By PIERCE GRAHAM
AS A REGULAR READER of several newspapers, science-oriented magazines, and professional and letters-based publications, I occasionally think that I am moderately well informed and aware of current political/social trends, regional, national and world-class events of social, political or scientific import, and the like.
That is, until fairly recently. I have begun to hear with increasing frequency the term “cancel culture.” It was new to me… a genuine neologism. (I chose that word to indicate my contempt for those who create moral conflict, guilt and remorse for something that is shameful today, but happened without shame a hundred years ago.)
And, yes, we should know, and yes, the schools are the place to teach our history, our good as well as our bad, as part of our national/cultural growing pains. Like Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach, we should wear the bad ones as well.
But let us not flog ourselves.
The term “cancel culture” itself seems to have originated some time during or near the end of the Trump administration in the United States. Looking back on that presidency does certainly put an attractive face on the notion of cancellation, but I am sure that forgetting is not a solution to aberrations of any sort.
However, nowhere do I recall seeing the term used in any way other than a summative dismissal of political or moral analysis that was less than laudatory or praiseworthy.
That fact has led me to the conclusion that the term, and the mind-set that invented it and uses it, refers generally to a desire or effort to erase or ignore or diminish the past so as to avoid moral responsibility for having participated in it: denial as erasure, ass cleansing.
The notion is foolish and, in itself, immoral. Let me focus on a few examples of events or stories which illustrate my point..
The best example belongs right here in Canada, with demands by extreme revisionists for the destruction of all statues of our Fathers of Confederation – particularly Sir John A. MacDonald – on the basis that he or his government or its soon-after successors, and all Prime Ministers between then and now – designed, fostered, participated in, tolerated or sanctioned the Indian Residential schools AND their subsequent grotesque evolution into chambers of horrors.
Riding their moral hind-sighted high horses into this Quixotic foray, the puritans of history are doing little else but fan the winds of resentment, disunity and division. They remind me of the parent who would beat his child 17 years after he discovered that the child, though now no longer a child, had once betrayed his trust.
We may lament, but cannot judge, the past on a set of ethics which did not exist at the time. If one discovers today that one’s child stole money from his father’s wallet some 20 years ago, does one, upon that discovery, beat the child, who is no longer a child?
Similarly, do we destroy all graven images and statues of Sir John A. MacDonald because he lived in 1867 and, through some ironic moral aberration, held the morality of HIS day, rather than the morality of a nation he had only barely begun to dream of?
He was, in fact, somewhat ahead of some of his peers, but some sanctimonious latter-day prudes insist that we castigate him because, fool that he was, he was not totally in tune with his own generation, as his modern critics seem to be demanding.
He was but a man! He lived a century and a half ago. And he did not have today’s sensibilities or hindsight.
Shame on you, Sir John, for being mortal! No one demanded of you at the time that you be a century and a half ahead of humanity’s ever-evolving ethics code, so you took it upon yourself to dare to be just moderately cruel and insensitive, instead of outrightly preposterous.
By all means, you should have unilaterally announced the United Nations Code of Human Rights, as well as the Canadian one… minor though it may be. Foresight, John! Shame!
Shame on you for your failure… for your… humanity. We, the sanctimonious prudes of hindsight, lament your basic, inadequate humanity, and demand that you know better, post hoc, as it were – demand that you KNEW better!
We hope that tearing down your statues will enlighten you, endear us to you, and endear our zeal to the rest of the world.
There; a good verbal and moral emetic, and we are cleansed! Save the red paint. Put John back where he belongs. To err is human; to forgive is divine. And a man ain’t nuthin’ but a man. Don’t cancel that.
Pierce Graham is a retired vice principal of NorKam secondary and a long-time English teacher.