Accusing your enemy of doing what you’re doing—in this case, right-wing organizations canceling left-wing academics, and then claiming liberals are perpetrating cancel culture—is a form of deflection that riles the right-wing base against intellectuals, but also sends the coded message that the Republican Party will do what it can to silence left-wing critics.Ari Paul, Panic Over ‘Cancel Culture’ Is Another Example of Right-Wing Projection
We Americans can’t have a meaningful public debate about “cancel culture” until we can publicly acknowledge (i.e., stop canceling) the long history of those who have been cancelled in American society by various means: colonialism, aristocracy, plutocracy, slavery, land theft, genocide, patriarchy, xenophobia, bigotry, scapegoating, Jim Crow, sundown towns, redlining, race wars, vigilante mobs, lynching, Ku Klux Klan, right-wing terrorism, private militias, Pinkertons, English only laws, internment camps, eugenics, English only laws, Prohibition, drug wars, McCarthyism, corporate blacklisting and blackballing, Comics Code, COINTELPRO, class war, union busting, book burnings, propaganda programs, gerrymandering, voter suppression, rigged primary process, legal bribery of politicians and officials, militarized policing, mass incarceration, propaganda model of news, media consolidation, and on and on.
Also, there is never acknowledged the mass cancelling of the political left. Most Americans are to the left not only of the Republican Party but also of the DNC elite and corporate media. On top of that, there is actually more recent attacks on leftist academics that never gets acknowledged because it doesn’t fit mainstream frames of the ruling paradigm. And consider the left-anarchist David Graeber having been blackballed from US universities. Large swaths of the left are so canceled as to be treated as not existing — a wholesale blackballing by way of pre-emptive canceling where the silenced were never heard in the first place. Leftists often don’t need to be fired to be censored as they were never hired. They never have to be blocked from giving a speech at a university or from being a guest on corporate news because they were never invited in the first place.
As more of a leftist, I’m not much of a fan of either (pseudo-)liberal identity politics or right-wing identity politics. Nor do I support much of what gets called ‘political correctness and ‘cancel culture’. Not that I’m opposed to the otherwise powerless using the power of shame or boycotts to have influence within an anti-democratic system. And certainly I’m fine with comforting the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. So let’s be realistic and let’s be informed. If we go back to the Cold War, we should remember that often the supposed liberal class in the corporate media and corporatist politics were among the most strident Cold Warriors in siding with the right and silencing the left. That pattern has continued since as seen with the Democrats punching left. It’s never been easy to be a leftist in American society, not then and not now.
To speak of it meaningfully, cancel culture requires an effective wielding of power to punish opponents and transgressors or otherwise to enforce social control. It does not merely mean powerless individuals making complaints on social media and refusing to support those they disagree with and find offensive. The defining feature of cancel culture is the ability to actually cancel people, to get them fired or destroy their careers, to discredit and silence them, to harass and threaten them into public banishment, to censor them from getting published and have their books removed or burned. Such canceling always requires at least a certain amount of authoritative position within or influence over the systems of concentrated wealth, power, and/or privilege.
Cancel culture is when the Dixie Chicks were banned from country music venues for speaking a simple, if inconvenient, truth to authoritarian power that hurt the feelings of reactionary snowflakes. Cancel culture is James O’Keefe making false accusations based on doctored videos to get people fired. Cancel culture is Donald Trump, Fox News hacks, etc constantly going on about how anyone who disagrees with them should be fired. Cancel culture is Jordan Peterson’s habit of suing people who are critical of him. Cancel culture is right-wing media’s constant lies and disinformation, libel and slander.
Cancel Culture is Gamergate in targeting women for harassment, threats, and doxxing. Cancel culture is Bill O’Reilly repeatedly calling Dr. George Tiller a “baby killer” until one of O’Reilly’s viewers acted by killing Dr. Tiller. Cancel culture is Alex Jones ranting about (and Fox News spreading) the Pizzagate conspiracy of a supposed global cabal of pedophiles until one of his listeners shows up at the Pizza restaurant with a gun. Or when Alex Jones used harassment in trying to silence the parents of the students killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Cancel culture is when there are mass shootings at synagogues and mosques, after systematic fear-mongering about and scapegoating of religious minorities.
