We are at a point in time right now where a degree of courage and fortitude is required simply to participate in public debate on certain topics.
If you believe this is an exaggeration, you may not be aware that in Australia right now, you can be fined for ‘liking’ a Facebook post. You can be summoned by a discrimination commission for writing a newspaper article. In Victoria, you can now be threatened with jail for talking about biology with your own children.
Women have been kicked out of volunteer organisations and female academics have been the subject of open letters calling for their sacking – because they expressed their views about women’s rights.
Far from cancel culture being an invention or conspiracy theory as some like to claim, the above examples have happened to Australians (women in most cases) in the past year alone.
These tactics are designed to make it as difficult as possible for someone to express a view or share facts which undermine the current orthodoxy, and to limit the reach of those who do speak out.
The combined effect of various cancel culture tactics can be extremely powerful. Anyone who chooses to speak out on certain topics risks being sanctioned by their employer, boycotted, targeted by ‘anti-discrimination’ zealots, or abused on social media.
Whether or not these attacks have the effect of making the individual they’re targeted at withdraw and apologise, they inevitably do achieve their main objective – to make the next person think twice about speaking up. The tactics of cancel culture mobs rely on those they target being isolated.
Sensible people who would otherwise speak out against nonsensical and dangerous ideas are instead telling themselves the best thing to do is keep your head down and not provoke the vocal minority.
The problem is that it isn’t good ideas and proven theories which rely on enforcing ‘no debate’ through cancel culture tactics – it is the ideas and theories which can’t stand up to scrutiny.
If we fail to point out the errors in an inaccurate statement, or debate the flaws in a well-meaning but poorly thought-through idea, because the risk of backlash for doing so is too great, then inevitably bad ideas become bad policies.
Another common hallmark of cancel culture behaviour is the complete disconnection between what ordinary people think, and the demands of those doing the cancelling. Not only does preventing debate stop ideas from being properly tested, it also can lead to wildly unpopular and illogical decisions being made.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the field of identity politics, where truly staggering pronouncements about what constitutes acceptable language and hate speech are made on Twitter – and then adopted by corporate, government and charity sectors seemingly oblivious to the fact that what they’re signing up to is completely unwanted by the general public and those who are directly affected.
Activists employ the cancel culture tactics of social media pile-ons, open letters and discrimination complaints so that the wider public is kept in the dark about what’s being proposed until the decision is already made. That’s no way to run a democracy.
Freedom of speech and the ability of all citizens to have their say are the foundational principles of western democracy. Declaring normal, common sense, mainstream views unacceptable and discouraging people from voicing their opinions is no pathway to a better society – only a more authoritarian one.
This is an edited extract of a speech by Senator Claire Chandler at the launch of ‘Cancel Culture and the Left’s Long March’ by Kevin Donnelly.