Is Cancel Culture Silencing Open Debate?
There are risks to shutting down opinions we disagree with.
Hugh Breakey, President, Australian Association for Professional & Applied Ethics, Senior Research Fellow, Moral philosophy, Institute for Ethics, Governance & Law, Law Futures Centre, Griffith University says “Seeing mistaken views as intolerable speech carries genuine ethical costs.”
In the wake of an open letter signed by 150 high-profile authors, commentators and scholars claiming that “open debate and toleration of differences” are under attack, Breakey considers the ethical concerns around derailing of debates and silencing of opinions.
Signatories to the letter included JK Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Gloria Steinem and Noam Chomsky. While prefacing their comments with support for current racial and social justice movements, the signatories argue there has been a weakening of the norms of open debate in favour of dogma, coercion and ideological conformity. They perceive
an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Harper’s letter has received spirited critique. Some commentators noted past cases where the signatories had themselves been censorious. Others argued that any perceived threat was overblown.
Yet, it is nevertheless worth considering whether important ethical outcomes are threatened in a culture of outrage, de-platforming and cancelling.
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