Why Censorship and Cancel Culture Make America Weaker
It’s hard to tell whether the liberal love of censorship and cancel culture comes from sheer arrogance or the fear that the American people will reject their ideas if the other side gets a fair hearing. Perhaps it’s something in-between the two… what psychologists like to call fragile high self-esteem:
There are many kinds of high self-esteem, and in this study, we found that for those in which it is fragile and shallow it’s no better than having low self-esteem. People with fragile high self-esteem compensate for their self-doubts by engaging in exaggerated tendencies to defend, protect and enhance their feelings of self-worth.
Whatever the case may be, the impulse towards censoring and canceling contrary opinions in American culture today is extraordinarily harmful. Even setting aside the fact that “freedom of speech” is such a foundational American value that it’s mentioned in the First Amendment of the Constitution, there are a myriad of problems tied to or stemming directly from censorship and cancel culture.
For one thing, it’s one of the many reasons why America is increasingly becoming a low-trust culture. How can I trust you if you’re not free to say what you really think? More importantly, why would I trust you if you don’t think I should be free to say what I really think?
It also contributes to tribalism. Because if you are not allowed to listen to me and say, “Gee, that idea you have actually makes sense,” because you’ll be ostracized and maybe even canceled, tribalism becomes the safe choice. It’s much easier to say, “Those are bad people, and we won’t even listen to them,” than it is to address their ideas and in the process, start thinking or believing something that may get YOU censored or canceled. This is part of the reason our society has started to replace honesty and authenticity with outrage peddlers who specialize in getting as close as they can to the line where they’ll be censored without going over it. Instead of original thinkers, we’re increasingly getting people repeating bumper sticker slogans their side agrees with because at least that won’t get them in trouble. It’s more boring because we realize that at its core, it’s safe and fake, not what anyone really thinks.
This is also why, despite our endless streams of information and entertainment, our public speech is becoming increasingly pointless. It’s because of self-censorship driven by fear of being canceled. It’s just like Chris Rock said:
I see a lot of unfunny comedians, I see unfunny TV shows, I see unfunny award shows, I see unfunny movies ’cause no one’s — everybody’s scared to, like, you know, make a move. You know, that’s not a place to be. We should have the right to fail. Because failure is a part of art. You know what I mean? It’s the ultimate cancel, but now you got a place where people are scared to talk, that’s not — especially in America — you’re scared to talk, but that’s what people want, you gotta make adjustments and, you know, let’s do it.
Additionally, censorship inevitably ends up being arbitrary. White supremacists have objectionable views. Of course, so do critical race theorists, members of Black Lives Matter and the Nation of Islam, communists, socialists, anarchists, atheists, Satanists, and pretty much everyone who puts a pronoun in their bio. Do you think Donald Trump is too dangerous to be allowed to speak? Okay, but then what about the Squad, Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, and Eric Swalwell? Inevitably, the vast majority of people getting censored are just people the censors fear, dislike, or are jealous of and believe they can get away with canceling. If the social media monopolies believed they could get away with censoring the average Republican without significantly hurting their bottom line, they’d happily do it.
Of course, all of this is making our society more ignorant and mentally flabby. For example, what does it say about our society that people are apparently so incapable of refuting white supremacists or conspiracy theorists that those people have to be censored? Maybe more people should get off Twitter and try reading some books for a change and this will become less of a problem. Being exposed to the counterarguments to poorly reasoned thought is like getting a vaccine. If you haven’t heard the other side, then even something as stupid as the idea that the earth is flat can start to make sense to millions of people. If all these people are forced into dark corners of the Internet, where they mainly interact with other people that agree with them, their views will likely become more entrenched. Meanwhile, the people that are censored will appear more edgy and hip to people on the fence. “Those guys are so dangerous they had to CENSOR them!” However, if these bad actors were able to talk in public, smart people could actually refute their bad ideas publicly.
This leads us to the worst part of censorship and cancel culture. That is, contrary to what a lot of people seem to believe, no one has all the answers, which inevitably means that censorship and cancel culture often lock in bad or untrue ideas. The “experts” get it wrong all the time while culture and opinions about “the facts” change regularly. Being in favor of slavery was an unremarkable belief 220 years ago. 120 years ago, the general consensus was that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Sixty years ago, we hadn’t reached a “scientific consensus” on the idea that smoking was bad for people. Anyone who thinks they have it all figured out culturally, ethically, morally, or scientifically is not just wrong, they’re ignorant. The smarter people get, the more they realize that they don’t have all the answers and need to hear alternate ideas and opinions. It’s hard for people to offer up those ideas and opinions when a joke tweet from 2010 can cost them their careers. Without the freedom to openly discuss ideas, make jokes, and offer opinions, we can’t grow, thrive, and reach our potential as a society. To be a truly free people, we need free speech.