Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase on the news, in social media posts, or even in conversations with friends—“He’s cancelled.” The movement of ‘cancelling’ people truly took off in 2020, follows a typical script: a person in the public eye says or does something unacceptable, or something unacceptable is recovered from his or her past, and the movement grows to cancel that particular person because of what he has said or done. For example, if the cancelled person is a TV personality, groups that support cancelling that person encourage others not to watch any programs that the cancelled person is on, not to follow him on social media, and not to take any actions that could either directly or indirectly support that person, financially or otherwise. Essentially, when someone is cancelled, groups of people online rally to make sure that this person is effectively ruined. There is no mercy, only retribution, in that groups promoting the cancellation of individuals desire that a person ‘pays’ for his words and actions by being publically destroyed. Additionally, cancel culture is particularly vicious in that if someone is cancelled and others try to stick up for him, others will end up cancelling that person too for their affiliation with the original person in question. This cancel culture has led television networks to drop shows and music labels to drop artists, out of fear that association with anyone who has been cancelled will mean that they will be cancelled next.
On the surface, cancel culture can actually seem like a positive force pervading the Internet—after all, isn’t it better that racists, bigots, pedophiles, and other people who have said and done the unthinkable be ruined as a punishment for their crimes? It is true that many people whom culture has cancelled have said and done atrocious things. However, cancelling someone is not the answer to rectify these horrors, and choosing not to cancel someone does not condone whatever evils he or she has done. At its core, cancel culture is problematic because it attempts to strip the cancelled individual of her personhood, her humanity, and her existence. Cancel culture says, “your worth as a person is proportional to the worst thing you have ever done” and that “you are irredeemable.” It ties a person’s actions to their humanity, which means that someone’s evil actions make them an evil person. By shunning cancelled people, culture essentially says that it will not look certain people in the eyes, will not even acknowledge their existence. For these reasons, cancel culture is fundamentally opposed to the culture of life and the pro-life movement, which affirms all life, says that there is hope for you no matter what you have done, and that your life cannot be made any less valuable by the things that you do or fail to do.
However, cancel culture has certainly permeated culture at large to the point where its effects can be seen in everyday interactions. In the day to day, cancel culture looks like deleting friends off of Facebook simply because they hold an opinion that differs from your own. It looks like name calling someone for believing something you don’t believe. It looks like thinking less of someone, attempting to silence her, not listening to her, or treating her differently because she has views that oppose yours. These effects can also be seen within the pro-life movement and other social, political, or religious movements: advocates for a particular cause demonize those who oppose them and refuse to listen to them, seeing them as nothing more than the (believed to be) wrong opinions they hold. The widespread effects of cancel culture are tragic: it perpetuates polarization of peoples, pigeonholes people to the opinions that they hold, and makes meaningful dialogue with those of differing views all but impossible.
As previously stated, the core beliefs behind cancel culture and the means people use to make it effective are completely incompatible with the pro-life movement. What makes the pro-life movement attractive, beautiful, and worth fighting for is that it is pro- all life—and the lives of those who are not pro-life are not exceptions to this statement. As tempting as it may be to fall into the ways of cancel culture and attempt to outsmart, silence, or even completely ignore those opposed to the pro-life movement, these actions are anti-life and thus hypocritical. As such, when people who proclaim to be pro-life act in ways indicative of cancel culture, it damages the truth, integrity, and reputation of the pro-life movement, pushing people further away who otherwise may have been receptive to engaging in conversation.
It is crucial to the success of the pro-life movement then that its advocates oppose cancel culture in their words and actions. This means walking into conversations about hot topics with a spirit of humility and compassion, not trying to get the last word in, but aiming to listen and present points and arguments with love. It also means recognizing that those who believe differently from you are also convicted in their beliefs out of compassion—even if that compassion is misguided—just like you are. It means loving others even when they yell at you, speaking with conviction but also gentleness, and seeing that person who opposes you as a gift—because she is. To act otherwise is to deny the pro-life movement by one’s treatment of other people; to be pro-life in name alone. Now more than ever this radical love, mercy, and compassion is needed in order to promote the culture of life and transform our current cancel culture.