Date: July 15, 2020
“The older generation fomented this climate of censorship and intolerance. We can’t let them off the hook.
Generational warriors want us to believe that young people are leading the charge to the barricades in a modern-day cultural revolution. Old people, meanwhile, just don’t get it. It’s easy to see why they reach this conclusion. It was mainly young people who left lockdown to take part in Black Lives Matter demonstrations. University students honed cancel culture through No Platforming and their demand for safe spaces. There seem to be growing generational divides when it comes to attitudes towards gender and race. Whereas Boomers learnt to judge people by the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin, millennials view such colour-blindness as racist. Older feminists are more likely to defend the rights of women while younger people question what it means to be a woman in the first place.
But the idea that cancel culture is the product of overly enthusiastic, politically progressive, social-media-savvy Gen Z-ers flatters young people and lets older people off the hook. Cancel culture is a political – not demographic – phenomenon.
The idea that cancel culture is a youthful rebellion against an aged establishment is a convenient myth. It denies the leading role played by an older generation of activists in sowing the political seeds of censoriousness and intolerance from within institutions. And it paints over the fact that when young people come knocking with demands of their own, they find they are pushing at a door that has been taken off its hinges and replaced by a red carpet welcoming them in.
Caricaturing cancel culture as a generational divide takes it out of the realm of politics and excuses it according to demographics. It suggests that if we just sit around and wait for today’s young activists to grow up a bit, then issues with free expression will resolve themselves. Cancel culture, however, is not an age-related condition but a political counter-revolution led by a new elite who could not get their way at the ballot box and are now pulling rank from within institutions. This means that those of us who want to defend free expression have to do far more than just sit around for a few years.”