Mike Pesca’s most recent podcast episode, “The Gist” titled “Kasich and Klepper” has a long spiel about cancel culture prompted by Michael Hobbes’s description of the phenomena as a moral panic. Mike defines cancel culture as “meeting an argument with a call for punishment” which I think is a fair description. He points out that there are three common responses:
- There is no such thing as cancel culture
- It is happening and it is good
- It is something that has always happened
Again, I think this is fair.
Mike also points to an article in the times I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead.
“In the classroom, backlash for unpopular opinions is so commonplace that many students have stopped voicing them, sometimes fearing lower grades if they don’t censor themselves. According to a 2021 survey administered by College Pulse”
There does not seem to be any example of “meeting an argument with a call for punishment” in that article.
He then makes a point that the people who dismiss the argument “have never expressed an opinion outside the accepted progressive consensus”
At this point I think I’ve done everything I can to steel man his argument.
Pesca makes a few silly points.
In 1951 William F. Buckley Jr. wrote a book called God and Man at Yale.
Buckley, then aged 25, criticized Yale for forcing collectivist, Keynesian, and secularist ideology on students, criticizing several professors by name, arguing that they tried to break down students’ religious beliefs through their hostility to religion and that Yale was denying its students any sense of individualism by making them embrace the ideas of liberalism.
Conservatives have been claiming that higher education stifles debate, limiting it to some liberal consensus for 70 years now. In that 70 years the consensus has in fact, changed. Many times. How on earth is this possible?
Can you point to any time since 1951 where there were no critics of campus speech? Where there was a strong consensus that all ideas are allowed?
I argue that cancel culture is a meaningless charge. Conservatives have always made this claim and have always found non-conservatives who were sympathetic to their arguments. Mike’s insistence that there is a new wave of illiberalism is silly. It’s been the conservative argument for 70 years now. He dismisses by saying critics say “point 3, it was always thus”. But it was Mike. It’s been like this since the 1950s.
And conservatives know it is bullshit. It is no accident that the cancel culture arguments fail to offer solutions to fixing the problem of cancel culture other than scolding progressives. If the goal was to demand progressives trip all over themselves trying to appease conservatives, I’m not sure if any part of the argument would need to change.
I’ve seen this show already
Back in the 1990s I spent way too much time arguing with libertarian classmates who offered two criticisms of liberals on campus
- Liberals are “moral relativists” who treat all opinions are equal no matter how immoral.
- Liberals are intolerant of all non-liberal opinions, shutting down anything that isn’t politically correct.
Any time I pointed out the contradiction of these two argument I was greeted with a shrug. It took me awhile but I did eventually figure out this style of debate was intentional. By creating interlocking narratives you can criticize anything your interlocutor says without having to offer any solutions or policy goals. Again, if the goal was to berate progressives with ever shifting goalposts they always fail to reach, I can’t think of anything I would have to change about this style of debate.
At no point since the 1990s has there been a moment where the defining message from the right has been something other than “the left is coming to get you.” Back when the scare word was political correctness, there were plenty of people offering warnings and showing concern but was there a single person who offered a solution other than demanding the left change
They were willing to shift arguments, make contradictory arguments and invent scare words to back that position up. Nothing changed about the arguments. Of course, one thing did change between 1951’s God and Man at Yale and the 1990s political correctness panic. The right learned an important messaging strategy:
- Make a bold largely unsubstantiated claim
- Bully the mainstream press into covering it
- Claim bias and censorship if anyone fact checks you
And this works really well. It is why the right has been able to dominate the national conversation despite being bankrupt of ideas for decades. The right went from political correctness to cancel culture to woke to CRT and just recycled the bad arguments and basic argument techniques.
Mike is being silly to suggest that this isn’t what is happening now. He agrees that the right is engaging in the exact same cancel culture while they complain about cancel culture. Does Mike not see that framing things to attack liberals from both sides is standard operating procedure for the right?
If you’ve never self censored, you’ve never been outside the consensus
I really wish there were more articles like this one in politico about Democrats who have to self censor.
Daily rituals are a series of passive insults. Our drive reveals multiple signs as profane as the one across from the church, another sign calling Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris “Baby Killers,” not to mention the “Don’t Tread on Trump” placard in the window of The Cheapo Depo 2. It wasn’t far from where a handmade sign once stood with the ominous warning: “We shoot looters.” It goes beyond threats. Once-benign personal encounters between acquaintances in bookstores and barber shops have turned into bitter, ridicule-infused standoffs over abiding by Covid-19 protocols.
I spent two decades in finance. I had to self censor myself on a daily basis. While also listening to sexagenarian management talk about out of control political correctness was. We aren’t allowed to say anything they’d say while I held my tongue listening to an endless stream of sexist jokes about Hillary, racist jokes about Obama and so on. Barney Frank’s sexuality and Robert Byrd’s klan robe.
This is the norm for many people. My go-to joke was that I don’t discuss Politics, Religion or the New York Yankees because I like to keep things civil.
It would be silly to think that there has been a time and place where people outside the consensus have not faced pushback from majority opinions. But on campus! they say. No, not on campus. Does Mike point to some Golden Age of free speech? No. No one ever does.
The Old New Consensus
During my time in finance I noticed that there was a pattern on who was and who was not allowed to be politically incorrect. They didn’t call it cancel culture. They called it “this is a close knit industry and we all talk” but the effect was exactly the same.
If you were a woman facing harassment, you were told not to make a big deal about it. Getting a reputation would be bad for your career. If you were black you were told to have thick skin. Being gay meant being closeted. That was the old consensus. That isn’t what happens now.
If you are in an underrepresented group, you now likely have enough representation that you do not have to sit and take it because you can advocate for yourself. The idea that there was more debate and greater diversity of opinion when campus life was majority white, majority male and majority christian seems laughable to me.
The New New Consensus
What has changed in past 30 years is that conservatism is now primarily about culture war issues and science denial. No one is being canceled because they think the capital gains tax is too high. I’ve never seen a podcast host fired over their positions on zoning laws. To ignore this very critical point is silly. Does Mike ever ask “what conservative views are they self censoring?” No he doesn’t. No one does.
The tolerance conservatives are demanding of others can best be seen in this clip of Ben Shapiro. With one breath, Ben is “accepting” of a gay coworker. And with the next breath, Ben rejects recognizing his full humanity. Isn’t it great we can get along asks the little anthropomorphized wedgie. No Ben, it isn’t great. You suck because you expect others to be complicit with their dehumanization as the cost for protecting your feelings.
I want conservatives to be more tolerant of my intolerance.
If you want me to be more tolerant of your anti-lgbt, anti-women, anti-immigrant or anti-democratic culture war positions and call me intolerant for not going along then I want conservatives to be more tolerant of my liberal intolerance. Be tolerant of my choice to exclude you. Show me your respect for differing opinions by being ok with my refusing to include you. Respect free speech by listening to be explain why you you should shut up and go away. Any takers on the right? Didn’t think so.