Thursday, July 23, 2020

Bring Out Your Canceled Dead

Two more iconic American corpses have bitten the dust this week. Environmentalist John Muir, father of the national park system and founder of the Sierra Club, and  Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, are the latest high-profile casualties of the Cancel Culture Craze that is sweeping the nation as virulently as Covid-19.

The Sierra Club officially disowned Muir because he was a racist prone to uttering the N word. Planned Parenthood of New York is removing Sanger's name from its clinic because she was an avowed eugenicist who was also notorious for canoodling with the KKK back in the day.

The Cancel Culture Club (CCC) has more than one criterion for membership.

President Woodrow Wilson, for example, was canceled earlier this summer because he was both a racist who uttered the N word and a eugenicist who wanted to cull Blacks, Browns, Asians, Poor White Trash and just about everyone that his entitled class deemed unworthy of inclusion in American society. The recent wokeness by Princeton University regarding its erstwhile hero makes Joe Biden's  own recent claim that Donald Trump is the first racist president all the more baffling.
"The way he deals with people based on the colour of their skin, their national origin, where they’re from, is absolutely sickening,” the former vice president said. “No sitting president has ever done this. Never, never, never. No Republican president has done this. No Democratic president. We’ve had racists, and they’ve existed. They’ve tried to get elected president. He’s the first one that has.”
Given his authorship of the Crime Bill, which has jailed Black people so disproportionately as to cause their incarceration numbers to exceed the number of slaves prior to the Civil War, and given his friendship with such white supremacist politicians as Jesse Helms and James Eastland, you almost wonder whether Biden is miffed because Trump demotes him to a sloppy second in the racist presidential sweepstakes.

To be fair, though, Biden is likely just being his same old befuddled self. But it is certainly strange that the establishment media is not questioning Biden's cognitive status as vociferously as it is hounding Trump over his.  What president hasn't been racist? Even FDR made a deal with Southern Democrats to bar Black workers from the Social Security program in order to get it passed in Congress. Even Barack Obama, our first Black president, referred to Black protesters reacting to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore as "thugs" as he passive-aggressively oversaw the worsening of the economic plights of Black communities during his eight-year stay in the White House. This doesn't even factor in the de facto racism of record deportations and droning dark-skinned people to death in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and other "tribal" areas. Come on, man.

Donald Trump, for his own part, reacted to Biden's racism accusations in his usual modest fashion:
“I’ve done more for Black Americans than anybody with the possible of exception of Abraham Lincoln. Nobody has even been close.”
Abe Lincoln, for his own part, was also reputed to regularly utter the N word in conversation. He also seriously considered deporting newly freed slaves back to Africa or relocating them to a special colony in Panama, telling a quintet of Black leaders he invited to the White House just before his death that he believed "the African race suffered greatly by living among us, while ours suffers from your presence." 

Well, at least he didn't use the term "shithole countries" as Trump so racistly did.

Conservative and liberal pundit-apologists alike love to make excuses for their beloved figures whenever they're caught behaving or talking badly, whether pre- or postmortem: "It's complicated." Or its close relative: "It was a different time."

But back to Margaret Sanger. Historian Edwin Black writes in "War Against the Weak" that Planned Parenthood has always been open about her history in the eugenics movement, which swept the nation in the early 20th more virulently than Cancel Culture is in the 21st. It was only when Nazi Germany co-opted its pseudo-scientific cant and exterminated six million Jews that  the "progressive" eugenicists of the USA decided that it was probably best to shut up about culling undesirables.

When the pre-woke New York Times reviewed Black's book in 2003, though, it was dismissive of his "muckraking" on the rich and powerful proponents of the eugenics movement. Even though the Rockefeller Foundation funded three eugenics laboratories in Nazi Germany, reviewer Daniel Kevles wrote, it was unfair to claim that Hitler was inspired by such well-meaning American plutocrats, who really, really hated Nazism. Plus, it is patently unfair to single out the wealthy in the U.S. as the only ones desirous of a master race. The middle class was fully on board with eugenics, too. It was the zeitgeist, stupid! Mistakes were made. They meant well. Nobody could ever have predicted....

Meet the new Zeitgeist, a/k/a Cancel Culture, during the reign of President Hitler Trump.

