This morning on Sky News, the following exchange took place:
KAY BURLEY: Tony Abbott is a homophobe and a misogynist.
MATT HANCOCK: He’s also an expert of trade.
If cancel culture worked to its intended aim, the Health Secretary would be worried for his job after that remark. Yet we all know nothing of the kind will take place. The big problem with cancel culture is that the real bad guys never get cancelled. The whole thing doesn’t work at all to its intended aim.
Cancel culture is like many annoying facets of 21st century life. It is a restrictive code that trips up a lot of good faith actors while not stopping the evil things it was set up to get rid of in the first place. Other notable examples of this include banking regulation designed to restrict money laundering and Twitter restrictions in place to halt the proliferation of bots. The banking regulations make it much more difficult to set up a business bank account. If this was ending money laundering in the UK, we might consider this a worthy price to pay, but I don’t see how it accomplishes this given how many dirty pounds circulate around London. In the meantime, small businesses are asked to jump through hoops that would be minor inconveniences to navigate for a criminal organisation with massive resource at their disposal, but which for a micro organisation can be daunting.
As for Twitter – I’ve never run a bot farm and never intend to. However, I’m sure that if I had a budget and employees for doing this sort of thing, having to buy a bunch of burner phones all of sudden would be annoying as opposed to shutting me down in any real way. In the meantime, gran’s Twitter account she set up to share some pictures of her grandkids with her friends is shut down when she can’t navigate the protocols.
Cancel culture is designed to end racist, sexist behaviour and yet those things flourish around us while people with 80 followers on Twitter get cancelled for telling an off colour joke. I mentioned Tony Abbott at the top, but Donald Trump has to be the poster boy for the failure of cancel culture to achieve its aims even modestly. Here’s a guy who swims in his lack of political correctness – who was caught on tape during a general election campaign saying when he is attracted to a woman he is wont to “grab them by the pussy” – and yet he’s president of the United States. The left across the western world is engaged in a culture war that it is not only losing, but soundly losing. I have even begun to worry about the liberal advances we had already banked, such as equal marriage, thinking they could be in danger. Perhaps that’s me overreacting, but I am genuinely concerned about this now.
Beyond tripping up normal people while not actually stopping the bad guys, there are two other major things that cancel culture does which are negative. One is that it makes too many behaviours equivalent. A clip that went viral on Twitter a few months ago depicted a young woman saying that anyone who uses the phrase “All Lives Matter” is “literally the KKK”. Now, I happen to think “All Lives Matter” is an insensitive thing to say. A lot of racists have adopted it as a catch phrase and even if there was a time when saying that phrase could have been argued to have complexities, I think we’re past that now. Yet I still think it goes without saying it doesn’t mean anyone who uses it is literally the KKK. By saying so, what you are doing is taking illiberal behaviours off of a spectrum and making them all equal. So, telling a slightly dodgy joke becomes exactly the same as using outright Holocaust denial, or saying all BME people should be kicked out of Britain immediately.
The other negative is that it makes martyrs of far right figures. They get to pose with gaffer tape across their mouths, signifying they are being silenced, all while they make a packet for saying whatever they like off their followers using Patreon accounts. Cancel culture sure does give the far right a lot of oxygen for something that is meant to crush it down into nothing.
Coming back to my comparison between cancel culture and banking regs and Twitter rules – a big part of what fuels it is the sense of having to do something and then just picking what seems like the natural thing, even if that not only doesn’t solve the problem but actually makes it worse while creating all sorts of other issues. “What else can we do?” ask those who want to stop racism, or stop criminal organisations from being able to rinse their dodgy money in our banks, or stop Twitter from being the place where everyone settles into their bubbles while the savvy figure out how to make money out of the mess. I get that. But there is a time when you have to realise that what you’re doing isn’t working. The era of cancel culture has also been the era of Trump, Boris and Brexit. The right is definitively winning the culture war. Time to think of new tactics.
I have a book out now called “Politics is Murder”. It follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. There is also a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters thrown into the mix while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!