An excellent conversation across the divide here. It helped sort out the subtle difference of speaking up for justice and something you might have heard of, sometimes called “cancel culture”. I point to a couple bookmarks if you don’t have the hour for the whole thing:
After talking about their own multi-cultural histories, about half way through they get in to just what race is in America today. We now know race is not a scientific term but we also know that since it has been created it has been used to repress and dominate people based on skin color or country of origin. This can’t be ignored. Some of it gets pretty in depth with current authors and scholars as well as history.
If that’s too much, skip forward to around 44 minutes. Thomas makes the important point that in any case, we must be able to distinguish between what causes harm and what does not. Then they discuss a letter that appears in Harper’s magazine earlier this year.
The problem of “call-out” culture is not a left or right problem. We are moving toward greater equality, but we can’t separate equality from freedom. If you have to get equality by diminishing freedom, then that equality will not last. Down the road, someone will flip the tables. We are maximally equal when we are maximally free. If you have minorities, which any large society does, they will do better when diverging viewpoints are tolerated.
Criticism of the Harper’s letter included that you can’t regulate “cancel culture” without diminishing the right of oppressed people to challenge the status quo. That is, if one has the right to complain about “cancel culture” others should still have the right to claim some people should be “cancelled”. This right is stronger when the call for cancelling is of someone who is maintaining the oppression or benefiting from it. How do we sort that out?
Thomas clarified that anyone should be able to criticize, but institutions should not quickly fold to the collective pressure of any and all voices. Technology allows for this, multiplying numbers without sorting out the due process. Twitter should not be part of an HR department. We need to hear more speech and bad ideas need to be countered, but we shouldn’t be attaching an idea to a person and creating consequences that don’t fit the discussion.
At 52 minutes, he says, when someone is “cancelled”, that adds to the fear of speaking up, minimizing the free speech culture. The story he tells is very important. Established norms already come with established punishment. This new culture punishes people for transgressing norms that are in the process of being established. Establishing new norms is the conversation we have been having for decades now and that needs to continue and needs to come to all ages and walks of life, and in public places. People should not lose their jobs for doing that, especially not strong public voices.
Minorities should be speaking up against the status quo that has repressed their freedoms for centuries. That might result in someone losing a privilege that is unequally and unfairly given to them. That doesn’t mean it is fair and equal for another to lose or never acquire a privilege or freedom that is or will be equally and fairly provided. We should err on the side of maximal tolerance and maximal grace when having these discussions.