So I'm curious. If you're going to cancel Margaret Sanger, then shouldn't you also cancel Andrew Carnegie, whose vast fortune provided the seed money for the Cold Spring Harbor eugenics research laboratory on Long Island? You might want to change the name of Carnegie Hall, Carnegie-Mellon University, the Carnegie Art Museum, and the Carnegie Foundation for Peace (Since the latter is a think tank funded by the "defense" industry for purposes of never-ending war and surveillance, its disbandment might not be such a bad idea.)

The aforementioned Rockefellers were also gung-ho eugenicists. Does that mean that we should change the name of Rockefeller Center and cancel the continued streaming of 30 Rock reruns, and boycott NBC? (again, not a bad idea, given that its executives reportedly are keeping The Apprentice  outtakes of Donald Trump uttering the N word under lock and key.)

To prove their sincerity, the newly woke should cancel Nazi sympathizer Henry Ford by changing the name of his iconic car company right this very minute. But why stop there? Then we should get rid of Ford's overpaid CEO and investors, and let the workers take over ownership and production - once there's a vaccine, that is.

 Above all, we should cancel the whole idea of forcing people to go back to work before it is safe for them to do so. 

It has now reached the farcical point that the mere questioning of Cancel Culture will get you canceled.

Writers are so afraid of being called racist or misogynistic that they're shutting up and self-censoring to avoid giving offense and possibly losing their livelihoods along with their reputations. There is a distinct McCarthyesque stench to the self-righteous Cancel Culture Club.

Just as the original McCarthy era architects destroyed the New Deal and solidified social and economic inequalities by inventing the Communist threat, so too are a new generation of reactionary neoliberals and neocons engaging in Virtue Signalling Gone Wild as the whole capitalistic framework of oppression and legalized corruption collapses around them - a collapse hastened by Covid-19. Against all reason, the Cancelers are of the same breed (sorry, eugenicists!) as those promulgating the various manifestations of Russiagate. They need to constantly manufacture outside enemies to hide the fact that they are the enemy.

The hard right side of the ruling oligarchy, exemplified by Trump, decries the tearing down of  Confederate statues and the disrespect shown by "terroristic" citizens of their militarized domestic police forces. The centrist, or soft-right, side, exemplified by Joe Biden's corporate Democrats and Lincoln Project Republicans, points the finger of racism at Trump while they themselves tacitly reinforce endemic racism through, among other things, refusing to entertain any discussion of Medicare For All during a pandemic which is disproportionately killing Black and Brown people. They reinforce global racism by giving Trump even more money that he wants or needs in order to continue oppressing and assaulting people both at home and abroad with tear gas, bombs, drones, and mob-style looting and intimidation.

With any luck, and with a lot of help from the activists and rabble rousers now out on the streets, the bickering oligarchs will cancel each other out before Covid-19 and climate change cancel out the rest of humanity.


Mark Thomason said...

Such excesses tend to produce backlash, and that an excessive backlash that would otherwise be unthinkable.

What might that be for this overdone cancel culture? It's hard to say before it starts tp develop, but it will develop, of that we can be sure. It is likely to be every bit as ugly as the excess to which it responds.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Part 1

"Show me six lines written by the most honest man in the world, and I will find enough therein to hang him." Cardinal Richelieu

"Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation." WS

Now showing on Netflix is an award-winning documentary, The Silence of Others, about human rights in Spain before and after Franco resigned. Franco and his legion of collaborators persisted in crimes against humanity for 40 years and then got off scot free, first, because he won the war (unlike Hitler), and, secondly, because the post-Franco legislature passed a sweeping amnesty for him and all his collaborators.

The larger population of today in Spain knows little about Franco's crimes because that chapter is omitted from school textbooks. "Time to move forward and forget the past," is still being voiced. When have we heard that before? As if we could only move forward by discarding memories.

In post Franco Spain, a small number of those who had been orphaned, tortured and imprisoned for their political views could not stand watching former murderers and torturers walking around town free, or even continuing to hold high office. The former victims and their children found lawyers to advance their cause despite the universal amnesty. They have finally begun having little successes, like bringing torturers before judges and chipping away at big names on monuments and public squares.

