Illusion and Agreement in the Debate over Intolerance


A good number of very smart, interesting, and creative people signed onto an open letter, published in Harper’s this week, applauding “wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society” while lamenting “the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.”

They write:

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.

This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.

I think this is a very interesting subject for a number of reasons, not least of which is that there is so much disagreement over the diagnosis: whether it is in fact true that, as the authors of the Harper’s letter put it, “the free exchange of information and ideas… is daily becoming more constricted.”

For a thoughtful take that proceeds from agreement with this diagnosis, see “Yes, And” by Oliver Traldi (Notre Dame).

I am rather skeptical of this diagnosis. On Twitter, Regina Rini (York) writes: “What bugs me about the Harpers letter is the idea that free speech is more endangered now than in recent years.” I agree, and I think it can be useful to think beyond just recent years. In an essay published a day before the Harper’s letter, journalist Osita Nwanevu discusses worries about “cancel culture” and dubs many of the people concerned with it “reactionary liberals.” He says:

The past is useful to them primarily as a source for wild allusions: to the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, and so on. It would be a bit more difficult to carry on as they do if they were genuinely informed by it⁠. For instance, the idea that a cluster of controversies at college campuses here and there could foretell the end of the liberal university, or liberalism, or the West simply isn’t credible to those who understand the remarkably cyclical nature of student unrest and protest in this country over the last century.

I, too, have urged a more historical look—in the context of freedom in academia—in a post here four years ago, hoping for recognition of what I called “the great academic absorption”:

Here are some empirical claims about higher education in the United States. In comparison to 100 years ago:

1. There are fewer or weaker institutional, social, and material obstacles to non-white-male people entering academia.
2. Academics today regularly and with institutional approval study a greater number of topics, including topics previously thought taboo or unworthy of study.
3. Academics today regularly and with institutional approval employ a greater variety of research methods.
4. Academics today regularly and with institutional approval teach a greater variety of topics using a greater variety of source material.
5. Academics today may, without any kind of formal or informal institutional sanction, entertain and defend a greater variety of theses.

These claims are obviously true. That is: there has been an increase in the kinds of people who have the liberty to become academics, an increase in number and types of areas of inquiry academics are at liberty to investigate, an increase in the kinds of methods academics are at liberty to use in their research, an increase in the topics they are at liberty to teach, and an increase in the diversity of ideas academics are at liberty to defend.

Though these claims are about academia, I think analogous patterns are discernible in the broader U.S. culture, which is much more tolerant of a diversity of views and ways of life than it was 100 years ago, or even 30 years ago.

Why does it not seem like that to so many people? Why do people think society is growing increasingly intolerant?

One possible answer has to do with trends towards social egalitarianism. While historically many people in society have had to watch what they say (members of racial minorities, women, atheists, gays, communists, etc.) lest they offend those with more power over them, now even those who are members of traditionally privileged and powerful demographics have to, too. And since so much of our cultural understanding of society is dominated by voices and images of the privileged, we hear about and notice the imposition and operation of these speech norms more when they are applied to them. (We tend not to hear so much about the cancellation of the voiceless.)

Another possible answer, an old favorite of mine, is that we’re subject to the availability heuristic, mistaking the increased ease with which we can recall a few noteworthy cases of “cancelling” for an increase in its frequency. There are many plausible alternate explanations, though, besides increased frequency, for the ease with which recent “cancellings” come to mind, such as: there have been lots of articles about the phenomenon because it sounds controversial and the media favors controversy, or, we’re hearing about it more because there has been lots of talk about it on social media, or, it’s easier to think of (or come across information about) recent examples than of ones from a few decades or more ago.

A third possibility is that, owing to information technology and social media, the local is now global: we may be hearing about more problems, not because there are more, but because we have access to information from all over. What in the past might have been reported, if at all, in just the local news, is now easily accessible and readily shared around the world. In 1960 you might not have heard about a man several states away being fired from his job because he objected to racism in his workplace. The reporting on such an event might have been limited to local gossip. Today, an analogous “cancellation” would likely make some news outlet, and the internet and social media provide the means for people all around the world to hear about it. So perhaps we learn of more cases, but that’s not the same as there actually being more cases.

Each of the foregoing possible answers suggest that at least to some extent, society’s increasing intolerance is an illusion. But let me also offer some conciliatory points.

First, even if there hasn’t been an increase in intolerance, current levels of it may be problematic. Some might argue that the focus on trends is a distraction. I think the frequent couching of the issue in terms of trends is actually interesting and informative, but I will not go into that here.

Second, maybe a distinction can help move the debate a little. One measure of how intolerant a culture is could be this:

(a) how many people approve of some form of social, economic, or legal punishment for someone expressing an opinion they strongly disagree with?

This question asks about people’s attitudes or values.

Another measure of how intolerant a culture is could instead ask about the behavior people have engaged in:

(b) how many people have publicly expressed approval of some form of social, economic, or legal punishment for someone expressing an opinion they strongly disagree with?

Note that one cannot infer an increase in the answer to (a) from an increase in the answer to (b). The answer to (a) may have remained the same or decreased over time, while the answer to (b) may have increased not because of a change in attitudes but because of an increase in the occasions and means for the behavior.

I think some people mistake an increase in (b) for an increase in (a). This is worth noting, first, because the appropriate and effective responses to one of these may not be appropriate or effective for the other.

But it is also worth noting because—perhaps—it is an opportunity for progress on this debate, that is, for some agreement on the diagnosis. The “reactionary liberals” preoccupied with cancel culture no doubt believe that there has been an increase in the answer to (b). But so, too, should their critics, like me. As I said above, owing to today’s information technology and social media, many more people learn about local events elsewhere, and so are in a position to form and communicate opinions about them. So I would bet that the answer to (b) has gone up over, say, the past 30 years. In short, I don’t think society has gotten more intolerant, but technology has facilitated, among other things, the expression of intolerance. (I recognize this may cut somewhat against the “availability heuristic” answer, above.)

