The Foolish Despot-The Mistake of Cancel Culture
Kevin J.N. Hughes
If you have been following Freed Indeed Ministries for a while, then you know that we at Freed Indeed Ministries are very much against conspiracy theories. You further know that we have been quite willing to refute conspiratorial ideas, and that very often, when we are discussing Church history in particular, we even feel the need to dispel conspiracy theories. So, it may come as a shock for people to know that we at Freed Indeed do not support YouTube or Facebook in their combined effort to “cancel” Alex Jones, the king of the right wing conspiracy theorists. Allow me to explain why it is my belief, and that of Freed Indeed as a whole, that cancelling people like Alex Jones is foolish, counterproductive, and ultimately can only lead to problems and harm.
First off, for those of you who have been living in a hermitage for the last decade or so, “cancel culture” is the Marxist effort to end free speech by labelling anything that may ever make anyone feel uncomfortable as “hate-speech” and then making it more difficult for people who have views different from the big tech oligarchs to present their thesis in any forum.
This issue became prominent recently among the mainstream population when people who have felt “cancelled” for years attempted to create “free-speech social media platforms”. Well, if there is anything that those who hold monopolies despise more than anything else, it is competition. In former times, those who held monopolized power over an industry like oil would dominate any competition who came their way by selling oil at so ridiculously cheap of a price, that their opponent, the local business, would not possibly be able to compete. This would result in the smaller company going out of business, and the oil tycoon, now firmly established as the kingpin of his industry, would jack the price up. This monopolizing of any industry was seen as such a huge problem, that some of the US of A’s culture heroes like Theodore Roosevelt actually had to stand up to the monopoly men and bust up the monopolies. I am sure most of you are at least somewhat familiar with that history since even public schools manage to teach it.
However, I have a question for you, if it was dangerous for monopolies to exist when they controlled oil, how much worse is it for monopolies to exist when they control something as essential as speech?
This is where our topic really takes off. Remember when I mentioned that monopoly men despise competition? We saw that just last year when Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook all teamed up to put the kybosh on the site known as Parler. Understand that Parler was just twitter, only, instead of constantly bombarding people with Marxist ideology, Parler was a right-leaning site that sought to offer "free speech." Well, unfortunately for Parler, part of free-speech is speech that makes people uncomfortable, and in the world of participation trophies, feeling uncomfortable is not allowed. In fact, the head of Apple went as far as to say that it is never morally permissible to feel discouraged.
Thus, Parler came under fire, and as far as I know, the legal battle is still going on to determine whether free speech will survive, or whether the oligarchs get to tell you what you can say, and what thoughts are acceptable, versus unacceptable.
In the midst of all of this, it was announced that Alex Jones and others like him would feel the ban of being “cancelled” meaning that they would not have the ability to get their information out on social media, at least not easily. Now, again, some of you are probably thinking, “But Kevin, isn’t that a good thing? Don’t you want Alex Jones shut down?” My answer, yes, I want Alex Jones shut down, but not this way. I want people to become educated and realize the falsehood of what Jones is presenting, and stop listening to him. I want him to no longer have a platform because people become informed. I do not want him to cease to have a platform because people I trust even less have the power to shut him up. More on that in a moment though, I am getting ahead of myself.
Here’s the problem, first off, cancelling someone like Jones is actually extremely dangerous. The reason is that Alex Jones and others like him are conspiracy theorists. What they peddle requires a constant feeling that we are oppressed or trapped under some overarching power. Well, how better to reinforce that message than to prove him right by cancelling him?
Sure, you haven’t proved him right in some sense. Zuckerburg and every president since Regan are not, in fact, lizard men from the moon who use mind control in television to harvest people or something like that. That’s nonsense. However, I don’t think most people have any inclination to believe that such things are true until they see someone like Jones getting cancelled. See, if you allow Jones to spew his nonsense everywhere, you let him dig a hole that people see right through. If you cancel him, you make lots of people who may not be familiar with everything he says, or who may think he is just funny, or whatever, begin to see him as a martyr. The same thing happened in the glorious Russian empire. When the Marxists were (perhaps ironically) the ones being cancelled by the state, they came back from prisons in Siberia, and many people had more sympathy with them because even if these ideas were radical and crazy, it felt like the supposed persecution they had received was a sort of mark of the truth which they were preaching. After all, it was reasoned, why would the government have to silence them if they were not on to something. The same thing happens with people like Alex Jones. If you declare that he is bad, and then try to silence him, you’ll actually make his audience more loyal to him, and likely even drive some people towards him. Not because his ideas actually make sense, but because the same people who reasoned thus under the reds will reason thus under Jones.
