Criticizing vs. Cancelling

Criticizing vs. Cancelling March 22, 2021

Some on the Left are saying that cancel culture is just right wing rhetoric and doesn’t actually exist.  It’s just “criticism” or “holding people responsible.”

Well, Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution (which is not a conservative organization) has written a helpful piece for Persuasion entitled The Cancel Culture Checklist, with the deck “Six signs that show you’re not just being criticized; you’re being canceled.”

Read it all, but for your convenience I’ll just list and briefly describe those six signs and how they different from criticism:

1. Punitiveness   

Criticism, says Rauch, seeks to correct.  If you are criticized successfully, you lose the argument.  Cancellation seeks to punish.  If cancellation is successful, you lose your job.  The person who is cancelled must be made to suffer.

2.  Deplatforming

Cancellation, unlike criticism, seeks to silence the opponent.  It specifically seeks to take away the forum for articulating the disputed opinion:  the book must not be published; the lecture must not be given; the post must be taken down.  Also, says Rauch, “Cancelers often define the mere act of disagreeing with them as a threat to their safety or even an act of violence.”

3.  Organization

Cancellation is often an organized effort, with more and more individuals and groups called upon to pile on.  This includes searching for more transgressions that the target might have committed.

4.  Secondary Boycotts

Cancellers create a climate of fear by promoting guilt by association, threatening the same punitive action against the target’s employer, professional organizations, and anyone who comes to his or her defense.

5.  Moral Grandstanding

This  is defined as “the display of moral outrage to impress one’s peer group, dominate others, or both.”  It manifests itself in demonizing, ad hominem attacks, extreme rhetoric, and exaggerated displays of indignation.

6.  Truthiness

Going outside of Rauch’s essay to the dictionary definition of this term first coined by satirist Stephen Colbert, “Truthiness refers to the quality of seeming to be true but not necessarily or actually true according to known facts.”  Whereas critics are concerned for accuracy, cancellers are willing to assert inaccuracies, distortions, and falsehoods.  And they will stick with them even after they are demonstrated to be untrue.


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


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