There’s the further question of whether, and if so, to what extent, an increase in the expression of intolerance is, on balance, a problem. This post is already too long to take up that matter, which I have come to think is more challenging than it seems. But perhaps we will get lucky, and the solutions to this possible problem—which may involve new technological developments or new ways of regulating institutions to render them less sensitive to expressions of intolerance—will be measures that even those who don’t think it’s a problem could support on other grounds.

Discussion welcome.

NOTE: As an experiment to improve the quality of discussion in the comments, those wishing to comment on this post must use their full names and submit working email addresses with their comments (email addresses are not published). No anonymous or pseudonymous handles may be used. Comments may take longer to appear than usual. If you haven’t done so in a while, please read the comments policy.

UPDATE: I was invited to discuss some of these issues on the Comedy Cellar’s podcast, “Live from the Table.” You can listen to that here or watch it here.


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David Wallace
David Wallace
9 months ago

A few thoughts:

1) At present there are stories of cancellations in the news every week. Predominantly, the targets are not the rich and famous, and with rare exceptions (tenured academics or people like Rowling with financial security), the ‘cancellation’ is not just a matter of online hostility but has concrete economic consequences, usually leading to the person being fired or effectively fired. (To pick examples from the last month or so off the top of my head: a think-tank researcher fired for critical discussion of the efficacy of protest; someone in a non-public-facing role fired after the Washington Post reported that she wore an offensive and stupid costume to a party two years ago). There has also been extensive testimony, by dozens of people from different political starting points, many of whom are not high-profile people in secure jobs, of their experience of workplace culture which supports the ‘cancel culture’ narrative. And there has been extensive reporting, by reputable newspapers and magazines across the political spectrum, of internal culture in media, third-sector and academic organizations, that likewise supports it.

It is coherent to argue, as I think Justin’s OP argues, that none of this really amounts to convincing evidence. And certainly, large bodies of anecdote, testimony and reporting still fall short of the gold standard of social-science research. On the other hand, this is a pretty demanding standard: many parts of the published literature, and most of what is discussed at DN, would also fall short. The case that academia has a problem with sexual harassment, for instance, would not survive that level of skepticism, consisting as it does of lots of individual cases and lots of testimony. (For the record, I find that case compelling, but that just demonstrates that my own epistemic standards are not quite that demanding.)

2) I’m not sure how reassured we should be by one particular scenario: that levels of cancellation haven’t increased but modern technology and social conventions make them more visible to us. The same is plausibly true about police violence and #metoo. The force of the Harpers letter is not appreciably decreased if its message were to shift from ‘there is an increasing, and currently severe, free-speech problem on the Left’ to ‘there is a free-speech problem on the Left: its severity is only now becoming apparent’.

3) I would be more sympathetic to skepticism about the prevalence of cancel culture if it were accompanied by more unequivocal condemnation of the actual cancellations that happen. The positions (i) ‘it is not really a problem, in many or most individual cases, for political activists to successfully pressure someone’s employer to fire them over their extramural speech’ and (ii) ‘it’s not actually that common for political activists to successfully pressure someone’s employer to fire them over their extramural speech’ are logically independent, but defenders of (ii) generally seem at least equivocal about (i). If Justin, or others, agree with me that most of the actual examples being discussed are outrageous, but just disagree with me about the extent of the problem, I invite them to make that clear.
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Jerome H. Lacroix
Jerome H. Lacroix
9 months ago

To me the letter has (at least) two major flaws:
1. certain signatories have a long history of trying to get folks fired or threatening frivolous lawsuits to shut people up. This reinforces that they are merely upset the cancellation squad has come to their own doorstep;
2. “cancel culture” isn’t new or particularly more potent today, its victims and methods have just changed. To be fair, some of the signatories acknowledge this (Chomsky certainly doesn’t scan his mail for bombs since the 60s because of “woke” activists!). Furthermore, my informed guess is that most such sackings in the US are retaliation against unionization attempts. but you won’t hear David Brooks complaining about that.
Nevertheless, there are strong principled and strategic reasons to fight against cancellation. The most fundamental being: who benefits in the long run? I think the historical record is clear that a culture of open discourse and toleration benefits the marginalized most of all, and its absence inversely.

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Dmitri Gallow
Dmitri Gallow
9 months ago

I agree with the conciliatory point that the trends are not very important. We can surely raise concerns about a social phenomenon, even if it’s old hat. However, I don’t think it’s credible to deny that, at some level of description, the phenomenon of internet ‘cancel culture’ that we recently saw play out with David Shor is something new.

For anyone unfamiliar, David Shor is a political analyst. On Twitter, he shared a paper about race riots in 1968, authored by a Black academic, which analyzed the effects of violent and non-violent protests on the election. Some people got upset, tweeted at Shor’s employer, and Shor was fired. Since so many people mean so many different things by ‘cancel culture’, let me just stipulate that I mean this: groups of people online punishing somebody for their speech by calling on their employer to fire them.

In the first place, it is an entirely new mechanism for punishing people for their opinions. Yes, Salmon Rushdie was severely punished for writing the Satanic Verses back in the 1980’s, but this punishment did not come as the result of a relatively small group of people on the internet calling for his publisher to stop publishing his work. Rushdie’s books sell (because they are wonderful), so it’s hard to imagine any publisher in the 80’s taking such a demand seriously.

Of course, we’ve seen people fired for upsetting their employers with their private opinions before. I’ve seen cases in which employees have been fired for the political signs they place in their front yards. The United States’ abysmally weak legal protections for workers allows this; and it has long been a serious free speech concern in the US. There are, I think, two new things going on with online ‘cancel culture’: in the first place, a relatively small group of people are now able to enact substantial damage to a business’s brand. A cancelling can lead to scores of news stories and taint the front page of a company’s Google results. The brand is a valuable asset to the business. And it’s an asset which even a relatively small group of people on the internet is now able to damage. Asked to choose between an easily replaceable employee and their brand, it’s an easy financial consideration.

My perception is that many interest groups on the internet have come to learn that they have this kind of power over employers, and are increasingly exercising it to punish those whose opinions they perceive as threats to their political goals. While interest groups have been doing this to some extent throughout human history, the new powers of punishment that have been afforded by social media, coupled with abysmally weak labor law, do strike me as something genuinely novel, and something worthy of some concern and discussion—at least, if you think that the freedom of opinion and discussion is worth defending.

