Socially Thinking: The perils of censoring what we don’t agree with

Cancel culture.

There is a phrase I am sick of hearing. Like if I hear it one more time, I’ll vomit.

The thing is, there has always been a type of cancel culture. People have always tried to bury books, phrases, movies, and even people they didn’t agree with.

What’s different in 2021 is the mainstream acceptance of such practices.

Almost every day I read a story about this person or that person calling for the “cancelation” of not only ideas, or books, or movies, or TV shows, but of people.

It’s hard not to want to remove a person from society when you believe that person is saying something that can harm people, but it’s not our decision to remove a person. That’s up to God and sadly there are a lot of comments on the internet about permanently removing people from the world who we don’t agree with. One step down from homicide (which luckily isn’t the norm, yet), is the call for silencing opinions or thoughts that differ from our own.

Most of us can agree that murdering a person who disagrees with you is morally unacceptable, but more and more people are developing the belief that silencing thought, such as those presented in the form of the written or spoken word, is morally acceptable. That doesn’t sit well with me.

What bothers me more than calling for books or shows to be canceled, or even people to be canceled, is the call for history to be canceled.

There is a lot of history most of us would prefer not to remember: slavery (in all countries, but for Americans, slavery in our nation), the Holocaust, the atom bomb, the Trail of Tears, and the treatment of the Indian and South African people by various nations, to name a few.

I don’t like a big part of our history but if we don’t remember it, we will repeat it.

If we had pretended the Holocaust had never happened, isn’t it possible that another group of people would have perpetuated the same hatred all over again? Those who want to stop it also wouldn’t have any past reference on how to fight against it, or the signs to watch out for.

And slavery. My gosh. If we pretend that never happened, won’t we then have to pretend we learned nothing from it — like how it is abhorrent of humans to act like we have the right to enslave another person, or an entire group of people, based on our prejudice against them?

Statues are being torn down, books are being banned, voices are being silenced, and sometimes history books are even being rewritten. Offensive language is being eradicated from classic books because “words offend people.”

Yes. Words offend people. That’s life. People get offended. It happens every day. And most of those people get offended and move on with their lives.

Over the last several years, I’ve made choices for my children to shut off certain voices or take away certain television shows based on what those voices say and shows present. This was a personal choice to protect the minds of my children. Unlike others, I didn’t demand for the voices I objected to to be silenced. I encouraged others to walk away from a streaming service I felt was harmful to our children and others, but I didn’t start a petition or organize a protest to completely shut down the entire service.

I suggested others make up their own minds about the service and while I sometimes glared at people who kept the service despite my warning, self-righteously judging their choice (yes, I freely admit I do this, but it’s usually a brief judging and I quickly get over myself), I didn’t demand they align their beliefs with mine. My reasons are very personal, and I can’t discuss in detail what those reasons are because it would mean revealing secrets that aren’t mine to reveal.

My husband and I simply decided to not give money to a company that goes completely against our values in most of their programming.

My question is why others can’t do the same?

There are a myriad of books out on the market that contain words, scenes, and discussions that I don’t agree with, but I’m not calling for those items to be canceled or banned. It’s hard for me to even write that because there are so many books or movies I want to steer people away from—books and movies that promote wrong ideas, that perpetuate violence against people based on their sex, race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.

The issue with canceling those books or movies, however, is that we then cancel the thoughts of the people who wrote them. While we might not like their thoughts, we need to know the thoughts of the people who wrote them so we can teach our children to stay away from those ideas.

One thing that comes to mind when I think about how so many in society today want to “hide away the bad things of the world” is how we I used to calls at the newspaper I worked at asking us not to publish certain police briefs.

“People don’t need to know about drug deals, overdoses, rapes, child molestation, domestic incidents,” some would say. “It’s depressing. Depressing news just makes us more depressed.”

Depressing news absolutely makes us more depressed, but that doesn’t mean those depressing things aren’t happening simply because we don’t hear or read about them.

If we don’t know these issues are going on, then how do we help the people who are suffering from them? Societal issues will not disappear simply because we don’t talk about them anymore.

A person is welcome to tell others why they won’t buy or read a book, but demanding others not be able to see the material is where we step into the territory of destroying free speech. Again, this is hard for me because, like I mentioned above, there are some really vile, twisted, messed up movies and books out there that I would prefer people didn’t see. I believe some movies, books, or other media cross the line into endangering people, especially if they involve child pornography or encouraging sexual assault of men, women, or children. Then we need to consider some sort of guidelines, maybe even along the lines of removing them from places where they are easily accessible. Freedom of speech really does only go so far in those cases.

