brittany Hunter

Cancel culture is a social phenomenon sweeping the country over the last several years. Whether it’s a positive or negative aspect of society, however, is still very much up for debate. 

Jonathan Haidt, American social psychologist, Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University Stern School of Business and renowned author of The Righteous Mind and co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind, called cancel culture the “social death penalty,” likening it to the infamous witch hunts found throughout history. 

Others have defended cancel culture as a manifestation of the “free market of ideas,” claiming that if the public finds an idea or comment controversial, or otherwise unseemingly, it is not only acceptable but moral to banish the perpetrator from society. In other words, if a person is widely canceled for their “incorrect” views, the market has, as they say, spoken. 

But when we as a society cancel people so severely that they lose jobs , get kicked out of universities, and are altogether silenced from sharing their views without first being able to make their case in front of the court of public opinion, we ignore two very important aspects of the human experience: personal growth and civil discourse. 

Cancelling also assumes that the only way to correct alleged bad behavior is by silencing those whose views are deemed incorrect and inappropriate. 

But instead of instantly shutting down those with whom we disagree, we might want to consider talking to them first.

Conversations vs. Cancellation

Imagine you say something at a party that offends one of your friends. They immediately make their disdain clear and without talking about it, you both storm off angry. After taking a few days to contemplate your actions. You then call your friend, chat about what happened, realize what you said was wrong, and apologize if need be. 

Or, maybe you decide you were justified in what you said and sit down to have a thoughtful discussion with your friend, explaining the reasoning behind what you said. 

No matter which avenue you take, sitting down and having a conversation allows one person to say, “Hey, I don’t like what you said and I think you are wrong.” It also gives the other person the time to think about their behavior and decide whether to apologize or defend themselves. 

In this scenario, the option for discourse has been left on the table, unlike immediate cancellation, which shuts down the conversation before it has even begun.

On a grander scale, there is the great story of Daryl Davis, a black man who made it his life’s mission to befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan and convince them to change their ways. He was successful and many renounced their old views.  

The Space to Grow

Cancel culture allows for neither a conversation nor a conversion of heart. There is no room to reflect or grow. This is especially true of situations where years-old tweets or videos are dug up to deliberately destroy someone. Take the recent story of the high school senior whose old post impacted  her admission to the college of her dreams, for example.   

Do not misconstrue this to mean that I am defending indefensible behavior. Some of these tweets and videos are  abhorrent. That being said, how many of us now hold beliefs that are contrary to some we once held? 

Change is possible when we allow people the room to grow and change their minds. 

It should be said that not everyone being cancelled is guilty of being racist, sexist, or anything of the sort. In many instances, people are socially banished over a difference of opinion and not something truly egregious. This is by no means exclusive to one political ideology. From conservatives to the left, no one seems to be safe from the threat of exile. But again, this is largely due to the fact that civil discourse no longer occurs. 

We should be allowed to disagree. This should spark conversation, not cancellation. 

Let people talk. Let them say things that may shock you. But give them the space to tell you why. If you dislike their reasons and can’t come to an agreement, you don’t have to interact with them. But at least hear what they have to say. 

Cancelling or silencing someone over a controversial view, no matter how shocking, inhibits us from living in a society filled with a variety of ideas. This also pushes the truly dangerous and fringe ideas underground, giving those who hold these beliefs a reason to double-down. This can lead to radicalization of the worst kind. 

We must give people the room to evolve and grow if we want to live in a society where civil discourse can occur. This all begins by having conversations before we jump to cancellation.