Alright, who else likes to speak their mind? Yep, not just me right. While who else wishes they could say more than what they actually choose to say; maybe due to fears on how people will absorb and react to our opinions? Yeah… It is not that surprising knowing that we will be forced to take a large step back once we have finished, and have them belittle us. Even if we happen to be right, we know that once we have finished talking they are going to have to reciprocate for at least 5 times as long!
This is at least the case with me and not really with just free speech, but with making decisions, taking up opportunities and even- well, just talking. Life sucks. And I think it is true when they say that the “stronger personalities” tend to dominate whatever climate we are in, as they kind of feel automated to do so. Now if this was the sole issue that this post will be about, then it would be bad enough. Though unfortunately, at least the way I see it, this issue with not being able to say what you wish does more than just “spill slightly” into the political world. With terms like “cancel culture” becoming widely incorporated into our social and political vocab, it is pretty evident that many of us do seem to have issues with other people’s fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression. Though I’m not sure how anyone would feel if they got cancelled! But should we “cancel” these concerns relating to it, or are these problems something which we we ought to be paying more attention to?
What’s Wrong with Free Speech?
I suppose some might say that free speech is a problem within itself because more problems tend to arise from it, as to get resolved because so many different views and experiences are expressed. This might lead to some saying it is not only unproductive, but it is often damaging due to the amount of discord that could arise from many people discussing opposing points of view; in which there is often a strong emotional attachment to. This way it is almost inevitable that further conflict will arise. However we ought to regard this as being of a pretty weak argument because when you think about it, the more views and experiences which we are exposed to, the more open our minds become. Therefore in theory this ought to lead to a “nicer society”, however many could rightly argue that evidence proves that it is not in the nature of us to be so open and uncritical, at least until we actually understand where everyone is actually coming from… Though the reality is that there is probably enough evidence to legitimately justify either side of this argument. However I do like to imagine my gut feeling to be that freedom of speech and expression, when exercised sensibly, will lead to problems eventually being resolved, rather than caused.
What About Cancel Culture?
But how can we prevent the numerous amount of tensions arising from the power of free speech? Well one method would be by exercising “cancel culture” in order to eliminate; well anything that either looks silly or that makes the picture rather too complicated. According to Wikipedia, this “describes a form of boycott in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – either online on social media, in the real world, or both.” Furthermore this is “commonly used in debates on free speech and censorship.” This way it is implying that if someone in a particular group utters a view that many within that group disagree with, the person can not only be disregarded, but also booted out of the group. While in wider society, the way I interpret this is that any varying views within a mainstream category will be silenced, so different mainstream categories would appear more united and resolved, when this isn’t really the case. But it’s not really fair is it, to silence or even exclude those with opposing views, and would it not be wiser to educate these people if they seem to be in the wrong?
While according to Pop culture dictionary, it refers to “the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive” often exercised “on social media as a form of group shaming”. This gives a slightly different description, but is still a similar exercise of blocking out everything which we don’t like the look of. Though it can be good in the way that it enables us to freely show our disapproval of the behavior of certain brands, such as being able to stop buying from somewhere if we find out that their way of producing clothing is unsustainable. However from recent examples, and from what I can gather; it could mean no longer “liking” or “supporting” a celebrity or influencer due to what they have said or done. Or just simply dismissing someone from a group of people (especially within a political discussion on social media), because they have said something which isn’t adjacent to the rest of the group’s opinions. Now this sounds like a pretty simple and effective way to, well, rid of all the bullshit. However surely most people who we associate ourselves with, who we may get along with very well, have questionable beliefs regarding at least one or two issues. Therefore although it might sound promising, it is kind of impractical! Meanwhile it is always better to educate others rather than simply block them out!
