When it comes to words we are in an age of forever. Writers used to worry about their books/texts going out of print. This is not the case anymore, post something on the internet and it will never go out of print. I’m going to wrap up (for the time being) the current topic of conversation with a few words concerning the internet.
The internet allows most anybody to have a voice, to post his/her thoughts and feelings. Once posted this information is out in the ether of the interwebs not only for now but forever. Unfortunately, this everlasting nature of information on the internet can become problematic. It is an all too common occurrence to read or hear about a post somebody made, sometimes years ago, and calls for that person’s cancelation/unpersoning because of the content of that post. We’ve moved beyond the simple advice of watching what you say. It is as if we expect individuals to be able to gaze into some sort crystal ball and somehow forsee how their posts will be interpreted in the future. I believe that individuals should be held accountable for both words and actions, but that accountability should also be proportional to those words and actions. Reactionary calls for cancelation/unpersoning may stifle voices.
There was a time when writers were worried that their books/texts would go out of print and be lost. Now writers may fear that old posts may be ‘found’ and used as means to call for their cancelation/unpersoning. So do we second guess ourselves, do we self-censor, or do we continue to write from the heart and share our voices with the world?
I’ve embraced many vices over the years, some more detrimental than others. When I was younger (maybe I should say young-age is a weird sliding scale eye of the beholder kind of thing) I smoked no filter Camels. I knew then as well as now that cigarettes in any form are bad, but there were a few reasons why I thought it was better to smoke no filter cigarettes, one being the environment (seriously people police your butts). Those days of no filter smokes got me thinking about a different kind of filter, one of thought and speech. It’s odd to think that we are in a time when you may worry more about filtering what you say than the possibility of cancer from a no filter cigarette.
Have you found yourself filtering what you say when speaking to others? Are you watching your language, wondering if your words will label or offend? Obviously there are things we should not say, and those who do say these things should be treated accordingly (that is the topic for a different time). My concern is not about those words, the ones we know are intentionally hurtful or intended to incite. Most of us don’t worry about filtering that kind of language because those words aren’t in our vocabulary. What I mean is the trend of filtering what we say for fear of offending someone’s feelings. Many people are censoring what they say or avoid certain topics of conversation for fear of being called out, called in, or possibly canceled. When we become more concerned about the context of our conversations than the content of them we are inhibiting honest communication.
Quite a bit of time has passed since my days of smoking no filter Camels. The days of the dangers of no filter cigarettes have given way to days of the dangers of no filtered speech and the question of which is more dangerous. Should we be mindful of what we say, yes. Should we not speak or purposely change our word choice out of fear, no. Yet many people are self censoring and in doing so are not being their true selves. Which is more important, polite conversation or honest communication?
Have you ever been at a table with friends at the local pub or chatting online and they talk over or around you as if you weren’t there? Have you ever had the feeling of being slighted, snubbed, or shunned? I read somewhere (a long time ago so I don’t remember the source) that the smallest minority is one person and that’s why individual rights are so important. Many people seem all to willing to unperson/cancel others these days without considering that individuals have rights (even if it is a right to be a fool), but it’s truly sad when unpsersoning occurs among friends.
Being unpersoned doesn’t have to be a public or political affair. It can happen among friends drinking a few pints at the local pub or on one of the many (so damn many) social media sights that crowd the interwebs. Say the wrong thing, make an improper comment, or have an unpopular opinion and you’ll find yourself exiled to drinking alone or watching a conversation scroll along without you. Once unpersoned those who were friends will slight your comments, snub your views, and possibly shun your presence, and this is often done without a thought to individual rights.
When individuals are quick to turn on friends and willingly unperson/cancel them for comments made or views held it gives one pause to think about how they would treat people they don’t know. Sometimes we should and need to remove a peer from our circle of friends, but before committing somebody to emotional exile maybe we should ask if in doing so are we considering that person’s rights (because we would want the same consideration).
Cancel culture is not new, but as we stumble along into a new decade it’s as if the threat or fear of being canceled or unpersoned (‘unperson’ is one of those wonderful Orwell words) is more prevalent now than in previous years. Both the concept and the practice of unpersoning/canceling an individual fascinates and terrifies me. Cancel culture is not a cultured practice but it has become a cultural phenomenon that is worth a closer look.