(You can listen to this column, read by the author, here).
Cancel culture has many victims.
Of course, it cancels those who once had free expression. But what about those it was made to protect? It hurts them, too.
Let me give you one small example of it backfiring and hurting a protected class cancel culture meant to help.
You’ve indulged me many times as I’ve written about my son Chance, who has Down syndrome. He is the frat brother I’ve never had. The reincarnation of John Belushi. The ultimate Buddhist — always in the moment, and always squeezing the ultimate amount of happiness out of life.
Chance is a 6-year-old trapped in a 19-year-old’s body. The man eats life and craps joy.
And here’s the tale of two cities: We were in Dallas at a large barbecue restaurant and there was a musician on stage playing great honky-tonk music. Chance does what he does so well — he acts in public like you would if there were absolutely no one around.
So, he is the only one in a room full of hundreds of people dancing like a madman in front of the musician. And having a damn fine time, because, well, why shouldn’t you?
Out of nowhere this gorgeous woman with a beautiful smile physically grabs him and starts dancing with him, spinning him around.
Chance was adding joy to this room just by being himself and the whole crowd was loving it. Then this wonderful lady joined in, and everyone’s joy multiplied.
That’s not just the power of my son. It’s the power of recognizing he’s very different from the rest of us and having fun with that difference.
I leaned over to her husband to say, “you know, you likely lost her forever.” And we both have a friendly laugh.
Back to my enlightened, sensitive, inclusive hometown of Boulder. The other day, Chance and I were shopping in Home Depot.
Of course, we are silly. Chance, as he often does, sits right in the middle of the shopping cart. That day he identified as an airplane. Most days he’s either an airplane or a race car. He’s non-binary like that.
So, we’re going down the aisles, he’s making silly faces and roaring like a jet engine. His arms are outstretched, a toy airplane in one hand, with the other he’s waiting for passersby to give him a “high-five.”
No one does. In fact, no one even looks my son in the eye.
Here is a 19-year-old with Down syndrome absurdly sitting in the middle of a shopping cart, being rolled down aisle after aisle as he roars like a jet engine, holding a toy airplane, and his other hand up waiting for people to slap it, and no one engages with him?
People not looking directly at my son, not engaging with him, is more and more common.
Is it part of the new, ruder Colorado? A Colorado that is colder, crowded and crime-filled so people merely keep to themselves as they would in a mean big city? Perhaps.
But I suspect these people want to engage in the joy my son has to offer but are scared to do so.
It’s plainly obvious the young man has Down syndrome. It’s plainly obvious he’s inviting you into his world.
But cancel culture has taught us doing so could be construed as mocking, or belittling, or hateful of the developmentally delayed. And people around who are witnessing it — particularly hypersensitive, easy-to-judge Boulderites — might do just what I suspect most in that Home Depot do regularly: support cancel culture (though I’m sure they don’t call it that).
So, they play it safe and don’t look my son in the eyes, don’t give him a high-five and just look the other way.
How sad. He offered them laughter and joy. He needed their engagement and connection. In exchange he would have brightened their day.
They didn’t want to take the chance. Safer just to look the other way and treat my son like a non-entity than to risk offending by saying or doing the wrong thing. The sterilized world of cancel culture is not just bland, it robs us of joy and my son of growth.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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