(As an after thought: even if you’re not a defender of the freedom of opinion and discussion, you may still see something in this ‘preoccupation’ which is worth paying attention to. If you’re concerned about the United States’ lack of employment protections, then you’ve just been handed a political golden nugget: much of the right wing of the USA is /also/ concerned about online ‘cancel culture’. So you’ve got an issue that allows you to talk about meaningfully strengthening worker rights for reasons that will resonate with the right-wing. That’s quite the opportunity.)Report

Daniel Greco
Daniel Greco
9 months ago

I know of no large database of “cancellations”. Maybe FIRE comes the closest, but (a) as far as I can tell, while they collect a list of cases, they just publish it as a list, so analyzing it for trends would require a bunch of work, and more importantly, (b) they only look at cases in education.

Other things to look at would be attitudes towards speech, and appropriate restrictions on speech, of the sort here: here. I don’t know of much older surveys asking similar questions, which would be what you’d really want to discern trends.

And even if we did have a good list of retaliatory firings for political speech, obviously that would only capture a single aspect of the issues people are debating about. E.g., supposing it’s true that people are more likely to face professional consequences for broadly political speech, it’s hard to know how to weigh that against the four phenomena Justin mentions in the OP in order to come up with an on balance judgment of how healthy our culture of inquiry is. But I’m also not sure it’s all that helpful try to come up with such a judgment. As I interpret the letter—and because they wanted to get a lot of signatures, it’s not very specific and so leaves lots of room for interpretation—it’s criticizing a cultural trend that one can identify and believe in without taking a stand on whether, all things considered, times are better or worse for our culture of speech than they were, e.g., 15 years ago.

While it’s hard to know exactly how to define the trend, firing people for extramural speech strikes me as a pretty good example of it. While I admit I have no hard data, there are lots of anecdotes of people being fired/unhired for things they said on social media. The Harpers letter alludes to the case of David Shor, many of us in Academia remember the cases of Steven Salaita and George Ciccariello-Maher, and you can track down the other allusions in the letter if you like. And I don’t think there’s room for serious doubt that this happens more often than it did 15 years ago, because Twitter didn’t exist 15 years ago. 15 years ago, if you said something your boss didn’t like on Facebook (which was in its infancy) or on your blog, your boss probably didn’t find out about it. And if your boss did find out about it, they certainly didn’t get deluged with vitriol from all corners of the internet for having you as an employee.

Maybe there’s no way to have a culture where lots of people have a Twitter-supplied microphone—which I tend to think is good, on balance—but aren’t able to use it to badger employers into firing people who says things they don’t like. I don’t know. One could imagine reforms to employment law to address this—tenure for all—and maybe that’s the way to go, but there are tradeoffs there that I don’t feel confident about.
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John Schwenkler
John Schwenkler
Reply to  Daniel Greco
9 months ago

An important thing that’s left out by looking at the phenomenon in this way is that one of the (supposed) effects of cancel culture (I do hate that term) is that people refrain from speaking their minds due to the mere threat of getting dragged. The authors of the Harper’s letter refer to this quite specifically, writing that “The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation.” Of course we don’t have data on how frequently this has been happening, or whether it’s happening more now than it did in the recent past. But it *does* happen: I have heard from many philosophers who are unwilling to express controversial ideas about gender because they fear that this could have adverse personal and professional consequences. I’m sure there are people who are happy with this arrangement, who think it is just as things should be. But I’m not.Report

Daniel Greco
Daniel Greco
Reply to  John Schwenkler
9 months ago

I agree that this is a phenomenon, but I wouldn’t be so quick to rule out the possibility of not-merely-anecdotal evidence relevant to judging its prevalence. I think you’re right that we can’t see it by looking at firings. But the other source of potential evidence I suggested was surveys, such as the one I linked above. It included questions about how comfortable students feel voicing political opinions in class, and how that varies depending on the political views the students hold.

If people are increasingly self-censoring in political discussions and writings, then that’s the kind of thing you’d hope would be discernible by surveys like the ones above, at least if we had similar surveys conducted at different times. Report

John Schwenkler
Reply to  Daniel Greco
9 months ago

Hi Dan, yes, I agree that these are possible ways of getting a more rigorous sense of how much this is happening, and whether it’s happening more over time. But I would add — and I hope you’d agree — that it’s unreasonable to *demand* this kind of evidence before we are willing to take the phenomenon seriously.Report

Alex Feldman
Alex Feldman
9 months ago

Two points:

(1) My biggest problem with the letter was that the object of its criticism was really quite unclear. The operative move, in my mind, occurs in the shift between these two sentences: “But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought…. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal.” There are two difficulties here. First, what exactly do the authors have in mind under the heading of “calls”? Are they focusing primarily on social media outcries voiced by small numbers of private actors? Would a law criminalizing, say, support for BDS count as a “call” here? Second, let us concede for argument that the “boundaries of what can be said” are narrowing. (I think Justin gives us more than ample reason to be cautious with this claim, but I won’t go into that here.) Is it really the case that these “calls” are doing the narrowing? If you sat all the signatories down in a room, I bet that they would have profound disagreements about what is actually causing this supposed constriction.

In short, the letter feels vapid. Its signatory list is too big of a tent. Now, vapidity can be dangerous. It can lead to insinuation. It can lead you to criticize things like “atmosphere.” Although the article criticizes “all sides,” boy does it sound at times as if “all sides” means “a certain segment of the left.”

(2) Dmitri Gallow is absolutely right. The U.S. has “abysmally weak legal protections for workers.” Philosophers can find a quick overview in Elizabeth Anderson’s book “Private Government.” If the diagnosis in the Harper’s Letter were clearer, it would be easier to draw the needed conclusion: the problem is not with “atmosphere” or “culture” or some other miasma, but with the utter lack of employment protections for most people in the U.S. Reforms to labor law need hardly involve “tenure for all” (Daniel Greco’s comment). That’s a straw man. How about basic labor rights for all instead? How about lifting the ridiculous barriers to workplace organizing that exist in the U.S.? Report

Daniel Greco
Daniel Greco
Reply to  Alex Feldman
9 months ago

I’ll admit “tenure for all” was flippant, but I do think it’s not at all obvious what general reforms to labor law we should favor to curb the sorts of cases being discussed above, but which wouldn’t have other comparably harmful effects.

