Cancel ‘Cancel Culture’
The term “cancel culture” is rapidly losing its meaning. Just as Donald Trump adopted the term “fake news,” which originally referred to the misinformation flow that was a crucial part of his 2016 campaign, and used it to disparage his opponents and critics (or even just factual reporters) in the news media, so too is “cancel culture” beginning to mean both itself and its opposite, depending who’s using the term.
“Cancel culture” first came into widespread use as a term to describe a leftwing phenomenon of imposing Draconian penalties on those who transgress woke sensibilities, even unintentionally. Reason’s Robby Soave offered a good summary of what it usually includes: “a relatively obscure victim; an offense that is either trivial, or misunderstood, or so long ago that it ought to have been forgotten; and an unjust and disproportionate social sanction.”
David Shor, a progressive who labors to get Democrats elected, lost his job at a data analytics firm because he tweeted an academic study showing that riots tend to help Republicans in election years. The study had been published in a leading journal and authored by a black academic. No matter. Because it debuted in the midst of the first protests against George Floyd’s murder, it was deemed by some progressives to be “concern trolling.”
Progressives do have a tendency to anathematize. The examples are, alas, copious.
But conservatives are now hijacking the term to refer to any criticism at all, no matter how justified. So attempting to strip Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments is “cancel culture” according to Rep. Jim Jordan. And Rep. Matt Gaetz described Trump’s second impeachment as the “zenith of cancel culture.” Sorry, no. Sometimes, not often enough frankly, you have to accept the consequences of your actions. When you’re a conspiracy-mongering fanatic like Greene or an insurrectionist like Trump, you’ve got to expect a little blowback.
Certainly intolerance of anti-Trump views has come to characterize big swaths of the right. They’re practicing their own form of wokeness. So perhaps sane people can agree that both of these tendencies are stupid, narrow-minded, and antithetical to the values of a free society?
But even short of that, those who wish to end the practice should desist from invoking the term. By labeling any criticism or contradiction as “canceling,” they’re cheapening the concept, and making it easier for real abuses to go unnoticed.
The new president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Ryan Anderson, is the author of 2018 book titled When Harry Became Sally: Answers to Our Transgender Moment. It’s a culturally conservative take on the transgender phenomenon and our society’s response. I have not read the book, but if it’s like Anderson’s other work, I’m sure it’s carefully researched and intelligently argued. This week, Amazon removed it from their online store without offering an explanation. The message of this act is clear—some points of view are beyond the pale and questioning whether we’re handling transgender children appropriately is one of them.
It will be a tremendous loss for our society if conservative views about this are anathematized. I wonder if Amazon would object to an article in a recent issue of the Economist? Titled “Little is Known About the Effects of Puberty Blockers,” the article notes that children around the world are being treated with powerful drugs despite the lack of evidence that they are safe. Adult men who take GNRH agonists experience loss of sexual desire and energy. Adult women who take these drugs for conditions like endometriosis are plunged into chemically induced menopause. Animal studies suggest that these drugs may cause cognitive and emotional impairment.
Further, when adolescents are given cross-hormone treatment, the next stage of transitioning after puberty blockers, the risks may be significant: “One 2018 study concluded that females who take testosterone are more likely to suffer cardiovascular disease, while males who take estrogen have higher risk of blood clots and strokes. The additional risk grew the longer the patients remained on hormones.”
Patients who take these drugs long-term may also be at higher risk for osteoporosis. Beyond that, there is the certainty of sterility. There’s a great deal to consider when a child presents with gender dysphoria. As the Economist notes, the best estimates are that about 80 percent of children with this disorder outgrow it after they go through puberty. They become comfortable in their natal sex.
But that progression may be more out of reach for children who are aggressively treated with puberty blockers, encouraged to dress and appear as the opposite sex, and called by a different name during crucial developmental stages. A “cascade of interventions” can wind up pushing an unhappy kid toward transitioning rather than accepting their natal bodies/identities.
Children with gender dysphoria require sensitive and compassionate care. But if it is now considered beyond the pale even to question our approach to the matter in a serious book, we are consigning ourselves to blindness, and possibly consigning thousands of children to unknown risks.