Wilkinson Publishing, 2021.
This new volume on cancerous cancel culture is essential reading:
Just as I started writing this review, I happened upon a news item about enraged parents who discovered that their boys at a Melbourne secondary school had been labelled as “oppressors” for being, male, white and Christian. Their crime was simply to exist and to fall afoul of the leftist lynch mob. As Rowan Atkinson recently said:
The problem we have online is that an algorithm decides what we want to see, which ends up creating a simplistic, binary view of society. It becomes a case of either you’re with us or against us. And if you’re against us, you deserve to be ‘cancelled.’ It’s important that we’re exposed to a wide spectrum of opinion, but what we have now is the digital equivalent of the medieval mob roaming the streets looking for someone to burn. So it is scary for anyone who’s a victim of that mob and it fills me with fear about the future.
But it is not just ‘Mr Bean’ who is quite concerned about this issue – numerous voices are now speaking out about this, and a number of books from overseas have appeared on the topic, including the 2020 volume by Alan Dershowitz, Cancel Culture, and the soon to be released Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds by Michael Knowles.
But this is the first Australian volume looking at the topic, featuring a dozen contributors, brought together by the able editorship of Kevin Donnelly. They alert us to the pernicious nature of CC, and how the militant left has declared war on free speech and the freedom to think differently from what is allowed by the official narrative.
All the essays are of real value, but let me focus on just a few of them. Gary Marks traces the long march through the institutions. Discussed are all the usual suspects involved in CC: Marxism, Cultural Marxism, the Frankfurt School, critical theory, postmodernism, etc. And the names are familiar enough for those involved in the culture wars: Gramsci, Marcuse, Habermas and others.
And all their agitation and activism has paid off. Writes Marks: “Since the 1970s critiques of Western society have been so unrelenting and persuasive that sizable proportions of Western citizens indicate they support socialism which is naively understood as simply about social justice and equality, disregarding the economic and political disasters of socialist states over the last century.”
Early on in the volume the editor speaks to his area of expertise, the corruption and politicisation of education. Donnelly says this: “One of the primary ways the cultural left has been able to impose its politically correct ideology on Western societies, including Australia, is by taking control of schools and influencing what is taught, how students are assessed and how teachers and students interact in the classroom.”
As he has done in earlier books on this topic, he documents in depressing detail the many examples of this occurring, and the destructive impact it is having on our children. He names plenty of names and says of them that the “purpose of education is to radically reshape society and establish the left’s utopia by indoctrinating students with politically correct ideology and group think.”
Jennifer Oriel also speaks to this, focusing on the universities and just how far CC has gone in its stranglehold there. She highlights the profound differences between what universities are meant to be and have been with what most of them have become in the West today.
Learning is out, indoctrination is in. Free inquiry is replaced by rigid group think. Cancelling ‘bad thought’ and enforcing ‘good thought’ is now the name of the game: “Cancel culture is a symbol of cultural impotence. It is the answer of the sterile mind to the flourishing of fertile thought. Those who cannot create, destroy.”
She laments this sad state of affairs by citing various examples, and notes how those who still value and pursue truth on campus must do so with great moral courage. Cancellation is always just around the corner. She writes:
The sustained attack on the fundamental Western values of freedom of thought, speech and public reason is an obstacle to human progress. A civilisation advances as citizens are set free to explore great questions and test certainties in science, medicine and the humanities. When the truth is not set free, human progress grinds to a halt. It is part of the reason why totalitarian regimes fail to produce creative genius and perform better at tweaking the inventions they so often steal from free world countries.
Tony Abbott assesses CC in light of the Covid-19 crisis. He looks at how different states reacted to this, and stresses the need to keep public safety in sync with maximal freedom. He states:
Although conservatism is pragmatic, it’s still a pragmatism based on values. Even for public safety, centre-right governments are reluctant regulators and cautious spenders. What’s important now if conservatism is not to suffer a serious loss of morale and crisis of conviction, is to wind all this back as quickly as possible and to try to ensure that the response to the next pandemic is a more sustainable balance between suppressing the disease and suppressing normal life.
Law and religion are the topics addressed by John Steenhof. He looks at various cases that have made the headlines in Australia of late, including sports star Israel Folau, Tasmanian Archbishop Julian Porteous, Christian medical doctor Jereth Kok, and various “conversion therapy” laws. All these cases have to do with a crackdown on religious freedom. Says Steenhof:
“Freedom of religion is particularly vulnerable to cancel culture that uses lawfare – the process of attempting to coerce or punish a person’s actions through litigation. While religious freedom is widely recognised in international law, it has little express protection in Australian law.”
The direct threat of CC on religious thought, conviction and expression is a very real problem indeed. The end result of all this is “a society of mandated opinions, excoriated religion and tepid groupthink.” A culture such as this cannot last long unless there is a resolute pushback by a concerned citizenry.
Stephen Chavura’s concluding chapter looks at the way forward. He reminds us that the only speech now tolerated “is that which conforms to a leftist social agenda.” The stifling of free speech and the cancellation of alternate points of view is the bitter fruit of many decades of leftist militancy.
He also looks at various examples of this, and then says:
At the end of the day cancel culture thrives on timidity. Even though people in general are not as passionate about free speech as we might hope, the claims of cancel culture regarding others’ rights to speak freely and not have their livelihood and reputations destroyed by virtual mobs are almost certainly not as widely shared in society as they would like to think.
He urges us to take a stand against this creeping social poison. Peta Credlin concurs. As she says in her foreword to this important collection of essays: “To me, one of the most disappointing features of our public life is the reluctance of people who know better to state what’s obvious.”
Yes quite so. Those who should be speaking out against all this are not, for various reasons. But it is imperative that they do. As Peta says, “This is a war that needs to be fought. If Australia is to flourish, all of us must be confident that, on balance, we can be proud of our country’s history and institutions.”
Donnelly and CO are to be warmly commended for creating this much-needed volume. Indeed, such is the severity of the crisis that we now face that we can even ask how long will it be before a book such as this is also included in the Great Cancellation.
Time will tell. But until it is added to the list of verboten works, you should grab a copy now. It is a must read.