To take an example that’s quite salient today, I’m pretty sure I *do* want police departments to be able to fire officers for social media posts like the one discussed <a href= "https://www.cbsnews.com/news/thomas-mcclay-denver-police-officer-fired-lets-start-a-riot-george-floyd-protest/&quot; here . And while police departments are perhaps an extreme example, I’m not sure I trust Congress to craft legislation that, when interpreted by the judicial bench we’ll be stuck with for the next several decades, will properly distinguish between cases where extramural speech ought to be protected and cases where it shouldn’t.

So I see criticizing cultural trends as a more modest step than calling for reforms to employment law. I can be confident that Civis analytics and UIUC screwed up in their treatments of Shor and Salaita, and can criticize them for those decisions–in the hopes that other institutions will be deterred from making similar ones–while not being confident about how to reform labor law so as to make those decisions illegal without a bunch of unintended side effects. Report

Daniel Greco
Daniel Greco
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
9 months ago

It’s because of these sorts of difficulties that I worry that employment law is in some respects too blunt an instrument to solve all problems in this neighborhood.

Also, reforms to employment law probably won’t help freelancers–as many journalists are–or people who own small businesses. Think of the case of Madji Wadi, who lost most of his catering contracts when it came out that his daughter, who worked for him, had posted racist and anti-semitic content when she was much younger.

So while I think it’s certainly worth thinking about potential reforms to employment law, I think it’s a mistake to think that there isn’t room for cultural criticism here that’s independent of calls for better labor regulation. Report

Dmitri Gallow
Dmitri Gallow
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
9 months ago

“The objectionable thing, I take it, is when that mass expression translates into material consequences, such as Joe getting fired. ”

I do not think that this is the objectionable thing; neither did classical defenders of the freedom of opinion and discussion like J.S. Mill. See, for instance, his discussion of the “corn-dealers are starvers of the poor!” example at the start of chapter 3 of “On Liberty”—this speech can have dire material consequences without being at all objectionable, from the standpoint of a free speech principle. If you’re interested, I’ve tried to explain my position here: http://www.jdmitrigallow.com/blog/fsacc/

(Also, just in case it wasn’t clear from what I said above, I certainly want to blame the employer who fires their employee for their extramural speech.)Report

Dennis Arjo
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
9 months ago

Employers can and do fire people for embarrassing them–that’s nothing new. It’s a little trickier when the employer is a public agency, but it still can and does happen–also nothing new. I don’t think anyone is saying this is never ok, or that calls to have someone fired for saying or doing horrible things are never ok.

What people are objecting to include calls to fire people over what are judged to be frivolous reasons, including especially reasons that amount to little more than voicing an unpopular opinion. ‘Because it advances my political agenda’ would also strike most people as a dubious reason to want to ruin someone’s life. Or at least I hope so.

Changes to employment laws may be justified for other reasons, but I don’t think we want the state trying to sort out this particular problem. Social media has at once made us more visible while facilitating disproportionate and highly public responses to our behavior. What we need are clearer shared norms about how to navigate the results of this convergence, but arriving at those takes a while and requires a political culture that’s healthier than ours is at the moment. Sadly, people are getting hurt in the mean time.
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Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
9 months ago

I think it’s also important to consider what I take to be more common cases. Stephen Hsu was pressured to step down from his position as Vice Provost for Research at Michigan State by a series of Twitter calls, but maintained his position as a tenured professor in Physics. Does this count as a cancellation or not? He kept his primary position but lost his administrative position. He wasn’t fired but was pressured to step down.Report

Dmitri Gallow
Dmitri Gallow
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
9 months ago

I’m not sure whether that case counts as a “cancellation” or not, but with respect to the question of whether it’s the kind of thing that conflicts with a principle of free speech: I think it depends upon whether the pressure to step down was a punishment for what he had said or not. If it was a punishment for his speech, then it conflicts with the principle; otherwise, not.Report

Dmitri Gallow
Dmitri Gallow
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
9 months ago

Also, not every case in which somebody is fired for their speech will conflict with a principle of free speech. There was recently a police officer caught on tape using racial slurs and openly hoping for a race war. People called for his removal, and I wholeheartedly supported those calls. The reason to call for his removal is that those views are evidence that he is unfit for a job policing black communities (they also /make/ him unfit for the job, since those communities can no longer trust him to be an unbiased enforcer of the law). As I mentioned above, a concern with free speech doesn’t mean that nobody should suffer grievous harms as a result of their speech. It does mean that people should not face /punishment/ for their speech.Report

Alexander Guerrero
Reply to  Dmitri Gallow
9 months ago

One thing we might consider, short of reform of employment law (which might be both practically difficult and complicated from a perspective of speech/association), is to urge different ethical norms for businesses, and to be slower to engage in ethical consumerist responses that put intense pressure on firms to fire people for conduct that may merit something less than that.

For nice philosophical discussion of these issues, I particularly recommend Vikram Bhargava’s piece “Firm Responses to Mass Outrage: Technology, Blame, and Employment” which is available open-access here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10551-018-4043-7Report

Roman Altshuler
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
9 months ago

“Presumably, the objectionable thing is not the mere expression of such disapproval or outrage. After all, that’s just critics of Joe expressing themselves.”
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here, though I don’t think your analysis is right. I think what critics of “cancel culture” object to *is* the “mere expression of such disapproval or outrage.” This creates an obvious problem for them: since criticism is an established and paradigmatic form or free-speech, you can hardly be a defender of free speech and yet be opposed to expressions of disapproval. But I suspect that what critics of “cancel culture” object to just is this tendency for criticism to spread and balloon. After all, *that* is what the culture of intolerance they refer to comes to–firings and such are just secondary phenomena. The firings may be worse in some cases, but notice that the authors of the letter are also concerned that the culture of intolerance will stifle speech, and certainly there are plenty of people who might avoid voicing certain positions not because they’re afraid of being fired, but perhaps simply because they’re afraid of attracting public outrage–think of junior academics, for example.

