We all know what Cancel Culture is. The left picks any random person or product, proclaims it racist, sexist, etc. and then suddenly that thing becomes a faux pas. Just about everyone can tell that this is stupid every time that it happens, but the left has adopted a clever method of excusing Cancel Culture through semantic tricks. I call these excuses Soft Cancelation because they serve to smooth out the rough edges of the hard and fast Cancel Culture assault on western society.
The reason that you need to care about Soft Cancelation is that it is what prevents us from having the conversations that would stop Cancel Culture. The whole point of it is to generate the social taboos that marginalize values that are considered conservative or traditionally American. The fact is that it’s not really possible to cancel a culture unless you slowly condition the public to fear speaking their minds, defending their values, or supporting one another. Eventually, if that pattern continues then the culture will cancel itself. The left would like you not to think about that, which is exactly why Gina Carano was canceled for tweeting that the Nazis had to condition Germans into associating everyday things with a Jewish conspiracy so that they would finally turn on their neighbors. Soft Cancelation is the rationalization for these everyday associations. Learning to recognize it is the key to combating Cancel Culture as a whole.
There are three current excuses for Cancel Culture that constitute Soft Cancelation: That it’s not really Cancel Culture because only some of a thing is being cancelled. That Cancel Culture is really just cultural change or cultural evolution. That what we call Cancel Culture is actually just the free market adjusting for systemic racism. Right away you can see that these three narratives cannot be true and coexist, but let’s dive deeper into each one so we can understand them better to explain why they are just excuses.
This is the textbook cop-out excuse, and easiest to refute. Not only does it acknowledge the act of cancellation, it also fails to provide a meaningful justification for canceling anything. Suppose I announced to you that all closed-toe shoes are racist, so nobody can wear them anymore. Afterall, the wearing of closed-toe shoes emphasizes the disparity between rich white culture and many slaves who had to live bare-footed or in sandals. You might say, “Dude, that’s idiotic. You can’t cancel shoes because you think they are racist.” What if I then said, “Well it’s not Cancelling, because it’s only some shoes.” That’s exactly what leftists are saying about the things they cancel today. Does it justify their logic for canceling anything? No.
The more distressing thing about this narrative is that it leaves the question open-ended: Who decides what is too much of a thing to cancel? “Some of it” is an undefined quantity, apparently totally up to the left’s discretion. You are just meant to trust that they only cancel the racist products, racist actors, and only the racist books. There’s never a mistake and they never take it too far. This excuse is equivalent to being told you’re free to have all the leftwing-approved stuff, so get over it and stop trying to make your own decisions.
Are we really supposed to refrain from fighting back until only the last remaining scraps of western culture remain? That’s what the left would like, and falling for this first kind of Soft Cancelation means that you will have less and less reason to fight as fewer aspects of life go unmolested by Cancel Culture. Instead, conservatives should return to that first-principle question: Who gave you the right to cancel anything? Ask this question and the excuse falls apart.
This form of Soft Cancelation seems compelling at first glance, and it plays on the conservative’s humble nature. We are much more likely to question our own certainty than the left is, and they know it. We need to keep an eye out for their deception. So ask yourself if this excuse would ever be accepted by the left. How well-aligned is this excuse with the left’s demonizing colonialism and accusations of cultural appropriation? It is diametrically-opposed, which makes it a dishonest narrative.
Has the left ever let up on attacking the early Spanish missionaries in Mexico or the Christian missionaries in Nigeria? Not once. Even in cases when those missionaries were welcomed, their teachings readily accepted, and the living conditions consequently improved the left treats the missionaries as if they had destroyed something better. Does the left celebrate that the British ended wife-burning in India - was that cultural evolution? No, they abridge anything good that was done under colonial rule. What about the never-ending accusations of “cultural appropriation?” Suffice to say that aside from trying to justify Cancel Culture, the left has never shrugged their shoulders and reflected, well, that’s just cultural change for you. Obviously it’s just a tool to use when tricking conservatives.
