As we noted the other day, the culture of cancellation has even reached academics, such as Steven pinker, and 150 intellectuals have already signed a letter to have the right to disagree on hegemonic opinions without fear of being ostracized, among which are Noam Chosmky, Salman Rushdie or Pinker himself.

The intentions of the cancellation culture may be laudable. The problem is that its consequences can also be very harmful, and we must not remember that the greatest disasters tend to come from policies that pursue good.

Three reasons

The cancellation culture (from the original English cancel culture) designates the widespread phenomenon of withdrawing moral, financial, digital and social support for people or media entities considered unacceptable, generally as a consequence of certain comments or actions. But several concerns arise when we attribute punitive consequences to people’s speech based on their perceived moral wrongfulness (rather than simply arguing that it is wrong or false).

There are three elementary reasons why the culture of cancellation is counterproductive:

Claims of moral wrongdoing in a debate suppose immediate urgency and distract from the debate itself. For example, suppose that in an immigration debate, one person says something that offends another. The discussion of the original problem (immigration) will be bracketed until the problem of moral wrongdoing is resolved. Claims about wrongfulness, harmfulness or offense are open to debate. Like the English philosopher, politician, and economist John Stuart Mill he observed in his best-known work, On Liberty, back in the 19th century: “The usefulness of an opinion is itself a matter of opinion: as debatable, as open to discussion and requiring as much discussion as opinion itself” . It is also mandatory to define “good” and “bad”. Those are lysological concepts, they change over time, sometimes they change at the discretion of each person (even the laws adapt to these changes, not the other way around). Good or bad acts cannot be isolated, they are part of and are linked to the needs, desires or deficiencies of other people, and also with their conceptions of what is good or bad, better or worse, assumable or unaffordable. Accusations of unacceptable irregularities in an opinion cause friction. Few people respond constructively to allegations of wrongdoing. In-kind retaliation is often taken, intensifying the conflict.

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There are also three reasons why these types of dynamics are unsuccessful or even counterproductive, that is, what is precisely about fighting is fed:

Democracy itself assumes that citizens can hear different arguments, evidence, and perspectives. If significant parts of the political spectrum are no longer tolerated, then social institutions lose this type of legitimacy. We are all less free. Listening to and relating to others with different opinions can help us understand their views and develop more informed versions of our own positions. Failure to do so makes us more tribal and intensifies We / They relationships, the source of conflict between groups of people. On the other hand, being constantly outraged by opposing views provides a robust reason not to consider them. This directly fuels confirmation bias and group thinking, i.e. makes us more stupid, more intolerant and more reactionary. The perfect fertilizer for totalitarian states. Embarrass, censure or parody the views of other groups can cause just the opposite: that the group feels not so much that the legitimacy of their opinions is questioned as their own freedom, individual and group. The feeling that they are trying to control them will cause the group to become more cohesive or individuals to more vehemently embrace their opinions. Current university censorship is good proof of this.

Books that inspire us: 'The neoinquisition', by Axel Kaiser

None of these concerns categorically rules out attributing punitive consequences to hate speech, let alone defamation and slander. But viewing misperceptions as intolerable speech carries ethical costs that should not be overlooked.. And given taking risks, it is preferable to run them by giving a nature letter to certain opinions that seem aberrant to us rather than allowing opinions to be censored in a way that we can hardly argue is not arbitrary (and that those same reasons do not serve to censure many more opinions, including ours).

Others yes, courtesy of Stuart mill, on why we should never censor opinions, unless the law considers that they are treading the terrain of slander and the defamation:

The left is beginning to censor more at university than the right

First, if any opinion is forced to remain silent, that opinion may, as far as we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility. Second, although silenced opinion is a mistake, it can contain, and very commonly does, a part of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or almost never the complete truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the rest of the truth has any chance of being achieved. Third, even if the opinion received is not only true, but the whole truth; Unless it is considered to be, and indeed is, vigorously and seriously contested, the majority of those who receive it will consider it a bias, with little understanding or feeling of its rational foundations. And not only this, but fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine is in danger of being lost, weakened and deprived of its vital effect on character and conduct: dogma becomes a mere formal profession, ineffective forever, but shaking the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and sincere conviction, of reason or personal experience.

Share Three reasons why the culture of cancellation is dangerous (and three that demonstrate that it is counterproductive)