Our national reckoning on race has brought to the fore a loose but committed assemblage of people given to the idea that social justice must be pursued via attempts to banish from the public sphere, as much as possible, all opinions that they interpret as insufficiently opposed to power differentials. Valid intellectual and artistic endeavor must hold the battle against white supremacy front and center, white people are to identify and expunge their complicity in this white supremacy with the assumption that this task can never be completed, and statements questioning this program constitute a form of “violence” that merits shaming and expulsion.
Skeptics have labeled this undertaking “cancel culture,” which of late has occasioned a pushback from its representatives. The goal, they suggest, is less to eliminate all signs of a person’s existence—which tends to be impractical anyway— than to supplement critique with punishment of some kind. Thus a group of linguists in July submitted to the Linguistic Society of America a petition not only to criticize the linguist and psychologist Steven Pinker for views they considered racist and sexist, but to have him stripped of his Linguistic Society of America fellow status and removed from the organization’s website listing linguist consultants available to the media. An indication of how deeply this frame of mind has penetrated many of our movers and shakers is that they tend to see this punishment clause as self-evidently just, as opposed to the novel, censorious addendum that it is.