And that’s part of why the letter feels so vapid. All the authors can really say is something like, “Everyone! Please! Try to be more tolerant!”

And of course everyone’s mind can then go to concrete places where they (depending on their own beliefs and experiences and knowledge base) focus on cases where public outrage caused someone (in their view unjustified) harm, or to places where the public outrage was directed at an expression of intolerance itself (e.g., Rowling’s case).Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
9 months ago

About the availability heuristic: One type of evidence that will never be readily available is if people who would otherwise have defended a view or explored a topic decide not to do so because of a justified fear of provoking a disproportionate or excessive hostile response. If some commentators, deterred by the treatment of David Shor, decide not discuss Omar Wasow’s work, that won’t make any headlines but it will hardly mean cancel culture isn’t working — it will be working all too well. Considerations of “availability” cut both ways.Report

Steve Sailer
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
9 months ago

Here’s a simple way of getting a feel for the trend over the last two decades. As a supporter of freedom of expression, I’ve been covering cancellations on my iSteve blog since late 2000. In the first decade of the 21st Century, they were rare enough that I might write 5 or 10 times about a cancellation, such as those of Gregg Easterbrook, Larry Summers, or James D. Watson.

These days, in contrast, cancellations are so frequent that I can’t come close to covering them all even once.Report

Thomas Mulligan
9 months ago

I agree that we are more intolerant than we used to be. This is because we are more insular than we used to be. That is, people nowadays are uninterested in, or by circumstance ignorant of, the experiences and mindsets of people unlike them. Some scholars celebrate this insularity (see, e.g., Bryan Caplan’s “beautiful bubble”); I find it horrifying. It has two sources.

First, there are fewer shared experiences than there used to be. Military service is an example. Not only is there no draft, the military doesn’t attract the demographic swath it used to. You learn very quickly in the military that there are fine and intelligent people who come from very different places than you do, and who have very different values and beliefs. It has the same humbling effect that philosophy (done right) does.

In addition, military service and experiences like it (intense, team-oriented, with obvious consequences) breed substantive tolerance, sometimes by methods that seem markedly intolerant by popular standards. For example, vulgar jokes (including racist and sexist jokes) are commonplace and bandied about by everyone–men and women, blacks and whites. The effect of this shared obscenity (I’m paraphrasing Zizek) is solidarity. In the morning a white soldier may tell a racist joke; in the the afternoon he may give his life to save a black soldier. In the academy (e.g.), in contrast, language is pure but racial and gender discrimination is everywhere, and creates obvious harms. Life is complicated in this way, but you only learn that if you go out and experience it.

Second, socioeconomic mobility in the US has gotten much worse over the past 40 years. Wherever one stands in the social order, one is less apt to find different kinds of people entering and leaving. More generally, there is a tendency to have to “lock in” one’s career earlier. If you want job X, it’s not enough that you be best-qualified to do X; you have to have preparation Y, which in turn required Z, etc., etc. You get basically the same kind of people doing a certain thing, which is bad for many reasons, not least that it is extremely boring.

We may correct these dysfunctions by redoubling our commitment to meritocracy, which has been badly undermined in the US by regressive social and economic policies. That is, we should ensure that (i) all children enjoy equal opportunity and (ii) people are judged on their merits alone.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Thomas Mulligan
9 months ago

I’m skeptical of your claim that there was ever a time in which military service was more broadly distributed, both among socioeconomic classes and also among men and women. It may be true that it was once more broadly distributed among socioeconomic classes, but I doubt that this was a time at which any significant number of women were involved. This time at which socioeconomic classes more broadly shared in military service was also a time in which it was illegal to be gay in the military, and officers were legally empowered to pry into personal lives to discover any evidence of gay servicemembers and dishonorably discharge them. (This only ended in 1996 with the advent of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.)Report

J. Bogart
J. Bogart
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
9 months ago

Until post-Viet Nam, the US military had a good range of socio-economic and political diversity in both enlisted and commissioned ranks. Racial diversity in the enlisted ranks has been among the better institutions, in the enlisted ranks and, to a lesser degree, commissioned. Senior officers are a different story. Report

Louis F. Cooper
9 months ago

Many years ago I read Lee Bollinger’s The Tolerant Society: Freedom of Speech and Extremist Speech in America (Oxford Univ. Press, 1986). His starting question was roughly: What social benefits, if any, flow from tolerating and protecting extremist speech? (e.g., the neo-Nazis marching in Skokie, which at the time was a fairly recent controversy). It’s a somewhat different question from those being debated right now, but the book might nonetheless be worth revisiting (or reading for the first time, as the case may be). I’m sure there’s a lot of relevant and recent work out there, but this just happens to be something I read once, so I thought I’d mention it fwiw. (I realize I haven’t summarized his argument, but that would take more time than I have at the moment.) Report

Heath White
Heath White
9 months ago

I have a terminological/analytic suggestion. “Cancellation” is when one is harmed—i.e. some good they have (a job, a platform) is taken away—as a result of e.g. some speech act. Yes, this phenomenon has been around a long time. But I think two elements are relatively new and a result of changing technological/sociological circumstances.

First, it’s a commonplace that the barriers to entry in publishing are now very low. Anyone can have a Twitter account. Contrast this with a relatively small number of newspapers, magazines etc. controlled by editorial gatekeepers. In that world, an opinion outside the bounds of acceptability need not be punished. It can instead just be ignored and get no traction. This might be *bad* but it is not removal of any good the opiner already possesses. In a world without gatekeepers, however, sanctions against out-of-bounds opinions are going to look more like punishments. That is, more cancellations.

People take losses harder than they take the absence of gains. That is why being de-platformed feels more objectionable than simply being non-platformed, even if outcomes are similar. This is also why “cancel culture” has a chilling effect that gatekeeping does not. It is the difference between a threat versus simple exclusion from resources.

