Adam Zyglis cartoon

(Adam Zyglis cartoon /

At this point, anyone with a beating heart is aware debates over free speech, cultural appropriation and intolerance covered by the umbrella term “cancel culture” have etched themselves firmly into the fabric of our discourse over the past few years.

It’s not surprising then that many observers believe it’s the sole cause for much of the disruptions that have plagued every quarter of our society.

Pundits from all sides of the political divide waste no time chiming in on the arguments, complaints and other expressions related to cancel culture. Being a vociferous supporter or an outspoken opponent has become a surefire way of achieving a degree of notoriety and acquiring supporters (and detractors).

Many critics of cancel culture see it primarily as a meandering evil originally constructed by the left, and deride proponents of the movement as unhinged and oversensitive snowflakes.

The truth is that liberals are not the sole purveyors of cancel culture. This reductive ideology is a bipartisan movement. The right has not been immune to the temptation of employing various practices of cancel culture, targeting academics, politicians and other left-leaning entities in what they see as combating the left.

More often than not, both liberals and conservatives aggressively utilize ill-defined indignities, manufactured outrage and bombastic rhetoric to score cheap political points against the other side.

Currently, we are witnessing such antics being shamelessly employed by right-wing politicians such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who have waged wanton attacks on the freedom of speech while promoting all sorts of political smokescreens and red herrings.

Some on the right have weaponized such tactics to impact the education of children, be it prohibiting certain books or discussions in K-12 public schools or stacking local school boards with conservative ideologues.

Political persuasion and personal feelings aside, the answer is not to deny them the right to express their viewpoints because you disagree with them. Rather, the appropriate and more effective response is to challenge such rhetoric with concrete facts and logic that will effectively disprove the positions that one may find objectionable or even abhorrent.

To paraphrase the old saying, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Free speech is crucial to our democracy. Either you have it, or you don’t.

It is important to remember that when you attempt to curtail the civil rights of others, it may very well only be a matter of time before you, yourself, can be stifled, if not outright canceled. Denying others the right to voice their opinions is a misguided and dangerous activity that can result in dramatic and disastrous consequences for all.

The scorched earth approach that many purveyors of so-called cancel culture often engage in is a malignant form of dictatorial behavior that cannot be condoned or tolerated in a society that prides itself on liberty, freedom and justice for all.

We should certainly remember to keep such sobering thoughts in mind.

Elwood Watson Ph.D. is a professor of history, black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. He is also an author and public speaker, and his column is syndicated through Cagle Cartoons. Click here for previous columns. Follow him on Twitter: @bleachbred. The opinions expressed are his own.