August 06, 2020

The Cancel Culture Movement Will Destroy the Workplace- unless we stop it now

Dave Chappelle is one of the last few great comedians in my opinion because he is anti-PC and willing to offend everyone in order to spark conversation on meaningful topics. At least, some of the time. Case in point, here is a quote from his Netflix special – “Sticks and Stones.” (NSFW) I have censored some of the language, but I think you still get the gist of what he’s saying.

Chappelle: Tonight I’m going to try some impressions out. (crowd cheers) …I want to see if you can guess who it is I’m doing an impression of. All right? Let me get into character. You gotta guess who it is though. (crowd chuckles) Okay, here it goes.

Chappelle: Uh, duh. Hey, durr! If you do anything wrong in your life, duh, and I find out about it, I’m gonna try to take everything away from you and I don’t care when I find out. Could be today, tomorrow, 15, 20 years from now. If I find out, you’re {expletive} ---duh-finished.

Chappelle: Who… Who’s that?

Crowd: (yells out) Trump!

Chappelle: That’s you! (crowd laughs) That’s what the audience sounds like to me. (more laughter) That’s why I don’t come out doing comedy all the time ‘cause y’all {expletive} is the worst {expletive} I’ve ever tried to entertain in my {expletive} life!

Chappelle was deftly calling out the cancel culture and how it seeks to erase people from the public square when certain views are expressed. Some see cancel culture as a mob mentality whereas others see it as a long overdue way of speaking truth to power. Politically speaking, both conservatives and liberals have complained that cancel culture has gone too far. And yet, it persists. I am going to explain why I think that is.

Dictionary.com defines cancel culture as the "popular practice of withdrawing support for public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive."

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In other words, someone says or does something that is offensive to someone and this turns into a widespread boycott of that person’s work. Here are 2 recent examples...

Robert Unanue, the CEO of Goya Foods, announced a massive donation of their products to food banks across the country, he also praised President Trump. During his remarks, he noted that “Trump was ‘a builder,’ like his own illustrious grandfather, and called for Americans to pray for their president." This triggered a boycott initiative by some in the Hispanic community. To quote CNN...

"In an interview with Fox News Friday, Unanue said he was "not apologizing," and called the boycott movement "suppression of speech."

Unanue claimed a double standard in the reaction to his laudatory remarks about Trump, noting he accepted an invitation from Michelle Obama in 2012 to an event in Tampa, Florida, to promote the former first lady's healthy-eating initiative.

"You're allowed to talk good or talk praise to one president but you're not -- when I was called to be part of this commission to aid in economic and educational prosperity and you make a positive comment, all the sudden that's not acceptable," Unanue told Fox News. "If you're called by the president of the United States, you're going to say, 'No I'm sorry, I'm busy, no thank you?' I didn't say that to the Obamas and I didn't say that to President Trump."

Saying something offensive to someone can get you canceled just as not saying something can get you canceled. It is the imagined slights that are the most insidious. Consider the controversy over the Young Adult book - "Blood Heir" that attracted a lot of drama because the fantasy novel did not include any racism in it. The website - Reason discussed the issue

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Amélie Wen Zhao, a woman of Chinese descent who was born in Paris and raised in Beijing, had won herself an enviable three-book deal for an Anastasia-tinged adventure: "In the Cyrilian Empire," went the publication materials, "Affinites are reviled and enslaved. Their varied abilities to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, might be the most monstrous of them all. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls." The adventure kicks off when Ana's father is murdered and she is framed, forcing her to flee. The first book was due out in June.

At some point in January, though, there emerged a vague Twitter-centered whisper campaign against Zhao….

It was open season from there: People picked over the limited information about the book to find something, anything, to justify being angry. L.L. McKinney, a Y.A. author who recently published her own debut novel and who tends to be an active participant in these pile-ons, noted that some of the publicity material described Blood Heir's world as one in which "oppression is blind to skin color." "….someone explain this to me. EXPLAIN IT RIGHT THE FUQ NOW," she tweeted, accusing the author of "internalized racism and anti-blackness." (The logic appears to be that because our world has racism, it's unacceptable to imagine a world that does not.)

Zhao decided not to publish Blood Heir, then announced it would be published after all—pending a thorough review by sensitivity readers.

In true Carson King/Aaron Calvin style, one of Zhao's main critics, a writer named Kosoko Jackson, himself became a target of the cancelers after his novel foolishly included a Muslim villain. How dare he.

The same cancel culture spirit is also in the workplace. The first time I witnessed it, I was not aware of what I was seeing or if I remembered the incident correctly. Golden Girl Finance helped my memory.

In 2012, Adam Mark Smith, CFO of a medical device manufacturer in Arizona, was fired after this video of him haranguing with a drive thru worker at fast food chain Chick Fil A about the company’s anti-gay bias, went viral. By the following day, his company had received hundreds of messages, including bomb and death threats, from the public demanding his termination. Smith was fired and spent the following two years struggling to find work and living on food stamps and eventually leaving the industry.

Since then, there have been several examples of people losing employment because certain people did not agree with their viewpoints. The website Reason reported on how a museum curator was force to resign over racist remarks that were arguably, nothing of the kind.

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Until last week, Gary Garrels was senior curator of painting and sculpture at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). He resigned his position after museum employees circulated a petition that accused him of racism and demanded his immediate ouster.

"Gary's removal from SFMOMA is non-negotiable," read the petition. "Considering his lengthy tenure at this institution, we ask just how long have his toxic white supremacist beliefs regarding race and equity directed his position curating the content of the museum?"

This accusation—that Garrels' choices as an art curator are guided by white supremacist beliefs—is a very serious one. Unsurprisingly, it does not stand up to even minimal scrutiny.

