What’s Wrong with “Cancel Culture,” Again? “A Case Study”

“Case study” is a bit grand for what follows, but this post was originally a comment I wrote a few days ago on an article in The New York Times. It was buried in the comments of the discussion about Kevin Vallier’s views on cancel culture, but I thought I’d pluck it out and post it here for better visibility. I’ve re-written the comment a bit, partly for clarity and partly for explicitness.

I guess my questions for critics of cancellation/cancel culture are these:

  • Is Thompson’s action objectionable? If so, how?
  • Is Thompson’s action a cancellation? If not, why not?

As far as I’m concerned, Thompson’s action is unobjectionable. I don’t like the term “cancellation,” but if we stipulate that we must use it, I feel no compunction (given the imprecision of the concept) in using it here. Since things like Thompson’s quit happen all the time, I regard such “cancellations” as entirely justified. I don’t know if this story is representative of what anti-cancellation types regard as a real cancellation, but part of the problem is that they haven’t explained themselves very well on that score. And considering the ridiculous-idiosyncratic-obscure origins of the concept, I would say that they owe us some precision before warning us against the supposed activity to which it refers. Continue reading

Lauren Hall on Adele, Local Norms, and…Cancel Culture

Cancel culture is all the rage now, so for once in my life, I’m going to be fashionable and follow suit (so to speak) by blogging the living crap out of it. Lauren Hall has a blog post at Radical Classical Liberals on the recent controversy about Adele and cultural appropriation. The post alludes to cancel culture, so what better opportunity to reiterate my objections to that concept and the discourse that surrounds it? Continue reading

Kevin Vallier on “Cancel Culture”

Kevin Vallier has an interesting blog post on cancel culture at his blog, Reconciled. Check out the post and the blog itself if you haven’t.

Vallier’s argument is nicely structured, but isn’t, in my view, sound. The first part goes something like this:

  1. For any X, if we cancel X, we (must) reliably know that X deserves it.
  2. But we don’t reliably know that any (given) X deserves it.
  3. Hence we should not cancel.

That argument is a little too neat to capture what Vallier really has in mind, but I think it gets the basic point across. Claim (3) is stronger than what Vallier intends: his point is not that we should never cancel, but that we should rarely cancel. So throw out (3) and replace it with this latter, weaker claim (3*), i.e., “we should rarely cancel.” Continue reading

Looting, Burning, and Blathering

Jason Brennan, prefacing a blog post on looting:

Before I get going, I’d like to remind you that I was writing about police violence and systematic injustice against blacks (and others) in the criminal justice system years ago, before it was cool and on your mind. So when you see me talking about protestors’ excesses, it’s not because I think that’s the most important issue, but because it’s what I find philosophically interesting now.

“Before it was cool and on your mind.” WTF. Whose mind? Continue reading

The Incredible Husk

A masochist, as we all know, is a person who gets perverse satisfaction out of the infliction on himself of what he regards as painful. A literary masochist is one whose pain fetish attaches to published pieces of writing. In general, literary masochism manifests itself as the compulsive desire to read and re-read books that one hates, or loves to hate, simply in order to have the perverse pleasure of doing so: some books are so bad that they hurt so good. Continue reading

Pompeo and Circumstance

This morning, I made my third attempt at watching the RNC proceedings. My first was a minute-long foray into Kimberly Guilfoyle’s speech, which ended when I found it impossible to listen to a speech that described Puerto Ricans as immigrants. My second was an attempt to listen to Donald Trump, Jr., aborted about 30 seconds in, after he described a bunch of hapless virus-carrying bats as members of the Chinese Communist Party. This morning, I managed to make it all the way through Mike Pompeo’s speech from Jerusalem–a bittersweet event for me, because as an “ordinary citizen,” like Mike, I too had planned to go to Jerusalem this summer, but couldn’t, when I was mysteriously “struck” by unemployment in the best economy (with the best employment rate) the world has ever seen. Continue reading

South of Heavena

I decided this morning, from the motive of civic duty, to watch a bit of the RNC from last night. I got as far as Kimberly Guilfoyle’s describing her mother as a Puerto Rican immigrant, and I’m like, “OK, that’s enough. ” I’m pretty sure that civic duties are imperfect.

“An unforeseen future nestled somewhere in time.” If only we weren’t heading into it.

At-Will Employment Redux

Back on July 25th, I took issue with Jason Brennan’s claim that

…in general, in legal contracts, even when there is language to the contrary, parties do not acquire the right to unilaterally revise the conditions.

This claim, I argued, is close to the reverse of the truth. Most employment in the US is employment-at-will. In at-will employment arrangements, employers unquestionably do have the right (both de facto and de jure) “to unilaterally revise the conditions” of employment. They often conceal this by having their employees sign what look like (and are called) “contracts.” But the “contract” in question will typically contain language to the effect that the employment arrangement is at-will, implying that the terms are revisable at will.* Continue reading