Let me explain it another way. Alex Jones is telling people that there are a group of global elites controlling what we are allowed to say and do in the public square. He says that these elites are “lizard men,” and other crazy things, so very few people are willing to listen to him. Then you shut him down, you declare that what he is saying is “dangerous” and you remove his platform. All of a sudden, people who barely had any interest in him before say, “Wait a minute, that is exactly what would happen if what he said were true.” Which plants a little seed, that seed causes them to watch his show on his own website (where there will be no one refuting the claims of course) and in a matter of weeks or months, someone who used to think Jones was a madman is now his disciple.
A related problem is that the very mentality of cancel culture stifles any possibility of genuine education. Being educated is learning to examine a position, think it through, and either accept or refute it based upon the merit of the position. If we cannot do that anymore, then we have lost the ability to call ourselves educated. When I was studying at Liberty University, I took two very different classes, on very different topics. One was a science class, the other was a theology class. However, both of them had an interesting philosophy that I look back on as brilliant. Both of them required students to read materials from sources that were arguing against whatever the class was teaching. As in, this was part of the curriculum, you had to go to a journal or paper or website yourself, and you had to find materials that contradicted the message of the class, and you had to read them. Then, you had to compare what the class was teaching to what the other sources were teaching, and you had to think critically about the issues to decide for yourself what to believe.
Imagine if my professors had had the attitude that the cancel culture has? Then, instead of having us students reading materials that countered the message of the class, we would have been told that we could not read anything unless it confirmed what the class was teaching. Anything else would have been ridiculed, mocked, declared, “dangerous and subversive”, and dismissed without a hearing. I am asking you to honestly think about this, which is true education? Is it that which declares ideas it doesn’t like dangerous, and then seeks to silence them without a hearing, or that which forces you to examine a position from both sides and form a conclusion?
George Orwell once wrote an article in which he analyzed the book Mein Kompf by Adolf Hitler. In that article, Orwell discusses the fact that Hitler’s vision for the world was actually horrible. Yet, he was able to get people to run to it because the world around them was so bleak. In that article, Orwell controversially admits that there were things he admired about Hitler. That section of the article is usually redacted from modern republishing efforts. However, I think redacting that uncomfortable line is a mistake. See, Orwell wasn’t saying Hitler was a good guy, he actually thinks Hitler’s ideas are horrible. What he admires is that Hitler is able to rally the German people under his banner despite the fact that his banner is awful, and shouldn’t really appeal to anyone.
For the record, I disagree with Orwell, and with the benefit of hindsight, I think it’s pretty safe to say that there is absolutely nothing we should ever admire about Adolf Hitler, but this is the point, Orwell was an educated man. As an educated man, he was capable of reading something he disagreed with, he was capable of hating it, and he was capable of keeping a level head so that he could examine it honestly, and refute it truly and wholly, instead of just lazily saying that people shouldn’t read it.
A big part of what Freed Indeed Ministries does is apologetics. And I am a big believer in apologetics. I believe that in a virtuous society, Christianity would dominate the media, and any anti-Christian ideas would be met with legitimate refutation. However, I do not believe that a just society would silence such ideas outright, a just society would educate its citizens so that such evils were eliminated from the society.
I fear that if people like Alex Jones are simply silenced without a hearing, then they are not actually being refuted, and that is very dangerous indeed. Because I cannot do my job in apologetics if there is no heresy to answer. If the heretic is simply driven down and unable to speak, then he becomes a myth and a legend, and he becomes far more dangerous than he ever was when he was just a fool.
The importance of some level of free speech is not so that the press has the “right” to ask stupid questions at press conferences. The real importance of some kind of free speech is that it is only when an idea is spoken that it can ever be refuted. This is why I grow so concerned when I see people who have ideas I despise being silenced like this. Because free speech that is only free when it is speech that I like is not free at all.
Okay, so that’s the danger and folly of the issue, and why it is counterproductive. Is there anything else wrong with cancelling Jones?
Well, yes, the problem is that history is littered with examples of cancel cultures and it never ends well for society. A German pastor named Martin Niemölle once wrote a brilliant piece about the cancel culture he lived under in WWII, his poem reads,
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unions, and I did not speak out—because I was not a unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me
The same thing is playing out now in our world. Oh sure, it starts with coming after Alex Jones, and you do not wish to speak out. After all, you would hate to be associated with a conspiracy nut right? So, you don’t speak out because you are not a conspiracy nut after all. Then it’s a Catholic charity, well, you reason, I’m not Catholic. Then a month, maybe a year goes by and a local Baptist Church is not allowed to hold services, or at the very least, is told they must preach a different message, or else they too will be cancelled. You shake your head, something doesn’t feel right, but you say, “bah, I’ve never liked their pastor anyway.” Then finally, they tell you that you are not allowed to have a voice, and who is left to speak?
Think I’m speaking about a slippery slope fallacy? Well, maybe that is what Martin thought too. Then he read the news one day and saw images of gas chambers and their grisly victims. That is the price we pay when we allow something like this.