As we open our various social media accounts, many of us will likely encounter news about the latest “cancelled” celebrity. Whether it be the resurfacing of their problematic past or an ignorant comment they made on a recent podcast, it seems each day a new person sits in the public hot seat.
According to Merriam-Webster, “cancel culture” is defined as the practice or tendency of engaging in mass “canceling” — a form of ostracization — as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.
Though some forms of cancellation in the wake of generally unacceptable behavior is warranted, celebrities and other public figures often find themselves facing career-jeopardizing scandals after publicly sharing subversive opinions.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrities including Nicki Minaj and Aaron Rodgers faced scrutiny for their aversion to the COVID vaccine. The public was outraged by their decision because there was a collective attitude that, as people with mass influence, it was celebrities’ job to promote a positive image of the vaccine.
While we believe in the science of the vaccine and encourage all students to do what they believe will best protect themselves from the virus, is unflinching support a fair standard to hold people to, especially celebrities?
This insurgence of cancel culture is just one symptom of how we view and value our own ideas.
We all have individual beliefs, and we often hold them close to our hearts. We conflate these ideas with our own identity such that when someone disagrees with them, it feels as though we are being personally attacked, and we become defensive.
For example, our connection to Lehigh requires us to believe that we are better than Lafayette. On the other hand, Lafayette students believe with absolute certainty they are better than Lehigh students (this is, of course, a bad example because Lehigh is clearly much better than Lafayette in every conceivable way).
The difference with this example is, neither one of us is canceling the other in the long run. It is consistently an equal (and playful) competition.
Although there is a difference in opinion, it doesn’t mean one group is morally superior to the other, nor does it mean the differences require some sort of alienation.
Think about one of your own beliefs that you hold dearly, whether it be political, religious or otherwise. If that belief were to be challenged in a conversation, you would likely push back in some way.
You might try to engage with the challenge and defend your position with an explanation. If that doesn’t work, maybe you’ll come up with reasons why your opponent’s beliefs are flawed. If both of those fail to change their mind, you might resort to name-calling or telling them they “just don’t understand!”
Rarely during this process will you consider that your belief might not actually be true, and neither will the person you’re disagreeing with, who likely feels just as passionate as you about their point of view.
Still, the issue with this system goes beyond disagreements we have with one another. What about the beliefs held by entire societies? Beliefs that often go unchallenged?
In modern American society, there are certain ideas that are taken for granted — ideas that are assumed to be true with no critical thought. Any attempt to challenge those beliefs or provide more than an acceptable level of nuance is met with closed ears and harsh ridicule.
The degree to which our society is entrenched in individualism is one example of this phenomenon.
Support for the idea of a society predicated on community organization and mutual aid is often brushed aside as a pipe dream or concealed laziness. Any view of common humanity outside the “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” paradigm is dismissed.
If these ideas begin to make too much sense, they get slapped with the politically poisonous labels of “socialist” or “communist” — terms that have been stretched, distorted and reduced to buzz words through their overuse in the United States.
On the other end of the political spectrum, Americans have long ago disavowed the idea of a leader with undivided sovereignty. Anything resembling a monarch, dictator, czar or other authoritarian term would be dead-upon-arrival in the U.S.
None of this is to say that anything resembling an anarcho-communist or monarchistic state is close to a good idea. Rather, in dismissing these ideas completely before they enter our minds, we turn our beliefs into dogmas. Any nuggets of truth that may exist in dissenting ideologies are lost in the quest for political hegemony and blind acceptance.
It is often beneficial to surround ourselves with people who do not believe the same things as we do. Accepting unpopular opinions can help create an environment where people are not afraid to speak their minds out of fear of being ostracized by society.
So, before you’re quick to cancel somebody, take a minute to examine your own viewpoints and why you believe what you do. Who knows, maybe they might end up convincing you.
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