Is it over yet? Have we finally reached peak (or valley) cancellation?
I doubt it, unfortunately. But I wish it was, and we had. For the recent mobbing of Mumford & Sons banjoist and lead guitarist Winston Marshall following his Twitter endorsement of Andy Ngo’s new book “Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy” put a particularly harsh chill in the air.
Wrote Marshall on Twitter, in Ngo’s direction, “Finally had the time to read your important book. You’re a brave man.”
Right on cue, the mob came marching. The outrage boiled. Marshall got called out, skewered, and lambasted for wrongthink. Then, with equally disturbing automation, the gears of the cancellation machine humming uglily, Marshall deleted the offending tweet and issued a cowed apology:
“Over the past few days, I have come to better understand the pain caused by the book I endorsed. I have offended not only a lot of people I don’t know but also those closest to me, including my bandmates and for that, I am truly sorry.”
Marshall then stepped away from the band which he’d helped create.
Ironically, meanwhile, Ngo’s book remains in print! At press time, it has 1,541 reviews on Amazon, 91% of which are 5-star raves. It’s ranked #45 in Books, #1 in Censorship & Politics, #1 in Radical Political Thought, and #1 in Local U.S. Politics.
What are we to do with all these buyers and reviewers? Has the woke mob put aside the time in its schedule to cancel each and every one of them? Or — I shudder to imagine it! — has the mob’s cancellation of Winston Marshall simply made Ngo’s book more notorious and popular while destroying one curious man’s life?
Here are the answers to the above 3 questions: Nothing. No. And yes.
I even bought a copy myself.
I can’t wait to read it. Maybe I’ll like it. Maybe I’ll hate it. Maybe I’ll agree with it. Maybe I’ll dismiss it. Maybe I’ll embrace it at first then dismiss it later. Maybe I’ll like some parts of it and be less sure about others. No matter what happens, I’ll be firm in my conviction that my openness to an alternative point-of-view is a stronger intellectual feature than some hysterical reversion to shutting down thought and dialogue. The former trait is intelligence. The latter’s ignorance. The former’s democracy. The latter is tyranny.
Winston Marshall is 33 years old. He’s been playing guitar since age 13. He skipped out on university to instead pursue music. Among his many achievements, he contributed his distinctive musical talents to Mumford & Sons’ famous song “Little Lion Man,” which is widely taken to be about the gap between fake bravery (“little”) and real bravery (“lion”). The lyrics read in part as follows:
Weep for yourself, my man
You’ll never be what is in your heart
Weep, little lion man
You’re not as brave as you were at the start
Rate yourself and rake yourself
Take all the courage you have left
And waste it on fixing all the problems
That you made in your own head
Speaking of making problems in your own head, that seems to be something Marshall’s cancellers can relate to. We exist, theoretically, in a free society: Ngo’s book is for sale. Marshall is allowed to buy it, like it, and even praise it. Those who deny the existence of cancel culture insist that it is truly nothing new, as consequences and the need for accountability have always followed people’s words and actions. And that actually happens to be true, but then again the part about cancel culture not existing is sheer nonsense. The human animal presently has the technology, in the form of social media, to pile on individuals, groups, and institutions — depriving them of the social approval all human beings crave as of and even before their births ‘til said individuals/groups/institutions break — complete with an expedience, a thoughtlessness, and a lack of oversight that constitute the perfect recipe for evil.
Social media companies should seek to ban this behavior. Most people are terrified of being canceled. By extension, that means most people sympathize with the canceled, but are too scared to speak up (note: writing op-eds like this one is intimidating). Just as bullying and harassment are banned and reportable in their commonly perceivable, more acutely interpersonal forms, mobbing and shaming individuals should be tightly defined and subject to banning, as well. Then let’s see how bold the would-be cancellers are. Will they still stand up for their heartfelt beliefs, or will we hear them begin to weep like little lions?