The Cancel Culture

Image Source: Forbes

When dissent is silenced, minorities are almost erased, life is castrated and not allowed to bloom to freedom, we have stepped into what has been aptly named as cancel culture. Often cancel culture hides under the cover of a religion, tradition, nationalism that it  is purporting to defend. Unfortunately, we seem to be locked or even frozen into a past and refuse to step into a progressive and harmonious future for all.  This is so because we are anxious about our future and acutely feel that it is lost and therefore, we think that we have an imperative to act in the present by preserving that which  we deem as cannot be lost. In other words to save ourselves, our cultures and values, we think that we have an inner call to erase and cancel the other and its other culture and values.  This means cancel culture paradoxically arises out of a strong anxiety that triggers a worrisome sense of being cancelled. Most often cancel culture comes out of a sense of loss and is a reactive form of recovery.  Cancel culture is therefore rooted into the phobias of a society that amplifies a sense of being cancelled. Cancel culture has grown on the wings of social media where we can find thought police and online mobs that troll people who are deemed as dangerous, traitors and disloyal. We see  cancel culture on display when books are being burnt, effigies of celebrities, authors or politicians are being burnt, events are forced to be called off,  contrarians are ridiculed and put to shame or even lynched by lawless mobs.  It has divided us into those that are deemed as loyal and those that are considered as traitors. We can find cancel culture both on the left and right side of the political spectrum. 

India is also not free from cancel culture.  It shows deep alliance with our purity/ pollution culture embedded in our caste laden society. Cancel culture  is most visible in the manner the right wing Hindutva forces deal with minorities, tribals,  liberal intellectuals, women and Dalits in our country.  We as a society is saffron washed. Our brains are saffron washed to the extent that all other colours, beliefs, cultures are thought to be aberrations and therefore, have to be erased and cancelled from our society. There are internet mobs that try to single out, put to shame, and threaten those who are deemed as dark stains on the saffron map of our society.  BJP also embodies and benefits from this cancel culture. In the name of protecting Indian culture, these saffron forces homogenize our culture as well as the Hindu faith and ends up cancelling the cultural as well as religious diversity of our society. In fact, the Hindutva forces have become a cancelling force in all senses of the word.  There is a huge gap between their symbolic and substantive actions.  A critical examination may manifest that these forces as the real traitors in our country.  But this is difficult if not impossible. They seem to be socially engineering an India of their imagination by mutilating and even annihilating a real India. The cancel culture in India is cancelling Indians as well as the real India.  It is narrowing our civilizational ethos of tolerance and converts us into effeminate Indians paranoid about our own other Indians whom we then seek to cancel.  It seems that cancel culture may end up destroying India and install a new India that is alien to our civilization. May be we are already on the threshold of this new India. 

Cancel culture is fast becoming like the air that we breathe. It surrounds us and we too are lost into its unnecessary debates. Those who condemn cancel culture are condemned as illiberal by the conservatives.  This means we are caught in a catch twenty two situation.  This is why we may have to ask: Does the cancel culture challenges the tolerance levels of the liberal? Does it turn the liberal into those who wish to conserve their liberal culture?  Does the cancel culture draws a thin line between an ultra-liberal and utra-conservative?  Does that mean everyone is ultimately a conservative? These questions cannot be ignored. This is perhaps why several thinkers have tried to locate cancel culture into  the  framework social justice. Cancel culture coverts  section of its people or a person that its targets guilty unless proven innocent and uses cultural as well internet platforms to cancel them or him/her.  This is why we may have to carefully examine cancel culture in all its forms.  In a very deep seem sense, cancel culture is cancelling humanity from of us. The anonymity on the internet gives us freedom to abuse others. Even when we come openly to cancel  others on the internet, the absence of these others who are being cancelled offers space that has no respect for public decency as well as inter-subjective morality. In several ways we have become heartless on the internet. This is why we  have to accept that all forms of  cancel culture cancels our very own humanity. 

In an era of post-truth and fake news, cancel culture has evolved as a powerful tool in the hands of the powers that be to silence dissent, opponents and activists who are against the interest of the powerful. Often the voices of the innocent journalists, public intellectuals as well as scientists are muzzled by the power elite.    This is why we have to find emancipative ways to respond to this culture of phobia. Cancel culture is a life that lives by our phobias.  Such a culture is detrimental to democracy. It crushes the people/ demos out of our democracies.  We are all rendered passive as we begin to enjoy the online mobs that become our substitutes as we elusively think that they are fighting our battles.  We seem to have embraced what salvoj Zizek calls interpassivity. Interpassivity is a condition where we enjoy a soap on the television screens  which both entertains as well as do the laughing for us.  In the same way , we are lured by the online mobs and think that they are doing the fighting for us. In a democracy, we cannot allow substitutes to stand for our interest. This has been the biggest failure of representative democracy. The internet mobs therefore are cancelling our democratic instincts. In fact, the cancel culture is cancelling our Democracy.  This condition renders us powerless against our own oppression.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao