John R. Smith: The Nasty Plague of Cancel Culture

From time to time in American history, a genuinely rotten concept comes down the pike and gains a foothold in society. If we’re lucky, we find a way to get it scuttled. But sometimes, the tenacity devil wins the day and finds a way to worm itself into the social fabric. Such are the rotten-to-the-core “cancel culture” and “Woke theory” movements, which have upended and harmed both humans and businesses. It is primarily a tool of the political left.

There are several ways to define cancel culture, an imperfect term that can be subjective. It refers to a modern social phenomenon where individuals or businesses are ostracized, boycotted, or “canceled,” usually by mob activists on social media platforms. Typically, it happens in response to perceived offensive actions, statements, or behaviors. It is a form of censorship and mob mentality, and it’s an infringement on free speech.

Woke theory is “a radical belief system suggesting that America’s institutions are systemically racist and are built around discrimination, and claiming that all disparity is a result of that discrimination.” But disparity is not discrimination. Wokism is the tendency to punish people formally or informally for expressing ideas that oppose your views.

This process of “canceling” someone or a business often involves public shaming, calls for boycotts, and withdrawing professional, social, or financial support. Usually, the intent is to punish individuals or entities for actions that are considered morally or socially unacceptable to leftist activists. The targets of cancel hate may range from public figures to private individuals and businesses, and punishment is the objective.

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Critics of cancel culture argue that it can sometimes lead to mob mentality, lack of due process, and the stifling of free speech. Also, it can be used unfairly to ruin careers or reputations that have been carefully built up over the years or to reject someone by calling them “racist,” “phobic,” or “misogynist.”

Some mavens claim that cancel culture and wokeness started in 2014-2015 when leftist academicians in higher education (especially in the Ivy League) created or supported “woke” campus groupthink movements to cancel conservatives they disagreed with, then piling on. From there, it moved into the worlds of journalism, publishing, law, art and comedy. One example is the launching of cancel complaints that conservatives promote “book banning” when, in reality, no book is banned in America. A person can buy whatever they want to read.

Another example is in 2018, when the director of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, James Gunn, faced cancel culture terrorists when old tweets containing jokes about sensitive topics resurfaced. Disney fired Gunn but was later forced to reinstate him after widespread support from the cast and fans.

One thing that those of us in the business world can do, a partial solution, is to support a culture of free speech and to refuse to hire college graduates who “went public” on social media and engaged in cancel culture or supported it. We can also promote platforms for constructive and respectful conversations where people can express their opinions without fear of immediate backlash. We can emphasize accountability over punishment. We could encourage education and awareness about the dangerous and unfair potential consequences of cancel culture. In our companies, we can set policies that promote fair and measured responses to controversies, protecting against harassment and discrimination.

We can also promote the decision that you should stay off social media platforms altogether.

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