On Cancel Culture

Updated: Feb 6

People are just weird.

Sure, that sounds like a drunken colloquial statement uttered in the bars of Southwark; and hey: it probably is. But that’s not the point here.

Society has got to a point, in the current era, where it has become untenable to say certain things without fearing one’s career prospects, let alone their reputation as an individual, to be diminished. It’s not about left or right anymore; it’s about defending the democratic right to speak one’s mind without fearing unnecessary consequences.

I am from a white, middle-class, privileged background. I will probably never know what it is to grow up in a, let’s say, black, working-class, low-income household. That’s just the reality of it. But this does not, for a second, mean that I have not had to endure struggles of my own. Besides my privileges, which I acknowledge, I am also gay and suffer from a mental health condition. I have other serious issues in my life too, which I would rather not get into here, for this does not further the point I am trying to make.

We all have a unique experience, no matter how privileged we may be. I find it truly saddening that we are at a point now where people’s jobs and futures are on the line, purely because they hold opinions that the mainstream ‘woke’ culture does not approve of.

How is this meant to facilitate a dialogue about society?

In recent months, the world has had to endure some tragic events, not least the global pandemic of COVID-19, but also the protest movement against the death of George Floyd. Any decent human being would protest, even if not actively, against the injustice of how Floyd died. But many people disagree about what needs to be done to prevent an injustice such as this from occurring again.

I do believe that black lives matter, and no, I am not going to agree with the daft retort that “all lives matter”. We all know that all lives matter, but that is not the point here. The point is that minorities around the world, especially in the United States, are being discriminated against. This is a problem and it needs to be solved.

However, despite my inclinations, I also believe that it is wrong to silence people, no matter how much we despise their point of view. Treating our opponents with the disdain that some, regrettably, have is the wrong course of action. Instead, we should listen and talk about it.

A wise person once said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” And no, it was not Voltaire.

No matter how much some may disagree, here in the UK – at least – we live in a democracy. And it is the right to speak one’s mind that enables the democratic institutions that exist in this country to be upheld.

I have always been puzzled by people who are perfectly happy to see the viewpoints of those they disagree with suppressed, yet when their perspective is somehow challenged or forbidden, they complain about being ‘censored’.

The right to freedom of speech works both ways, whether you like it or not. Sure, there are some limits to what we can say if it endangers the well-being of others (e.g. yelling “fire” in a crowded venue), but despite those restrictions, people have the right to say pretty much whatever they like.

As a member of the LGBT community, I have been called some ghastly names. I pray every day I never have to hear them again, to myself or anyone else. But despite the hatred, I know that it is necessary to preserve the right to speak freely. I am a lover of art and literature. My love of language knows no bounds. If the government were suddenly to curtail what we can and cannot say, how would this fare for our creative capabilities?

Furthermore, it is not just about language; it is about freedom of expression in general. We’ve all sat through a movie that we found repugnant, or listened to music with unpalatable lyrics, or seen someone wearing clothes that we find too racy.

The truth is, no matter how much we dislike what other individuals do, they are, within the confines of legality, free to do so. It is a truly difficult reality to deal with, especially if you are someone who has been through a traumatic experience or is sensitive to the often-cruel nature of this world. There are times when I find the things people say and do to be too much. I wish with all my heart to put an end to it. But I know that I can’t, for that would be the wrong thing to do. For they are just as free to do their thing as I am to do mine.

If you don’t like that type of language or means of expression, you are free to challenge people when confronted. However, they are equally free to tell you to "go f*** yourself".

After all, isn't that, my friends, the beauty of free speech?

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