The Illogic of the Cancel Culture


By Dr. Harold Black

Two movements have characterized the left’s takeover of our schools, politics and media. They are the cancel culture and the muzzle culture. While most of us have heard about the cancel culture fewer of us have paid attention to the muzzle culture where voices not aligned with political correctness are silenced.

The muzzle culture is a greater threat to our freedom because it bans free speech. However, the cancel culture is important as well since it seeks to ignore or rewrite our history. Here certain symbols of the past are removed from public view. Thus statues of historic figures have been desecrated, torn down, tossed into rivers or relegated to museums. Streets, parks and schools have been renamed as well. First it started with Confederate notables. I have no objections to the renaming of military bases. I always thought that those who named the bases had a satiric sense of humor in that the bases were named – with the exception of Robert E. Lee – after perhaps the most incompetent generals in the rebel army. I wouldn’t object to removing all vestiges of Nathan Bedford Forrest who was an odious individual even in his time. Although Bedford Forrest had essentially a deathbed recantation in his Jubilee of Poll Bearers speech, I still would not celebrate his life.

The recent recommendation by the San Francisco school board to remove the names of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington from schools in the city is another example of the cancel culture’s view of the world. George Washington, of course, was a slave owner. That in the view of the cancel culture trumps any other of his other accomplishments. It didn’t matter that his triumph with a rag tail motley army over one of the greatest armies of the day is the stuff of legends. It doesn’t matter that he opted to be a limited term president rather than an autocrat. The only thing that matters is that he owned slaves. In 1774 Washington denounced slavery on moral grounds and called for its gradual abolition. He even emancipated his slaves upon his death. Yet while he lived, he was dependent upon slaves to maintain his standard of living. Lincoln, the school board argued did not do enough to aid blacks and mistreated the Sioux. Certainly it is true that Lincoln likely thought that blacks like Frederick Douglass was an exception and believed that as a whole blacks would not be able to rise to the level of whites. However, Douglass was an exception regardless of color as was Lincoln. Nonetheless, it is not difficult to understand Lincoln’s view given the status of enslaved blacks. And then there is Thomas Jefferson who wrote eloquently about the freedom of all yet owned slaves. Yet Jefferson opposed the spreading of slavery to the western territories when Ohio was being settled by whites. Martin Luther King, Jr., while acknowledging Jefferson’s faults still praised his ideals.

What I have always tried to do is not judge those in the past by the mores of today. If historical figures were evil by the standards of their time, then they should not be canonized today. Examples of such figures are Bedford Forrest and Andrew Jackson. But they should not be ignored either for their accomplishments. Few people in our past or present are saints. Martin Luther King, Jr. was as impactful on our society as most figures in our past. Yet he was deeply flawed. Are we supposed to cancel out Dr King? George Floyd is now considered a martyr by many and some school districts are seriously considering naming schools after him. Yet I wager than none of those school districts can cite one meritorious act by George Floyd. Those school districts apparently think that his killing overcomes his considerable flaws as a human being. It’s Interesting that they do not give the same consideration to the individuals whose names they have stricken from their schools.

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