Cancel Culture

How To Tell If You're Being Canceled

Kindly Inquisitors author Jonathan Rauch on the never-ending battle to defend free speech

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In 1993, Jonathan Rauch wrote Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, an influential defense of free speech and open inquiry that was excerpted in Reason. The book took aim at would-be censors on campus and off and made a staunch case for the virtues of radical speech. Reviewing Rauch's book in The New York Times, critic Michiko Kakutani wrote that "what sets his study apart is his attempt to situate recent developments in a long-range historical perspective and to defend the system of free intellectual inquiry as a socially productive method of channeling prejudice."

Nearly 30 years later, attacks on free thought have persisted and in some ways become even more pervasive as cancel culture has become part of the American lexicon. We live in a world where a Boeing executive was forced to resign over a 33-year-old article opposing the idea of women in combat and a respected art curator was pushed out of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for saying he would "definitely still continue to collect white artists." Earlier this summer, the editor of The New York Times opinion page left his job after publishing an article by Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.).

What, exactly, does it mean to be canceled? Is free thought under unprecedented attack? And if it is, what's driving the repression? Rauch, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution who is working on a book tentatively titled The Constitution of Knowledge, spoke to Reason's Nick Gillespie to answer those questions and discuss the best way to engage today's censors and cancelers.

Reason: In preparing for this, I reread Kindly Inquisitors. You've been covering this beat for basically 30 years. Is something different? In Kindly Inquisitors, you were talking a lot about Salman Rushdie, who had a fatwa put against him. He was under a death sentence put out by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Is that a more serious threat than what we're facing now?

Rauch: I would argue that structurally, the 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie was in fact the prototype of the modern cancel campaign. We didn't have that vocabulary at the time. We called it international terrorism, which it kind of was. We called it Islamist extremism, which it also was. If you look at it, what it was actually was an action to cut off an individual from society, make not only that individual but anyone who had anything to do with him toxic.

Here's what I think canceling is and why it's different from criticism—because people always say, "Look, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. People are criticizing Jonathan Rauch. He doesn't like it, so he calls it canceling." Criticism is expressing an argument or opinion with the idea of rationally influencing public opinion through public persuasion, interpersonal persuasion.

Canceling comes from the universe of propaganda and not critical discourse. It's about organizing or manipulating a social environment or a media environment with a goal or predictable effect of isolating, deplatforming, or intimidating an ideological opponent. It's about shaping the battlefield. It's about making an idea or a person socially radioactive. It is not about criticism. It is not about ideas.

The people who went after Rushdie had never read The Satanic Verses and were proud of it. In a typical cancel campaign today, you'll hear the activists say, "I didn't read the thing. I don't need to read the thing to know that it's colonialist or racist." They're not using physical murder now. They're using a kind of social murder of making it very difficult for someone to have a job, for example—to lose their career, or to endanger all their friends. That, of course, is not physical violence, but if you've interviewed people who have been subject to it, and I have, you know that it is emotionally and professionally devastating.

The Nick Cannon case came up recently. He is a TV host and impresario. He had a podcast where he had on Professor Griff, who got bounced from the rap group Public Enemy in the late '80s for being anti-Semitic. Professor Griff traffics in the idea that African Americans are the real Jews, so he spends a lot of time attacking "so-called Jews," which would be people who identify as Jewish. Nick Cannon trafficked in a bunch of that on his podcast, and he got fired by Viacom. He's still on with Fox. 

Should he be able to just say that without having any repercussions on his career? If he shouldn't, what's wrong with canceling people more broadly?

You and I do our jobs within notions of implicit and explicit boundaries. If I start writing socialist articles for Reason, I think Reason will stop publishing me. That's part of what publishers do. I don't think in a case like that we're necessarily talking about canceling. I think we're talking about ordinary editorial discretion.

I'm working on this book. I sat down and said, "How do we know if something is canceling vs. ordinary criticism?" I came out with a list of six things, kind of the warning signs of canceling. If you've got two or three of these, it's canceling and not criticism.

