What the Big Debate About Free Speech and Cancel Culture is Really About

A recent letter in <i>Harper’s</i> has caused some controversy. Most people cite free speech and cancel culture as heart of the matter, but I think that’s not entirely accurate. I read a recent Vox article that, in my view, does a better job of pinpointing the issues of contention, which I’ll go over that in the first comment.

One thought on “What the Big Debate About Free Speech and Cancel Culture is Really About

  1. Here’s what Zack Beauchamp, the author of the article, says,

    The real debate here is not about the principle of free speech, but the much grayer question of how we draw its boundaries. What kinds of speech should be morally out of bounds? What sorts of speakers should be excluded from major platforms? When can giving a platform to one kind of person actually make it harder for other people to speak their minds freely? And what kinds of social sanctions, like public shaming or firing, are justified responses to violations of these social norms?

    Given the intensity and prevalence of the debate, at least among journalists, academics, pundits, and politicians on twitter, my sense is that whatever consensus we had about the answers to these questions have eroded significantly, and the argument involves what these answers should be (and maybe who should answer them?). I’m not sure if I’m stating the obvious here, but I agree with Beauchamp making free speech the central point of contention seems like an unfruitful approach to the debate. It kinda reminds me about people arguing between government and the free market. Very few dispute that both are important. The central point of contention, to oversimplify, involve finding the right balance between the two. Or at least I think this should be the key question.

    Similarly, the current debate isn’t about free speech. Both sides believe in it. The issue has more to do with the public square–or the arena for political discourse. Decisions will be (have to be?) made about which issues and ideas are up for legitimate debate, what ways of expressing and arguing are acceptable; what should be the consequences for violating norms, and who will make these decisions.

    One of the interesting questions to me is why are we having this debate now, and I’ll try to address that in a later post.

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