Tuesday 18 January 2022

Cancelling The Cancellers.

Defender Of The Faiths: Pope Francis sees cancel culture as a threat to the open, compassionate and forgiving human society he has always championed.

WHAT SHOULD WE MAKE of Pope Francis’ condemnation of “cancel culture”? There will be some who argue that the opinions of an ageing male celibate who somehow learned, back in the 1970s, to sup with Argentina’s murderous generals, should not be received as the gospel truth. Others will insist that the Pope’s unique moral and political perspective is especially important in these increasingly censorious times. What is indisputable, however, is the fact that if the impact of cancel culture is sufficient to ruffle the papal cassock, then the phenomenon is clearly a great deal more dangerous than many of us cared to believe.

Francis, no mean scholar in his own right, sees cancel culture as a threat to the open, compassionate and forgiving human society he has always championed:

“Under the guise of defending diversity,” says Francis, “it ends up cancelling all sense of identity, with the risk of silencing positions that defend a respectful and balanced understanding of various sensibilities.” Shrewdly appropriating the concepts and language of those most closely associated with cancel culture, the Pontiff characterised this willingness to silence cultural and political challengers as “a form of ideological colonisation.”

This is fighting talk and no mistake. Those members of the Labour and Green caucuses for whom the rigors of cancel culture arouse nothing but enthusiasm would be wise to draw back and think carefully about what the Pope’s words might portend. As the leader of the world’s largest Christian community (and New Zealand’s largest Christian denomination) Francis, like all his predecessors, wields not only religious, but also an inescapable measure of political power. As a general rule, it is most unwise for a political party to pick a fight with the Catholic Church.

Wise, or not, Labour and the Greens have already aligned themselves with causes and policies that are alienating not just Catholics and other Christians, but also those New Zealanders who fall under the heading of cultural conservatives. They have done this with considerable confidence, most probably because the major, non-evangelical, churches long ago acknowledged the moral hegemony of secular “progressivism”.

Over the past three or four decades, the Anglicans, Presbyterians and Methodists have learned how to get along by going along with the cultural radicalism of the Powers That Be. As society’s fierce and unyielding conscience, the major denominations have almost entirely vacated the field of intellectual battle. Inevitably, politicians and public servants have come to see Christianity as a social movement populated by the sort of people who flock to hear the likes of Brian Tamaki: poorly-educated rubes, incapable of mounting a coherent argument against necessary social and cultural reforms.

Back in the days of Cardinal Tom Williams, Dean Richard Randerson, and the Salvation Army’s Major Campbell Roberts, right-wing politicians of all descriptions were constantly challenged to defend their neoliberal economic policies against the aforementioned clerics’ well-argued Christian critiques.

On contemporary social and cultural issues, however, the political class is seldom tested. The Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion and homosexuality, never intellectually robust, was ultimately swept aside by the secular advocates of reform. On the questions of indigenous rights and racial justice, however, the Left and all but the most rabid evangelical Christians tended to be allies rather than adversaries. It has been a long time since progressive New Zealand was confronted with a theologically-inspired counter-attack it could not easily brush aside.

That this has fostered a large measure of ideological hubris is evidenced by the disinclination of the progressive political class (and their bullet-makers in the universities) to debate with – rather than cancel – any individual or organisation disposed to challenge their refusal to defend freedom of expression, uphold the scientific method, acknowledge the most basic biological realities, or treat the writing and teaching of history as anything other than an opportunity to propagate the idéologie du jour.

While this intellectual arrogance remained contained within the walls of academe and/or parliamentary select committee rooms, the rest of New Zealand paid it scant attention. The realisation has, therefore, been slow to dawn on the ordinary voter that, if allowed to go unchallenged and unreproved, extreme ideas have a nasty habit of becoming extreme policies and, ultimately, extremely alarming laws of the land.

Three years jail-time for engaging in “hate speech” is a more draconian maximum sentence than the one available for male-against-female assault. Apropos of which, in a remarkable display of parliamentary unity, maleness and femaleness have themselves become matters of purely personal preference – which all other citizens are now legally bound to acknowledge and respect. Officially, New Zealand history is now the history of Māori. The rest of us, when not actually engaging in colonialist oppression, are, apparently, just passing through. Constitutionally, co-governance will steadily replace democracy. As the tyrannical creation of privileged white males, majority-rule has clearly run its course.

