We've Sacrificed Culture to Cancelation | Opinion

The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by Kmele Foster during a Newsweek podcast debate on cancel culture. You can listen to the podcast here:

I hate the phrase "cancel culture," and I think I'm on record about that. But what I hate about the phrase, in practice, is that it emphasizes the cancelation and not the cultural bit.

Cancel culture is the prevailing social milieu that we operate in... as a result of a number of different factors, perhaps primarily the proliferation of new kinds of technologies that allow us to quickly share different things and come together and coalesce as groups. We have embraced a set of social norms that make us much more likely to engage in mobbings and censure; rather than trying to engage with people and have conversations and engage in public criticisms of ideas that we dislike, we attempt to excommunicate people.


Imagine being in a circumstance where you can't work, you can't live in our neighborhood, because you have the wrong sorts of ideas. And rather than have a conversation about those ideas, it immediately becomes "We will silence you."

There's a competition about feelings and notions of safety taking preeminence over any notion that we need to actually value a plurality of thought and perspectives. It's very ironic that we live in an era when we talk a great deal about diversity and inclusion, but in a very real sense, the ethos of cancelation culture is actually exclusion, monoculture and conformity of perspective—driven so much by this forceful ostracization of people who are perceived to have the wrong sorts of ideas.

Kmele Foster

Think about the world you want to inhabit: Is the world a minefield where you're just trying to survive, where you're imagining all these ways you might run afoul of the new norms because it's completely unforgiving? Or is it a garden where of course there are hazards, there are places you might trip, a pitfall, a bush that has some thorns that you're not expecting; but there are also beautiful roses and all sorts of other things that you can discover?

We can experience the garden together, or we can experience the minefield together, and I think we are much more that minefield than that garden right now. And I think that that is something that is very concerning and has a material chilling effect.

It is possible to have cultural innovation in both of those worlds.

In the garden, you can imagine us building new tools and finding new ways to talk to each other, and even cultivating new social norms that make it easier for us to live with the new reality that we find ourselves in, where everyone has this ready access to information, and occasionally that information is less than true.

Will we develop tools to deal with that reality so that we can navigate those things and adjudicate truth better? Or do we innovate in a different sort of way, where we're focused on being punitive, and we're focused on getting rid of the people who have the wrong sorts of ideas?

In the past, that meant waterboarding, crucifixion, an iron cross, a guillotine. Now, shadow-banning? That is the choice we have to make. I do think that a world where we're less willing to experiment with ideas, with new modes of living, where persuasion is not nearly as important to us as vilification, is a dangerous sort of world.

The trade-off is that we perhaps become less acquainted with truth.

Kmele Foster is the co-founder of Freethink and cohost of The Fifth Column Podcast.