Also it means that those who now feel “silenced” on the views that have been “cancelled” are going to have no means of expressing what they think, therefore they are much more likely to remain uneducated. Which is not only unfortunate, but can be pretty dangerous because when people can no longer openly speak out about what they think, their opinions won’t go away but instead it will remain in their system, then froth and bubble, then will eventually spill over. Looking at the EU referendum result can prove this to some degree, with “33% of leave voters” said the main reason for leaving was to “regain control over immigration and its own borders.” What’s more is that after the referendum result there were “record hate crimes” with over “14000 hate crimes recorded between July and September”. Would it have not been better if people prior to the EU referendum felt that there was less of a barrier on free speech, meaning that their fears may have been more transparent beforehand. Giving others a chance to inform them so that they would be less hateful, therefore the referendum result may have gone the other way, and there would now be a far less hostile environment. Preventing it from instead “bubbling up in their systems.” Though I do acknowledge there were many other reasons why people did want to leave the EU.
How Easy is it to Enact Cancel Culture?
Nonetheless most of us are pretty guilty of enacting “cancel culture” even if we do not realize it. Including myself such as when I came across an Instagram account basically using Christianity to advocate against LGBT+ rights. With over 2000 followers, it was fairly accessible to Instagram users, however it wasn’t exactly so big to allow this kind of in my view, hateful, propaganda to blow up on Instagram. Now this account wasn’t doing any harm to anyone, however it was fair to say that no one likes seeing content which is hostile to any group of people. Therefore when I immediately saw someone advocating for this account to be taken down, I furiously found the account and reported it, before posting it onto my story, instructing others to do the same. But thinking back on it, I should have just written an comment to explain why I don’t agree with what the account was standing for in order to express my disapproval. This way it was pretty obvious that I was apart of this so called “cancel culture”. Oops…
This also shows how prone we are to reacting to the behavior of others, rather than carefully thinking something through ourselves. And while I strongly agree that unity is very important when coming about to achieve something, and it can be extremely effective within free speech and expression, I also feel that people ought to find the time to think through the conclusion that they find themselves drawn to. This would enable us all to become more rounded, as we gain a greater insight into other people’s views and experiences.
What are the Alternatives?
But with all of this anti cancel culture business, I am sure that there are many thinking that if everyone could say what they wanted to, it would cause much upset to various groups. Which I to some degree agree with, but then often people are aware on much of the rooted hatred. And some may differ on this, but I would personally rather hear more views that I disagree with and know that these views are being counter argued rather than know that these views are widely held, yet hidden.
I think it is also reasonable to say that many people who complain about feeling that they can’t “say what they want to” are what many would call the bigots in society, often holding racist, sexist or homophobic views. And though it would be nice if people could give them a nice little lesson, it is hard not to question whether they would actually pay attention or not. Within the book “Why I am no longer talking to white people about race” (I definitely recommend reading this) the Author Reni Eddo-Lodge perfectly expresses this concern. By claiming that she often hears people stating that many people feel that the defending of hate speech has gone too far, partly due to calls for certain words or phases deemed as offensive, to not be used. This is because it prohibits these people from exercising free speech. But then she quite rightly points out that she wouldn’t have a problem with these claims, if the same people would actually listen to what others have to say. As why should they be allowed to say what they choose to, if they are going to stop everyone else from doing so?
A prime example of this would be the fact that those who become arrogant when they are told not to utter certain words, due to being offensive to certain groups of people, aren’t necessarily aware on reasons to why they are offensive, such as how the word was initially used. While if the person became aware, then at least they would be able to truly decide for themselves whether the word or phase that they are using is really appropriate or not… Therefore to have a good level of free speech within society, is more than just about not cancelling everything that we don’t like, or about educating others, but it is about being prepared to reconsider yourself and make sure that everyone actually can be heard!
Therefore “cancelling” something in this way is like providing short term pain relief to a long term health problem, which could actually be cured by something else which would just take longer. But at the same time, it is very questionable of whether adults would be willing to “change” their opinions based upon what other people are saying. But yet again, if “society” chooses to cancel the wrong things, then it could be really damaging, and we all know the importance of having the right to free information. Though at the same time, complete freedom of speech and especially expression can be just as damaging, therefore it is a right in which we must exercise, but also regard with respect. Therefore I think it is important that we are pay attention to what others are saying. But to also be willing to speech up and provide a counter argument when we hear something which we don’t agree with, or know is factually incorrect, even if it is against that “annoying loud person”.