Second, even under the old dispensation, cancellations happened. People got fired because they expressed the wrong political opinion, or tried to unionize, or whatever. However, I would bet that this was mostly motivated directly by the anger of bosses. What has changed now is that cancellation is more “democratic”—groups of people on social media direct enough negative attention at the bosses, so that the bosses are sufficiently pressured to fire or discipline the perpetrator, regardless of their own personal feelings about the situation. These groups can be more or less organized and intentional, and they probably don’t represent majority opinion, but they do represent a vocal minority.

Colin Kaepernick was old-style cancelled; David Shor was new-style cancelled.

You could argue that “peace of mind” is a good people possess that is taken away by online harassment, death threats, doxing, etc. and so counts as a form of cancellation.

You could also argue that certain kinds of status are a good people possess, that can be taken away by a devastating rebuttal of one’s position on the merits. That too might count as a form of cancellation, but it is a form that liberal culture has always been comfortable with. Plus, so long as the argument is genuinely against the *position*, the *person* can always return to the public square for another round of debate.

None of this addresses the issue of whether the bounds of acceptable discourse are narrowing or otherwise moving.

Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
9 months ago

I think that in the academic context it’s a mistake to focus on the big name cases like Salaita. While a few established tenure track academics will be victims of some sort of internet mob (whether on the right or left), they’re hardly the most vulnerable to this kind of thing. Adjuncts, year-to-year lecturers, and junior faculty who are TT but untenured are in that order far more vulnerable to losing their livelihoods if targeted. It is incredibly easy to fire adjuncts or lecturers on year-to-year contracts and there’s practically nothing that they can do about it no matter how outrageous the reasons for firing them actually are. One can simply fail to renew the contract without actually stating a reason or, if the real reason is particularly nefarious, come up with a convenient cover story. Tenure denials are likewise opaque and quite open to such chicanery.
And I can tell you from experience as an adjunct and later a lecturer on year-to-year contracts that the fear of getting in trouble for saying the wrong thing in those positions is very much real. This was especially pronounced in the job I had before my current one and is a good part of the reason I left. The university where I worked was in a ruby red state and everyone at it lived in terror of the Tea Party controlled state legislature. If you said the wrong thing in class, on the internet, or even a publication then it was all too easy to imagine oneself getting on the radar of the likes of Fox News, Glenn Beck, or Rod Dreher and from there facing the wrath of some ambitious pol who wanted to make his name with that crowd. But the university was also desperate to climb the greasy pole of academic rankings like the U.S. News and the Leiter rankings. So, it wouldn’t do to irritate any influential academic who might be involved in such rankings or even for the school to get any sort of bad press in the overwhelmingly left wing world academics travel in. One ended up afraid of saying anything that could irritate people on either side. For me at least this meant I sometimes avoided controversial issues in class, and more often pushed less hard on controversial points than I really should have as a good philosophy teacher. And I sure as heck wouldn’t have ever put anything the least bit controversial on a sight like Daily Nous under my own name.
The thing is that if we recognize that it’s adjuncts and lecturers who are most open to being victimized in this way, then it’s not at all hard to protect people in those positions in ways that deal with those problems. We needn’t give tenure for all or even make any huge changes to American labor law (though the latter would I think be a good idea). In my current job I technically don’t have tenure, but the policies here are written in such a way that the assumption is that full time faculty will have their contracts renewed. To fail to renew a faculty members contract an administrator needs to meet a pretty serious burden of proof that that person has failed to perform his or her job duties or engaged in other serious wrongdoing and go through a very well defined process. And it should be pretty obvious I’m not at all scared of speaking my mind any more. There’s no reason that more universities and colleges couldn’t adopt a system like this. I’m honestly not sure that tenure for anyone is a good idea, but everyone ought to get some sort of due process at work. If academics on either side are really concerned about free speech or free inquiry in academia they’d push for a system like this for lecturers and push to make adjunct positions into lecturer positions with those sorts of protections. Focusing on something like culture strikes me as easy but easy because it’s pretty much meaningless.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
9 months ago

Justin: I don’t know if this is the right place to say this, but this thread reminds me how very unhelpful and disconcerting I’m finding the removal of the “like” function. It was a very easy low-key way to express approval with particular posts and (secondarily) to get some sense of the focus of the debate. I didn’t notice how much I liked it until it disappeared. It reduces the pleasure of reading DN by an extent that has surprised me. I still don’t understand why you removed it; if you can explain more, I’d appreciate it.Report

Matt Lister
Reply to  David Wallace
9 months ago

I’d agree quite strongly with David Wallace on this point, for what that’s worth. (Also on his first comment.) Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  Matt Lister
9 months ago

Two things have improved DN–people posting with their own names, and the removal of “likes”. The first makes people responsible for saying what they say; the second slows down the stratification of the profession that was pre-internet done merely by citation and associated networking (and not always to the improvement of the profession). Has Twitter genuinely improved philosophy? Do “likes”? I for one approve of what Justin has done here, making this a more laid-back egalitarian forum than some sort of social media piling-on platform.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  David Wallace
9 months ago

LikeReport

Daniel Kodsi
Daniel Kodsi
Reply to  David Wallace
9 months ago

Also just wanted to mention that I agree with this! Report

Greg Guy
Greg Guy
9 months ago

I have to register my complete disagreement with David Wallace regarding the ‘like’ button. I fail to see why anyone should care about the ‘approval’ of their post? Everywhere this function exists there starts to appear a pernicious groupthink as people become more interested in showing their approval of something rather than engaging with the substance of the post. Please keep it switched off and never bring it back!Report

Dmitri Gallow
Dmitri Gallow
Reply to  Greg Guy
9 months ago

Hard agree. Discourse shouldn’t be gamified.Report

Andrea Guardo
Reply to  Greg Guy
9 months ago

“I fail to see why anyone should care about the ‘approval’ of their post?”.

I don’t think the only function of likes is to tell people how much the other readers approve *their* comments – for one, I like likes because they give me an idea of what people think about comments I agree with (which I find comforting).

“Everywhere this function exists there starts to appear a pernicious groupthink as people become more interested in showing their approval of something rather than engaging with the substance of the post”.

