Cancel Culture’s War on History, Heritage and the Freedom to Think for Yourself
There will come a time in the not-so-distant future when the very act of thinking for ourselves is not just outlawed but unthinkable.
We are being shunted down the road to that dystopian future right now, propelled along by politically correct forces that, while they may have started out with the best of intentions, have fallen prey to the authoritarian siren song of the Nanny State, which has promised to save the populace from evils that only a select few are wise enough to recognize as such.
As a result, we are being infantilized ad nauseum, dictated to incessantly, and forcefully insulated from “dangerous” sights and sounds and ideas that we are supposedly too fragile, too vulnerable, too susceptible, or too ignorant to be exposed to without protection from the so-called elite.
Having concluded that “we the people” cannot be trusted to think for ourselves, the powers-that-be have taken it upon themselves to re-order our world into one in which they do the thinking for us, and all we have to do is fall is line.
Those who do not fall in line with this government-sanctioned group think—who resist, who dare to think for themselves, who dare to adopt views that are different, or possibly wrong or hateful—are branded as extremists, belligerents, and deplorables, and shunned, censored and silenced.
The fallout is as one would expect.
Cancel culture—political correctness amped up on steroids, the self-righteousness of a narcissistic age, and a mass-marketed pseudo-morality that is little more than fascism disguised as tolerance—has shifted us into an Age of Intolerance, policed by techno-censors, social media bullies, and government watchdogs.
Everything is now fair game for censorship if it can be construed as hateful, hurtful, bigoted or offensive provided that it runs counter to the established viewpoint.
In this way, the most controversial issues of our day—race, religion, sex, sexuality, politics, science, health, government corruption, police brutality, etc.—have become battlegrounds for those who claim to believe in freedom (of religion, speech, assembly, press, redress, privacy, bodily integrity, etc.) but only when it favors the views and positions they support.
The latest victim of this rigid re-ordering of the world into one in which vestiges of past mistakes are scrubbed from existence comes from the New York Department of Education, which has ordered schools to stop using Native American references in mascots, team names and logos by the end of the current school year or face penalties including a loss of state aid.
This drive to sanitize New York schools of “offensive” Native American logos and imagery comes on the heels of iconoclastic campaigns to rid the country of anything and anyone that may offend modern-day sensibilities.
These are not new tactics.
Since the days of the Byzantine Empire, when “Emperor Leo III ordered the destruction of all Christian images on the grounds that they represented idolatry and were heretical,” political movements have resorted to destroying monuments, statues and imagery of the day as a visual means of exerting their power and vanquishing their enemies.
We have been caught in this intolerant, self-righteous, destructive, mob-driven cycle of book-burning, statue-toppling, history-erasing iconoclasm ever since.
In such a world, there can be no debate, no journey to understanding, no chance to learn from one’s mistakes or even make mistakes that are uniquely your own; there is only obedience and compliance to the government, its corporate overlords and the prevailing mob mindset.
Censorship, cancel culture, political correctness, woke-ism, hate speech, intolerance: whatever label you assign to this overzealous drive to sanitize the culture of anything that might be deemed offensive or disturbing or challenging, be assured they are sign posts on a one-way road to graver dangers marked by “suppression, persecution, expulsion and the massacring of people.”
Whether those smashing monuments and erasing history are doing so for noble purposes or more diabolical reasons, the end results are the same: criminalization, confiscation, imprisonment, exile and genocide.
What’s different about this present age, however, is the use of technology to censor, silence, delete, label as “hateful,” demonize and destroy those whose viewpoints run counter to the cultural elite.
Where this leads is the stuff of dystopian nightmares: societies that value conformity and group-think over individuality; a populace so adept at self-censorship and compliance that they are capable only of obeying the government’s dictates without the ability to parse out whether those dictates should be obeyed; and a language limited to government-speak.
This is what happens when the voices of the majority are allowed to eliminate those in the minority, and it is exactly why James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights, fought for a First Amendment that protected the “minority” against the majority, ensuring that even in the face of overwhelming pressure, a minority of one—even one who espouses distasteful viewpoints—would still have the right to speak freely, pray freely, assemble freely, challenge the government freely, and broadcast his views in the press freely.
Freedom for those in the unpopular minority constitutes the ultimate tolerance in a free society.
The alternative, as depicted in Ayn Rand’s novella Anthem, is a world in which individuality and the ability to think for oneself independent of the government and the populace are eradicated, where even the word “I” has been eliminated from the vocabulary, replaced by the collective “we.”
As Anthem’s narrator Equality 7-2521 explains, “It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them down upon a paper no others are to see. . . . And well we know that there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone.”
As I make clear in Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, we are not merely losing the ability to think critically for ourselves and, in turn, to govern our inner and outer worlds, we are also in danger of losing the right to do so.
The government’s war on thought crimes and truth-tellers is just the beginning.
About John W. Whitehead
Constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People and A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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