Finding hope amid cancel culture
Written by Dr. Nafees Alam
Photography by Tia Crabtree
“You’re right, I’m wrong.” Feels good to read, doesn’t it? This submissive statement seems to mark the beginning of a friendship when in fact is marking the end of a conversation. It feels good to be right, so good that many often listen not to learn, but to respond.
Mic-drop moments have gained a reputation for spice. These are moments when something is said during a conversation so profound that after which, nothing further can be said. The proverbial ‘mic’ is dropped after such a statement with the deliverer declared victor. Mic-drop moments have become so sought-after that people often listen to their conversational counterparts with the sole purpose of exploiting an error in the argument rather than listening to learn.
What happens when I mic-drop you, and you mic-drop me? Neither of us are left holding a mic, but more importantly, neither of us are interested in listening to anything further after the finality of our profound, conversation-ending statements. After all, there’s nothing left to say after a mic-drop moment, nor is there anything left to hear.
This gives way to the development of cancel culture, a macro-level version of mic-drop moments. From “I’ve made the final statement, you have nothing further to say,” to “we’ve made the final statement, they have nothing further to say.” While micro-level mic-drop moments can often be harmless from a societal context, macro-level cancel culture stemming from excess micro-level mic-drop moments can have a profound national and international impact. We see it today when many ideological and political factions are more concerned with silencing dissent than evolving and sharpening their own ideas. Victory used to be about strengthening yourself, today it’s about weakening your opponent through cancel culture.
Everyone likes to win, making mic-drop moments that give way to cancel culture quite addictive, but are they productive?
I had the pleasure of conversing on the topic of hope with Father Dominic at the Monastery of Our Lady of Ephesus. He and I differ on what we believe brings unity to civilizations. He is the optimist who believes people are more likely to come together when working toward a collective good while I am the pessimist who believes people are more likely to come together when working against a collective evil.
Throughout our conversation, there were plenty of “yeah, but” mic-drop moments that both Father Dominic and I chose not to exploit. Admittedly, it is difficult to listen to learn instead of listening to respond. A mutual respect for one another and a genuine desire to learn about opposing viewpoints allowed us to create a space for education of a diversity of viewpoints instead of indoctrination funneled into a singular viewpoint.
My argument is that we often wish to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. We want to believe that we can come together for a common cause, when in reality, we are more likely to come together against a common enemy. History has shown us that a mutual hatred against an external entity has a greater probability of creating unity than a mutual love of an external entity. Unity is unity, no matter how it’s achieved.
Father Dominic’s argument is that identifying a common enemy is a temporary fix to separation and isolation. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” only holds true until that enemy no longer exists, creating a volatile and unsustainable collaboration that is bound to end. Instead, although a mutual love of an external entity is less probable to create unity than a mutual hatred against an external entity, bonds formed through love are more likely to withstand the test of time than bonds formed through hate.
Father Dominic and I reached a consensus on common causes building more sustainable forms of unity than common enemies, but only because we both chose not to succumb to the temptation of mic-drop moments throughout our conversation. It was only after we both listened to one another, learned of each other’s viewpoints, and respectfully compared and contrasted one another with no intention of proving the other wrong that we realized the credibility in each other’s perspectives.
However, to every point, there is a counterpoint. Though mic-drop moments and cancel culture may be perceived as detrimental to human interaction, one could argue that the point of any conversation is to reach a conclusion, not a perpetual continuation. Perhaps conversations should have finite dead ends instead of infinite forks in the road. Perhaps ideas that are deemed obsolete should expire with cancel culture being the tool applied for terminating those ideas. Without mic-drop moments, and in essence, cancel culture, communication as a whole would be quite inefficient. Furthermore, practicing restraint when conversing with someone who is actively seeking to mic-drop could give them the impression that you don’t have the argumentative acumen that they do. Not applying a cancel culture to eliminate outdated ideas could give the impression that those ideas remain credible.
Few things bring about a more definitive conclusion to conversations than mic-drop moments, few things bring about a more definitive conclusion to ideas than cancel culture.
When mics are dropped, nobody is left speaking and nobody is left listening. Although this may be the most efficient manner of communication, it closes the door on future interactions. After mic-drop moments, it’s difficult to pick the proverbial mic back up and start speaking and listening again because both you and your conversational counterpart will remember the sting of each others’ respective mic-drop moments.
The perpetuity of conversation that is achieved through respectful discourse made it possible for Father Dominic and me to work through our differing viewpoints on hope to find common ground. Neither one of us changed the other’s mind and we’ve left the door open for future conversations, perhaps on the same topic, perhaps on different topics. If Father Dominic and I, both from different backgrounds, different upbringings, different beliefs and values, can be friends, perhaps there is hope for addressing cancel culture at the macro-level. Actively practicing restraint at the micro-level sets an example that dominoes into the macro-level. If we are able to resist the temptation of dropping mics as individuals, we may be able to learn how to resist the temptation of applying cancel culture as a society.
Ideas that oppose ours don’t pose a threat, but an opportunity. It’s a strength, not a weakness, to actively seek out opposition to our viewpoints for the purpose of growth. Much like muscular development through resistance training, cognitive development often happens by actively training to defend our ideas against opposing ideas. Cancel culture creates an environment where opposing ideas are not permitted to exist, much like a gym without weights. We become weak, complacent, and impotent. Weakening our opposition through the application of cancel culture only prohibits the ability to strengthen ourselves.