Cancel cancel culture

This past week Obama made some statements about the problems with cancel culture.  Journalist, and, cancel culture apologist Ernest Owens took to the Op-ed pages of the NYT to attack Obama and defend cancel culture.  Obviously, Owens does not speak for all cancel culture, but insofar as he is representative, what he really shows is how this approach can lead to (otherwise) intelligent people being guilty of very sloppy thinking.  For me, I’ll likely never forget one of my (otherwise intelligent) students zealously arguing that when it comes to potentially racist/sexist behavior “intent doesn’t matter.”  Whoa.  I don’t think you need to be a lawyer to appreciate that “intent” is pretty much at the heart of how we judge other people’s actions all the time.  Of course, a wrongful act is still wrong, but it is preposterous to eliminate the state of mind of the person committing the act from consideration.

Anyway, what we see from Owens here is intellectually lazy and dishonest ways of trying to frame the discussion to his advantage.  For example:

His eagerness to dismiss one part of what happens when young people stand up for what they believe in as “casting stones” is a reminder of a largely generational divide about whether it’s impolite to speak out in favor of the most vulnerable among us and the world we’d like to live in. While there’s some debate about which generation Mr. Obama belongs to, he’s solidly in the older camp.

Seriously?  Talk about a straw man.  As if Obama is somehow arguing against standing up for the vulnerable or standing up for what they believe in.  He’s arguing about “canceling” people because of a single incident/statement and refusing to see the complexity and nuance that is, you know, most of human life.

I loved the idea in Alan Jacob’s How to Think that you be able to describe your opponent’s idea in such a way that they would agree with your characterization.  Then you attack it.  (A steel man instead of a straw man)  Now that’s critical and serious thinking.  It’s pretty clear that Obama would never agree that it is impolite to speak out for the vulnerable.

There’s more, of course:

Boomers and Gen-Xers, along with a handful of younger people with more regressive views, have been agitated by the way many young Americans — and especially young people of color — use social media, the only platform many of us have, to talk about the causes we care about.

But they are going to have to get over it.

The issues that my fellow millennials, along with even younger people in Gen Z, tend to be “judgmental” about are the same ones many of our parents and grandparents have been debating for decades. Being outspoken about climate change, women’s rights, racial justice, LGBTQ inclusivity and gun control — and critical of those who stand in the way of progress on these issues — is work that’s been left to us.

Riiiiight.  I’m just a bitter Gen-Xer upset at all those young people of color using social media.  And speaking out about climate change, women’s rights, racial justice, etc.  Like most Gen X liberals, I’m, obviously, totally against these things.

Or this:

What people of Obama’s generation don’t understand — or don’t want to understand — about the ways in which younger people use the internet to make our values known, is that we’re not bullies going after people with “different opinions” for sport. Rather, we’re trying to push back against the bullies — influential people who have real potential to cause harm, or have already caused it. At the very least, we can speak up to send a message to vulnerable people that the bullies’ bigoted or backward views aren’t the only ones out there.

Hmmm.  Like digging through celebrities’ forgotten tweets from years ago to find anti-LGBTQ statements?  That’s really pushing back against bullies?

Or maybe the problem is lumping Kevin Hart’s forgotten homophobic jokes in with Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual assault and treating them as of the same piece:

Similarly, harsh scrutiny of Hollywood heavyweights Harvey Weinstein and Roman Polanski is appropriate. The National Football League doesn’t deserve my viewership after blackballing former player Colin Kaepernick for standing up against racist police brutality. Dave Chappelle should be ridiculed for making transphobic jokes, especially at a time when black transgender women continue to be murdered. It’s not rude or intolerant to say Kevin Hart’s homophobia isn’t funny.

Nobody on the left, of any age, is saying that it’s rude or intolerant to say Hart’s past homophobic jokes aren’t funny.  We’re saying to “‘cancel” Hart over these jokes is an over-reaction that doesn’t actually serve liberal ends of social justice.

And, lastly, from (seemingly) totally out in left field, I was at church yesterday and the gospel reading was from Luke 19.  Short version: Jesus was so not about cancel culture:

1He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.2Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,3was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.5When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”6And he came down quickly and received him with joy.7When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”a8But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”b9* And Jesus said to him, “Today salvationc has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.10* d For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

People are complicated!  Good people do bad things.  Bad people do good things.  The problem with cancel culture is it too readily fails to admit this basic reality and concludes that bad things equals bad people and that’s the end of it.

And, on the bright side, I’ve got so few twitter and blog followers that I’m not too worried about being canceled over this post.  But, heck, if I was actually semi-famous, I’d need to watch out.

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