First: Is the intent of the campaign punitive? Are you trying to punish the person and take away their job, their livelihood, and their friends?

Second: Is the intent or predictable outcome of the campaign to deplatform someone and to get them out of the position that they hold where they can speak/be heard and out of any other such position?

Third: Is the tactic being used grandstanding? Is it not talking to the person about their point of view? Is it basically virtue signaling, posturing, denunciation, and sort of ritual in nature?

Fourth: Is it organized? Is it in fact a campaign? Is it a swarm? Do you have people out there saying, as is often the case, "We've got to get Nick Gillespie off the air" or "We've got to get this asshole fired"? If it's organized, then it's canceling. It's not criticism.

Fifth: A certain sign of canceling is secondary boycotts. Is the campaign targeting not only the individual but anyone who has anything to do with the individual? Are they not only saying, "We think what Nick Cannon is saying on the air is inappropriate"; are they going after the company by saying to boycott it? Are they going after his friends and professional acquaintances? If there's a secondary boycott to inspire fear so that no one wants to have anything to do with the guy for the fear that they'd be targeted, that's canceling.

Sixth: Is it indifferent to truth? Well-meaning criticism is often wrong, but if it's wrong, you're supposed to say, "Oh, gee. I'm sorry that was wrong." You're supposed to pay attention to facts. Cancelers don't. They'll pick through someone's record over a period of 20 years and find six items which they can use against them. This is what literally happened to [Harvard psychologist] Steve Pinker. Tear them out of context and distort them, and if they're corrected on them, they'll just find six other items. That's not criticism. That's canceling. These are weapons of propaganda.

I think what you described in Nick what's-his-name's case does not sound like a propaganda campaign.

That helps clarify things for me. But how about Goya, the Latino-owned food products company? The head of Goya said some good things about Donald Trump. Now there's a boycott against Goya products. Does that count as canceling in the same way as the effort to get Steven Pinker, a well-known public intellectual, thrown out of a professional association of linguistic scholars? Are these all the same thing, are they on a continuum, or are they separate?

All of the above. They're all the same. They're all different. They're all on a continuum. I think the spirit of the Goya campaign is not consistent with the spirit of an open society where people can disagree. I think it's legal, but it's misguided. It's already backfiring, as these things almost always do. I put it in the same spirit of intolerance as everything else.

You mentioned the open society in Kindly Inquisitors. In your work more generally, you often cite Karl Popper, who popularized the term the open society. What do you mean when you invoke that idea?

An open society is a place that has a lot of intellectual pluralism and a lot of diversity of viewpoints. Instead of trying to eliminate bias by eliminating biased people, or instead of eliminating wrong hypotheses by eliminating the people who hold those hypotheses, it instead tries to pit bias and prejudice against other biases and prejudices.

It does that by forcing contention, forcing critical argument, and forcing people to persuade each other over time. That's really what science is. It's really what journalism is. It's what all the professions that are engaged in the reality-based community are ultimately trying to do: use these tools of critical comparison and discourse to persuade each other. It takes physical coercion off the table. One way to prove that Nick Gillespie is wrong would be to shoot him, right? That's the most traditional way to do it. It gets rid of the hypothesis. It does not advance knowledge.

Karl Popper, among others, pointed out that the open society is incomparably better at producing knowledge than any other society, because it allows us to make errors and not be punished for making errors. It allows us to make errors, in fact, much more quickly. That's the secret of science. You make errors much faster.

It's also a more peaceful society, because you're settling differences of opinion without using coercion to do it. You're marginalizing bad ideas. If Nick Gillespie continually says really stupid things, people start ignoring him. They just don't pay attention to him in a properly constructed society. The death rate and the oppression rate go down dramatically. I call it "liberal science" in my book. It's the third great liberal social regime, the other two being market economies and democracies.

