What is wrong with cancel culture? Many things to some, but at its core, cancel culture is a manifestation of punitive justice. In other words, it discourages the amelioration of the damage caused by the offender. Usually a lacking attempt at ‘an eye for an eye.’ When a celebrity’s racist views are unearthed, the eye they injured has no equivalence to the eye they’ll lose.
This, of course, is partly because we cannot quantify damage caused by bigotry and hate, but also because there is no major loss to the isolation via cancellation of a celebrity. However, as we have seen in the past few years, cancelling is not unique to celebrities. Someone will post on Twitter a video of an employee, and not hours later will we read that the company has made the decision to fire said employee. Some expressions of this are not completely negative; after all, we would not want to see a medical doctor with transphobic views who operate on trans patients. Still, this concept brings about some major issues.
In modern societies our jobs represent not simply our jobs, but rather our livelihoods. When a person loses their livelihood due to uneducated views or behavior, they realize it is much easier to blame the ‘mob,’ than it is to blame the capitalist who deliberated that the company’s public image is more valuable than their employee. The ire often expressed at those calling for a cancellation only fuels the flames of their call, leading to a back and forth of ultimately reactionary ways.
When we take the desire for survival out of the cancelled party’s thought process, we create an entirely different debate environment. How do we do that? Policies that institute social safety nets such as Medicare for All (more importantly including mental health assistance), free public higher education and eventually universal basic income. In fact, just with easily accessible quality education and mental health assistance, you’re erasing 90%* of the reasons cancel culture is invoked.
I’ve yet to address the by-products of being cancelled. Often not only does the everyday person lose their jobs, but also they face backlash, isolation and are barred from inhabiting certain spaces. It becomes a problem when we decide to bar the uneducated from spaces specifically designed to educate. Although we must be careful when choosing who to include so as not to do it at the expense of the oppressed, we also can’t advocate for accessible education for all only to deprive it to some. As for backlash, it is my belief that when the stakes on the two sides of a cancellation debate are lowered through social well-being, these too will diminish to a point where actual education can take place.
All this is to say that cancel culture, as we know it, is only so because of our conception of labor and the myth of education as a privilege. This is not a value judgment on capitalism, where I find my views to be constantly undecided, but rather an attempt to better the small-scale systems we inhabit through large-scale policies we know to work.
*Disclaimer: this number is not at all statistical and used solely to illustrate a point