What better case could be made for the reality of Pope Francis’ “ideological colonisation”. Like the “godless communism” of the Māori – so deplored by the British colonisers of the nineteenth century – the democratic sensibilities of ordinary New Zealanders have become outrageous and outdated cultural shibboleths. Away with them!

When Leonard Cohen sang, in his prophetic 1992 album, The Future:

And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it’s moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past

I wondered what he meant. But now, as he says, “everybody knows”.

Human cultures and societies are at once frighteningly fragile and reassuringly resilient. As he struggled to rescue the victims of the Argentinian junta’s vicious military rule, Jorge Mario Bergoglio had every reason to study closely the impact of a mindset dedicated to imposing just one answer to life’s challenges and mysteries. And how ultimately fruitless all such impositions turn out to be.

The absolute necessity of allowing cultures and societies to breathe. The horrors that attend every attempt to enforce ideological uniformity upon the unruly diversity of the human species. The man who would become Pope Francis learned these lessons up close and personal – not the least of which was the complicity of so many in his own church in the mortal sins that orthodoxy, rampant, both provokes and sanctions.

That this Pope has invited the Vatican’s diplomatic representatives to resist the global trend towards a dangerous and unforgiving secular orthodoxy, gives cause to hope that Francis may yet champion unequivocally what he has, to date, only hinted at – doctrinal heterodoxy.

To be “truly inclusive”, Francis told God’s diplomats, means “starting from different viewpoints” and “not cancelling but cherishing the differences and sensibilities that have historically marked various peoples”. This could only be achieved, he argued, through “reciprocal trust” and “willingness to dialogue”.

In the words of his own message marking the 2022 World Day of Peace: by “listening to one another, sharing different views, coming to agreement and walking together.”

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 17 January 2022.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant Chris. NZders are not aware of what Labour and the Greens are doing by stealth. When I talk to people about it and things like the gender self I’d bill, they are shocked and angry

David George said...

Great essay Chris.

I've been thinking; what is it that characterises ideologues of every stripe, this blind insistence in their own moral rectitude, this denial of the other.

I think it's (Christian?) humility that's lacking, that acceptance that you don't, and can't know everything.

“At the beginning of time, according to the great Western tradition, the Word of God transformed chaos into Being through the act of speech. It is axiomatic, within that tradition, that man and woman alike are made in the image of that God. We also transform chaos into Being, through speech. We transform the manifold possibilities of the future into the actualities of past and present.

To tell the truth is to bring the most habitable reality into Being. Truth builds edifices that can stand a thousand years. Truth feeds and clothes the poor, and makes nations wealthy and safe. Truth reduces the terrible complexity of a man to the simplicity of his word, so that he can become a partner rather than an enemy. Truth makes the past truly past, and makes the best use of the future's possibilities. Truth is the ultimate, inexhaustible natural resource. It's the light in the darkness.

See the truth. Tell the truth.”
― Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

greywarbler said...

Cancel culture - piloted in tv reality shows. We don't like her/him, doesn't fit, push them out of the group. The majority coalesces and goodbye to the non-conformist orr the truly annoying, who might not be given a chance to change.

That was an unattractive feature of reality shows, but worse was that it was all scripted, and either a complete surprise to the person, or having been forewarned it could happen, a partial surprise and disappointment all the same, to them. But even more than that, was the idea that this was presented as 'reality', something that happened organically, when it was totally fabricated, or devised in form and fine-tuned as the action on 'the lot' developed.

The audience were sold it as a Reality Show, so if they believed that they were deceived and both they and the participants were anipulated. If the audience knew about the manipulation while being sold a 'reality' show then they were participating in a project to further play around with people's minds and understandings in a calculated and creepy way so that the young generation have got used to viewing everything as being ephemeral, with no solid behavioural rules, to be eternally looking for the ulterior motive, the alternative hand behind happenings. Perfect backing to build a large group of lost youngsters open to conspiracy theories!