You wrote for The Atlantic when James Bennet was the editor. Bennet later became the op-ed page editor at The New York Times who got pushed out after running an op-ed by Tom Cotton, the conservative senator from Arkansas. The article was about calling out troops to stem what he assumed was going to be a lot of rioting in cities around the nation. Bennet was forced out after a bunch of New York Times people, particularly black staffers, said that they felt unsafe as a result of that op-ed being run. How does that fit into the way you think about cancellation vs. open debate?

The emotional safety argument is at the core of what's going on. In the book I'm writing, I give it no quarter at all. The emotional safety argument, I argue, is fundamentally illiberal, and there is really nothing about it that can be salvaged. It is just inconsistent with the open society. The reason for that is it says that the most sensitive pair of ears in the room gets to decide what everyone else gets to hear or what everyone else gets to say.

The notion here is that emotional injury is a kind of harm like physical injury, and because it's a kind of harm it's a rights violation. The problem is this is a completely subjective standard, and it makes any form of criticism potentially subject to censorship and cancellation and lumps science into a human rights violation.

There have been various versions of what's now emotional safety over many years. In 1993, in Kindly Inquisitors, I wrote about it. I called it the humanitarian challenge or the humanitarian fallacy—the notion that words are like bullets. Harmful ideas are like a form of violence. Emotional safety is just the newest form of that. I would argue that it comes from, actually, out of all places, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC] under the George H.W. Bush administration.

Can you explain that? 

The EEOC in 1989 or 1990 promulgated a notion of hostile workplace environment as being a civil rights violation. They intended to define hostile workplace environment fairly narrowly. It was supposed to have to be targeted to an individual, and this was conduct which would make you, a reasonable person, feel discriminated against or harassed in the workplace. As these things do, this concept quickly spread. By the mid-1990s you had cases, for example, where an employer was brought up under a hostile environment complaint by an atheist employee, because the employer was putting Bible verses on his paychecks. You had a Christian employee bring up a hostile environment complaint because a gay employee had a picture of himself with his partner on his desk. You had an art exhibit in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where paintings were taken down because a city employee said she had to walk past the paintings, and that created a hostile environment. Things very rapidly started moving out of control.

And colleges adopted it. We haven't talked about universities. We probably should. That's the other big arm of cancel culture. Colleges adopted it, and it took the form of, "Well, you're creating a hostile environment for students if you say oppressive and discriminatory things." That led to a series of things like formal speech codes. It also led to this notion of "a hostile environment is an unsafe environment."

If you have to have a safe environment, then you have to proactively scrub the environment of microaggressions, offensive and bigoted statements, and anything else that might cause the environment to become unsafe. That's a doctrine which has, even conceptually, no conceivable limits. That's where we wound up.

What's the appeal to people? Obviously I agree with you when you talk about a liberal society being a good one. The idea of intellectual or ideological pluralism, I'm all in. But people who are saying, "That's a false front for a system that is rigged against trans people, against black people, and against other types of racial, ethnic, ideological, or sexual minorities"—how do you engage them when they are not interested necessarily in hearing what you have to say?

What are they doing? What do they think they're doing? This is a subject of dispute and conversation.

One view is that these are well-intentioned people who are moral campaigners who want to make the world a better place. They're idealistic and they think they have the right answers. Like all people who think they have the right answers, they want to make the world safe for those right answers.

Another view is that these are neo-Marxists who are using, essentially, the levers of power to intimidate others because they can, and because it's what people do when they have power over other people.

A third reading is that we're talking about a classic public choice problem, where you have an organized minority that can effectively influence, intimidate, or silence a larger majority by picking specific targets and caring about them more than anybody else. What's happening here is kind of like lobbying, right? That's why the rice subsidy still exists: because rice growers really want it. They demand it, and they'll hurt you if you try to get rid of it. Factions in places like universities or the internet can do that as well, and they get something for it. They get prestige in their communities. They may get someone silenced or fired.

