Let’s say there’s a society where people who say the wrong thing about topic X are killed by the secret police. Is this a society where people have freedom of speech in relation to topic X? The answer seems to be an obvious no.
Let’s say there’s a society where people who say the wrong thing about topic X are not killed or thrown in prison but instead loose their party membership and with it the ability to hold any high-status, well-paying or skilled job. Is this a society where people have freedom of speech in relation to X? Again the answer seems to be no.
Let’s say there’s a society where people who say the wrong thing about topic X face not retribution or action from the state. Instead they find that society seems them as being strange or immoral or holding the wrong views and consequently they are fired, struggle to find another job, can be denied education and that even their parents, spouse or family members can face similar consequences. Is this a society where people have freedom of speech in relation to X? For the third time the answer seems to be no.
My position on cancel culture is the same as my position on most forms of social coercion of individuals who’s beliefs or behavior falls outside of social norms. It’s wrong by default and requires very strong reasons to be just.
Why do the defenders of cancel culture think they’re right? I spot a few lines of argumentation:
- People who take the wrong views on certain issues are bad and deserve to be punished
- Cancelling people chills speech on certain topics, stopping bad ideas from spreading.
I think a good limtus test for this reasoning is the one applicable to moral reasoning in general. Is it universalizable? Does it work differently for your ingroup and outgroup or is it the same for everyone?
Three examples of cancellations:
- A person living in a republican dominated area comes out supporting abortion. Most others think abortion is murder and that the person is evil for supporting such a position. A mob forms that pressures their employer to fire them. Their employer agrees. That person cannot find a job and is unemployed or stacks shelves.
- A person working in an oil firm in Texas in 2003 comes out as being against the Iraq War. Most people are for the war. Most people believe that by being against the war, the person is spreading dangerous ideas which make it more likely that a dictator who literally murders, gasses and kills millions will be allowed to keep doing so. The person looses their job, their reputation and no one will hire them. Other peopl who have doubts about the war see what happens and are silent from then onwards.
- A miner works in a coal mine in Thatchers England. He organizes strikes and agitates for industrial action. The social elite, including officials, mine owners and most newspaper owners, have decided that strikes are bad. The miner is fired and blacklisted so that he can never work again.
I believe that almost no one who supports modern cancel culture would support the above examples of cancellation. There’s no impartial basis for that difference in judgement. The only difference is that the victims in those examples are either left-wing or defending traditionally blue tribe positions.
Hence I put modern cancel culture in the category of "it’s fine to use force and coercion and restrictions of speech on our opponents but obviously not fine for them to do it to us".
People should be free to believe what they wish. Freedom of conscience requires freedom of speech, both because ideas you silence internally enough times die and because ideas are not the product of one mind but of a network of minds.
Using economic coercion to silence people with beliefs you and your tribe deem to be wrong is almost always immoral. Using economic coercion purely to punish people for having the wrong beliefs is always wrong.