So true is that men close their eyes on encroachments committed by that party to which they are attached, in the delusive hope that power, in such hands, will always be wielded against their adversaries, never against themselves.
This quote was written in the 1800s by Chief Justice John Marshall, in a biography of George Washington that took twenty years to write and included a comprehensive history of the United States. In it, he details the tumultuous (and sometimes surprisingly cooperative) beginnings of our nation, and talks about the constant power struggle between rival political and religious parties. In some colonies, one party would take over, ban a religious expression and then be subsequently ousted by an opposing party which would in turn ban the religious expressions of the previous party and so on and so forth. Our current history curriculum can never properly tell the story of what a feat it was to unite these deeply divided groups long enough to win a revolutionary war. It was a miracle, really.
Regardless of my fascination with American history, this quote remains one of my favorite of all time. Written nearly 200 years ago, it holds an eerie relevance to our modern times. Forget about our political parties – we are now ensconced in a culture that is determined to wield the power of mob-rule politics against anyone perceived as an enemy. The problem with that is that the “enemy” constantly fluctuates based on who has the power in that moment – be it the power of governing, the power of communication or the power of social perception. Eventually all of us will find ourselves in a moment where we are powerless to someone else.
“Cancel culture” has been sneaking up on us for at least the last five years, but it has reached a frightening peak in recent days. We are to the point where eager young journalists and “influencers” are combing through years of video and social media posts of both celebrities and everyday people who pop up in the public square, searching for any kind of “gotcha” moment to elevate their own status by breaking down someone else’s. Perhaps it wouldn’t be such a frightening and vile development in our collective society if we were allowing the offenders to address it and move on, but the goal seems to be utter destruction, a complete erasure of a person’s entire life and livelihood by accusation. Of course there is the double standard that is so plainly obvious as well. Several celebrity influencers have been canceled quite recently for “insensitive” posts (Bravo is frantically clearing out their reality star roster of any perceived racial misconduct as we speak) but Ralph “Blackface” Northam is still the governor of Virginia and Justin “Blackface” Trudeau continues to run an entire country.
But let us set the double standard aside. We know that for some folks, if it weren’t for double standards they’d have no standards at all
Jimmy Kimmel is the latest celebrity to be caught by the mob and it has certainly been a long time coming. Conservatives have been pointing out for months that even as he happily and harshly judges half of America as racist and worthless from his gated golden palace, he has his own issues to account for. By his very own standards he is a racist who should never be able to wash the stain of his poor decisions from his record. Kimmel has issued an apology for his past transgressions, which I find to be just as disturbing.
We’re screwed if we’re going to hold comedians accountable to “cancel culture”. But here we are.
I don’t want Kimmel or anyone else to be canceled. I’m sick of all these cancellations. The only things I want to see canceled are The Walking Dead (seriously, it’s time to put this once great series to bed) and paper straws. I can’t think of a more useless – and frankly dangerous – endeavor than picking through the decades-old pasts of strangers in order to exact some kind of warped justice or revenge in their present lives. As a rational human being I find it concerning. As a Christian I find it abhorrent. The very basis of my faith is that none are worthy and yet God comes near us anyway, to offer hope and validation, redemption and fulfillment. Vengefulness is something we are explicitly told does not belong in our realm. “Cancel culture” is vengeance and vengeance is an equal opportunity destructor.
I tend to fall on the side of making people play by their own rules as an effective combatant in politics. Turnabout often leads to more fair play. However, in this situation I’m afraid the “cancel crackheads” are too addicted to the high and aren’t lucid enough to learn the lesson that Justice Marshall was expressing all those years ago.
As boring as this sounds, the only way out of this is grace. Perhaps we need not make people play by their own rules. Perhaps the most effective response and the quickest way to kill this is to offer peace instead of ridicule. Sure, there’s a bit of irresistible schadenfreude when watching the apologies and groveling of progressive celebrities who have been nothing but horrible to people who don’t think like them. I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel it too.
But as Marshall pointed out, at some point we will all be on the receiving end of that weapon. We need to kill “cancel culture.” Sooner, not later. I don’t think engaging in it will lead to its end, I think that will lead to its normalization. We cancel the cancellers by refusing to engage in petty “outings” and by using every opportunity like Kimmel’s to remind each other that no person is perfect, that we’ll all fall short of these strange new, impossible standards at some point. Perhaps when enough celebrities have been hoisted on their own petard they’ll follow suit.
It doesn’t matter if Kimmel learns a lesson or continues to judge others as unfairly as he has been judged. What matters is that those of us with any level of humility or reason left need to be in the lead, here. It’s time for the grown ups to take over.
Cancel “cancel culture” and let us get back to the business of minding our own business.
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) June 23, 2020