What Cancel Culture Is and Isn't

Cancel culture is pervasive and like anything that becomes pervasive, the term is also widely misused. Like calling someone a Nazi, "cancel culture" has come to be used to mean being attacked over your politics.

Otherwise, you end up with nonsense like this.

GOP's Thune says Trump allies engaging in ‘cancel culture’  - AP

 U.S. Sen. John Thune on Thursday criticized Republican activists and party leaders for engaging in “cancel culture” by rushing to censure GOP senators who found former President Donald Trump guilty of inciting an insurrection.

Cancel culture doesn't mean politicians, Republican or Democrat, or from any faction of either party, facing political battles or being attacked.

Nor does it mean a New York Times editor getting fired after tweeting about having "chills" when Biden's plane landed.

Cancel culture means an ordinary person, who is not working in politics, being targeted over an isolated comment that someone found offensive, often out-of-context, or made as a joke, or made privately, and then having their lives destroyed by a social media mob leading to him or her being fired, expelled, etc...

Political intolerance is a component of cancel culture, but it's not in and of itself cancel culture.

The ugliness of cancel culture is the pervasive politicization of people's lives. It's that everyone has to be careful of what they say all the time. It's that the people you thought were your friends can turn on you in a moment. It's that everything we do has to pass a political test all the time. And that failure leads to everything from death threats to loss of employment, education, and future job prospects. Essentially, your life.

Using cancel culture to refer to politics completely devalues its horror. And I would argue that using it to refer to the media is also dubious. While using it to refer to academia is very much on point.

Cancel culture politicizes apolitical spaces. That's the big thing to keep in mind. When we forget that then cancel culture just becomes another way of saying, "he was being mean to me". That's how the Left insists that conservatives and liberal critics use it. It's how they want to undermine the meaning of the term.

Finally, cancel culture doesn't mean accurately reporting on the comprehensive political views that someone holds.

My article today on Cornel West, a radical leftist academic, isn't cancel culture. He's a public figure with strong political views that I'm reporting on. 

Cancel culture is ugly because its politicization of private life punishes people who are apolitical. It takes a comment or joke that they made and politicizes it. 

That's what makes cancel culture a compelling issue for winning over independents and generally apolitical people. Trivializing it takes away one of our best weapons against the Left.