Cancel Culture ≠ Free Speech; Discuss!

Written - July 2022

Where do you get your news?  If you get it from television or a newspaper it’s very likely going to be just a single source.  Some people like to watch the BBC, or Sky.  Other people watch CNN or their local Fox affiliate.  Some people watch the state broadcaster and some people watch independent stations.  It’s the same with newspapers where people read the same paper every day or week for years, and are usually fiercely loyal.

Some people though get their news just from social media and this is where it gets messy.  It’s far too easy online to hide articles, people, and sources that provide news you don’t like, disagree with, or simply don’t want to hear.  This came to the public consciousness during the presidency of Donald Trump where “fake news” became a buzzword, and where the voting public in the USA were actively discouraged from reading or watching any news source that disagreed with him.

The ultimate outcome of these news silos people put themselves into became known as “cancel culture”.  A society in which people were ignored, hounded, and in some cases physically attacked or forced out of their jobs because they have a contrary or a different point of view.  This became very evident at universities, especially in western countries, where any viewpoint that didn’t fit with what liberal-minded students wanted to hear was banned completely.

This is a problem, and a big one if we want to have a healthy and coherent society into the future.  We learn by debating and discussing different viewpoints with others, and we understand more about the world by knowing what different groups of people think and believe.  At school and at university you go to learn and broaden your mind.  It’s an accepted fact that you don’t know everything about the world when you begin classes, as that what your classes exist for,

So why cancel people we disagree with?  This has got so bad now that even comedians are afraid to make jokes any more.  When comedians can’t make jokes we have a major problem as there is absolutely nothing in the world that should be above humour.  We need to be able to see the funny side of anything, especially more serious subjects, as it not only helps us internalise and deal with trauma, but it helps bring us together as a people and raise awareness of important issues.

I heard a story only this morning of a comedy club that issued a public apology just for booking a comedian, this is when it’s really gone too far.  People are using cancel culture as an excuse to bully and harass other people, and that is behaviour that in truly unacceptable in any civilised society.

It’s for this reason that I always make sure I get my news from a variety of different sources.  Mostly from TV, I watch the BBC, Sky, France 24, and right-wing news channel TalkTV, along with the right-leaning LBC radio station.  On YouTube though I also check in with CNN, MSNBC, and both Fox News and the Megyn Kelly show, Kelly being a former Fox News anchor.  Fox has a reputation for supporting extreme right-wing views, so you might ask why I bother to watch it.

The reason for this is simple.  I can’t understand the arguments contrary to the ones in which I personally believe if I shut myself off from them.  Moreover, I can’t get a fully-rounded view of the world to form my own opinions if I limit the sources of my information.  I want to be well informed, and well educated, so I make sure I get that information from a good selection of different sources with differing opinions and views.  I won’t listen to or watch people on the extreme right, such as Tucker Carlson on Fox News, or Infowars podcast host Alex Jones, but I won’t listen to people on the extreme left either, such as the spokespeople for Extinction Rebellion.  You have to draw the line somewhere.

Similarly, if I find myself talking to somebody with opposing views to myself I don’t simply ignore them and walk away, or tell them they’re plain wrong, or even shout at them.  I’ll ask them questions.  Why do they believe what they do?  Where did they hear those things, and why do they believe they’re accurate?  If I can convince them of a more rounded viewpoint I’ll try.  Conversely if I can learn something from them in return, I’ll always be open to it.

What would happen if I were “cancelled” by a group that didn’t want to hear what I had to say, perhaps over this or other #Comment articles I have written here?  Well I would do my best to engage with them.  Free speech is vital in our world, but it’s not the case that it can be hijacked by individual groups to silence opposing views they disagree with.  Holding your own view does not automatically make you right, neither for myself.  By shutting down comment and conversation though we risk creating a totalitarian state of which even George Orwell would be frightened.  This is where the thought police monitor what you say and write online, and feel the right to silence you for anything at any time.  That, frankly, is not free speech… far from it in fact!

The laws of different countries are very clear what is and is not acceptable speech, and what constitutes a hate crime.  All western countries though recognise the vital role played by freedom of speech.  It’s how we learn, it’s how we grow and understand both each other and the world we live in, and it’s vital to the future success and prosperity of our civilisation that we continue to debate and engage with people we disagree with.

So the next time you want to shut somebody down just for disagreeing with you, or if you know somebody that wants to harass, troll or even physically abuse another person for having a view they dislike, ask who is really on the wrong side of that argument.  The person with the words, or the person with the sticks and stones.