Social science has found the mind to be plastic, memories to get mixed up, confused. Court cases depending on eye-witness statements have been proved totally incorrect. Traditional society's ancient chants and memories have been found to be 'polluted' by new happenings. A return visit to a site and elders at one place, I can't remember where, resulted in a friendly chant by the fire, and into the traditional contribution from them came the recognisable tone and words of the visitors' last contribution, some years ago. Questioned, the elders said it was part of their history now. So television is a master tool at playing with our minds, our culture, our societal standards. For the beginnings of the cancel culture mindset, the seeds have been planted using modern technology.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It would be nice if everybody – including you Chris – stopped acting as if "cancel culture" is the prerogative solely of the left. How many careers did Rob Muldoon ruin back in the day? How about cancelling trade unions? Further afield, it wasn't the left that "cancel" the Dixie chicks as they were known back in the day. It wasn't the left that refuse to employ Colin Kaepernik because he knelt in protest at racial injustice. It is not the left that suggesting that blue state migrants to red states be forbidden to vote.We have some eejit in the US complaining he is being "cancelled" for insulting Joe Biden on the phone, when basically he's just being criticised for it. Perhaps we should call it consequences culture instead of cancel culture. You say something people don't like using your freedom of speech, people can react in various ways using their various freedoms to criticise or punish you for it. Grow a pair and suck it up.

And if Jordan Peterson is so much in favour of free speech, how come he keeps suing his critics?

The Barron said...

Cancel culture is just a right wing bumper sticker. It is devoid of substantive meaning. For all public figures, there has always been the axiom the history will judge their actions. The desire to be on the right side of history has always been a motivator against short-term, self-centered actions - especially against disempowered sectors that are vilified at the time.

America suddenly finds that history is no longer owned by the elites who benefitted from those mythicized past characters and events. Women and ethnic minorities are now able to critique the established fables, made up by those who suppressed them and maintained by those that wish to maintain a discriminate order. That progressives have taken up the phrase simply shows the seductive power of the right hegemony and lack of analysis of some commentators.

If those empowered cannot be held to account by history, what breaks are there on the power? The real danger is that many no longer care about historical legacy other than money and power transferred to chosen successors.

The Catholic Church beatifies and canonizes many that do not stand up to historical scrutiny yet believes that people will face a judgement. Perhaps those more theological than me can answer if the belief is such judgement will be based on the Disney version of American historical heroes, or, the more accurate revisionist history? Perhaps Christians are afraid that Parousia will be cancelling based on non-sanctioned history? Then again, is it cancel culture to show that belief in the rapture only dates from 1833?

John Hurley said...

Michael King says "Tauiwi wasn't used in the 20thCentury but Massey revived it and the Methodist Church started using it.

sumsuch said...

Aint 'cancel culture' mostly 'culture war' stuff from the Right? Louis CK. Folk took against him for his behaviour. I think he has a way to come back. Michael Richards was apolegetic. I felt for him.

Wrongs endured by victims are always right to pursue but I think ideals of social arrangements are very much secondary to the great demo-cratic cause. If that's what you're saying.

David George said...

Lets have a look at the assertion that the "cancel culture" claim is a mere fabrication or a weapon of the right.

The NZ feminist group Speak up for Women wanted to hold public meetings to discuss the implications of the proposed gender ID law. Their booked and advertised publicly owned venues were canceled, their promotional billboard featuring the dictionary definition of women (adult human female) was quickly removed, all in response to pressure from trans activists. These things are on the public record. I don't think anyone is claiming that SUFW are right wing provocateurs or that what I've outlined never happened at all. I could catalogue countless similar and recent examples. JK Rowling and Dave Chapelle or Kiwis Michael Bassett and Don Brash for example.

An important part of a functional democracy is public discussion with all points of view getting an airing. That way the truth can be found or a reasonable compromise reached. If that doesn't happen power and lies can flourish; then everything falls apart. The biblical flood is that reality in story form. The people and their institutions become dishonest and corrupt and everyone, innocent included, ends up drowning in chaos.

David George said...

An interesting aspect of the biblical flood story is that the animals are saved; perhaps because they are truly innocent, the only ones that haven't the ability to choose truth or lies. People can, we were gifted that freedom and that burden, biblically, in the Garden of Eden. We are, therefore, all guilty in some way by failing to confront The Lie. That was Solzhenitsyn's great realisation following the horrors of the Soviet era. Live not by lies.

"Perhaps we could take from his writing the humility that would allow us to understand that our mere good intentions are not sufficient to make us good men and women. Perhaps we can come to understand that such intentions are instead all too often the consequence of our unpardonable historical ignorance, our utter willful blindness, and our voracious hidden appetite for vengeance, terror and destruction.

