The futility of offending the offenders: We must speak out on behalf of the oppressed. Silence amounts to consent to their oppression. But, then there is the question of how to speak out when you see people treated badly. Our sense of justice often leads us to attack the attackers, and then we’ve joined the attacking game.
Another approach would be to be kind to the oppressed, express your sympathy and support for the oppressed and leave it at that. Being kind where is seems most called for isn’t taking sides or joining a battle. It gives the oppressors no cause for offense and will probably be more effective at getting them to better understand what they are doing than putting them on the defensive with accusation and blame. Indecency is implicitly called out when we model decent treatment of others ourselves.
Many will suggest we shouldn’t be concerned about offending the oppressor and perhaps the oppressor deserves to be offended (or worse). But then when was the last time you witnessed someone take offense without digging deeper into their own possibly quite misguided sense of righteousness? Offending the offenders can be emotionally satisfying, there seems to be some justice in it. The problem with offending the offenders is that it invariably results in escalation rather than getting through to the offender.
On cancel culture: Thoughtful conversation is easily shut down when people fear the consequences of inadvertent missteps. Without thoughtful conversation, mutual misunderstanding spreads and becomes entrenched. Then the prospects for people understanding, working out or respecting their differences is diminished and we wind up with hostility all round.
Tolerance: Valuing tolerance doesn’t mean we should tolerate anything, hate speech for example. We promote tolerance by not tolerating intolerance.
More generally, we promote freedom by regulating activity that undermines freedom. Traffic laws provide a helpful illustration here. You are more free to move around the city safely when people obey traffic signals and speed limits. (Now how might this apply to things like guns, carbon, or disregard for public health experts during a pandemic).
Accountability on the internet: Accountability isn’t the same thing as punishment. To give an account is to give an explanation. To hold someone accountable is to demand and explanation for some worrisome behavior. In criminal justice we hold someone accountable when we launch an investigation into that person’s actions or issue an indictment. Punishment only follows when an evaluation of the account offered warrants punishment.
As Williams points out, the opportunity to explain yourself is denied in internet cancel culture. And those doing the cancelling are shielded from any accountability themselves.