DANIEL VAUGHAN: Cancel culture drives out hate with more hate

As the protests stemming from the death of George Floyd have spread across the country, social media pseudo-activism has followed. The central feature of a modern shame culture, especially on such platforms, is to identify anyone with divergent viewpoints and then work to destroy those people’s lives.

The goal isn’t to convince, change hearts and minds, or create a new culture. The goal is to deepen divisions and exact punishment on those who do not fall in line.

To illustrate the point, I have recently observed people I know actively seeking the firing of individuals they deem to have strayed from acceptable commentary on race. They then smugly claim that job loss is an appropriate price for holding views perhaps different from their own.

The icing on the cake is when they follow up such actions by posting Bible verses or quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a means justify their actions.

My point is not to defend racists. Racism is wrong and must be purged from society.

People are always going to post shocking, vile, and hateful things online, and this is nothing new. The question is, what are these social media mobs actually accomplishing?

Dr. King said, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love… Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.”

King pulled these ideas from Jesus, who told Peter to sheath his sword for “those who live by the sword will die by it.” It’s the concept of the circle of violence, and it has a poignant relevance at our particular moment in history.

If you drive a person out with contempt and hatred for them, you have not replaced the hatred of that person with love and acceptance, only more hatred. Instead of changing people’s lives and reconciling racial hatred, these social media mobs do the exact opposite, exacerbating the very conflict they claim to despise.

The perceptiveness of King on this front bears repeating. He said:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

We are presently witnessing a mob mentality on both sides of the debate. People draw behind tribal loyalties to stay “safe.”

This shift prevents any chance at reconciliation — the very thing this country so desperately needs. We live in a democratic republic where the abridgement of rights, restrictions on speech, and threats to liberty made against one one can endanger all.

Not everyone is joining the fray and launching incendiary attacks on others, but far too many are. When attempts to force a firing or to destroy personal reputations become commonplace tactics, they can also taint an entire movement. 

Instead of helping eliminate racism, these mobs all too often serve to spread and entrench it even further. Rather than healing divides, they’re deepening them, perhaps past the point of reconciliation.

Throughout his battle for civil rights, King admirably summoned the better angels of America’s character and demanded fidelity to the guarantees made by the nation’s Founders. In his famous 1963 speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he declared:

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We’re still trying to ensure that all races can cash that same constitutional promissory note. But when lawless mobs use the cover of protests by black Americans to commit their own heinous acts, they make it even harder to realize real racial justice. They are sadly far more interested in attacking, shaming, and humiliating those they deem their enemies.

If you’re white and are participating in this mob mentality, you cannot claim to be anti-racist while simultaneously perpetuating it in your attacks on others. You cannot claim to be tired of explaining a phenomenon to other whites that you have personally never experienced.

The journey toward full racial reconciliation and the fulfillment of that promissory note referenced by King can be realized within our generation if we’re willing to win one heart at a time. But it won’t happen through the efforts of social media warriors pretending they’re doing meaningful things by shaming dissenters and destroying people’s lives.

Every generation in human history has held beliefs and taken actions for which succeeding generations have nothing but scorn. You are likely doing things now that your children and grandchildren will eventually regard with shock and perhaps even disgust.

The best way to respond to those who are intent on imposing their views by force and intimidation is to remain humble, seek to help wherever you can, and drive hate out with love. Responding to hate with more hate will only result in a deeper division from which this nation may never fully heal.