THE PROBLEMATIC IDEA

In our culture today there is a strong trend of disengagement with the views of people who are accused publicly of being “problematic.” This trend refers mostly to how disagreement manifests on social media, and it has been dubbed cancel culture. 

A quote, video, or photograph is given as evidence of the person’s problematic nature, and the groups of people who want this viewpoint eliminated will collectively disengage with both the person and the idea. 

This brings to mind a sort of social cleansing wherein both the problematic ideas and the “problematic people” are separated from the rest and refused entry to the discussion. Associating with the problematic person risks being a proponent of their idea, so both the person and the idea are banned as a unit.

The criticism of problematic ideas is often superficial, and ideally this is done as quickly as possible via the ‘shut down.’ This ‘shut down’ is always expressed with violent imagery that evokes images of obliteration beyond repair. Ideas are not discussed; they are ‘destroyed,’ as if a bomb has been dropped on them. 

The 'problematic person' has no salvageable ideas or arguments. If they are an artist, their art should not be viewed; if a director, their films not watched. All belonging to them is poisonous and should be placed into a box and hidden away in a dark place, never to be brought out again into the light. 

IDEA SELECTION

At play here is a free market element, which is that nobody is owed engagement, just like companies are not entitled to business. The ideas are not openly discussed because that would risk transmitting them. Yet at the same time, they do not trust the free market to effectively weed out ‘problematic’ or ‘weak’ ideas. 

Perhaps in defense of cancel culture, the market has never done this well. Just examine the popularity of superstitious beliefs in the Modern world. The market does not naturally select the ideas that are useful, moral, or 'true'. Instead, cancel culture artificially selects which ideas are 'unproblematic' enough to be allowed to evolve and be transmitted. Cancel culture, however, does not do a better job of judging this because of its tendency to 'shut down' and quickly disengage.

This resembles evolutionary artificial selection. Cancel culture is the activity of idea selection by a segment of society. They project into the future the ideal society and attempt to control the evolutionary path of present ideology in order to attain the desired moral landscape. People whose ideas do not fit into the projected moral landscape threaten the probability of its coming into existence. 

For that reason, people are usually associated with their ideas. People with 'transphobic' ideas are called transphobic 'people.' The effort to 'deplatform' such a person is akin to trying to remove them from the 'gene pool' of ideas so that they do not contribute to the moral landscape of the next generation. In this way, the ideology is pruned and prepared for what comes next. 

To avoid the potential violence that might ensue from the association of person and idea, we ought as a society to disassociate them and then increase engagement with 'problematic' ideas instead of disengaging. 

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