We have a natural vetting process among our human community. One which no politician can curtail, nor parent activist dislodge.
Before I go further, I have a few questions. How effective is it to ban a book? Does it work? Does the book fall out of circulation thereafter? Do people immediately discontinue reading it? Or does it take on a life of its own bolstered by the controversy?
And when we blacklist someone from polite society for unloving statements or hostile actions, what happens to them?
These are examples along the spectrum of what we now refer to as “cancel culture.” To be considered here is the metric by which someone or something is genuinely canceled versus being launched into greater public awareness.
Once something or someone is offered up by society for cancellation for an offense, either real or imagined, that cancellation is either enforced or nullified by society. We are the true jury. The formula by which that decision is collectively made is often based on whether the person, book, or other media product, either affirms and welcomes people, or attempts to exclude or destroy them.
A sexual predator, for instance, once discovered, is offered up for cancellation. Society usually follows suit, depending on both the circumstances and the genuineness of remorse expressed by the accused. Occasionally, society will forgive or exonerate. But typically, the individual is ostracized because they have violated the peace and confidence of the community in a particularly egregious way. A known predator is no longer welcome.
That is logical. A self-policing society is part of what keeps us all safe. I’m not affirming vigilantism here, however. I am merely noting that part of our collective peace is ensured when we each keep our eyes open and speak up about genuine harm that is being caused.
But to the other end of the cancellation spectrum, that of censorship in particular, when a book (or a drag queen, or trans children, for that matter) is presented for cancellation does that cancellation actually take effect, or does society respond by bolstering the accused with love and attention? Books, drag queens, and transgender children exist. They are not going anywhere.
Banning books does not work. Nor does the canceling of people who have done no harm. Canceling people who have done nothing but entertain us and affirm that all people have inherent worth and dignity through their artful display of gender nonconformance does not work either. Not anymore.
When will they learn? By “they” I mean those who feel threatened by genuine freedom of speech and expression to the point that they feel the need to excommunicate anything or anyone who does not conform to their expectations of what “normal” means. Because the wider society now welcomes, to greater degrees every day, what it means to be different. Good.
An effective example of the delusion of cancellation is this: When you tell a teenager they can’t do something, what is their most likely response? The same is true for things that society deems taboo. They only become more fascinating, more compelling. Their gravitational pull is strengthened. So be careful that what you wish to cancel is truly worthy of it, or else it will only become more prominent by your actions.
There is an encouraging message in this. Neither governments nor bigoted groups who wield the Bible as a weapon of mass destruction have any real or lasting power to undermine the steady progress our human society is making. The collective ‘we’ always has the final say in what information we wish to consume or with whom we wish to associate.
To those who feel that teaching accurate racial history is tantamount to White suppression, to those who think that kids don’t already have a handle on their gender and need to be saved from gender indoctrination, to those who think that drag queens represent a threat to democracy, a word of caution from 20th-century psychiatrist Carl Jung: “What you resist persists.”
Wil Darcangelo, M.Div, is a Unitarian Universalist Minister at the First Parish of Fitchburg and the First Church of Lancaster. Email email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at www.hopefulthinkingworld.blogspot.com.