The cancel culture (which can be found in both liberal and conservative circles) have gone so far as to have news channels calling for cable networks to take off other news channels, with both news channels pointing at each other and calling each other liars. Neither channel is worried about so-called lies being spread. They want to stomp down “dissenting opinions.”

Let’s be honest, all the mainstream media is full of lies now. Journalists are so lazy they either only get half the story or make up stories to sell papers or make money from views and clicks. By the way, when they only get half the story, they rarely take the time to find out the rest. That would take effort and time away from their tweeting and posting photos of themselves on Instagram in their latest pair of Ray-bans.

In a recent Sunday Bookends blog post I shared I was picking up a book by Andy Ngo (last name pronounced ‘no’) about Antifa, simply because it is being boycotted. Antifa, for those who don’t have time to investigate politics, is the so-called “anti-fascist activist group” burning down cities on the west coast who have actually become the fascists. They prefer to be called anarchists, I believe.

What I didn’t explain in the post is that I don’t know if everything Ngo has written is true, but deciding that should be my decision, your decision, whoever’s decision. It’s up to us to do the further research, to investigate if what we are seeing, and reading is true. I have doubted Andy’s stories, even some of his videos, but then I looked into stories from people who were with Antifa and left before they became more violent, or others who have also researched Antifa, and their observations do align with Ngo’s many times.

I feel that Antifa’s efforts to ban Ngo’s book by protesting outside bookstores is wrong as much as I would feel that someone protesting to ban a negative book on anything is wrong. There have been thousands of books written slamming Jesus, my savior, and while I abhor some of them, I have never sat outside a bookstore and screamed at owners and employees demanding the books to be removed. There have been books written about the state of journalism today that I know are outright lies (like the idea that “journalists” today are objective in any way, shape or form), but let people publish them and let the public decide if what they write is true or not (insider tip: they’re not).

This week I started loading my Christianbook and Amazon cart with books that people are now demanding be removed – books that have the “n” word, or speak poorly of any ethnic community, or refer to homosexuals in what some feel is a derogatory manner. I don’t know if we will get so far that those books will be removed from retailers, hidden away to pretend life is rosy and perfect all the time and no one ever called a black person a derogatory term, but I’m buying them up in case they are.

I want all that language in those books that people say is bad, even though I don’t like them. I want those scenes of black face left in. I want those racial stereotypes left in. I want those sexist remarks or terms left. The creator wrote them, for whatever reason, left them in, portrayed them, and there was a reason for that (maybe because the creator was racist or sexist. I don’t know). I want those works of fiction, of non-fiction, or those movies left intact so I can discuss with my children why those were put in in the first place, why they were wrong or right, the motivation of the author or creator to put them in and what the mindset was at the time they were written or created. I believe every person has the choice to read those books, see those movies, make up their own minds about them, even if I strongly disagree with what is in them. That’s what freedom is about.

Books challenge our thinking. Movies challenge our thinking. That’s what they do and should do.

Language or depictions in them might make us uncomfortable but, hey, guess what, so might anything in life. We can’t remove everything from life that makes us uncomfortable or offends us, so why should we remove it from our art?

Incidentally, books I am picking up right now that many are calling for being banned are Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (which was one book that opened my eyes when I was a child to the horrors of racism and segregation), To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and 1984 by George Orwell. We are currently reading Lord of the Flies, which I know some have called to be banned in the past. (Personally, I am banning The Awakening by Kate Chopin from ever being read in this house because I absolutely hated reading it for my Senior AP English class. No other reason. Just because it was torture for me to read.)

I don’t know why we all can’t just seem to realize we can use the parts of books and movies we don’t agree with to educate our children, and others, that these are not the right words to use or the right way to talk about people, or the right way to treat people. Or we can decide not to read or show these books to our children until we think they are old enough to understand them and put them in context.

Instead, people want to erase the nastiness from the world and pretend it never happened.

We want to pull ourselves into sanitized bubbles but, I’m sorry, that’s just not possible. Once sin entered the world it was here. It is here, and no amount of stomping our feet and plugging our fingers in our ears is going to stop it. The only way to stop it is to educate ourselves about what is out there and then combat it by speaking out in love about what we think is wrong.

That speaking out in love thing? Well, that’s another blog post for another day because that one is sorely needed, but rarely done and, sadly, can be easier said than done.