By the way, this excuse is really pernicious because cultural evolution is desirable - but not in the way the left describes it. Economists, historians, and anthropologists have all discovered that when cultures interact with one another they tend to benefit from exchanging practices and ideas. This lets them grow more sophisticated. Even when wars occur, the cost is low compared to the costs of isolation. This kind of cultural evolution is a natural process that expands outwards in a fractal growth pattern, just like biological evolution. When culture evolves, it tends to branch out and become more complex. However the left hates this kind of change because it defies centralized control.
When the left celebrates cultural change, it’s only the kind that involves reducing variety, enforcing arbitrary rules, and consciously directing society toward a preferred outcome. You can call this Cultural Eugenics, which aims to transform vibrant societies into uniform utopias. Cancel Culture serves the role of selective breeding by eliminating aspects of society that the left does not want to propagate with growth. We conservatives should know the difference between Cultural Evolution and Cultural Eugenics, and refuse to let one take the place of the other.
This is my favorite Soft Cancelation excuse because it’s the only one that gives you a real litmus test for who you’re dealing with. Only the most deeply indoctrinated leftist will pull it out of their pocket - either out of cleverness or desperation. It can only be an excuse because the left absolutely abhors the free market. Their hatred for the market goes way further than just thinking it is a failed economic system that enriches the rich and impoverishes the poor. They see it as the ultimate celebration of selfishness, and the great promoter of global oppression. Now imagine a person who believes that and denies anything good that the free market has achieved: lifting millions from poverty, promoting technological advancement, and promoting peaceful international relations between countries. Can you really believe that this person’s sole conciliation to the free market is that it is helping to keep racist Dr. Seuss books off the shelf? Is anyone stupid enough to fall for this excuse?
Beyond the dishonesty, there’s a good reason that blaming the free market for Cancel Culture is just bad economics. The market’s virtue is that it allows millions of people to test out products, principles, lifestyles, preferences, and most of all, morals, in a trial and error environment. It is an uncoordinated democratic process that rewards the best and discourages the worst at the lowest cost to society. The idea that the market would wait multiple decades to cancel Dr. Seuss as well as a host of other products and people in a sudden move to overturn systemic racism defies the nature of the marketplace. The market tends to limit bad moral behavior in its early stages by constantly asking, “Does this product or service violate your conscience?” If Dr. Seuss were racist, or Aunt Jemima so offensive as to warrant cancellation, they wouldn’t have survived in the market for even a year - let alone close to a century.
Clearly, the sense that these goods and people are in need of cancelation for inherent racism is newly-manufactured, not a consequence of market signals. When a group of social agitators can get leverage over a business by claiming their product is racist, then they can effectively manipulate the market for that product. Milton Friedman warned that coercion distorts the marketplace by divorcing a producer’s decisions from market factors like price, cost, and demand. This is exactly what happened when the Dr. Seuss estate was driven into asking their publishers to remove their books. The fact that their customers rushed to buy the books and drove them into 42 of the 50 top-seller spots on Amazon - that’s the free market speaking. The market is about millions of preferences spread over millions of small exchanges. It doesn’t deal with broad issues of right and wrong. Pretending like it suddenly grew a sense of morality is a farce.
Let’s just end with one more bit of hypocrisy that the left enforces with Soft Cancelation. I’m sure that you’ve heard some leftist or other going on about marginalization. Well isn’t Cancel Culture just the left’s way of marginalizing aspects of society? The degree to which Soft Cancelation has made this possible is staggering when you think about it. If even one tiny limitation is placed on the left’s preferred policies it’s an intolerable obstruction - not just of their aims, but of justice and equality themselves. However, it is fine to roll back, redefine, and limit conservative principles to an extreme degree. In other words, the left has rationalized their right to marginalize us, while condemning anything they call marginalization in turn.
Soft Cancelation is a serious issue that conservatives need to be aware of. You might think that being soft means they are less damaging than hard cancelation but it’s not true. Just like an engine without oil, cancel culture would break itself without soft cancelation to grease the pistons. I’m sure there are more examples out there than the three covered here, but now you’re prepared to recognize them when leftists bring them up.