I agree with that in the case of facebook et similia. But here likes have always been anonymous, so there is a real sense in which by liking a comment I am not showing my approval of it.

(That being said, I totally understand why one could dislike likes; I’m just saying that I do like them, and that I don’t think there are good arguments to the conclusion that I should not like them). Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
9 months ago

What is “cancel culture”? How can you be “cancelled” if you still get to speak?

As someone who was previously persuaded by the kind of reductionist account Justin sketches above (e.g. that the harm is not in the criticism but in the firing), this video by philosopher and video essayist Natalie Wynn (of “ContraPoints”) really helped me to take the problem more seriously. The video is long, and it may not grip you at first, but I recommend sticking with it. One thing that made it more persuasive is that it’s not primarily oriented toward defending a particular ideological position in the right/left/reactionary-liberal discussion being had above. (I’ve found this to be a frequent virtue of Wynn’s videos.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjMPJVmXxV8Report

Matthew Howery
Matthew Howery
9 months ago

A response letter has been written and published, here: https://theobjective.substack.com/p/a-more-specific-letter-on-justiceReport

kailadraper
9 months ago

“This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.”

Are any of these claims true? I don’t really know, but my guess is that all but one is false. I do think that trying to wish away bad ideas is apt to be ineffective, but silencing bad ideas can be an effective way to defeat them. It can also backfire, of course. The other problem I have with the letter is that its list of signatories includes several people whose controversial ideas are shit but who also have the power to get their ideas heard by millions. They are poor ambassadors for freedom of speech.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
9 months ago

I want to reiterate something Jerome H. Lacroix and Dmitri Gallow both note. Whatever one thinks about the pre-existing conditions for ‘cancel culture’, the proliferation of new media platforms has enabled new forms of professional censure. Together with the way these new forms of censure have been used, that provides some warrant for thinking there’s a distinct sort of culture at work now.

It would be good of philosophers, a form of public service, if we were more attentive to some of the dimensions along which this has happened. Civil discourse almost across the board is in bad need of pretty basic philosophical intervention. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read an article proclaiming that someone ‘used’ a racist, sexist, etc. term that was mentioned instead, while the meanings of ‘racism’, ‘sexism’, etc. are expanding to cover cases that many people would not have accepted even a few years ago.

The linguistic change itself isn’t a problem, and one hopes we settle on a better understanding of things through the process. But there can be no question that new media has amplified the ability of ‘cancel culture’ to affect people’s livelihoods, for it rides the back of technological and social changes that make it possible to exert new forms of influence over others’ lives.

The deeper problem, I’m inclined to think, lies with the political and ideological forces that appear to be trying to effect social and linguistic change without brooking any disagreement. This takes place on both the right and the left. In each case, the new media mechanisms of cancel culture have been leveraged to stifle opposition by threatening dissenters’ professional livelihoods.

I think we’d be better off if more philosophers were involving themselves thoughtfully in this process. That would require being more tolerant of dissent than ‘cancel culture’ countenances, however. And that puts philosophy and cancel culture at fundamental odds with one another. All the more reason for philosophers to become more involved, it seems to me.Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  Preston Stovall
9 months ago

Thank you so much for this. I especially am horrified by the instances of mentioning offensive terms have been taken as using them (though of course there are “mentions” that can be used in broader context offensively, but those I take it are rare).

In any case Preston (if I may) you have expressed very eloquently many of my own concerns.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Alan White
9 months ago

Thanks Alan, I appreciate that. And yeah, I thought about a parenthetical remark to the effect of ‘although as John McDowell teaches us, one way of using a word is to mention it’. But journalists today aren’t reading McDowell, I’m afraid, and their uses of ‘use’ aren’t trying to make that point anyway. Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Preston Stovall
9 months ago

Once again, I’d point to some of the philosophers on YouTube, particularly Natalie Wynn (“Contrapoints”) and Olly Thorn (“Philosophy Tube”), as people already doing this work. Like or dislike their style/format and agree or disagree with their particular claims and analyses, but they are presenting a form of philosophically informed education and commentary that is aimed squarely at engaging with, rather than silencing, disagreement.

https://www.youtube.com/user/thephilosophytube
https://www.youtube.com/user/ContraPointsReport

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Derek Bowman
9 months ago

Thanks Derek. I’ve seen Wynn’s stuff before, which I think is pretty good. Hadn’t heard of Thorn, though. At any rate, I think that kind of public outreach is important. I would like to see professional philosophers, those holding teaching and research positions at institutions of higher education, becoming more involved. And I’d be more sanguine about philosophy’s role in the downward spiral of condemnation and cancel culture if things like the Hypatia debacle hadn’t occurred, and if organizations like that APA hadn’t set up a ‘publishing ethics’ committee whose efforts look like an attempt to institute an ex post facto justification for the way Tuvel was treated. This all occurred inside the realm of feminist scholarship. That sort of reaction obviously has a chilling effect on the open discussion of all sorts of politically charged topics.Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Preston Stovall
9 months ago

” if organizations like that APA hadn’t set up a ‘publishing ethics’ committee whose efforts look like an attempt to institute an ex post facto justification for the way Tuvel was treated. ”

Just to (try, perhaps futilely) to keep the record straight:
The APA did not set up any such committee, did not fund any such committee, nor did it endorse or adopt the ‘white paper’ produced.

In the DN thread a little over a year ago on the topic’, several people made this mistake, and it was corrected repeatedly, but I guess ineffectively.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
9 months ago

My apologies Jamie, you’re correct. That project was funded by a Mellon grant, asserts on the project’s main page that it aims to “pursue the question of publication ethics in line with the wide variety of efforts of the American Philosophical Association”, was advertised on the APA blog on May 9, 2018, and the team of five core researchers included Amy Ferrer (the executive director of the APA) and two people who signed the open letter against Hypatia (Trott and Kennison). But it’s true that the APA didn’t set the committee up, as I’d said in error. Always good to keep the record straight, so thank you.Report

Nicholas Weininger
Nicholas Weininger
9 months ago

I think there are at least two solid reasons to worry about cancel culture defined as an increase in expressions of intolerance for opposing views:

1. It impedes the pursuit of truth. It is not at all obvious to me that your (5)– academics being at liberty to defend a broader variety of theses than before– is true compared to 30 years ago. 100 years ago sure, but for 30 years ago it’s nonobvious enough to need a solid evidentiary defense. And if professional truth-seekers in general– academics, journalists, industrial scientists etc– are now more likely than before to face professional punishment if they defend theses that upset activists, that’s likely to reduce the efficacy of their truth-seeking. You may say that this is their employers’ fault for being too willing to cave to activist pressure, and in part it is, but it may still be easier to change the incentives on the activists than on the employers.

