A few weeks ago, I did a piece and a video covering the BBC’s “memory-hole-ing” of one of the most hilarious episodes of England’s top comedy series, “Fawlty Towers,” in which I noted that co-creator and star John Cleese Tweeted his chagrin and his view that it was the result of the “reactionary” right in charge of the BBC.
I also pointed out that Mr. Cleese was incorrect, that the people attacking speech and silencing his work were of the same leftist mindset as those who recently TRIED TO JAIL Scotland’s Count Dankula (Mark Meechan) simply for making a spoof video to needle his girlfriend.
And with the July 7 Harper’s release of an open letter signed by nearly 200 high-profile professors, novelists, journalists, and even a world chess champion – a letter decrying “cancel culture” and warning of the consequences of speech policing – that blindness to the source of the censorship problem was put on display again.
This is not to say that the signers are uniformly left-collectivist, for they include academics such as Harvard professor Steven Pinker and University of Chicago’s libertarian Deidre McClosky, but the list is so full of “Olde Guarde” progressives as to make one want to hand them mirrors.
These would show them that they created the “cancel culture” they now supposedly decry, even as they shift their worry to include Donald Trump, who hasn’t had a hand – or even a finger -- in fostering the growth of this culture over the past fifty years.
In the Harper’s piece, the signers identify the problem, offering laudable points:
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 Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a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.
And they correctly site the results of the “identity politics” censorship.
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.
The trouble is that many of the signatories who decry what the “Cancel Culture” is doing are, themselves, guilty of creating it.
A perfect example is signatory Gloria Steinem, former editor of “Vogue”, left-feminist, and outspoken collectivist who has also openly derided academics who might want to publish research on cognitive and behavioral differences between men and women.
In his 1998 ABC special, “Boys and Girls are Different”, John Stossel approached Steinem to ask her about studies showing possible biological bases for cognitive and behavioral differences between males and females.
Steinem’s curt and abrupt response? Don’t even do that kind of work. The very act of wondering if there are natural gender-based differences is one sourced from implicit sexism, to wit, she told him:
It’s really the remnant of anti-American crazy thinking to do this kind of research.
That was 1995, and, of course, now she’s all in favor of intellectual freedom.
When, based on interesting supportive data, Stossel asked her, “Aren’t women, in general, better nurturers?” she replied curtly once more, saying, “No. Next question.” No curiosity. No discussion. Flat-out cancelation. Cancelation of the line of inquiry, with an added vibe of offense just for having to suffer through the “sexist” question.
Now, she’s supposedly horrified by 21st Century Cancel Culture.
Perhaps if she had recognized her own censorious “identity politics” attitudes, and apologized decades ago, she might not look like such a monumental hypocrite. Perhaps if she had understood that she was utilizing and contributing to an even older, poisonous atmosphere of postmodernist “critical studies”, to reckless demonization, and censorship – the kind of growing censoriousness that writing legend Ray Bradbury decried and which he noted was pushed mostly by the left, especially at colleges – perhaps Ms. Steinem and her guilty associates would not have been targeted THEMSELVES by the very censor-mob they helped create.
Because that’s what has happened. As I and other liberty advocates have warned, as it was with Dr. Frankenstein, the postmodernist monster she and other “identity politics” forerunners created has now turned on them. Just days after the publication of their letter, the signatories were targeted for canceling by another team of “identity politics” pushers.
In their July 10 “A More Specific Letter On Justice And Open Debate”, this new group of leftists offered, without any sense of irony, a letter shutting down the first group’s call for open debate, saying, in part:
The signatories, many of them white, wealthy, and endowed with massive platforms, argue that they are afraid of being silenced, that so-called cancel culture is out of control, and that they fear for their jobs and free exchange of ideas, even as they speak from one of the most prestigious magazines in the country.
And, of course, in comically hypocritical fashion, many of the signatories to this “open letter” decrying the “establishment” signatories to the FIRST letter? You got it - they’re hard-hitting, high-profile establishment figures as well, including Washington Post Op-Ed Editor Karen Attiah, and Tufts University lecturer Kerri Greenridge.
It never ends. And that is why I and others have tried to stress the intellectual nihilism of “identity politics” – of ALL politics that do not simply leave people in peace. In their long-standing attempt to redefine the words of others and demonize political opponents, postmodernists have embraced the idea of “lingua ex-nihilo,” which becomes “lingua atavistica,” “lingua solopsistica,” and, finally, "lingua non-lingua" – no language at all.
Unless there is one central authority dictating how people will live.
And have no doubt, this is the intent of many of these pushers of “identity politics” and “cancel culture”. They might disagree with one another about who is the most “authentic” minority deserving the microphone, but they tend to have one common enemy of the day: the “right”, whom they (and even John Cleese) mistakenly target as the big “anti-speech” threat.
Where were they when Jordan Peterson stood up for free speech in Canada? When Alex Jones was booted from YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Apple’s App Store? When Zach Vorhies presented the Google/YouTube Blacklist? When the Australian government declined Lauren Southern’s visa? When YouTube removed Stefan Molyneux (and now, Twitter has done the same)?
It seems as if many of these “free speech advocates” were silent when those they saw as “rightist” (even libertarians) were maligned and silenced. Perhaps that is because, despite the DECADES of evidence to the contrary, they still mistakenly believe that the real enemy to free speech is “the right”?
Indeed, the first group of “Open Letter” signatories offered this in their first paragraph:
The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy.
But, “democracy” is never synonymous with individual rights. It stands for the majority trampling the rights of the minority.
Moreover, one can openly debate whether Donald Trump’s public outcries against social media and Big Tech censorship (censorship which I have personally experienced) are too harsh, too weak, or just right. But until he issued an Executive Order for his Justice Department to look into the Section 230 rules governing internet website and provider immunity from liability, he had taken no – ZERO – action to shut down newspapers or other media outlets. Sure, he had openly criticized, and argued with reporters he did not like, but he did not engage in using the Espionage Act to try to stifle reporters and whistleblowers the way Barack Obama did – something Obama tried more times than all Presidents combined since the act was passed in the early 20th Century.
The evidence is clear and voluminous. The process of canceling speech for political advantage becomes ceaseless, creating a nihilistic downward spiral that might stun even Trent Reznor. It leads to a destruction of truth, to nothingness, as does all collectivism, and the one thing that replaces it, is central political authority.
Which is precisely what the Cancel Culture wants to control.