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9 Jul, 2020 13:54

Internet witch hunts derive from ‘profound’ desire for self-purpose, signatory of open letter critical of cancel culture tells RT

Internet witch hunts derive from ‘profound’ desire for self-purpose, signatory of open letter critical of cancel culture tells RT

Cancel culture attracts people who feel isolated by society and want to be part of a rigid orthodoxy that gives their lives meaning, according to a signatory of a controversial open letter that was also endorsed by J.K. Rowling.

Growing intolerance towards ideas and views deemed impermissible swells from a yearning to belong to something bigger than ourselves, said Roger Berkowitz, a professor of political studies and human rights at Bard College. In an interview with RT, he explained that “widespread mass existential loneliness of our culture” has eroded social traditions to the point where many people feel like they “don’t have a sense of purpose in the world.” As a result, there is a “profound need” to latch onto “political or social movements that give our life meaning.”

The problem, noted Berkowitz, is when personal identity becomes dependent on the perceived righteousness of a movement. In such cases, individuals feel personally threatened by ideas that challenge their dogmas. He said that on both the right and the left, there is an effort to shame, rather than persuade, dissenters. 

Also on rt.com Chomsky, Rowling & others sign open letter against cancel culture, get blasted by left & right for lame, limp stance

Berkowitz became a target of this kind of narrow thinking after he signed an open letter published by Harper’s Magazine which criticized the “vogue for public shaming and ostracism” as well as the “tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.” Endorsed by a group of activists, intellectuals and other public figures, the letter called for “good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences.”

However, criticisms of the letter seemed to focus on the signatories’ alleged foibles, rather than the letter itself. Berkowitz argued these kinds of responses were “deeply anti-intellectual and anti-thoughtful.”

The content of the letter is quite simple. ‘We should have vigorous and open debate’. To me, that is not a very controversial point of view. But most critiques don’t actually address that. They address the people who signed the letter and say, ‘oh, J.K. Rowling signed it, or David Brooks signed it, and we don’t like these people, and therefore it’s a bad letter.’ That’s not an argument, that’s character assassination. 

He observed that many people in the public eye revert to “self-censorship” in order to avoid the wrath of the internet mob. The letter was intended to show that there are “people who will stand by you” if you offer “thoughtful critiques” of orthodox opinion. 

The professor also took issue with the idea that those who signed the letter were simply trying to protect themselves from criticism. “Many of the people who signed the letter have been fired or criticized – and we will be again. We’re not signing this letter to protect ourselves. We’re used to this,” Berkowitz said. 

Although he said he had “no illusions” about the dangers posed by cancel culture, the academic expressed hope that the “silent majority” would push back against the “small and vocal minority,” both on the right and the left, that has hijacked America’s national conversation. 

Also on rt.com Princeton University faculty seek to establish racial thought police & punish insufficiently diverse disciplines

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