Then, there's a fourth answer, which is that it's all of the above. I think that's the right answer. I think it's all of the above, and it varies by individual. I don't assume that people are cynical when they come after the curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I assume that they're idealistic. On the other hand, it doesn't matter. Motives are not the issue here. The issue is the social effect of the regime in which these kinds of things are happening.

How do you engage with them? The single most common question I get when I talk about free speech and open inquiry on college campuses comes from a student—usually it will be a freshman, sometimes it's a sophomore—who says, "What do I say, Mr. Rauch, when I try to speak up in a conversation and I'm told, 'Check your privilege. You can't say that.' What do I do when I'm disqualified from the conversation because I don't have the minority perspective?"

I used to try to say all kinds of things that they could say: "Try this. Try that." That wasn't a good answer. Then I began telling them, "Well, you figure it out. You know how to talk to your generation. I don't." That wasn't a good answer.

The answer that I finally settled on—though the first two were also partly true—was: "It doesn't matter all that much what you say to them, because they're not listening. That's what they're telling you. They're not listening. What matters is that you not shut up. They do not have the power to silence you if you do not allow yourself to be silenced. Insist on your right to continue the conversation to say what you want to say. Don't slink away. You won't necessarily persuade those people, but, as we found in the gay marriage debate, your real target is that third person on the periphery of the circle of the conversation who is seeing one person acting rationally and reasonably and other people acting irrationally and unreasonably. You're probably winning the heart and mind of that third person, so don't shut up."

In Kindly Inquisitors, you posed one question that you said was the nut of it. "Do gays and Jews benefit from toleration of homophobic or anti-Semitic claptrap?" You answered, "Yes." You also wrote that any hate speech law that might have passed at that time would have targeted gay people in the name of defending children. Do you feel like that argument works at all in the current moment? Or is that not really operative anymore?

It doesn't seem to be super persuasive to people under 30, but I don't know what is, really. I figure my job is just to try to say what's true and to speak from my own experiences—30 years in the trenches fighting for gay equality and same-sex marriage, understanding that the only thing we had was our voices, the ability to make our arguments, and the ability to hold up our opponents and show the kind of people they were, which we would not have been able to do in an environment with stifled speech. I figure the best I can do is make that case again and again. Who knows what works?

It's so improbable, if you think about it. The freedom of speech in America, the government guarantee, has strengthened over the past 250 years and not weakened, despite the fact that I think, to this day, if you put up the First Amendment to a public referendum it would probably lose. I just tell people, "We don't know what works. Hang in there and just keep making the case, because in the long run we are doing astonishingly well."

To go back and look at your work on free speech is both depressing and enlivening. It's depressing, because everything you're saying about the instinct to shut down speech that somebody finds disagreeable seems like it's gotten worse and more intense. On the other hand, you talk about how this is an ongoing process. It never ends. It never stops. That's kind of heartening. Are you optimistic that five years from now we'll be in a better place? Do we get closer to the truth or to more of an open society?

We definitely get closer to truth, because science is broadly defined to include what you and I do. Journalism and the test tube of ideas is a cumulative process. It's the human species' great secret to success—the ability to accumulate knowledge and improve knowledge across generations over a period of now hundreds of years. That's not going away.

On the free speech front per se, I'm optimistic. I think we're already seeing pushback against the excesses of cancel culture. People are wising up to the tactic of targeting peoples' employers and getting them fired. I think as people wise up to that, they'll develop some immunity. There'll start to be some counter-pressures on employers. Why did you fire this person? How can you justify that? How can you destroy this person's life? I think it's a question of constant social adaptive learning. The enemies of the open society, the adversaries, always find new tactics and new ways to come at it. There's always a response to that. It develops sooner or later, hopefully sooner.

The important thing to discover is that this is not a fight between one set of people and another set of people. It is also a fight within ourselves. There are ideas that each of us hates. It's very hard to restrain ourselves from ganging up on [those ideas] in an illiberal way.

I'm optimistic in the big picture, because here we are. The idea that wrongheaded, dangerous, heretical, and blasphemous ideas should be not only allowed but protected is preposterous. It's ridiculous. No society has ever had that idea until about 250 years ago. It shouldn't work, but here we are.

