Cancel Culture & Free Speech: Insights From Douglas Murray

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Madness of Crowds" by Douglas Murray. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you feel free to express your opinions and share facts? Do you wonder whether you’re getting the whole truth and all perspectives on important matters?

Douglas Murray argues that woke ideology attempts to force consensus where it doesn’t exist and punishes those who don’t conform. In this “cancel culture,” free speech is the victim. Murray identifies a couple of examples that illustrate how this works in today’s society.

Read more to learn about cancel culture and free speech.

Cancel Culture & Free Speech

Murray says that the adherents to woke ideology decide certain viewpoints on issues such as trans rights and racism are objectively correct, and they demonize alternative opinions. Anyone who dares to offer a contrary opinion risks being subject to “cancel culture”: public ridicule and the possible collapse of their reputation, career, and livelihood. In cancel culture, free speech is suppressed; discussions around significant issues that deserve open debate are shut down.

Let’s examine two examples of the curbing of free speech in cancel culture.

Example #1: Silencing Conservative Viewpoints

First, Murray argues that the New Ideology’s tendency toward censorship makes it difficult for people with conservative views to voice their opinions on hot-button issues like race, homosexuality, and transgenderism for fear of provoking public outrage. Public attitudes have rapidly become more favorable toward topics like women’s empowerment and LGBTQ+ rights, which has left many social conservatives feeling left behind and like their values are threatened. However, due to cancel culture, conservatives no longer feel able to voice this feeling.

Example #2: Masking a Lack of Scientific Consensus

Another area in which the New Ideology is harming free speech is in scientific discussions. Murray argues that science hasn’t corroborated many of the core assumptions now associated with Leftist views of certain topics, but the New Ideology presents these assumptions as settled facts. Because of this, debate around these topics is quashed—the threat of cancel culture silences any opinion inconsistent with the New Ideology. However, Murray believes that many of these topics still deserve rigorous public debate due to the true lack of scientific consensus surrounding them.

According to Murray, a topic suffering from this issue is whether or not homosexuality is a fixed state of being. The New Ideology believes that homosexuality is a fully natural, immutable feature of a person’s identity, and it argues that denial of this is an act of discrimination. However, Murray points to recent statements from both the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the American Psychological Association that indicate a lack of consensus on this issue. Instead, it seems there’s still debate about whether same-sex orientation is a product of nature or nurture, and whether it’s a permanent fixture of identity or something that can be changed. 

Another topic that, in Murray’s view, deserves more scientific discussion is transgenderism. He notes that gender-affirming surgery and hormone therapies may damage individuals’ long-term health—for instance, by causing irreversible sterility. However, parents of transgender children are often discouraged or intimidated from asking questions about these effects for fear of damaging or worsening their children’s mental states. 

Finally, Murray also views bias tests, such as the Implicit Association Test (IAT), as scientifically problematic. These tests aim to uncover unconscious biases in the subject, such as acceptance of harmful racial stereotypes. Murray notes that there’s a lack of empirical consensus on these methods’ accuracy. However, they’ve still encouraged a neurotic tendency for white people in particular to suspect themselves of prejudices they likely don’t have, as well as triggering guilt over participating in systemic oppression against minorities that doesn’t exist.

Cancel Culture & Free Speech: Insights From Douglas Murray

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Douglas Murray's "The Madness of Crowds" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Madness of Crowds summary:

  • That Western society is consumed by social justice and identity politics
  • Why we must combat this ideology and restore opportunities for disagreement
  • How conservative viewpoints are being silenced and possible remedies

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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