Cancel cultures is elderly Asian-Americans getting attacked because some bigots perceive them as ‘Chinese’, in responding to the xenophobic paranoia of right-wng media. Cancel culture is right-wingers driving vehicles into crowds of left-wingers. Cancel culture is the constant shootings, hate crimes, and terrorism mostly committed by the political right; and where the main targets are leftists and minorites. Cancel culture is the police profiling and targeting of minorities. Cancel culture is, as one study showed, the police being 3.5 times more likely to use violence against peaceful leftist protesters than against peaceful right-wing protesters, and 81% of the arrests were leftists. Cancel culture is where thepolice also more often used the illegal practice of entrapment against the political left.
Now that is some serious official canceling. Yet think of how peaceful leftist protesters are not only effectively canceled by being attacked by violent police, being treated the same as right-wing counter-protesters and provocateurs, but also effectively canceled by the corporate media that selectively and repeatedly shows cropped footage of violence and riots, without identifying who caused or incited it, which gets used to discredit and dismiss the already canceled political left. In Portland, the corporate media went so far as to intentionally deceive its own viewers by showing homeless camps and reporting it as protesters, using this tactic to simultaneously silence both the homeless and the protesters. The whole point of such protests is to publicly speak out against canceling and the typical response is more canceling.
Did you know there is still a US law on the books, Communist Control Act of 1954, that makes it illegal to be a member of or support the communist party and communst-action organizations? It hasn’t been enforced in a long time, but Trump when president suggested it should be used against the left, that is to cancel his opponents. Also, think of COINTELPRO that destroyed leftist groups in the past, including morally depraved acts such as the FBI trying to blackmail Martin Luther King Jr. into suicide or their having assassinated the popular Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. Technically, COINTELPRO is illegal; and yet that hasn’t stopped the government from using COINTELPRO tactics since 9/11. Also, some see evidence of COINTELPRO in the 1990s as well. The US government has a long history of funding propaganda programs and it’s still doing this. That is some of the darkest cancel culture that goes straight to the top of right-wing authoritarianism.
Some suggest that corporate media has a left-wing bias that cancels all voices on the political right. Really!?! Give me a fucking break. Is that why all newspapers have both a business section and labor section, as was true earlier last century? Is that why all of the network and cable news have hosts, guests, panelists, and debate moderators who are democratic socialists, municipal socialists, communists, Marxists, anarchosyndicalists, left-libertarians, labor organizers, environmentalist leaders, indigenous rights advocates, reparationists, black feminists, Black Panthers, etc? Is that why, every time politicians war-monger and demand more military funding, all of big biz media refuses to beat the war drums and instead rallies behind pacifism in opposing authoritarianism, imperialism, and militarism? Is this why the owners of corporate media have disinvested from the military-industrial complex?
Oh, wait… The answer to those questions is that, obviously, none of that is true. Something doesn’t quite add up with the right-wing narrative about left-wing ‘cancel culture’ we so often hear in the corporate media. That this corporate media, as with the corporatist DNC elite and the corporate-funded universities, is dishonestly portrayed as a leftist hegemony is part of the problem. The actual left-wing is largely powerless and disenfranchised in American society, despite most Americans being on the political left. False narratives, deceptive rhetoric, and controlled framing are among the main tools used to cancel the voice and power of the moral majority.
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About meaningful public debate, below is a good example. Taking down, moving, or simply relabeling statues of violent authoritarians, genocidal imperialists, slaveholding aristocrats, and white supremacists doesn’t inevitably mean a canceling. Instead, it could be the beginning of a conversation and a broadening of civics education. That is the problem with these monuments as they stand in obliterating the memory of other more worthy and inspiring historical figures. We shouldn’t necessarily remove these historical figures from the history books and history classes, but rather take it as an opportunity to teach the full history, both good and bad. Such a possibility of public honesty and fairness is what has been canceled.
