The "cancel culture" discourse is incoherent
We're using the term to mean at least thirteen different things - probably more.
I have no idea what is meant by “cancel culture” anymore. And I say this as someone who, over the years, has been extremely critical of some of the things that get associated with cancel culture. But here’s a short list of the ways that I see this term being used today:
1) Cancel culture is when large corporations, like Facebook and NBC, use their power over mass media to censor certain people or certain politics.
2) Cancel culture is when people try to make (1) happen through tactics like manager-calling, boycotts, petitions, and so on.
3) Cancel culture is when people try to leverage psychological mechanisms like shaming and shunning in order to silence or marginalize certain people or politics.
4) Cancel culture is when a large number of people voice their objections to unpopular politics and the people who advocate them.
5) Cancel culture is ad hominem.
6) Cancel culture is when you criticize someone, not as a way of discrediting their argument (ad hominem), but simply for its own sake.
7) Cancel culture is when political problems are individualized - that is, attributed to personal ignorance or character defects - rather than understood systematically and structurally.
8) Cancel culture is when random trolls who are not even pretending to contribute anything to the discourse dunk on people and their politics for laughs or out of sadism.
9) Cancel culture is the cynical or unprincipled use of identitarian rhetoric in order to end or obstruct debate.
10) Cancel culture is any invocation of identitarian vectors of oppression like racism, sexism, and so on in the course of debate and criticism.
11) Cancel culture is the notion that people who have made mistakes or done terrible things can never be forgiven and should no longer have a voice in our politics.
12) Cancel culture is the notion that it is ever defensible to describe anything as “fascist”.
13) Cancel culture is when anyone criticizes me or my politics.
Again: I agree that many of the points are real problems, both morally and strategically, and that they deserve criticism. But how can we have a coherent discourse about them when they are all lumped together into some nebulous claim about a “culture” — and where taking one position on any of these issues implies that you are taking a particular position on the rest of them? This just isn’t a sane, rational conversation.