The reason is because, despite its ridiculousness, it has the one great advantage of being the single most successful social principle ever invented. What I tell people is, "Me, you, your children, your grandchildren, and their grandchildren will have to get up every morning and explain all of these principles all over again from scratch. You know what? We just have to be cheerful about that."

This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity. For a podcast version, subscribe to The Reason Interview With Nick Gillespie.

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  1. The peculiar thing about cancel culture is that the only people who can be canceled are those who believe in cancel culture, or those who work for organizations which believe in cancel culture. The vast majority of ordinary people have nothing to fear from it.

    A local firefighter, say, could be fired for sexual harassment, but canceled? I think not. The Karens of the world can be canceled, but they have situated themselves in cancel culture — that is what makes them Karens.

    Maybe it’s just me thinking goofy early in the morning — got up from hearing a mouse in my kitchen. Maybe I’ll think differently once I wake up later 🙂

    1. Cancel culture does exist and that is a good thing. How else can we enforce progressive morality on the proles of America?

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    2. A local firefighter, say, could be fired for sexual harassment, but canceled?

      Where have you been hiding these last four years?

      https://www.firerescue1.com/social-media-for-firefighters/articles/firefighters-face-consequences-following-troubling-social-media-posts-about-protests-fFa6wgA93y8nz8hp/

      1. Won’t RTFA, not interested enough, but I bet most such fired firefighters either get a new gig in the next town, or get reinstated with back pay.

        1. I too refuse to read things that might contradict my beliefs. Thankfully, progressive libertarians are morally and intellectually superior to those Drumpf voters.

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          2. Ha. That’s a good one rabbi. Did you come up with that yourself? Or did OBL put you up to it? So you’re OBL’s bitch?

            Sad.

        2. Won’t RTFA, not interested enough

          Lol, of course you won’t. Narrative uber alles and all that.

          I bet most such fired firefighters either get a new gig in the next town

          Well, you lost your bet. Most of them were unpersoned. Good thing you didn’t read it, huh.

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        3. “Won’t RTFA”

          That’s a smart move. Not reading “fake news” is the beast way to keep your cognitive bias intact. /sarcasm

    3. exactly. just don’t back down. never apologize when you’ve done nothing wrong. remind people that humanity makes progress through cultural appropriation, and sharing ideas is a good thing. laugh in their faces — the majority can still see the woke left as being total morons.

    4. The cancel culture is only this years term for political correctness which was last years term for bigotry.

      If you refuse to consider any argument, you’re a bigot.

      If you persecute people without considering the truth of their arguments, you’re a bigot.

      Face it, bigots think that they can win arguments by refusing to consider counter arguments. They think “canceling” opposition makes them right.

      People do need to fight for free speech but victory is not guaranteed.

      1. Well a bigot is someone who uses negative stereotypes on groups of people that aren’t true for the entire group. So, while those might be attributes that are common to bigots, they aren’t what makes them a bigot.

        1. You should know the use of the words you use in argument.

          Examples of bigotry in a Sentence

          “ a deeply ingrained bigotry prevented her from even considering the counterarguments”

          http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bigotry

  2. I would argue that it comes from, actually, out of all places, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC] under the George H.W. Bush administration.

    A government program premised on Doing Good Things that somehow has grown beyond control and is now Doing Bad Things? Well I never.

    1. In addition to the EEOC he signed the updated clean air act which has had a hand in decimating the utility and power industry, the ADA which became a lawsuit factory, NAFTA that helped destroy manufacturing, a useless Iraq war, and raised taxes, among others. He was no conservative.

      Still he was further right than Dukakis. But it led to Bill Clinton and the baby boomers taking over which has been disastrous.

      1. He was a “compassionate conservative”, a Democrat in the slow lane, a typical RINO who will endorse anything the Democrats put up, just not as fast and not as far.

