Cancel Culture, Martin Westerman (May 18, 2021)

Cancel culture for everybody!

Cancel culture is becoming the new Godwin’s Law. Godwin (1990) said as any online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler becomes more likely. Today, the same applies to “cancel culture.” Reductio ad Hitlerum is now an overblown Reductio ad cancelum.

Cancel culture has been the human norm since the dawn of history. It only appears new today because the phrase was re-invented in 2017 to describe “cancelling” the reputation and accomplishments of someone prominent (like Harvey Weinstein) who had behaved or spoken egregiously. But since then, it has come to include “cancelling” groups (Confederacy sympathizers), monuments and site names (named abusers, criminals and slaveholders), turns of phrase (anything non-PC), and finally, whole culture (white people).

The Neanderthal, Denisovans, Homo Naledi and other homo erectus species have disappeared, some (like Neanderthals) apparently canceled by us homo sapiens, some wipoed out by environmental disasters. Today, we are the last of the homo erectus species (unless Yeti and Sasquatch still walk the Earth).

Sapiens ended up here by overrunning, absorbing and/or killing off the world’s other tribes, cultures and species. The Neanderthal, Denisovans, and Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Nabateans, Babylonians, Spartans, Phoenecians, Visigoths, Sassanids, Çatalhöyük, Cahokia, Angkor, Harappan, Maya, Anasazi, Clovis, and so many more are just memories now. All were actually cancelled.

Generally, current humans stand on the bones and rubble of canceled predecessor cultures, get excited about their pasts, and use past names for present sites, enterprises and sports teams. Why? Would today’s folk really want to recreate those past cultures as places for themselves to live? That seems to be the goal of “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) supporters. Homo sapiens’ success rests on its ability to see what isn’t and imagine what could be. Imagination is the realm of fantasy, belief and creativity; it comes before truth and facts. While most of us grow out of the fantastical world of children as we mature, many of us don’t.

In this country, where the norm is peaceful transitions of government, the mostly white MAGA people and the politicians who represent them oppose it. Transition is progress, and they fear progress will cancel their way of life. They want to recreate some form of imaginary past America, where whites were not just in the majority, they were the most visible color of human everywhere – in business, government and media. The MAGAs don’t want to see any non-white colors. To them, having to share power means getting their culture eliminated.

That’s ironic. American Indians fought the railroads and the killing of buffalo, because it actually was canceling their way of life. Southern plantation owners fought elimination of slavery, because it cancelled their Antebellum culture. They were right. At the turn of the 20th century, whites who were 2nd or earlier generation immigrants themselves, fought new immigrants whom they feared would take their jobs and cancel their “true American” culture. They were wrong. From the 1860s to today, Blacks have fought embedded racism because it canceled their African culture and is still cancelling their lives.

More ironic are Southern plantation whites in a new insurrectionist form (proof enough to believe in reincarnation?), attacking the U.S. Congress, as it affirmed the peaceful transfer of government power January 6, 2021. They claim Congress was trying to cancel their culture. To any observer, it is clear they don’t know what it means to “cancel” a culture, they haven’t read the U.S. Constitution – even though nearly 150 of the Congresspeople who represent them took an oath to protect and defend it, and they don’t know what America stands for, even though they grew up here.

They don’t balance their fantasies with facts and truth. Besides thinking they’ll “save America” by attacking its Congress and courts, they imagine that COVID is a hoax, science can’t be trusted, Trump won the presidency in 2020, and the U.S. faked the moon landing. They run to “free” women and “save babies” from Planned Parenthood clinics that rarely (< 3%) perform abortions, and attack a pizza parlor that serves pizzas but was rumored to abuse children. The goal is always to intimidate, threaten and kill opponents so they can retain power. And they have formed groups for 150 years to cancel non-white cultures: the Ku Klux Klan, the Know Nothing Party, the American Nazi Party, John Birch Society, QAnon, Proud Boys and white nationalists. These fantastical American “saviors” act mostly like foot-stamping, breath-holding children. William Golding laid out the worst-case scenario of this in his book, Lord of the Flies. It ended with abuse, injuries and death – and the child characters crying out for rescue by adults. Nearly a third of Americans are magical MAGA thinkers, and so are about 25% of the U.S. Congresspeople who represent them – as well as large minorities of leaders in more than 20 U.S. states. While none of these groups is in the majority, most hold power anyway thanks to the electoral privileges of gerrymandering, and control of voting structures. They also use police forces, the levers of government, and denial of access to voting, to public spaces, free speech, public meetings and services, and redress of grievances to intimidate and disempower opponents. Much of this is unconstitutional and illegal. Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-CA), for example, enlisted the U.S. Dept. of Justice (DOJ) under Attorney General Bill Barr, to aid him in trying to shut down the Twitter account of a “cow” that posted critical comments about him, and sue the unknown person who created the cow. When the DOJ activity was publicized, the assistant state’s attorney Michael Friedman, who in effect served as Nunes’ personal attorney, refused to comment. Like parenting, corralling and shutting down bullies takes work – especially on a national scale. It requires standing up to them – nationally and in every state, embarrassing them, prosecuting their actions, laughing at them, and educating them. An Nunes-DOJ investigation is underway; a move is afoot to disbar Bill Barr; the Biden DOJ is going after the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol insurrectionists; lawsuits have been filed in every state against Republican legislatures attempting to suppress and restrict voting, as voting rights advocates continue registering voters and supplying them with the means to get mailed ballots and reach the polls despite new state restrictions. And President Biden and Congressional Democrats and Independents are mostly standing up to obstructionist Republicans, and forcing approval of needed legislation that helps block and reverse the bullies’ agendas. American culture is hard at work, and most everyone is participating. It doesn’t look to me as if anything or anyone is getting canceled.