Cancel culture (disambiguation)

In the past several years a new and highly fraught term has emerged: "cancel culture". It has strongly negative, often viscerally polarizing, connotations, yet its precise meaning varies from person to person, with no single definition being accepted and many people questioning whether the term itself, and "cancellation" in general, is meaningful, valid, or worthy of concern. Adding to the confusion is the misuse of the term by various public figures. In this essay, I seek to correct this issue to the best of my abilities, by devising a useful definition for the term which covers several disparate, different phenomena that the term "cancel culture" has come to describe, but which explicitly excludes instances that are innocuous or irrelevant.

I propose the terms and definitions below. I have given examples for illustrative purposes, which should not be taken as remotely close to exhaustive or comprehensive in representation.

  1. Canceling is when a group of people, in response to protected speech of a target individual, attempt to force or coerce others to impose artificial, non-speech consequences on them for said speech. By "artificial consequences" I specifically mean those which are not what would be socially acceptable or obligated to occur; in particular, forms of protest such as public demonstrations and the group in question changing economic behavior do not count. I propose three subtypes:
  2. Pseudo-canceling is a general catch all term for things which, strictly speaking, are not covered by the definition of cancel culture I give below. Much of this activity is, from a societal perspective, benign or even beneficial. There are numerous general examples of things which should, in all right, not be part of the debate at all. A non-exhaustive list follows:
  3. Cancel culture denotes a general tendency in some culture to cancelling, particularly an abnormally large tolerance towards or usage thereof. It does not include tendencies towards pseudo-cancelling.
I look forward to whatever discussion or feedback this entry provokes. Feel free to reach out to me on my Mastodon or Discord handles if you wish, which can be found on my homepage.