Perhaps we could come to remember and to learn from the intolerable trials endured by all those who pass through the fiery chambers of the Marxist collectivist ideology. Perhaps we could derive from that remembering and learning the wisdom necessary to take personal responsibility for the suffering and malevolence that still so terribly and unforgivably characterises the world. We have been provided with the means to transform ourselves in due humility by the literary and moral genius of this great Russian author. We should also pray most devoutly to whatever deity guides us, implicitly or explicitly for the desire and the will to learn from what we have been offered.

May God himself eternally fail to forgive us if, in the painstakingly revealed aftermath of such bloodshed, torture and anguish, we remain stiff necked, incautious and unchanged."

Jordan Peterson, foreword to The Gulag Archipelago 50th anniversary edition.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

David: Cancel culture is certainly A weapon of the right. Just looking at the examples I gave, which of course you people consistently ignore.
How on earth has Dave Chappel been cancelled? He's just made something like 10 hour-long specials at $20 million each. I wouldn't mind being cancelled like that.
God I thought Michael Bassett had been permanently cancelled by death, it seems he is still extant. Still, we seem to hear a lot from him and Don Brash, so how have they been cancelled?
All these people that claim to have been cancelled seem to make a fair amount of noise for someone who have allegedly been shut up.
Seems to me, that power and lies tend to flourish where there are NO controls on who speaks rather than in places where there are. There are places on the Internet that I pretty much anarchic,and they are where misinformation begins and spreads. But they all have the ability, and indeed the right to censor whatever you say, for any reason or for no reason. Again I must remind you that when you sign up to 1 of these places where you are the product rather than the customer you implicitly sign a terms of use agreement. It's usually very long and of course you don't read it, but if you violate those terms you can be cancelled. Anything to the contrary would be forced speech, and that is probably worse than cancel culture.

The Barron said...

David belief is belief, but because fundamentalists put such weight on the Flood epic, I don't think we should let the Little Golden Book account stand.

Firstly, there are two biblical flood stories that do not benefit from a scrupulous editor and contain stark differences. It must also be seen alongside the ethnological myth to explain the origin of the Nephilim / Anakin, a race of giants [Num.13:32; Deut. 3:11; Sam.17; 2Sam.21:15-22]. Yahweh had 70 sons of God for each of the 70 nations of man ['sons of God' - Job 1:6; 2:1; Psalm 82:1; 89:5-7], in order to avoid polytheism, the 'sons of God' were later rendered 'Angels' or "Watchers'.

These Angels came to Earth (through the space fulfilment to a flat Earth) and began to rape human women. The Sons of God and the daughters of man got together, and the Angels either raped the women or could not resist the wiles (the blame the women option) and the race of demi-Gods - the Giants (Nephilim) polluted the Human gene pool. How do you clean this up? Drown everyone except for one seemingly unremarkable family.

In regard to the innocence of animals, we should recall the Flood killed all animals except 6 of the clean animals and 2 of the unclean (the two Biblical versions are unsure of the numbers, one 6 & 2, the other simply 2). The unclean animals are defined by Leviticus, obviously pigs, but also animals such as snakes which had its legs taken away after the Eden incident.

Farsider said...

'Like the “godless communism” of the Māori – so deplored by the British colonisers of the nineteenth century – the democratic sensibilities of ordinary New Zealanders have become outrageous and outdated cultural shibboleths.'

We could look at that 'godless communism' from another angle. We could call it Secular Commonism, to avoid the mental image of mutton-chop whiskers harrumphing in the pannelled sanctuaries of their gentlemen's clubs.

Are the 'democratic sensibilities' (we could call them 'communal values', or even 'team spirit' in less Latinate polysyllables) not 'outrageous and outdated cultural shibboleths', O Chris-of-the-fecund-and-marvellous-vocabluary, but the great goodwill and willingness to work together that have brought most of us through the Covid pandemic in a better state than some of our complaining has deserved?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Perhaps we could come to remember and to learn from the intolerable trials endured by all those who pass through the fiery chambers of the Marxist collectivist ideology"

We could also learn from those who came through the trials of the Nazi ideology or those whose lives were destroyed by Thatcher's neoliberal ideology. Something that you and that lying hypocrite Jordan Peterson both tend to ignore.