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The red badge of cancellation.

By MICHAEL BLACKBURN.

I KNOW I must already have said it’s hard to keep up with today’s outrage output but I’m sure the whole thing has been turned up to 11. The febrile state of nations created by the loopy responses to the covid scare no doubt plays a part in this, as does the instantaneity of social media, which means that panic and lies can spread more quickly than any real virus. As soon as you think of assembling a few thoughts in response to one item, say the pulling down of statues, you’re swamped with news about another, e.g., domestic terrorists taking over their own autonomous zones in American cities, when along comes Cambridge academic and professional race grifter, Priyamvada Gopal, calling for the abolition of whiteness and getting promoted to professor, almost immediately overshadowed by David Starkey getting the opposite treatment and being cancelled for saying “damn blacks” in an interview. And so it goes on.

Since those little spats happened the outrage has moved on — which, it turns out, is the same as back: J K Rowling has reasserted her claim to being Queen of the Twitter Stirrers over her comments about trans people (you see what I mean about back?) — I don’t follow this one because I couldn’t give a surgeon’s sweaty swab about the issue, but I think it’s because she’s asserted that biologically men are men and women are women. That kind of wrongthink these days can definitely get you cancelled, today’s form of excommunication, unless you’re so rich and famous you’re untouchable — like J K Rowling. So, although I have not read any of her books and disagree with her politics, I wish her well in driving the unbalanced into complete insanity.

Cancellation is the buzzword. People have been getting cancelled all over the place for years now…because they don’t publicly support the currently fashionable luxury belief.

Cancellation is the buzzword. People have been getting cancelled all over the place for years now, academics losing their fellowships, ordinary blokes (and their girlfriends) getting sacked for flying innocuous banners from aeroplanes, radio presenters being dumped because they don’t publicly support the currently fashionable luxury belief, authors having their books cancelled, and so on.

Even the jelly-spined contingent of the left have belatedly noticed this and started making grumbling sounds. A group of 150 intellectuals and writers signed one of those open letters that are themselves so fashionable today, decrying this illiberal movement. Rowling is one of the signatories, along with Chomsky (don’t laugh), Jonathan Haidt, Malcolm Gladwell, Margaret Atwood and Steve Pinker. Pinker had just been on the receiving end of an attempted cancellation when a troupe of SJW monkeys tried to get him removed from the Linguist Society of America’s Distinguished Academic Fellows list. His crime was essentially that of being a scientist and respecting facts over fiction in the debate about race.

The latest letter, published in Harper’s, begins with the obligatory Trump-bashing: “The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy,” blithely ignoring the fact that the “intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty” comes not from the phantom radical right evoked but from the ranks of modern liberalism itself.

Nevertheless, the free speech flag is boldly planted: “We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters” and the signatories declare “The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.”

Bravo! Bravo! Such brave if obvious words. Unfortunately still not enough to hold back the almost instant wave of backlash and recrimination. Author Jennifer Finney Boylan, issued a Tweeting clarification: “I did not know who else had signed that letter. I thought I was endorsing a well meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming. I did know Chomsky, Steinem, and Atwood were in, and I thought, good company. The consequences are mine to bear. I am so sorry.” Such bravery, such perspicacity!

Historian Kerri Greenidge, Tweeted out: “I do not endorse this @Harpers letter. I am in contact with Harper’s about a retraction.” Greenidge, sorry, Professor Greenidge, claims her name was included without her knowledge, although emails between her and Harper’s reveal she was happy for her name to be included.

This disgruntlement seems to stem from some lefties not believing cancel culture exists at all and/or not liking certain people being signatories because they’re the wrong sort of folk. Emily VanDeWerff, who is Critic at Large at something called Vox, wrote:

many signatories to the letter include people who treat trans identities as an intellectual parlor game at best and as a dark and terrible cloud about to descend over modern society at worst. It is apparently impossible to grasp that we are who we say we are.

Yawn. More trans games. More inane contributions followed by the usual poltroons, such as young Owen Jones, but there’s no point repeating them because we all know the pack drill of these types, right down to the very words they use. Not even debate about debate is possible with them.

Still, by the time you’ve read this, half a dozen other outrages will have washed it down the tubes. Makes a change from coronavirus. Talking of which…


suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet and writer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire. A Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Lincoln University (2005 – 2008), his poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent book is Albion Days (perennisperegrinator press). Sucks to Your Revolution is a collection of his Fortnightly columns.

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