Cancel Culture

Cancel culture has taken lots of criticism recently, and in so far as cancel culture means hastily judging people without trying to understand them, I’m on board. But for the same reason I worry about the hastiness of canceling cancel culture. Cancel culture is usually seen as in the cause of things like anti-racism. Given this context, its worth scrutinizing what is going on with white fear of cancel culture.

White people have a great deal to learn from people who experience racism and similar forms of prejudice and injustice. There is no need for that to involve the hasty judgment or feeling hastily judged. But then we have to consider how many people of all sorts are liable to feel quickly judged by the mere assertion of a perspective that challenges their own. This is a failure of critical thinking, a failure to be open to reasons and evidence, willing to evaluate them on their own merits. So called “cancel culture” may be driven as much by over-sensitivity to hearing a challenge to your view as it is by actually being attacked in some way. Worse, the over-sensitivity and the attacking re-enforce each other.

Cancel culture is what happens when beliefs and opinions are treated as matters of personal identity and personal subjective perspective rather than just as ideas that can be inquired into. When we self-identify with our point of view, potentially helpful criticism will be experienced as personal attack. Now critical thinking has been displaced by personal conflict.

Reasons only work when people are sensitive to the force of the reason. Many people feel the force of people trying to persuade them much more strongly than the force of the reasons and evidence. When this happens people feel coerced and of course we all resist feeling coerced. In this context, an unreasonable belief might be clung to all the more tightly as one thing stable in the face of an onslaught. A bit of ground to hold in a fight. It is the social context of attack and parry that leads to impasse. Reasoning always does its work from within.  To be reasonable people, we need to be open to reasons. This won’t happen when we feel coerced.

Here’s another approach, the one recommended by philosophy and science: When you share an opinion, you are putting an idea on the table. Fine, there’s an idea. It can be examined on its own merits. That idea being one you rather like doesn’t mean that you are being scrutinized, probed or attacked when others raise concerns or objections. To the contrary, you are being given new evidence and argument to consider. You can use that to improve your point of view.

With good critical thinking skills, there is no need to feel particularly attached to this view or that. Your confidence and sense-of-self become rooted in your ability to figure things out and correct course when you are mistaken, not in your attachment to some view or ideology you have uncritically deemed good.

Insightful editorial over the weekend:

Opinion | The Science of Changing Someone’s Mind – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Another Moral Relativism Post (and DCT for good measure)

Cultural norms often go far beyond morality. Morality has nothing to say, for instance, about whether men should grow beards or women should wear veils or makeup. So what is accepted or disapproved of in a culture often is not a matter of moral significance. 

Next, cultures vary in how they express things that do matter morally. Morality may give us a reason for expressing our regard when we meet someone, but it doesn’t specify whether you should do this with a handshake or a bow. Morality may give us a reason for following the rules of the road that keep us safe, but it doesn’t specify whether you should drive on the right or left side. Lots of cultural norms are matters of convention. But these are often just different ways of achieving the same morally good results. 

And next, it is certainly possible for cultural norms to get morality wrong. I can’t make axe murdering morally fine just by saying so. Neither can a whole bunch of people that constitute a culture. Of course we can’t just judge a culture by the standards of our own culture and thereby hope to get morality right. Where there is a moral difference, the problem might be with our own culture. But our grounds for objecting to a culturally endorsed practice might be more principled than just “that’s not the way we do things around here.”

Many cultures, for instance, are pretty hard on people who are gay. This included ours not so very long ago (and still does today far too often). But we have moved in the direction of being more respectful of gay people for fundamentally moral reasons (our more homo-phobic standards of the past certainly didn’t move us in this direction). More and more people have come to see that we lack any moral justification for discriminating against gay people. And the moral problem with doing so is not so hard to see by exercising our moral imaginations (imagine what it would be like for your love to be forbidden).

And DCT

Ah, good. The first thing I want to point out is that it doesn’t sound like you are a Divine command theorist. You are taking morality to be grounded in God’s nature, God’s goodness. And you are understanding his commands and communicating truths that hold not just because God says so, but because God is good. So you are taking morality to be grounded in something other than mere say so and offering a kind of theological moral realism.

Now, do we really need God to tell us murder is wrong in order to get the point. I don’t think so. And I don’t think Christianity requires this idea either. Christianity has that we were created in the image of the Divine. This suggest that having a perhaps limited and imperfect moral conscience is part of our nature (I doubt being created in the image of the Divine is meant to suggest that God needs to clip his toe nails from time to time).

