The philosopher George Santayana once said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It wasn’t so long ago that the LGBTQ+ community lived in perpetual fear. Fear of repercussion, fear of judgement, fear of abuse or attack. Over the last few years, a remarkable cultural change has swept across many parts of the world. Increasingly intolerance has been replaced, not only with tolerance but cultural acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. But, this wonderful cultural progress is being undermined by the cancel culture.
And it’s not just the progress of the LGBTQ+ community that is being undermined by this toxic culture. Whether it be race, homophobia; any group that has suffered persecution, the cancel culture rears its head in ‘defence’ of those fighting for social progression.
Increasingly, the cancel culture dictates what is acceptable to say, write, or think and what is not. If they decide that your opinion is not acceptable, it gets ‘cancelled’. The persecutor gets exterminated into oblivion, making people fear for what they say due to the ferocious reactions it inspires.
The problem with the current dynamic is that history is repeating itself. The cancel culture believes they are fighting intolerance, victimisation and persecution. But they are deploying the same tactics that have been used against those they seek to defend.
Undermining the movement
In cancelling views or opinions they don’t agree with, the cancel culture is fighting fire with fire. The result is that you end up creating a larger fire, and things get worse. Society becomes more divided, and, most importantly, intolerance persists.
Rather than dialogue, the tactics deployed by the cancel culture widen divisions between people. We seem to have lurched from one extreme to another remarkably quickly. Before, the LGBTQ+ community lived in fear of persecution. Now, anyone who says anything considered unacceptable in the eyes of the cancel culture is blacklisted and cancelled.
Now, I am a tolerant person. I want to live in a world where, so long as someone does not harm others, they can do, say and express themselves however they want. It’s a wonderful reflection of social progress that so many stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.
I’m also not naive enough to imagine everyone thinks that way. Lots of people dislike those who don’t follow ‘norms’, whatever that even means. Some still have a hatred towards the LGBTQ+ community. The threat to progress is ever-present, so the fight for the freedom of expression is an ongoing battle.
But cancelling the views of those you don’t agree with is the wrong way to go if you want to create a thriving society where tolerance is celebrated.
A dangerous precedent
The fabric of any successful society is that people feel comfortable expressing views without fear of reprisals, so long as the view doesn’t harm others. If they can’t or fear the consequences of voicing an opinion, then freedom of speech is at risk. People can only say what they believe is politically or socially correct, not what they want to say.
What’s more, the danger with this trend is that differences of opinion aren’t a bad thing at all. They are the crux of a healthy, thriving democracy because people feel free to express themselves as they wish without fear of reprisals.
Having open debates is also important in getting different perspectives, with the hope of improving society. If everyone agreed on everything, nothing would be questioned; things would remain the same. And so, open debate and the inevitable points of difference it creates are the engines of change.
We should aim to create a thriving, tolerant society where people can sexually express themselves as they wish. Just as importantly, though, they should be free to say what they want.
The cancel cultures attitude of dismissal and a refusal to acknowledge other perspectives is the exact opposite of a celebration of a tolerant society.
The thought police
Clearly, a view that directly seeks to offend or harm shouldn’t be tolerated. But if someone fears expressing a view, that is a dangerous trend that should be stamped out.
If it doesn’t, and people start to fear the reprisals of what they say, then you start to control how people express themselves. The cancel culture is becoming a tribe of thought police, patrolling the internet and passing judgement on what people say.
What gives them this right or authority? The way the cancel culture behaves is the definition of intolerance, the very thing the keyboard warriors behind the trend are trying to fight.
If this trend continues, then it will only get worse. As always, what seems so difficult for humans to achieve is balance. A society where the LGBTQ+ society lives in fear of expressing their sexuality and identity is just plain sad. But so is one where people fear expressing how they feel in case they get cancelled.
Absolutely, the cultural progress made in increasing tolerance towards the LGBTQ+ community should be celebrated. But, if people aren’t allowed to question certain elements of that progress, then we haven’t achieved progress. We have simply squashed views that are unacceptable because a cultural change means people fear expressing themselves.
Only when we face difficulties and stand up to the reality we live in can there be progress, not by ignoring it, or worse, cancelling it.
Ideas can’t be ‘cancelled’
We seem to be in a weird transitional moment where lots of progress has been made in a short space of time. Meaning lots of changes need to be made to reflect changes in attitudes.
The International Olympic Committees (IOC’s) recent decision on transgender athletes is a case in point. They are leaving it to individual sports to decide whether Transgender women should be required to reduce their testosterone levels to compete in the women’s sports category.
This is an emotive subject and one that is difficult to strike a balance with. There are legitimate arguments on both sides of the coin. But, in leaving it to the individual sports to decide, the IOC is essentially sitting on the fence. It’s a cowardly decision, but an understandable one in the current climate where the cancel culture is ready to strike at any moment.
Had the IOC made the wrong decision in the eyes of the cancel culture, you suspect there would have been a lynch mob waiting to tear them apart. To avoid that, they decided to not make a decision at all.
History reveals that when no one is allowed to question a movement through fears of reprisal, soon enough, it is that very group that becomes a social problem.
History can’t be cancelled or forgotten; doing so doesn’t change the fact it happened. In the same way, trying to cancel the views of those considered unacceptable doesn’t change the fact that people have those views.
Unfortunately, George Santayana’s saying is so apt because the same mistakes tend to happen over and over again. If the influence of the cancel culture increases, then soon enough, they will become some tribe of thought police. The warning signs are there for all to see; no one wants that, none more so than the cancel culture itself.