Pedro Almodóvar makes a good case in his documentary for not forgetting and for seeking justice. One of the film's leitmotifs is a monument in the mountains dedicated to those who died under Franco's tyranny, a monument that was marred by bullet holes hours after its dedication. Franco's spirit is still very much alive in Spain and elsewhere. The artist remarked wryly that his monument was now complete.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Part 2

Is the cancel culture of the moment on a par with the struggle of some Spaniards to defame Franco and his collaborators? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I search vainly for a rough rule of thumb to justly say OK with this person's cancellation, but NO to that person's cancellation. It's complicated. One doesn't want to join the politically correct pack. One doesn't want to excuse grave crimes to which we along with our culture have become numb.

How about this: If most of a person's lifework produced good for the many, would that excuse strains of evil that were also a part of that life? I might go along with that standard––with the proviso that certain strains of evil are totally disqualifying, like a little bit of genocide, murder, rape, torture and pedophilia–– crimes against humanity, in other words, irrespective of the volume. Eugenics: on its face a crime against humanity? Depends how deeply the thought leader [cough] under review invested in it. But c'mon, Sanger, Muir, FDR?

Would the reputations of slave owners Washington, Jefferson and Madison survive that standard? No. In addition to lots of slavery, their life-long self-dealing politics and economics might also render them utterly unacceptable to a hard-bitten anti-capitalist, as well as Blacks who had already arrived at a decision. Like Spanish schoolbooks teaching history, those of the USA are also amnesic. Howard Zinn, we miss you and your focus on the real heroes.

There does come a point in ethics where pure evil shades off into serious human faults that must be accounted for without vitiating a life or reputation.

How about the case of Al Franken? Was he another Harvey Weinstein? Were Franken's wrongs sufficient that #MeToo and a third of the Senate were justified in cancelling him from the scene?

Cancel Culture is a child of Censorship. Why don't we leave the statues and monuments to the unworthy where they stand and concentrate instead on reviving the memory of textbooks, histories, films and other cultural works? Unlike one of the dear ladies in Almodóvar's film (she who gets the line wrong, alas), can we agree that we might forgive, but we should never ever forget?

Anonymous said...

Great article on a troubling subject. Also, informative comments above. So easy to go too far with these actions that rarely
change or improve attitudes. How far do you go? Trump used the N word? Can you imagine that? MSNBC jumped on that like it was the most incendiary infraction in Mary Trump's book.
I agree that education about these issues is the most viable means of changing attitudes.
Great writing as always, Karen. You are such a valuable voice in these tumultuous times.

... said...

We are witnessing and participating in our own version of a great cultural revolution. Many of the icons that reinforce the cultural hegemony that have sustained racism and other forms of oppression are being scrutinized, evaluated and removed. There has been a widespread examination of the legacy of previously revered leaders from Jefferson and Washington to Lee and Wilson and Sanger. Many, even those who helped in some ways to advance specific progressive causes, are being found wanting on the fundamental cause that the nation is now confronting -- racism. This is all for the good.

Racism has been the foundational element of our society. It has been the linchpin of wealth inequality and preferential treatment. It was a secondary concern in the past on certain issues for white people. This is now all changed. We are now as a society confronting the key, element of oppression in this country as a primary concern.

We have crossed a point of no return and there will be many "heroes" who will become casualties. This is necessary. To fully understand how pervasive and insidious racism has been and to root it out and abolish it, we need to look everywhere and leave no stone unturned. This will be especially stressful for the reactionaries and racists, but also to some degree for many of us on the left who still hold views skewed by our personal histories. In the end it will refresh our vision, expand our consciousness, build solidarity with our class and help pave a new road forward. While some actions may seem excessive right now to some, remember that we need to aim to transform society, not just reform it or go back to the "good old days".

Jay–Ottawa said...

There's no question racism is and has been a major injustice in American history. But it's not the only or necessarily topmost issue needing cultural correction or transformation. Women might have a competing interest to put forward in the US, as elsewhere since prehistory. Is such a priority listing useful? We could go on and on to list the causes of other historically oppressed groups, but that would take us right back into the divisive dead end of single-issue identity politics.

I believe the major question following Karen's essay is at what point along the spectrum of evil to virtue, honor to dishonor (regarding an individual, group or institution) are we justly in agreement with Cancel Culture's current defamation efforts and at what point do we stand in opposition to CC and other forms of censorship as the new McCarthyism or just plain exaggeration by snowflakes and partisans. Is there a handy rule with broad application that will help us get it right before we flick another person along with his or her lifework down the memory hole?

Erik Roth said...

Racism, sexism, xenophobia, et al., are deadly, demonic, and damnable, but "Cancel Culture" is an insidious, sanctimonious oxymoron, and tediously toxic.

