Thursday, April 1, 2021 : By Nathan Skates
In a harrowing poll, most Americans say cancel culture is a threat to their freedom and they fear that sharing their political opinions online will get them banned or fired from their jobs.
A recent Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll revealed that 64 percent of respondents say there is a “growing cancel culture” that threatens their freedom, with 54 percent saying that they are concerned that if they share their political views online, they could be banned from social media or fired from their jobs. Only 13 percent of respondents say that cancel culture is not a problem.
Mark Penn, director of the Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey, said, “It is a chilling finding that most people in the country now are afraid they would be fired if they expressed their real views on social media.”
Legal scholars are also concerned about the effect cancel culture is having on American society. Harvard constitutional scholar Alan Dershowitz compared cancel culture to “McCarthyism,” a concerted campaign in the 1950s to identify and expose those with communist sympathies in government, Hollywood, academia, and business using aggressive investigative tactics that ended up destroying careers and lives.
“When I was a young man, we fought McCarthyism,” Dershowitz recalls. “President Eisenhower stood up against it. The dean of the Harvard Law School stood up against it. Today, nobody is standing up against this form of McCarthyism because they’re afraid.”
Instead, he says, “Cancel culture is becoming American culture.”
Despite being a “liberal democrat,” Dershowitz has also faced efforts to cancel him and label him as pro-Trump. The scholar said that he can fight back, but students are afraid to. “If they say anything in class or out of class which suggests that they support President Trump’s rights under the Constitution, they risk not having recommendations, they risk being canceled, risk being socially ostracized,” he explained. “There’s no debate going on campus. It’s a one-sided propaganda mill.”
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley echoed Dershowitz’s comments, calling cancel culture a new “Red Scare” targeting conservatives. Turley testified before a House subcommittee, saying,
“There is now an inverse intolerance against conservative voices. The Red Scare was a period where writers and others were put on blacklists and denied employment for holding the ‘wrong’ views. There are now new calls for blacklists from not just members of Congress but writers and academics. There exists an ever-present fear of being accused of being reactionary or racist in questioning any aspect of the current protests or their underlying demands. Professors and writers have faced demands to be fired or removed from boards due to their views questioning systemic racism in policing, or for the criticism of recent violent protests or particular groups. Ironically, where professors and writers were once targeted for their criticism of the government, it is more likely today that one will be denounced for being supportive of the government, particularly law enforcement.”
Ironically, cancel culture was perfected behind the Iron Curtain of communism that McCarthy was so concerned about. While “cancel culture” is a relatively new term, it is not a new idea. For example, in East Germany, the Stasi, the brutal secret police force tasked with maintaining communist power, employed a type of psychological warfare against its citizens called “Zersetzung,” which roughly translates as “decomposition” or “disintegration.”
Beginning in 1976, 300,000 Stasi officers began covertly targeting government critics and any potential dissenters by intensely surveilling their homes, work, relationships, and public speeches to find anything they could use against them, or they would simply make up credible but unrefutable lies. Armed with these accusations and information, the Stasi would unleash an unrelenting campaign of gossip and harassment against the person, including organizing and touting what they referred to as “professional and social disappointments.”
Victims of these tactics would soon find themselves essentially “decomposed” as human beings, isolated from society with no job, no money, and sometimes no home. They would even be ostracized by friends and family, who, though they likely knew the rumors were untrue, would abandon the person out of fear that they too would be targeted by the Stasi. Many victims committed suicide or ended up in mental institutions.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, these tactics ended up working even better at crushing dissent than the gulag and torture methods the Stasi had practiced in the decades prior to implementing Zersetzung.
Whether practiced in East Germany or in America, cancel culture is malicious and a threat to a democratic society. The United States is built on freedoms such as the freedom of speech and freedom of religion. In this country, people are allowed to have differing opinions and can debate the merits of those opinions freely.
Recently however, Big Tech, academia, media, celebrities, and social media activists seek not only to destroy debate, but the lives of any people who don’t hold to a certain orthodoxy. Professors, athletes, politicians, and even regular people face the wrath of cancel culture if they express views that break with the Twitter mob. Social justice warriors not only target political opponents for recent comments but scour the Internet for any past indiscretions they can exploit.
Many crusade as though fighting a dark force of evil rather than simply experiencing a difference of opinion. For example, a Facebook group created by educators and elected officials seeks to “expose” and “silence” parents of students who criticize or question Critical Race Theory by compiling a list of “all known actors and supporters” of the “anti-CRT movement” and “its evil rhetoric.”
Cancel culture is a mockery of a free society. Rather than debate the merits of a political or moral philosophy, it seeks to vilify opponents and intimidate people into submission. It attacks the person rather than the argument and divides Americans into hostile groups. Each American should be entitled to their political views without fear that they will experience reprisals.
Such a merciless tactic is antithetical to the Christian concept of mercy and grace as well. Christians believe that all human beings are sinful, yet God shows mankind mercy and commands that we do the same. Seeking out past sins, real or imagined, or making up false rumors about a political opponent or your neighbor flies in the face of God’s mercy. As fallen humans, there arrives a time when each person needs mercy. Those who employ cancel culture tactics are also likely to be victims of cancel culture one day.
If America is to continue as a free and open society, its citizens must see each other as fellow humans rather than political enemies. If we don’t start soon, we will someday end up just like the Stasi targets — disintegrated.