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A letter in the Comment section of the last issue of the Rappahannock News got me thinking about the newly minted term, “cancel-culture.”
The term conveys a negative connotation, which seems to me to be regrettable. When a practice or general attitude prevails for a long time, and then, because of additional information, more thought, or better understanding, begins to change, that seems to be a good thing.
An example can be seen in the concept of patriotism. In the British North American colonies of the 17th Century, patriotic colonists were those who were loyal to England and to the king. But many of the colonists, as they continued to experience their lack of voice in the making of laws they were expected to obey, increasingly withdrew their loyalty to the king and ceased being patriotic English citizens.
The spread of this new unpatriotic way of thinking led to the American Revolution. The war ended with the formation of a new country, and patriotism took on a new meaning. However, though the American rebels had called themselves, “patriots,” American patriotism was not yet the overriding sentiment.
On the contrary, most residents of those first 13 states considered themselves patriots primarily to the state they lived in, rather than to the new country of which their state was now a part. They were reluctant even to contribute money to the national government so that wages could be paid to the soldiers who had fought and won the American Revolution for them.
This states-first patriotism was a significant factor — though not as significant as the quarrel over the abomination of slavery — leading up to the Civil War. The fact that the Union side won that conflict solidified the notion of a national patriotism — the American patriotism that is familiar to us today — a sentiment, one hopes, that continues to evolve.
Once you get started on this line of thinking, many other examples of change, brought on by
deeper thinking and new data and understanding, occur. Consider the concept of the ideal woman in previous centuries — a female person whose sphere of influence was rightly confined to the roles of wife, mother and housekeeper. This cultural norm, with greater thought, empathy and understanding, gradually changed over the years to the point where women could become educated, vote, hold professional positions and even become vice president of the United States.
You can follow similar lines of thinking in considering how cultural views and attitudes have
evolved over the years regarding people of color, LGBT persons and immigrants. Such history underscores the hollowness and unhelpfulness of the “cancel culture” term.
Surely, thoughtful persons will always consider it good when data, thought and deepened understanding cause habitual cultural practices and attitudes to evolve in ways that tend toward a more equitable and compassionate society.
The writer lives in Sperryville.