There is far more to American history than white males who were right-wing authoritarians. Why aren’t there statues and monuments all over the country in honor of Thomas Morton and Roger Williams, Margaret Brent and Phillis Wheatley, Thomas Paine and Daniel Shays, Tecumseh and Geronimo, Henry David Thoreau and Henry George, Harriet Tubman and John Brown, Sojourner Truth and Mother Jones, Eugene Debs and Henry A. Wallace, Fred Hampton and Malcolm X (to name just a few)? Why isn’t every school child taught about these centrally important revolutionaries, radicals, and rabblerousers, these great thinkers, leaders, and activists who influenced American society, advocated justice, advanced democracy, and fought for the public good?
After we finally achieve some balanced representation and an honest teaching of history, then we might treat the empty complaints on the poltical right as if they had the slightest relevance to a just and free society. Until then, for some thoughtful consideration on the matter, read the following:
Issac J. Bailey, a journalist and scholar and the author of the forthcoming Why Didn’t We Riot? A Black Man in Trumpland, said he believes “we have to do a lot more grappling with the legacies of men like Washington and Jefferson,” but he doesn’t advocate the removal of their statues. “They are different from the Confederate statues, because Confederate monuments and memorials went up largely in the early 20th century and later as a clear pushback to civil rights gains by Black people. They are specifically about explicit white supremacy and the honoring of men who were literal traitors to the U.S.”
“That’s the easy part, though,” Bailey wrote in an email. The issue is more complex when it comes to Washington and Jefferson. “I’ve heard the argument that they are being honored for the great things they’ve done, not for the evil they perpetuated. I get that. But why do they get that kind of treatment when we’d never do the same for architects and participants of the Holocaust who went on to do great things, including helping the U.S. put a man on the moon and unleashing the kinds of technologies that we take for granted today, technologies that have made it possible for things like the smart phone, GPS and the like? We would never say let’s honor them despite the evils they wrought during the Holocaust. Why do we so easily do the same for wealthy white men who profited and participated directly in this country’s original sin?” […]
The recent police killings of African Americans in cities from Atlanta to Minneapolis also bitterly tainted the celebration of Juneteenth, which marks the day a Union major general, Gordon Granger, formally announced the end of slavery in the state of Texas, over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and the beginning of “an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.” That promise, along with President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of a “new birth of freedom” out of the Civil War, didn’t quite pan out either. […]
Even so, Wiencek and other historians suggest the recent tumult in the streets could help promote a healthy debate that should cast a new light on who the founders were and what they really believed—and, by extension, what America really stands for. You don’t have to tear all the statues down, they say—but you should at least change the inscriptions on them to better reflect who these people really were. And Americans should consider erecting new statues to long-forgotten heroes like Lt. Col. John Laurens, a young white South Carolinian aristocrat who repeatedly and passionately urged Washington to move toward emancipation before being killed in the Revolutionary War. […]
“At the very least, we have to be willing to tell the full story of what those men did—making it clear on those massive monuments and memorials we’ve dedicated to them,” said Bailey, himself a South Carolinian. “It should no longer simply be a treat to visit such sites. More Americans need to understand [these men’s] role in the systemic rape and murder and enslavement of Black people even as they got rich off slavery.” […]
And there is still, Ellis said, a kind of tragic if tacit conversation occurring every day on the Mall in Washington—among the monuments themselves. “If you go to the Mall and stand in a place where you can see the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Memorial, imagine an ongoing dialogue among those three giants,” he said. “Jefferson believed slavery was wrong, but he didn’t have the courage to do anything about it. Lincoln did, but he never could imagine that the races could live together in the same society on an equal basis. Then there’s King standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial giving his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, saying, ‘I have come to collect on a promissory note written by Thomas Jefferson.’”
The full debt has not yet been paid, and the dialogue goes on.
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