Constitutional Vanguard: What the New York Times Editorial on “Cancel Culture” Gets Right . . . and Wrong
Today’s free newsletter uses yesterday’s New York Times editorial on “cancel culture” as a springboard for a wide-ranging discussion, not just about what the editorial got right and wrong, but about something I consider far more important: the need for a culture of listening:
I think the current debates over “cancel culture” — including the arguments in the New York Times editorial — miss the point to some degree. Yes, people are feeling nervous about uttering some obvious truths, and about even touching on certain hot-button topics. This is, to some extent, a concern about there not being enough freedom to speak. But I think it is also useful to think of nearly any controversial story about “free speech” or “cancel culture” as a failure of the listener rather than a suppression of the ideas of the speaker. In short, I argue that we have what I call a Responsibility to Listen.
Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t say that I have a responsibility to listen to any crackpot who wants to speak to me. I’m certainly not going to waste my time thoughtfully stroking my beard as I carefully consider the arguments of @Groyper1488 that white supremacist Nick Fuentes is a misunderstood genius.
What I am saying is that, in a context where we acknowledge that communication is important, the listener has a responsibility as great as that of the speaker: a responsibility to be charitable and fair to the speaker, to give the speaker a chance to make his or her case, and to respond with honest arguments rather than trollish behavior. I am talking about contexts such as a political debate, or a speech by a speaker at a university, or a jury trial.
I argue that if we view several recent free speech controversies as a failure to listen, rather than simply a denial of the speaker’s chance to speak, we’ll get closer to the heart of the problem. I welcome your feedback.