There is an idea among both conservative and liberal circles that cancel-culture will eventually burn itself out. That over-use of political accusations will devalue them, and people will stop taking them seriously. Critics of cancel-culture claim that if people repeatedly call their opponents names like “racist,” “Nazi,” etc. then these words lose their meaning, and the accusation is less powerful the next time it’s made.
This idea is probably best articulated as “political inflation” here:
While this might make sense in theory, in practice, cancel-culture is becoming stronger. Why?
Inflation occurs when your currency has nothing backing it. If you print more money out of thin air, yes it is devalued. However, if your currency is backed by gold, it does not lose it’s value if you have more gold. You can always print more money if you have the gold to back it.
What is the gold that backs “cancel” accusations? Political force.
If someone is “canceled” and the accusation sticks, they can be fired from their job, banned from social media, denied the use of payment processors, be targeted by law enforcement, kicked out of their university… the list goes on and on.
Cancel-culture accusations are “gold-backed” if there is enough political-force to enact a material loss on their targets. Yes, the number of targets is increasing, but is the political force of those who hurl these accusations increasing also?
The activists enforcing “cancel-culture” are getting a lot of purchasing power for their currency. If you wanted to devalue their currency, you wouldn’t go after the paper accusations. You’d go the ability to enforce those accusations – the gold backing them.
Accusations do not stick when there is no gold (political force) backing them. Take for example, the right-wing conspiracy theory that the Clintons are involved in a secret pedophile ring. Pedophilia is a serious accusation. What gold (political force) backs this accusation?
None. Sure, it sounds bad, but the people pushing this theory have no political power to enforce it, whereas the Clintons are some of the most politically powerful people in the world. This is a fiat-accusation.
What power backs an accusation of racism, even very spurious or likely false ones? Governments, corporations, political coalitions, media, universities, etc. Basically, everyone. When these institutions participate, they create gold-backed accusations.
It is actually conservatives and self-proclaimed liberals that are peddling a fiat currency when they talk about “having the better argument” or “appealing to reason.” None of that matters, because reason is not the currency of politics. Power is.
If you wanted to devalue these accusations, you’d have to take the gold (political power) behind them. If an accusation is not backed by power or the power backing it has no power over their particular target, then the accusation will not affect them. This is why those who are self-employed or live outside the system in some way (ex: Joe Rogan) seem less susceptible to cancel-culture, whereas people who commit less serious offenses often receive greater punishment.
This is also why some targets of “cancel-culture” remain unharmed, even when the accusation might be true or they actually deserve “canceling.” For example, Harvey Weinstein was an actual sexual predator. The accusations against him were known by most of Hollywood. However, he remained unharmed until he lost political power, at which point he could be canceled.
When Weinstein was publicly accused, he reminded his opponents of all the liberal activism he had done, as an appeal to how he could be politically useful. Of course, he wasn’t useful anymore, and the system discarded him. While he deserved to be “canceled,” he wasn’t canceled because he was morally wrong. He was canceled because he lost power.
Stop looking at the fiat, and go for the gold.
If you want to understand how someone is canceled, my book The Intactivist Guidebook lays out the process and gives practical advice for activists to build their own currency. You can reach the first chapter for free here.