      2. And he gave us John Roberts.

      3. [George H.W. Bush] signed…NAFTA that helped destroy manufacturing

        There are only two things wrong with that assertion. First, NAFTA was signed by Bill Clinton. Second, the United States manufactures far more today than 30 years ago.

        1. He also thinks that the American farming industry was destroyed in the last 200 years. After all, look how many farmers we have now versus then.

          1. All “modern” farming, i.e., so-called scientific farming, i.e., use of chemicals, i.e., synthetic, patented, substances, employs a narrow focus for a specific result, without regard to the whole picture, e.g., the soil health.
            The result is an addition to an unsustainable, destructive, mindless, expense that grows until it bankrupts. This is not farming. It is mining. It mines out the soil fertility, depleting it until it will produce no longer. This is the legacy of the big chemical industry’s “Green Revolution”, an effective short term sales campaign. It endures because it is subsidized by coercive politics, e.g., farming subsidies that specify the use of chemicals. Remove coercive govt. from the picture and commercial farming practices which make up about 90% would disappear, along with the unhealthy food. All would benefit, in the long run.
            Unfortunately, the faith in force is a worldwide political sickness.

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  4. This is just more proof that white men, including gay white men, are not allies to the progressive cause. Rauch’s white and cis-privilege blind him to the realities of life, including the dangers that BIPOC and trans-folk experience in daily life. Hate speech is NOT free speech and speech that denies the existence of white supremacy, patriarchy, or transgenderism is HATE speech and should NOT be allowed in our society!

    1. You’re dancing a little too close to Poe’s law in this post, Rabbi.

      1. It’s a fine line.

    2. anyone who uses “folk” or “folks” in a post or speech is not to be trusted.

      1. Yeah, you know who else referred to the Folk?

  5. The propensity to cancel others must originate in how people “know” things. The more people rely on belief and ideology, the more likely they are to view contradictory ideas as heretical and dangerous–and to feel the moral imperative, and justification, to crush those ideas and those who promote them.

    Has anyone who used reason and evidence to decide their own values every joined the cancel culture?

    How does cancel culture dominance correlate with populism? I will go out on a limb and speculate that most populists are also true believers, and hold deliberately unexamined views. And struggle to accept both conflicting views as well as the concept of questioning and debating all views.

    As for Marxists and all totalitarians, exile or death.

    1. Our cortexes will execute “reason” and “logic” but they will also execute “rationalization” and “cognitive dissonance” when directed to by the legacy code in the lizard brain. We’re not as good at distinguishing between them as we think we are.

      The desire to impose our will on others is powerful medicine, and it makes sense that we all have it to some extent because we are all descended from a line of evolutionary winners, evidenced by the fact that we’re here at all. Winners imply losers, and to the victors go the spoils.

    2. Fuckin A man. Good to see believers being called out.

  6. “Make her read the interview”, Nick’s Jacket said.

    “I’m not going to make her read the interview”, Gillespie retorted.

    “ENBrown is one of the most libertarian people I’ve ever met”, interrupted Nick’s Sweatervest. “That whole interview was a fascist-pandering mistake”. Faced with two incredulous looks, the sweatervest then jumped up and squealed “Fine! Screw you both, I’m going for Raspberry Margaritas with Suderman”.

    As they watched Nick’s Sweatervest storm out of the room, his Jacket leaned over and said “”Gillespie, make her read the interview”.

    1. I’m not going to read the interview, you filthy prole.

  7. Resisting cancel culture, both in general and in specific instances, requires the ability to be comfortable, and civilized, in confrontation. But how many people in the US can do this? How many parents have been unable to contradict the wishes of their children, because they want to be “friends”?

  8. I don’t think cancel culture or opposition to it is about anyone’s philosophical support for or against free speech. Twitter, in particular, is constructed to produce cancel culture mobs. To a lesser extent, other social media platforms, likewise, are put together in such a way that cancel culture mobs aren’t just inevitable. They’re desirable by the users, the platform’s owners, and advertisers.