The petitioners cite few examples of anything even approaching bad behavior from Garrels. Their sole complaint is that he allegedly concluded a presentation on how to diversify the museum's holdings by saying, "don't worry, we will definitely still continue to collect white artists."

Garrels has apparently articulated this sentiment on more than one occasion. According to artnet.com, he said that it would be impossible to completely shun white artists, because this would constitute "reverse discrimination." That's the sum total of his alleged crimes. He made a perfectly benign, wholly inoffensive, obviously true statement that at least some of the museum's featured artists would continue to be white. The petition lists no other specific grievances.

Sometimes, it is not what you say that offends the cancel culture movement but how you say it; even if you are in agreement with them. Case in point, Reason also reported on the fate of David Shor.

A week ago, as protests over the unjust police killing of George Floyd took place in major cities across the country, Shor—a 28-year-old political scientist at the Democratic consulting firm Civic Analytics—tweeted some observations about the successes and failures of various movements. He shared research by Princeton University's Omar Wasow, who has found that violent protests often backfire whereas nonviolent protests are far more likely to succeed. The impulse behind Shor's tweet was a perfectly liberal one: He feels progressive reforms are more palatable to the public when protesters eschew violence.

But many progressive activists on social media didn't care whether the impulse was liberal, or even whether it reflected reality. They denounced Shor as a racist for daring to scrutinize the protesters, even if his aim was to make them more effective. One activist accused Shor of using his "anxiety and 'intellect' as a vehicle for anti-blackness." Then she tagged Civis Analytics, and invited the company to "come get your boy."

Get him, they did. Civis Analytics promptly fired Shor.

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And one more example, everything old is new again when it comes to being offended. Take for example Niel Golightly he lost his job over sentiments he expressed over 3 decades ago.

Boeing Co’s (BA.N) communications chief Niel Golightly abruptly resigned on Thursday, following an employee’s complaint over an article the former U.S. military pilot wrote 33 years ago arguing women should not serve in combat.

According to an excerpt on the U.S. Naval Institute website, the December 1987 article titled “No Right to Fight” said: “At issue is not whether women can fire M-60s, dogfight MiGs, or drive tanks. Introducing women into combat would destroy the exclusively male intangibles of war fighting and the feminine images of what men fight for - peace, home, family.”

Golightly told staff in an email seen by Reuters on Thursday that the exclusion of women at the time was “government policy and broadly supported in society. It was also wrong.”

To some, these actions are borderline insane in a country where free speech is sacred. I think there are various reasons why this phenomenon is happening and that they can all be boiled down to political and psychological advantages. From a political standpoint, the partisans of cancel culture are using the threat of job loss and other sanctions to bully people into social and political conformity. Why? By blocking the free exchange of ideas, they are able to win ideological arguments by preventing them in the first place. Yet, I see this wave of thought policing as being even more insidious than that. It is also a means of self-gratification at the expense of others. Narcissism at its finest.

Rob Hendeson, a Ph.D student at the University of Cambridge, alludes to this in his Psychology Today article – “5 Reasons Why People Love Cancel Culture.” Here are a couple of points from his piece.

Cancel culture increases social status. The most powerful motive underpinning cancel culture is social status. Research reveals that sociometric status (respect and admiration from our peers) is more important to our sense of well-being than socioeconomic status. Furthermore, a recent study found that a high social class predicts a greater desire for wealth and status than a low social class. Put differently, it is those who already have status and money who have a stronger craving for status and money relative to other people. For many affluent people, that drive is how they got to their lofty positions in the first place. Aggravating this drive is that they are typically surrounded by people just like them—their peers and competitors are also affluent status-maximizers. They are constantly seeking new ways to either move upward or avoid slipping downward. For social strivers, cancel culture has created new opportunities to move up by taking others down.

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Cancel culture reduces the social status of enemies. Plainly, if there is an activity that will elevate the status of oneself or one’s group, people will do it. One approach to elevation is to do something good. But doing something good requires effort and the possibility of failure. Fortunately, another option exists: Broadcasting the bad behavior of others. This method works because social status is relative. One person losing social rank is the same as another gaining it. If you’re a 6 on the social-status ladder, working up to a 9 is hard. But scheming to bring a 9 down to a 3 is easier and more thrilling. It is much easier to unite people around bringing a 9 down to a 3 than to lift themselves up from a 6 to a 9. Additionally, people are slow to give moral praise for a good act and quick to assign moral blame for a bad one. The relative difficulty of doing something good and the prolonged waiting period to receive credit for it is why cancel culture has flourished. It offers quicker social rewards. Indeed, research shows that people engage in moral grandstanding to enhance their social rank.

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Like so many others, I think the cancel culture movement has gone too far. I look forward to a day where civil debate, a free exchange of ideas and a collective acceptance of diverse thought is the norm. Alas, the cynical side of me agrees with the following quotes from the Daily Wire and Time, respectively.

“Sadly, it’s reasonable to assume that cancel culture and its wild arsenal of accusations of racism, sexism, and privilege will infest the average American workplace wholesale soon. Worse, the massive corporate virtue signaling amid the protests will only enable such accusations. As companies like Apple, Amazon, and Starbucks insist on pursuing their cynical brand of “woke capitalism,” views and opinions that exist outside the tidal progressive narrative will be summarily dismissed. Companies simply don’t want to risk their bottom line over bad PR.”

“In an age when companies have detailed information on customers’ ages, incomes and political persuasions, they’re calculating that these socially aware consumers are more lucrative than those who might be put off by social-justice campaigns.”

In other words, like so many ills of this world, it comes down to money. As soon as supporting Cancel Culture becomes too much of a financial liability to corporate giants then, change will come. Why does it take that to remove this scourge? What happened to principled beliefs? Hmm… I guess they were left at the bank. 

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