The Joker said...

Off-topic, but worth reading:

Fossil Fuel Industry Pollutes Black & Brown Communities While Propping Up Racist Policing.

From Amazon to Starbucks, Corporations Avoid Billions in Taxes While Funding Police Foundations.

Erik Roth said...

Hearing this was deeply inspiring:

Episode 102: EMERGENCY PODCAST SYSTEM — Donald Trump's Police State, Part 2

This is the second part of a series of EMERGENCY PODCAST SYSTEM episodes on Trump's war on Portland. In this episode, we will hear from "Wall of Moms" founder Bev Barnum. Bev tells her story of how a shocking online video of an unmarked van snatching someone off a Portland street is what prompted her to launch Wall of Moms on Facebook, and how it quickly ignited a movement of first-time political activists. Bev had never attended a demonstration until last week. Now she’s leading them nearly every night. She describes how Portland citizens are "target practice" for the police and describes scenes of peaceful mothers facing acts of violence from mask-wearing government thugs.

Yet reading this just leaves me with profound revulsion:

'White as hell': Portland protesters face off with Trump but are they eclipsing Black Lives Matter?

26 July 2020 ~ by Chris McGreal in Portland, Oregon

Kat said...

When you wrote that Sanger was "notorious for canoodling with the KKK" did she do more than speak to the a wives' auxiliary more once? When you write she was an "avowed eugenicist" did she promote the idea of the need for white Christians to reproduce more? From what I've read the most troubling aspect of her associations with the eugenics movement is her support for the ableist part of their agenda. "Avowed eugenicist" makes it sound like eugenics was her animating principle rather than reproductive freedom for women.

Karen Garcia said...

Planned Parenthood itself publicly "deplored" Sanger's speech to the KKK, and at the same time notes that the KKK was considered pretty much mainstream at the time.

Regarding her adherence to eugenics, Sanger herself wrote: “I admire the courage of a government that takes a stand on sterilization of the unfit and second, my admiration is subject to the interpretation of the word‘unfit.’ If by ‘unfit’ is meant the physical or mental defects of a human being, that is an admirable gesture, but if ‘unfit’ refers to races or religions, then that is another matter, which I frankly deplore.”

When you factor in that "unfitness" and "feeble-mindedness" as defined by the government at the time included everything from epilepsy to suspected prostitution to chronic poverty, then forced sterilization doesn't sound quite so admirable.

Sanger in a nutshell: Some women's reproductive rights are more equal than others.

Kat said...

Yes, I noted her support of weeding out the "unfit". This points to the fact that there really is no such thing as "single issue identity politics".
The fruits of the New Deal were not shared equally among whites and blacks when it came to the right to organize and collectively bargain, to a minimum wage, or to have access to low cost mortgages and quality housing either. "Identity Politics" is about expanding the idea of who counts. It is necessary, not a distraction. Alicia Garza, the creator of the #BLM hashtag is a labor organizer, btw.
"Cancel Culture" is just a repackaging of stale right wing ideas anyway.

Kat said...

Cold war liberals were New Dealers.

Jay–Ottawa said...

O yes, ... mither, make me bed soon,
For ... I fain wald lie down."

Poor Lord Randall, he never saw it coming. He must have annoyed the lady enormously for her to kill his hunting dogs too. As it was for the nobles, duels and poisonings among foot soldiers of the left are such a waste of vitality; but––sigh––what else is there to do waiting around in confinement with our resentments through these dull days of end time?

Forget the overarching class war beneath which just about all of us might well see ourselves as one. Let us instead concentrate on our many unique navels, as we did when first opening our eyes as tots.

"Class War"? –– never utter that phrase in the US if you seek standing among the disparate muddle on the Left. Class War refers to a concentration of power by the many against the few. Class War means Marx, means a radical redistribution of wealth and power to eliminate the disparities. In the process, that same radical redistribution of money on a continuous basis will heal the wounds within so many single issue ranks.

"There is no such thing as 'single issue identity politics.'" Oh? That's debatable, given our recent history of short-term marches to every point on the compass. How many hashtags reach out beyond themselves to join in coalitions against the 1%? So many banners fluttering in the wind, so little progress as they march, march, march in place to nowhere. Identity politics is about narrowing the issue, not broadening it into something major and powerful and, for once in a long time, taking over the front pages of the NYT, WAPO and WJ.

