Is Cancel Culture the Way to Solve Social Issues?
By Benjamin Noel
After its emergence into the collective global ethos in 2017, cancel culture has taken in its path the likes of R Kelly, Jussie Smollett, and more recently, the TV show Cops. As I understand it, public figures are canceled as a result of them failing to uphold the social contract. This includes saying or doing things offensive typically to minority groups, such as wearing blackface, making derrogitory comments towards the LGBTQ community, or being linked to certain distasteful organizations.
As humans we have a few unchanging, deep rooted morals. It is wrong to kill, it is wrong to enslave another human, it is wrong to steal. But people are not canceled for these things. For these crimes, they are sentenced to prison or fined. In these cases, as our moral codes line up with our laws.
But what about moral responsibilities that cannot be formed into law? Being kind to one another, being understanding of other’s pain and hardship, and helping your fellow man. No law can enforce these societal rules. And no law should. It is up to us, as human beings, to keep each other accountable for their mistakes.
We do this naturally, when a friend or family member says something offensive, we’ll take them aside and say, “hey, that wasn’t a nice thing to say,” and explain why their words were hurtful. We understand that people make mistakes, sometimes out of ignorance, so taking a moment to explain the gravity of their words is the best way to prevent them from making that mistake again. However, in the age of the internet, where everyone can hide behind a screen name, and anonymously post and comment, this human sentiment is lost. Because the experience of typing a comment is so impersonal, we forget we are talking to, or about another living, breathing, loving human being. We attack instead of inform, and we cancel instead of educate.
Since the beginning of shelter in place, the online community leaned on trends as a way to stay connected. The most notable in the beginning was the fervor around the game Animal Crossing, a game in which players can visit other players’ islands. But within a few weeks, the game disappeared from social media feeds, as a video of a police officer kneeling on the neck of a black man populated social media platforms. Within hours, outrage swept across the nation, and protests were organized, petitions were passed around, and bottled up rage was let loose. The uniting factor was the call to abolish the police, to cancel the police.
And the sentiment is understood. I watched scenes of the protests, and nearly every time, the escalation to violence was started by the police firing off rubber bullets, or tear gas into the crowd. In my hometown of San Jose, officer Jared Yuen was seen cursing out protesters, posturing like a battle ready GI, barrel aimed at the crowd. In Philadelphia, protesters were rounded up like cattle, trapped up on an embankment next to the freeway, and bombarded with tear gas.
Scenes like these make it impossible to cheer for the men in blue. Their actions are those of instigators, not protectors. But let’s take a step back at the approach protestors are taking. People are crying out for abolishing the police, they’re toting violent slogans such as “1312” - in reference to the letters A C A B, which stands for “All Cops Are B*stards,” and another, “the only good cop, is a dead cop”.
How will these chants affect the police force 10 years from now? Well, all the kids keeping up with the news will see the public's disdain for the police. They will hear stories of injustice and hatred, the media painting all police officers as the destroyers of their communities instead of protectors. After seeing the hatred towards police, the little kids who dreamed of pinning on the star to their chest, will drop that dream to maybe fight fires, or become a paramedic. Certainly noble dreams nonetheless. However, who would still dream of becoming a police officer after seeing what officers get away with? Only one type of person. The bad man. Those prone to anger and violence, those with a vendetta against certain groups within their community, those with a will to kill. If we cancel police, and label them as a force of evil, no good kid will ever put himself through the police academy. The bad one will.
The power of the collective mob is not one to be taken lightly. Our approach of harsh words to those whose actions do not align with our morals will seriously stunt any positive change we try to fight for. In this age of hyper connectivity, rumors can spread, ideas can snowball, and calling out a person or an organization for breaching an ethical code can quickly turn into a campaign to blow them off the face of the earth. We need to realize that reacting to negative behavior with negative words will slowly eat away at our ability to teach, and love one another. Our minor differences will mean more than what we hold in common. And our society will splinter.
With the same time and patience we give to address our family member’s slip ups, so should we to others. The ultimate goal is to grow into a more loving society, so let’s take the time to nurture the love in others, with the love in ourselves. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
So let’s be the teachers of love, not the prison wardens of evil.
Ryan Ford '23,