The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Cancel culture is the new pandemic

How cancel culture kills the embodiment of America
Victoria Ernst
Tweet by Elon Musk.

“You learn something about your own worldview when you encounter someone who disagrees with it.”

This quote describes one of the defining beauties of America: The First Amendment. Freedom of speech and expression builds the foundation for the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Naturally, someone who recognizes these ideals made this statement. Was it a historical figure instrumental to the founding of our country? A great philosopher, perhaps?

Not quite. It was Matt Walsh. He remarked to Washington and Lee University’s student body on Sept. 18 in the University Chapel. Yet over 600 members of the W&L community signed a petition – a petition to cancel his visit – because they don’t agree with his views expressed on social media.

This attempt to suppress ideas, especially on a political basis, exemplifies a greater societal problem: cancel culture.

Cancel culture describes the rejection of ideas, views, and even people who don’t align with the status quo. The phrase gained popularity around 2020, according to Google Trends, and typically refers to those ideas expressed on social media.

The concept of “punishing people for behaving outside of perceived social norms” has been around for centuries, Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Villanova University Dr. Jill McCorkel told the New York Post.

A survey by the Pew Research Center from 2020 showed that about 49% of adult Americans deem cancel culture as “actions people take to hold others accountable,” while another 35% define the phrase as an attempt to cause harm or limit the speech of dissenters.

While we can hold people accountable for crimes, we cannot erase people from existence for their views. Attempting to suppress ideas because of their content is an attempt to destroy evidence of their existence.

History has taught us – or should have taught us – that suppression feeds oppression. Human nature incites the oppressed to retaliate. While suppression led to the founding of our country, justice did not come without blood on both sides.

We cannot simultaneously be the land of the free and the suppressed. We must choose. George Washington warned if we take freedom of speech away,  “…then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” We may go around every day, hidden from both our true beliefs and the beliefs of others, subject to a life of forgery.

Or, we can learn to live and speak freely and accept that we all have the right to the First Amendment, just as our founding fathers intended.  John Adams defended the British in the Boston Massacre trials to demonstrate this fact. Although the First Amendment was not yet established at the time of the trial, his willingness to represent his foes on the grounds of justice proves the American value of freedom.

America can’t remain the land of the free and the home of the brave if we allow cancel culture to guide American values. We also can’t have fruitful or thoughtful discussions, the core of any democratic system, if everyone pretends to accept “nice” viewpoints. If you don’t like what you see on social media, just keep scrolling or block other users. If your echo chambers make you feel safe, so be it. But don’t punish the rest of us for speech. Don’t spit on America’s glory and use cancel culture as justification.

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