This past week was one of the Cancel Culture’s busiest and most productive to date. It began with country superstar Morgan Wallen getting suspended by his record label, pulled from hundreds of radio stations, and disqualified from receiving country music awards after he was caught saying the “n-word.” It ended with Donald McNeil Jr., famed science reporter and veteran journalist of 45 years, being forced out of his job at the New York Times after a revelation that he had used similar “racist language.” In between, old accusations of inappropriate behavior by another New York Times staff member, Andy Mills, prompted him to resign in disgrace.
In Mills’ case, he had apparently engaged in some inappropriate flirting with women at a previous job several years ago. This was all known and dealt with at the time. But after it was decided by some people on Twitter, and some of his colleagues, that Mills hadn’t received his fair portion of the blame for a separate incident in which the Times had to retract key portions of a hit podcast he’d helped produce, these other unrelated allegations were made to, as they say, “resurface.” As for Morgan Wallen, he did say the “n-word,” but it was uttered drunkenly, in jest, to a friend, and secretly recorded by a neighbor who then sent the tape to TMZ. Donald McNeil used the same word, though it turns out that he said it one time, two years prior, while on a trip with students to South America. And he didn’t so much as “use” the slur as refer to it. He explained in his resignation letter that he was asked by a student “whether I thought a classmate of hers should have been suspended for a video she had made as a 12-year-old in which she used a racial slur. To understand what was in the video, I asked if she had called someone else the slur or whether she was rapping or quoting a book title. In asking the question, I used the slur itself.”
This incident was investigated internally by McNeil’s employer right after it happened and it was determined that he had no malicious or racist intent. But once it was made public, two years after the fact, the Times brass quickly lost their nerve. Adding to the pressure from the social media mob were 150 Times staffers who sent a letter to their leadership professing to be “outraged and in pain” because someone had referred to a racial slur years ago. They demanded his removal and quickly got what they wanted. Executive Editor Dean Baquet, who initially defended McNeil but collapsed like a folding chair the moment real pressure was applied, wrote a memo to his colleagues on Friday announcing McNeil’s departure and stating that the company does not “tolerate racist language regardless of intent.” This is the common thread between both Wallen and McNeil’s cancelations: the insane, unjust, wholly indefensible notion that intent doesn’t matter in human communication. All that matters to the Cancel Culture — and to the quaking, gutless jellyfish who cater to it — is how a word or action makes someone feel.
I should rephrase. It is not that feeling matters more than intent. That would assume that those 150 staff members who said they were “in pain” because of a word Donald McNeil said two years ago were being sincere. But that is almost certainly not the case. One of the hallmarks of the Cancel Culture, what makes it distinct and modern, is that the angry pitchfork mob is rarely angry. They ruin lives, reputations, and careers as a matter of course, more indifferent to their victims than angry at them. They are motivated by cruelty, callousness, and ideological conviction, and empowered by the institutions that run our society.
That is the other thing about the Cancel Culture that must be understood: it is inherently a left wing phenomenon. You cannot really cancel anyone — that is, turn them into social and professional pariahs — unless you control the institutions and the culture itself. The Right may complain (and justifiably so) about Nick Cannon calling white people animals and savages, but the reason he got his job back after a brief hiatus is that the institutions don’t really care what conservatives think or how they feel. The institutions do care very much about what leftists think and feel, or pretend to feel, and this is a fact that the leftist mob is well aware of, and eager to use to its own advantage. That is how Cancel Culture works, and what it looks like. It is cruel, callous, vengeful, emotional only in a performative sense, and intensely ideological.
What Cancel Culture is not — what it is the opposite of, by definition — is forgiving and merciful. And that is precisely why the groveling public apologies from its victims are always so impotent, as they were in these most recent examples. Morgan Wallen sent a statement to TMZ saying that he was “embarrassed and sorry” and apologizing and promising to “do better.” McNeil published his own statement conceding that he originally thought he could defend the use of the word based on context but now realizes that he cannot. He now sees how “deeply offensive and hurtful” his language was, and he is “sorry” to his colleagues and regrets “letting them down.”
But what McNeil should have said, and might as well have said, is the truth. As an adult, a professional, and a human with a rational brain, he knew in the past and still knows that context matters when it comes to language or anything else. He also knows that his colleagues who lined up to stab him in the back and feed him to the wolves after nearly 5 decades in the business are not deserving of an apology. They are the ones who should apologize to him for their wretched and manipulative behavior.
For Wallen, the neighbor who filmed him was obviously not so traumatized as to prevent him from immediately sending the video to TMZ. And the social media mob, if you read what they have been saying, don’t appear to be upset or injured at all. Their attitude is more of the “Ha! We got another one!” variety. So who is he apologizing to, exactly? You will notice that ever since the advent of the Cancel Culture there has never been one apology accepted, never one example of reconciliation and forgiveness. That is because the apology doesn’t matter. The mob does not listen to and consider it. They simply claim it as a trophy, a scalp to nail to their walls.
The apology is coerced under public pressure, delivered to parties not injured by the offense — if there even was an offense to begin with — and gloated over, or else snidely disregarded, by the people who demanded it. I cannot say what will end Cancel Culture, or if anything ever will, but what I do know is that it certainly will never end as long as its victims keep playing their part in this charade, lying down and offering themselves as carcasses for the vultures to pick apart.
I believe in apologizing in the correct context; when you have done or said something to actually hurt another person, and the apology is given sincerely and voluntarily to the injured party. But the ritualistic public apology has to stop. Even if you were wrong for whatever you did or said to provoke the mob, still you must not apologize to them. You should be as indifferent to the mob’s fraudulent displays of offendedness as they are to your whole life and reputation and career. The only way this ends, if it ever does, is if the targets of the cancel mob stand up for themselves, display the righteous indignation they certainly feel, and absolutely refuse to play the game.
In the movie “The Crucible,” after John Proctor declines to sign a false confession admitting to witchcraft, thereby ensuring his own execution, he kisses his wife and says to her, just before they haul him away to be hanged, “Give them no tears. Show them a stony heart and sink them with it.” Targets of modern witch hunts would do well to take this advice. Show them no tears. Don’t pretend to care about the emotional wellbeing of sociopaths who want to destroy you for fun. Many people in your life may deserve apologies for many things. But not the mob. Never them. Stop apologizing.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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