    The point is to get people to talk about what they like and what they don’t like–and to personalize it to make them care. That’s what cancel culture is all about. We love this product or this company or this person because we care about x, y, and z. We hate this person and this person’s ideas, and we’re here collectively express our feelings until you do something about it–and you should because our feelings are important in this medium. Social media is an advertising platform meant to give advertisers insight into how people feel by giving their feelings outsized importance. You can’t do that without also initiating cancel culture. They’re the same thing.

    in other words, the medium is the message, and the medium itself is cancel culture. It isn’t going away until people turn their backs on the medium–until they turn their backs on social media the way they turned their backs on fax machines, AM Radio, and DVDs. Some forms of media are more conducive to free speech than others. You could get away with saying more on subscription cable than you could on broadcast television because of the nature of the medium.

    Maybe social media, like broadcast television, just isn’t conducive to free speech. Broadcast television sucked compared to subscription cable for that reason. People paid to watch The Sopranos because they couldn’t see what they really wanted to see watching Law and Order. As the expectations for free speech degenerate on social media to be more like the prudish crap we used to watch on broadcast television, maybe better options like HBO will come along–if they haven’t already.

    1. P.S. Joe Biden is a crook.

      Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that we couldn’t say that on social media or link to the story. They were reluctant to say things like that about Nixon and Clinton on broadcast television, too.

    2. Ken, broadcast TV might have sucked compared to cable for entertainment, but perhaps was and is better for news and information.

      When the Perception Gap project queried people about their own views and what they thought the opposition believed, most people had pretty extreme and cartoonish perceptions of others–no surprise. And media consumers, from formal and informal sources, had bigger perception gaps. The only exception were people who watched national network TV news. They actually had better perception (smaller gaps) than those who did not consume media. Now, correlation is not causation, but I find this interesting.

      1. I bet broadcast news watchers skew older, and maybe that’s why they’re wiser, too! Regardless, my point was that trying to regulate the medium and crying about regulation of the medium probably won’t make as much of a difference as dating the medium. I’m not as concerned about how well informed people are. I’m more concerned about the free speech, and I don’t think they can or will kill it by regulating speech on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

        After big subscriber growth during the beginning of the pandemic, Twitter’s new subscriber numbers came in way below expectations last week–and their stock dropped about 20% because of it.

        https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/topstocks/why-twitter-stock-crashed-20percent/ar-BB1axWvV

        Much of the subscriber growth at Facebook, particularly among younger users, is driven by Instragram rather than Facebook. They’re cannibalizing their own subscribers to some extent.

        TikTok is almost certainly taking younger viewers away from YouTube.

        If the cancel culture emanating from Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook is about the nature of the medium they created, then the best hope for free speech and free thought may be competing mediums.

        Slack’s user growth is through the roof. The emergence of TikTok is coming by taking younger users away from YouTube and other older social media platforms. For all we know, ten years from now, Twitter will be an all but forgotten enterprise like MySpace. It wouldn’t surprise me if new subscription models emerge and those subscription based platforms are less susceptible to the concerns of advertisers because there aren’t any advertisers on a subscription platform.

        If social media ends up being censored like broadcast media, that won’t be the end of the story. It once seemed like there was no game but censored broadcast television. The cable companies financed the build out of their cable systems with money from customers who were willing to pay for uncensored content. We started regulating cable content in certain ways because we thought there was no way around cable. Now the cable companies are transitioning into ISPs because we can stream the content we want from so many other sources now. Broadcast to cable to streaming–each of those was a new medium in turn.

        The same thing can and probably is happening with social media. There are only 24 hours in a day, and if kids are spending them on TikTok, shared watching features on steaming services, or Discord now, the older platforms that are more sensitive to cancel culture mobs and censorship will suffer. They may even be creating the seeds of their own destruction by their censorship. The more people can’t see or say there, the more they want to go somewhere else.

