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Home » Acharei Mot, Events in the News, K'doshim

Acharei Kedoshim: Cancel Culture

Submitted by on April 17, 2021 – 9:31 pmNo Comment | 1,220 views

Cancel culture is a craze in our times. The airways and streets are ablaze with political correctness and groupthink. This isn’t the first time that cancel culture has taken hold. In my own lifetime I watched groupthink take hold several times and history books are replete with such examples. My great grandfather’s memoirs were recently translated into English. Reading his account of the early days of the Soviet Union reminded me of the perils of cancel culture.

When a small group succeeds in foisting its views on the majority, peer pressure and groupthink prevail over objective thought. Thinking for oneself becomes forbidden and those who do, pay a heavy price. Every comment or social media post that even appears to disagree with groupthink is immediately condemned and punished.

The comment need not even disagree with the underlying values of cancel culture. It only need appear to disagree with it. Suppose someone says that a black man attacked him on the street. This person may very well support black rights. Yet, his innocent comment is made to sound sinister, and the pressure begins to build.

Thousands of people examine every facet of his life and anything that seems remotely suspicious is piled on to the first comment. Before long, he is made to look like a bigot and a supremacist, and the consequences begin. He is soon fired from his job and forced from his neighborhood. At this point, the case closes as people assume that if he was fired, he must have been a bigot.

And yet, he said nothing wrong. He merely said something that someone decided is offensive. It’s even possible that no one was actually offended, but inasmuch as cancel culture decided it was offensive, he must bear the consequences. Nature hath no greater fury than cancel culture scorned.

When cancel culture takes hold, there is no room for objective conversation, thoughtful discussion, rigorous debate, or honest disagreement. There is only room for obsequious acquiescence. Anything less, and you pay the price. Cancel culture tells you how to talk, how to think, and how to behave. And beware lest you run afoul of cancel culture.

Cancel culture is often led by just a few individuals. When the passions recede and cooler minds prevail, it is usually found that they got carried away by the eccentricities of the moment. But if someone tries to point that out while passions flare, they will be punished.

The worst part of it is that we live in an age of social media and so much of what we say and do is recorded. If cancel culture wants to cancel you, they have a lot of material to work with. Respectable people are denounced because people find decades-old comments or behaviors and parade them in the worst possible light. The person who said them can apologize over and over, but it is a lost cause. Once cancel culture is out to get them, they will be gotten.

The Torah Way
The Torah enjoins us to love others as we love ourselves. Why? Firstly, because every human was created in G-d’s image. If G-d can’t be canceled, neither can His image. You can condemn something that G-d’s image does or says, but you can’t and shouldn’t cancel His image.

Secondly, because they are your fellow. You are in this together. Do you really think you are immune from the craze that you created or are helping to perpetuate? Do you really think the woke mob won’t turn against you one day?

No one is immune to it. No matter how righteous you are, something you said or wrote can be twisted or turned into something you didn’t mean. And when that happens, you will go down too. You would not be the first cancel culture organizer in history that has become a victim of the movement he or she spawned.

The great sage Hillel said, “What you don’t want done unto you, don’t do unto others.” One way of understanding this is that if you are caught doing something that looks suspicious and would want to be given the benefit of the doubt, give that benefit to others.

If you order an item online and stop by the store to pick it up, you don’t want people to suspect you of theft when they see you walk out without paying. If you are screaming and chasing your children across the front lawn, you want a passerby to assume that you are playing a game. If you want that for yourself, pre-pay it to others. Give others the benefit of the doubt just as you want them to give it to you. Don’t suspect them as you don’t want them to suspect you.

Cancel Culture
Sadly, cancel culture and groupthink are the very opposite. If you don’t condemn what cancel culture condemns, you are accused of supporting it. If you say something that can possibly be made to sound bad, it will be. You can protest and deny all you want, and no one will believe you. The more you protest, the more they will suspect you, and mock you, and come after you.

Cancel culture may have been founded on pillars of justice and may still have shades of compassion, but it has long been stripped of righteousness. There is nothing righteous about tearing people down when you don’t agree with them. There is nothing just about shutting down objective thought and thoughtful discussion. It is cruel, insidious, demeaning, opportunistic, toxic, and sadistic. It isn’t just. It’s plain evil.

It is cancer culture, not cancel culture—it is a cancer eating away at our society and it must be excised. Not the people who practice it, mind you. If I advocated that, I would be betraying the very point I am trying to make. It is the mindset that must be excised.

We must return to honor and love. We must return to respect and circumspection. We must return to trust and bringing out the best in each other. Cancel culture and groupthink don’t bring out the best in us. They bring out the worst in us. And we must rid ourselves of this scourge.

Left unchecked, it will grow unabated. It will become a monster that will swallow us all. It will create chaos on the streets which can only result in tyranny, demagoguery, and despotism.

If a movement or a group doesn’t allow for objective thought and honest debate, don’t trust it no matter how noble its cause seems to be. If a movement is quick to tear others down and to cynically impute motive, stay away. This is not a healthy mindset. This is not a righteous mindset. This is not a holy mindset.

These people are tearing down someone that was made in G-d’s image. And tomorrow, that person may, indeed, be you.[1]

[1] This essay is built on Derech Mitzvosecha, Mitzvah Ahavas Yisrael chapter 2.