The Power of The Past: Cancel Culture and Its Effects on Society Today

What exactly is “cancel culture”?

Cancel culture, also recognized as mob mentality, is becoming more prominent and severe in our society. The act of “canceling” someone or a brand can be defined as “taking a public stance against someone or an institution for actions considered objectionable or defensive.” People or organizations who have been canceled by society are not breaking laws, but rather having opinions that do not align with others. Society has found a way to join together to create strong power to control and destroy an image. The ethical debate is whether or not the act of canceling someone is an effective way to hold someone or something accountable, or if it just mere punishment with no chance of forgiveness. No chance of redemption by the media, as well as the censorship that comes with it, clearly shows that free speech is a victim of cancel culture. Is it ethical to remove the ability of one’s free speech because people are not in agreeance with others?

What Cancel Culture Looks Like Today

Celebrities have become the targeted majority of cancel culture. With their privileged position comes stronger susceptibility to criticism. A recent example of this involves bachelor Matt James, and the woman he chose to be with, Rachael Kirkconnell. Fans of The Bachelor dug into Kirkconnell’s past and found 2018 photos of her at an antebellum-themed party in college. Wearing an old-fashioned dress on a plantation sparked major controversy on the internet. The power of many created hate and disrespect for Kirkconnell based on photos taken years ago. Because she went to the party, people assumed that she supports racism and slavery. James, as well as the show’s host, Chris Harrison, commented on the controversy by defending Kirkconnell. As soon as Harrison verbalized that society should show her some grace and give her a chance to defend herself, he was then targeted and had to leave the organization. The public did not agree with this photo and therefore took action to punish Kirkconnell. Kant’s categorical imperative fits this situation because if people are going to cancel a specific person for one instance, cancelation to all who have done the same must be a law in society.

A common theme of the cancelation of powerful individuals is focused on the past. This can be seen as morally and ethically wrong by holding grudges against people’s past mistakes. Why is society focusing on other’s flaws when we should be focusing on our own actions and the community around us?

The culture of publicly shaming powerful individuals has stemmed from the past resurfacing. A constant similarity within cancel culture has dealt with the offensiveness people feel about a person or topic, and then a massive storm forms because of it. After studying ethics, it can be agreed upon that not every person agrees with another. Cancel culture is not a universally agreed-upon action. Those who are being canceled are those who do not agree with others, and those who are not participating in cancel culture do not agree with those acting on it. This movement has taken people’s behaviors and actions that can be deemed as questionable rather than severely problematic, and turn it into a bigger issue than presented. If time, effort, and deeper thinking were taken into action, many people would not be as severely punished for what is framed as egregious. Those who commit a serious crime would not be seen as controversial because that is morally wrong. When this culture begins to cancel objects or people that include a debatable ethical issue is where this culture becomes ethically wrong.

A recent controversy involved Dr. Seuss’s books being categorized as racist. Six of Dr. Seuss’s children’s books are no longer going to be printed or sold. Two out of the six are ranked as the world’s best children’s books. With that being said, it is hard to imagine that a few illustrations are as offensive as society is portraying them to be. This approach is causing more problems than thought to be solving. More concepts and people are becoming victims of cancelation for far less severe situations as time progresses. Shutting people down rather than engaging in mature conversations with people who do not agree with a stance is causing a larger divide in this country than cancelers intended. There is a lack of respect with this movement, and with that lacks the ethics and morals learned from renowned philosophers. Aristotle’s mean proposes the idea that the reaction of cancel culture is one extreme, while the other is completely ignoring a controversial issue.

Additionally, cancel culture has resulted in the erasing of our United States history. Abraham Lincoln has been removed from all curriculum in San Francisco. People believe that Lincoln diminishes the “opportunity of those amongst us to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Because Lincoln is associated with slavery, oppression, racism, genocide, and similar criteria, he will be removed from all education in the San Francisco area. Ironically, Lincoln was the man who ended slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation.

He freed slaves and because of his association with slavery, people will not learn about his presidency. Trying to rewrite history has become the most extreme version of cancel culture. Removing historical statues and trying to forget Lincoln along with many others, is not the way to teach students about our country’s history. It is no question that slavery was wrong, but our past wrote a hopeful narrative for America. Times were hard but history needs to be taught, even if it is not perfect.

We Have to Accept the Past

Within these three examples lie similarities. Society becomes offended by someone or something, followed by people speaking their minds to create enough power to put an end to an opposed belief. Our country is realizing the amount of power we can create to end someone or something that we no longer want to hear or see. Each example discussed is unethical in the view that each person should be treated the exact way one wishes to be treated. The past should not be held against someone unless there is a criminal act involved. Digging into the past of people and our country is something that cannot be changed. It is the past and society cannot change the mistakes anyone has made. No immediate cancelation is ethical until someone or something is proven guilty. There should be discussions before society punishes others. We are all human and are expected to make mistakes. Rawl’s veil of ignorance proposes the ethical issue that one must put themselves in the position of those your decisions impact. No one is perfect, and it is no debate that those canceling others want to be canceled themselves. Our society is striving to make sure that every imperfection is erased, but at the end of the day, our country and people’s imperfections are what make us human. We must learn to accept the mistakes we have made, rather than trying to run away from them.




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