Clint Margrave's "The Impassable Road to Redemption"
Today's recommended reading: "The Impassable Road to Redemption" by my colleague Clint Margrave. What follows is a choice excerpt:
Is this what progressives imagine constitutes social justice these days? Willful ignorance and an insistence that everything a person is or will ever be can be gleaned from their very worst moment? Should a gang member be allowed to change? Should a drug addict be allowed to clean up? Should a drunk be allowed to get sober? If it were just the poetry community, I might have chalked this allergy to personal progress up to the usual performative melodrama. But it isn’t. It’s something infecting our whole culture. Not only is no one allowed to change for the better anymore, no one is even allowed to be understood, much less forgiven [...].
In a NYMag essay entitled "America’s New Religions," Andrew Sullivan likens this new zealotry to the old religious impulse, which manifests itself in our political movements today, whether in the cult that surrounds Donald Trump or in the "woke" social justice groups, both of which he says behave in the same way as religions do:
Like early modern Christians, they punish heresy by banishing sinners from society or coercing them to public demonstration of shame and provide an avenue for redemption in the form of a thorough public confession of sin…
But the avenue for redemption is full of roadblocks these days. Public confessions or apologies hardly ever lead to forgiveness, and almost always lead to a second round of shaming, if not banishment. Zealots are never satisfied with just an apology. No matter how small the infraction, a public apology almost always leads to further punishment. Think of the recent controversy over actor Liam Neeson’s admittance that he’d entertained violent and potentially racist thoughts after a close friend of his was raped by a black assailant. Here was a “sinner” trying to atone for his “sins” by denouncing his own vengeful impulses (and alluding to his own instability at the time), and still people were calling for the end of his film career.
What is most troubling about all this is how it freezes public discourse. You cannot change anything in society if you cannot first speak truthfully about it. The dirty laundry must be aired, not hidden in the closet, if you really want to get the stench out. But in an era in which people are canceled for the slightest infraction, it’s much more prudent to just keep your mouth shut. This kind of intimidation threatens our social contract.If we cannot atone for our mistakes in the past and speak truthfully about our human flaws, how can we ever make progress?
Sometimes, I wonder if the sadistic champions of cancel culture care at all about fixing society’s problems, much less bringing about real social justice. Some of the loudest, most powerful people benefit from this outrage. There is no doubt that cancel culture effects social change, only the effect is destructive. There may be ideological fights worth having, but they are ultimately ineffective when fueled by tribal hatreds rather than compassion and good faith. It’s easy to shame others, but much harder to take an honest look at ourselves.