Further, the idea that we have a God given moral conscience of our own is much more in line with Christian ethics than DCT. If our motivation for doing the right thing is just that God says so (perhaps backed up with the threat of hellfire and damnation), the morality is mere prudence or self interest. But Jesus teaches love for our fellow man. The only way this makes sense as a moral teaching is if our moral motivation is internal, where we have our own reasons for being good (our own loving regard for the value of our fellow humans). The morality Jesus recommends isn’t just a matter of following rules or obeying orders. 

Righteousness

I’ll have to research this one, but I’m pretty sure Nietzsche would count righteousness, the sense that bad must absolutely be punished. as a sublimated impulse to cruelty, a diseased manifestation of the will to power. Righteousness gives one’s urge to hurt others the veneer of moral respectability. Members of diverse factions in our society are afflicted with righteousness. Nietzsche would be quick to call out the righteousness of many religious believers. Today, the righteousness of deluded Trump supporters would draw his notice as well.

The big hazard of a strong sense of righteousness is the high stakes of faulty judgment. The person with a strong sense of righteousness knows full well they’ve wished harm on those they’ve perceived to be bad. If it turns out their perception was wrong and they’ve wished ill on undeserving parties, then they, the righteous, have done serious wrong themselves. And the righteous are already signed on to the agonizing suffering of the bad.

Given the high stakes of getting it wrong, the righteous have a strong incentive to never back down. And so stubbornness is born of righteousness. And the cruel are highly committed.

Processing some Grief

Californians: How are you feeling after insurrection at US Capitol? Let us  know

I’m not one to wish suffering on others, but what I wish for Trump’s followers is probably going to involve some of that and I’d acknowledge that with a good deal of sorrow. It’s not that I think anyone deserves to suffer, it’s just that I know from my own experience that it can be painful to find you’ve made a consequential mistake. As much as it might hurt, I’m dearly hoping that yesterday will be a rock bottom moment for many of Trump’s followers. The soul of this country depends on Trump’s followers forsaking their stubbornness, repudiating the lies, and listening to reason. Trump lost the election. His refusal to accept this is an authoritarian gambit. When his followers refuse to accept the will of their fellow citizens, they follow Trump in betraying democracy and freedom in favor of his authoritarian inclinations. 


I listened to Trump’s rally speech yesterday morning and heard straight up incitement to insurrection, propped up by a litany of lies about election fraud. Trump’s sense of personal identity is based on “winning”, so of course he’ll choose delusion over ego-shattering demonstrable truth. But his enablers and followers really ought to know better at this point.

 
If even some of Trump’s allegations about the election being stolen from him were true, his campaign would not have racked up 62/63 cases lost or thrown out of court. To follow Trump in the election fraud delusion, at this point, would require doubting the integrity of thousands of elections officials, tens of thousands of election volunteers and hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens. Yet no one in Trump’s orbit can identify the guilty parties or cite credible evidence of fraud. On the other hand, we have Trump himself on tape for an hour just the other day trying his very hardest to tamper with election results.


The evidence for Biden’s win is documented in the certified election results of 50 states and the rulings of over 80 judges who have examined the Trump campaign’s allegations of fraud. There is no evidence of a Trump victory, just ever so many ungrounded lies coming from Trump and his enablers. The resulting bad faith among his followers now threatens the very foundations of our democratic republic.


What we saw at the capital yesterday was an armed insurrection. This was sedition. The fact that Trump’s followers were deluded into thinking they were acting patriotically doesn’t change this fact. Trump’s followers may be victims of his dishonesty, but they are also perpetrators of violence against this country and its democratic institutions.

 
I grew up in a country that was a beacon of freedom and democracy to the world. We have fallen. I’ve grieved that loss by degrees for four years. What happened at our capital yesterday was a shameful embarrassment and I doubt we can regain the trust and moral authority to be the global standard bearer for freedom and democracy again. 


Yesterday, the USA got intubated. If we are going to recover from this, Trump’s supporters are going to have to be part of the healing. That’s going to involve accepting some personal responsibility. I dearly hope that enough of my fellow citizens who have fallen under Trump’s spell have the insight, courage, and integrity to see what Trump has brought us to and to do what they can to help mend the damage. The country we all love depends on this.