2. It lays the groundwork for much more extreme and damaging censorship regimes. When a significant political faction publicly talks themselves into believing that no decent, well-informed, intelligent person can disagree with them on an ever-broadening list of issues, they are setting themselves up to rationalize the use of state violence against those who disagree once they get the power to direct that violence. It’s true that they don’t do that now, but this may well be because they lack the power, not because they believe it to be wrong. And history affords numerous examples of crumbling ancien regimes leaving a power vacuum that is filled by fanatical activists who then impose totalitarian repression to stamp out expressions of dissent from their views.Report

Scott Matthew
Reply to  Nicholas Weininger
9 months ago

The most prominent example of #1 recently is the attempt to get Steven Pinker deplatformed for (among a few other cherry-picked things) sharing a tweet that sheds light on the question of police shootings and police brutality, that happens to be against the grain of the social discourse on the issue.Report

Jay Molnar
Jay Molnar
9 months ago

The most unsettling aspect to the phenomenon of “cancel culture” is the ability of social media, specifically Twitter, to rile up an audience that is intent on seeking justice for what according to the social values of the majority today is seen as abhorrent. There was a recent story of a biker in the DC area that assaulted some teenagers who was subject to a sort of manhunt to find the biker’s identity and report him to the authorities. Many individuals on Twitter proceeded to incite their followers to find the individual, including a prominent DC TV News personality who commented “Twitter do your thing”. This group then went on to identify the incorrect person and direct a load of vitriolic rhetoric their way. (https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/06/what-its-like-to-get-doxed-for-taking-a-bike-ride.html?mc_cid=13006af3e5&mc_eid=c04c13906c)

This anecdotal evidence leads me to what I believe is at the center of the “cancel culture” debate. Twitter’s ability to be furnished as a tool for mob justice, whether right or wrong, is worthy of further examination. I think you could probably go case-by-case with these so-called “cancellations” to understand if they’re worthy of consequence, but the mechanism of social media, as it consists right now, seems like a train that once it gets started does not have the brakes of procedure to allow any grey areas into the judgement. Report

Daniel Greco
Daniel Greco
Reply to  Jay Molnar
9 months ago

Regina Rini makes a nice version of that argument here. (Did I get that right, I’m always screwing up hyperlinks. Fingers crossed.)Report

Scott Matthew
Reply to  Jay Molnar
9 months ago

Agreed – as I put in in my comment just below, “I think that what is new is an ad hoc nationwide communication network (e.g. twitter et al.) that allows anyone in the country to find a supposed ideological transgression, report it to this network, and coordinate with relative ease a campaign of the thousand-or-so (or whatever the critical number is) most offended people to sign a petition, call administrators, and levy consequences on the source of that ideological transgression. And yet the in-person effect of a thousand-name petition or thousand-person phone campaign is about as effective now as it was a few decades ago. So the major change is the facility of coordination of a constituency for ideological consequences addressed to anyone in the US or culturally receptive countries (e.g. the anglosphere).”Report

Scott Matthew
9 months ago

I think the framing of the question is arbitrary. At issue is not whether there is more or less freedom than 100 years ago. There is clearly more freedom, in large part as a result of academics and cultural elites pushing for an expansion in personal and societal liberties. If we asked “was the 1950s more ideologically free than the 1850s” or “1750s” or “1650s” we would probably get a “yes” in all of those cases, despite the fact that we now look back on the 1950s as a time of relatively stifling ideological conformity.

At issue, rather, is whether the first derivative of freedom is positive or negative, to use calculus terms, i.e. whether significant movement in terms of “overall level of academic/cultural freedom” is in the positive or negative direction. Is there more or less freedom than 10 or 20 years ago?

I saw a relevant quote on twitter, though I can’t locate the provenance: “Criticism isn’t new. Consequences aren’t new”. This is superficially undeniable. Is there something that is new, though? I think that what is new is an ad hoc nationwide communication network (e.g. twitter et al.) that allows anyone in the country to find a supposed ideological transgression, report it to this network, and coordinate with relative ease a campaign of the thousand-or-so (or whatever the critical number is) most offended people to sign a petition, call administrators, and levy consequences on the source of that ideological transgression. And yet the in-person effect of a thousand-name petition or thousand-person phone campaign is about as effective now as it was a few decades ago. So the major change is the facility of coordination of a constituency for ideological consequences addressed to anyone in the US or culturally receptive countries (e.g. the anglosphere).

And I think most critical of all is whether we are now seeing a complete reversal of the 20th century dynamic: whereas in prior decades academic and cultural elites were the sources of radical and liberating thoughts pushing back on a default social and religious conservatism stemming from society at large, are we now a reversal in which academic and cultural elites, *by virtue of their prominence*, are the most easily swayed by a discursive and ideological conservatism that is radiating out into a relatively more discursive and ideologically permissive broader society?

As a caveat, I am not making a claim about the entirety of the thrust of the woke movement/progressive movement broadly – I think in most ways, the broader thrust of that movement is toward greater social equality and liberation of many repressed groups from socioeconomic and sociocultural oppressions. But I am concerned about the undercurrent, the riptide, the kickback of this momentum into the realm of academic and cultural freedom. Can we not make the sociocultural and policy progress with the cancellation and the deplatforming and the outrage culture? Or is it a necessary part of the package?
Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
9 months ago

One more anecdote: https://www.bariweiss.com/resignation-letter

“These are just isolated examples, Prime Minister.”
“There are another seven hundred isolated examples in this paper”.
(Yes, Prime Minister: ‘Man Overboard’)Report