        1. Thanks, that’s probably pretty accurate analysis.

          My meta-analysis says you can never (ever) extrapolate in a straight line. So however badly it seems things are going, you can be absolutely certain that steady worsening trend will be interrupted by some factor not yet in play. It always happens.

          The downside of this truism is that you can’t predict it, you can’t *argue* it. It can only help keep you sane, and avoid the kind of black-pilled apocalyptic grumpiness I see a lot of.

    3. This gets at the problem. Everyone I know who engages in anything to do with cancel culture is constantly online and obsessed with celebrity culture, and it’s all very much about their feelings, which they feel super strongly and so must be important and reliable signposts to the truth. l’ve found during in-person encounters that walking away from them when they are sounding off causes them extreme distress, as though you just downvoted them to their faces, or suddenly became the embodiment of the hated but seldom glimpsed Other.

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  11. You can define “cancel culture” and rail against it, but as long as the people who are “cancelling” are individuals and private companies, you can’t outlaw it. Personally, I believe in boycotts as a form of free speech. “Cancelling” by firing someone or deriding them on Twitter can be devastating to an individual, but you can’t outlaw it without moving towards autocracy. All you can do is write articles about it and denounce the “elites” (usually marketing executives when it comes to private companies) who “cancel”.

    1. You can take away special protections. Or maybe that would be “autocracy.”

      1. No. Government policies that protect big-time corporate players from consequences they should, arguably, suffer, is autocracy. A fancy, relatively sophisticated form of it, maybe, but it is, effectively government control.

        And I long ago learned that the WWII-era definition of “fascism” involved tight coordination between government and industry, which is what we’ve been moving towards for a while now, even if the media-promoted definition is more like “whatever Antifa means when they say “fascism””.

    2. Short version: Cancel culture is free speech, protected by the First Amendment, just like other forms of hate speech.

    3. If you can outlaw discrimination in business, you can outlaw cancelling in business.

  12. “Honey, are we having people over today ? There’s an unruly mob forming on the front lawn and they’re chanting for me to come outside.”

    1. “Are they mostly peaceful? If so, invite them in for tea and scones.”

      1. “Define “mostly”, hon?”

  13. Well, the thing about cancel culture is that it encourages bad ideas – like transgenderism – and discourages good ideas – like keeping women out of combat.

    If their fantasy world were true, and the cancellers were simply driving bad and dangerous ideas out of the public sphere, there would still be the Millsian objection that without being tested by bad ideas, the holders of good ideas would lose the ability to defend those good ideas.

    But he haven’t gotten to that purely theoretical point, because (on the whole) the cancellers promote bad ideas and discourage good ones – reason enough to oppose the cancellers.

    1. *we* haven’t gotten

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  17. Another article on Reason arguing that boycotts are morally and ethically wrong.

  18. We must cancel Cancel Culture, so we can focus on canceling Colin Kaepernick

  19. I’m confused about the open society reference – which I’ve personally made those two words my arch enemy as of late. I get that he’s talking about Popper’s ideology and not Soros’ organization, but I assumed Popper was just as toxic as his protege.

    But everything that guy said made sense for the most part. He really had some good points and responses that I’ll be using from now on. But the whole time I’m thinking that he’s covertly pulling some Hegelian shit on us.

    Idk, Poppet must suck. Someone prove me wrong.

    1. Well, while ‘falsifiability’ had long been a logic tool, he’s the one turned it into a principle, and that’s definitely a contribution. And a useful one, because when you see somebody promoting positions using postulates that are vague and emotional and therefore non-falsifiable, you know they are full of shit. I have not seen an exception to this.

      So that’s a point for Popper. Where’s your example of how bad he is, except for an ‘asserted-not-proven’ connection with the villain Soros (who is definitely an evil, evil piece of shit)?

  20. If I start writing socialist articles for Reason, I think Reason will stop publishing me

    Not sure this dude has looked at reason in the last 8 years

  21. “Canceling vs. constructive criticism”: All six “things” commit the fallacy of argument ad hominem. That should be the focus, the exposing of a fallacy.

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