Political Viewpoint

Cancel Culture is a Corporate Monster

Cancel culture is a monster of censorship and extreme punishment. We must tame this monster, before the monster tames us.

Cancel culture is a corporate monster that we need put in a cage. As a free country, America was never meant to have repressive political powers exercised by corporations. The threat to fire employees and end careers has a chilling effect on free expression. The menace is growing in at least two ways. First, the level of employees to be fired gets extended from the CEO and top officers to all employees throughout the organization. Second, the sphere of activities that can lead to dismissal gets extended from on-the-job activities for the company to off-the-job activities in the private life of the employee. The monster grows larger, rears its ugly head, and steps on us more often. We will return later to this menacing monster, after a very brief review of the history of corporate power in America.

When the Founders of the United States created the original Constitution and Bill of Rights, the Founders were suspicious of powerful institutions and placed restraints on their power. But corporations did not yet exist, so they would face no restraints. During the 1800s, the industrial revolution created large corporations, which began manipulating government policy through bribery and corruption. But over time these manipulations were limited by regulations. Throughout American history, the big corporations would use lobbyists to influence government, but the influence was limited to matters that directly affected the corporation. Until recent times, for the most part, powerful corporations did not fire employees for their sociopolitical views. During the 1950s, communists and atheists felt threatened by their employers, but that threat subsided by the late 1960s.

During the past twenty years, especially the past ten years, corporations have increasingly fired employees, or canceled business arrangements, in retaliation for perceived sociopolitical values expressed by individuals. In most cases these perceived values have related to identity politics. This author understands that various groups, such as persons of color, women, and gay people, are rightfully upset over past discrimination. With a view that systemic discrimination is still widespread, many liberals favor cancel culture to stamp out discriminatory views. But the rightfulness of the liberal cause cannot justify the unholy use of corporate power to silence dissent throughout our society. This cancel culture is thought control by means of extreme punishment. In the 1960s liberals favored freedom, free expression, nonconformity, and tolerance. Today liberals seem to favor censorship, though control, and punishment for nonconforming ideas. This change in liberals reminds of the change in the Puritans of the 1600s. The Puritans originally pursued freedom and tolerance, but later became intolerant and demanded strict religious conformity. History judges the Puritans as being right in their early years and then losing their way. In order to be judged favorably by future historians, liberals will need to tame the monster of cancel culture.

Let us look at several stories of people who were stepped on by the monster of cancel culture. The first story is that of a software engineer employed by one of the largest, most powerful, technology companies in the world in 2017. At that time this company was thought to be very enlightened and tolerant of views that any employee might express on anything happening at the company. So the software engineer posted a long memo, which was broadly visible within the company, about gender issues in software engineering. He said that males and females are different. He also commented on ways that the company should or should not help the advancement of female software engineers. As the memo gained attention and controversy inside and outside of the company, feminists criticized the memo as being sexist. Meanwhile, the monster reared its ugly head and stood watching and waiting for a juicy kill in this high profile case. Finally, the company CEO made the firing decision and the monster stepped on the software engineer.

In another monstrous story, the fire-breathing dragon was lying in wait in Central Park in New York City in the year 2020. In the park a white woman and a black man were having a dispute because the woman was walking her dog without a leash. The woman and man agreed that she should call 911 to help resolve the situation. So the woman called 911 and told the operator that there was an “African-American man” in the park. She said the man was threatening her and her dog. When the 911 call became public, the fire-breathing dragon began to snort and breath heavily. Most people thought the woman meant that the man in the park was dangerous because he was black. She later claimed she had felt threatened because the man had said “Look, if you’re going to do what you want, I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it”, upon which the man started offering dog treats and making her fear her dog could be poisoned. But in the rapid news cycle of cancel culture, judgment is swift. The dragon had found its prey. Her employer was a big-money financial firm in New York City. They quickly fired her. That must have pleased the firm’s clients. Several years later, the woman told her side of the story in a Newsweek article dated Nov. 7, 2023, with title “I Was Branded the ‘Central Park Karen’. I Still Live in Hiding”. According to her, she never meant any racial implications to her words in the 911 call. She says that over three years after the incident, she still receives nasty messages, is scared to be in public, and cannot get a job that meets her qualifications. The poor woman was incinerated by the fire-breathing dragon.

In a recent development, the monster may be starting to threaten its creators. Toward the end of 2023, on some college campuses, some pro-Palestinian students were protesting the Israeli counterattack against Hamas. The protesters became accused of advocating genocide of Israeli Jews. Some college presidents came under pressure to condemn or take action against the student protesters. Some high profile billionaires threatened to withhold donations to the colleges, while calling for the college presidents to resign. At least one college president did resign under pressure. In some ways this episode of cancel culture may be less egregious than others. The college presidents are at the top of their organizations, rather than rank and file members. Moreover, the job of the college presidents includes a responsibility to comment on campus activities. So the college presidents were not pressured or fired over an off-the-job private activity. Nevertheless, the billionaires were using the power of their money in a way that might silence free expression. So to some extent, this is another attack by the monster.

But this last episode has an ironic twist. The college presidents and student protesters are liberals. The monster of cancel culture was originally created by liberals, but now the monster has attacked liberals! The monster cannot be controlled. A precedent is set when racists, sexists, and homophobes come under attack by the methods of cancel culture. The same methods can be used against abortion rights supporters, anti-war protesters, or anybody with a controversial opinion. American politics has always been cyclical. In the future, different regimes and viewpoints will dominate the use of corporate power. Liberals need to put this monster in a cage for their sake and everyone’s sake. Liberals have always been the most able to produce change. They can do this.

Meanwhile, the big, ugly, menacing monster just sits there watching us, waiting for someone to speak their mind, so that they can be banished to a labor camp in Siberia. OK, Americans are not really sent to a labor camp. But when you lose your career with no hope to regain a decent job, then you feel your life to be just as finished as in a labor camp. We must tame the monster, before the monster tames us.