Cancel culture is primarily a project of the political left. It is an ongoing attempt to forcibly impose ideas onto those who do not share woke leftist views or values. The essay “Policing the Creative Imagination” from Panics and Persecutions (2020) explains how and why they try to cancel writers of fiction literature. The publishing industry is so terrified of cancel culture that they are now hiring “sensitivity readers” – people who are assigned to read a yet to be published work of fiction to determine whether or not offense is likely to be caused by the author’s portrayal of characters considered marginalized or historically oppressed.
This is clearly censorship even though the cancellers claim it’s merely a form of fact checking. But it’s not analogous to hiring experts to check scientific or historical facts because it’s moral – someone’s view of right and wrong is used to censor fictional characters. There is a critical distinction between fact and value – what is vs. what ought to be. This is what makes the idea of sensitivity readers so insidious. Someone chosen by leftist ideologues is given power to evaluate social norms and ideas that are highly contentious and change over time.
These are profoundly important questions about individuals and society, how different groups should live together, how we understand our identities and histories. Questions about humanity and morality have been around for thousands of years. These crucial questions are precisely the ones we expect literature to explore. And it cannot perform this vital mission if it is first filtered through sensitivity readers who believe they already have all the answers – not because of what they know, but because of who they happen to be.
We’ll finish our cancel culture probe next week and then embark on a philosophically more capacious, more controversial notion that I’ve touched on here before – meritocracy. Newly published material merits a more thorough War Chest exploration of why it’s fair for my clients to have an estate to plan.