A historian might write a book comparing the advances for workers legislated by FDR and those fought for and achieved independently by Labor. The pearl within the labor movement was not so much the money gains but the size of membership. That was power.

Post WWII in the US, New Deal organized Labor was all in for the Cold War, right along with those soft-hand New Deal liberals. What remains of organized labor is less than a dot on the radar of today's multinationals. Alas, for a number of good and bad reasons, workers had turned in their union cards to lie low or make noise only where it might not disturb employers.

Cancel Culture is us––left, right and center––whittling away at ourselves mindlessly, a new way of again serving as useful tools of the rich who excel at the control mechanism of divide and conquer.

Kat said...

Can always count on you for the flowery prose. The one waging class war via identity politics right now is Trump-- just as Nixon and Reagan did. Sorry the BLM uprising is not to your liking, but at the protests I've been to capitalism has been called out.
What have you been doing?

Jay–Ottawa said...


I suppose I must respond. After that can we pull attention back to the issues instead of each other's shortcomings?

Flowery? At least you didn't pronounce my prose purple. Were not recent Democratic presidents you skipped over as good as their Republican counterparts in supporting the wrong side of the Class War? When did I ever say BLM was not to my liking? Bum rap. You've attended protests. Check. This is not the place––and I'm too modest––to list the stuff I've done. Like others who post here, why not kick around ideas instead of sniping at each other?

Kat said...

When I said "what have you been doing?" I was not making a reference to myself. I have not done much at all. It was about the description of the movement being made up of navel gazers.
Yes, Carter, Clinton, Obama they were all disappointing for labor, but guess I have Trump derangement symptom because I didn't mention them.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Trump Derangement Syndrome? Now you're being too hard on yourself. Republicans, for the most part, are indeed worse in thought, word and deed.

On the broader topic, we need to back away from Cancel Culture. Too much damage in the wake of these vigilantes. I don't look forward to the day we trust nobody, whether faulted for crimes or peccadillos.

Humans are only human; and, yet, each one of us has the potential to surpass ourselves and empty ourselves for others. We can name names of imperfect heroes in the public sphere and circles known only to us. On the other hand, perennial victims, the proudly selfish and Cancel Culture are no help taking us up that mountain singly or together.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

I hesitate to weigh in here because I don't really understand the Cancel Culture and all its dimensions. We don't have this in Australia - at least yet, or to the best of my knowledge.

While realise that people's flaws can be amplified or distorted to seem more egregious than they are - I've personally suffered from this type of experience - I wonder if we can't just accept that even reformists and revolutionaries who change society for the better, are flawed human beings. Personally, I want to know the entire person. When I read about Sanger here, I don't despise the woman - part of who all of us are is being a product of our time in history - but it is, nevertheless, important information to know. It doesn't diminish the good I think this woman has done but it shows that even great minds can be wrong about important issues. Writing people off - as it seems like cancelling is doing - because I don't agree with their positions on all issues - seems like a very high bar. I know I wouldn't pass the test.

Jay–Ottawa said...

For me Chris Hedges kinda disappeared when TruthDig fired everybody and committed hari kari. And it was a while before I learned about ScheerPost, which I am still not in the habit of visiting. As Karen's blog roll continually reminds us, Scheer and company are back under a new banner. Along with Hedges.

I just read his piece on Cancel Culture. It's an A-to-Z explanation about what's going on with CC. CC, he concludes, is the latest flashy diversion distracting us from the one real overarching issue, the class war. Worth a look.

Kat said...

"The people must rise up" and then when they do, it is just a distraction.They aren't doing it the right way. They are witting or unwitting pawns of capital. Fighting the power of the police is class warfare. Good grief, I've even read that in Portland it is "PMC" v. working class (security forces). That is not a class analysis at all!
Why is this a distraction? Just because corporate America took notice? They aren't fighting for recognition from the brands.
Also, anyone who argues that "White Fragility" is some foundational text for BLM doesn't know what the hell they are talking about. Cancel culture is just a rebrandingof the same old RW talking points. We've been here before: Marxists, relativists, "cultural Marxists", and now cancellers or the woke. I suppose if you are not woke then you are on the right side of the class war (even if you are an avowed capitalist)
It is interesting to see self avowed leftists use the terms social justice warrior or "the mob". Why do they want to further right wing ideas?
I think this is a better round up of the uprisings.