Rolling Stone once covered rock and roll music and counted among its contributors Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, and Matt Taibbi. This week, it platformed a defense of horizontal despotism and the mobbing of nonconformists.
The magazine, which paid out $1.65 million in 2017 for its part in a defamatory episode of cancel culture and previously ran a critique of efforts to "cancel Liz Cheney," published an article by LGBT activist Ernest Owens on Monday entitled, "Why Cancel Culture Is Good For Democracy."
Twitter CEO Elon Musk was among those who ridiculed the publication over the article, calling its defense of mob tyranny "obnoxious."
Tyranny of the mob
Owens downplayed in his article fears of the "angry mob instantly judging us and preparing to end our careers before they start," suggesting that "we are the people who make up the so-called mob."
After ostensibly identifying himself and his readers with the mob, Owens indicated that the character assassinations, censorship, and attacks on persons with whom activists disagree have simply been a matter of vigilante justice: "Cancel culture has leveled the playing field for those who can’t always rely on the government to protect them."
Persons whom Owens and other LGBT activists regard as "bigots are protected under the First Amendment to fuel disgusting rhetoric without state-sanctioned consequence. ... Cancel culture is the poison to those in power that have benefited from unchecked free speech."
Owens racialized his defense of virtual lynch mobs and horizontal despotism, stating, "Straight white men and other people with power aren’t used to getting pushback for the ways they conduct themselves—and cancel culture has reset the ways society can react. Those who fear cancel culture may claim they fear suppression of speech, but it’s accountability that they want to avoid."
The LGBT activist noted in the piece that the internet has changed the game; that previously it "was hard to fully cancel something," but after "the internet began to take off in the 1990s, society began to see a shift in how the public could consider canceling with less gatekeeping."
In an Orwellian twist, the LGBT activist suggested that "cancel culture is a way for a new generation of people to practice free speech."
What Owens regards as an exercise in free speech, Alexis de Tocqueville suggested in “Democracy in America” was a form of horizontal despotism.
While "chains and executioners are the coarse instruments that tyranny formerly employed" in democratic republics, despotism “leaves the body and goes straight for the soul," wrote de Tocqueville, whose family narrowly avoided a bloody cancellation at the hands of the mob during the French Revolution.
De Tocqueville detailed the nature of cancel culture, albeit in its pre-digital form: "The master no longer says to it: You shall think as I do or you shall die; he says: You are free not to think as I do; your life, your goods, everything remains to you; but from this day on, you are a stranger among us. You shall keep your privileges in the city, but they will become useless to you; for if you crave the vote of your fellow citizens, they will not grant it to you, and if you demand only their esteem, they will still pretend to refuse it to you. You shall remain among men, but you shall lose your rights of humanity.”
The writer who runs afoul of the mob is made the "butt of mortifications of all kids and of persecutions every day. ... He yields, he finally bends under the effort of each day and returns to silence as if he felt remorse for having spoken the truth.”
Characterizing this pursuit of ideological conformity by way of horizontal social pressure as an effective way of holding others "accountable," Owens suggested that the "potential for cancel culture is democracy uncensored and unchained. Despite how critics have tried to represent it, cancel culture is not cyberbullying or doxing. Cancel culture gives us the chance to engage in new and exciting ways—civically, culturally, and politically."
Owens elsewhere intimated that cancel culture can also be engaged in kinetically.
He told the Boston Globe that "when you look at the LGBTQ rights movement, in the end, marginalized voices won because of cancel culture," adding that "it was not a peaceful, 'I agree, I disagree.' It was a riot."
While the Rolling Stone article was roundly ridiculed online, its detractors did not appear to seek Owens' cancellation.
Twitter CEO Elon Musk tweeted Tuesday, "How blatantly obnoxious that they just want to keep canceling people! Do they ever write about music anymore? They should rename themselves 'Scolding Stone', as all they seem to do these days is holier-than-thou nagging."
Billy Markus, one of the software engineers behind Dogecoin, intimated the magazine was due for a name change, writing, "rolling sanctimony."
Conservative Twitter commentator Ian Miles Cheong responded, "Canceling people is that rag’s bread and butter now. I don’t think they write about anything that doesn’t have some woke angle."
Mathematician and "Sokal Squared" woke-hoaxer James Lindsay suggested that Owen was effectively pushing for Maoism, citing a 1957 document from communist mass-murderer Mao Tse-tung entitled, "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People."
The document referenced by Lindsay discusses the different methods by which "the contradictions between ourselves and the enemy and the contradictions among the people must be resolved."
According to Mao, the first function of the people's democratic dictatorship was "internal, namely, to suppress the reactionary classes and elements and those exploiters who resist the socialist revolution, to suppress those who try to wreck our socialist construction, or in other words, to resolve the contradictions between ourselves and the internal enemy. For instance, to arrest, try and sentence certain counter-revolutionaries, and to deprive landlords and bureaucrat-capitalists of their right to vote and their freedom of speech for a certain period of time — all this comes within the scope of our dictatorship."
Although now platforming a defense of cancel culture, Rolling Stone paid a hefty sum for its participation in and exacerbation of the phenomenon in 2017.
The magazine ran an article written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in November 2014 entitled "A Rape on Campus."
In an apparent effort to cancel a fraternity and a former associate dean at University of Virginia, the article advanced the claims by a single source that young men had brutally raped her in 2012. However, police in Charlottesville determined there was "no substantive basis" to conclude the incident had ever occurred, reported the New York Times.
According to the Washington Post, the article "caused an immediate sensation ... going viral online and reverberating through the U-Va. community." The resultant cancel mob was as misled as it was incensed.
A 10-member jury determined that the so-called reporter, Erdely, was responsible for defamation with actual malice and similarly found the magazine liable of defamation.
It would appear that not all calls for accountability are warranted and not all cancellations are measured or just.
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