The MAD turn in our cancel culture battles

Cold Warriors at least understood that a nuclear exchange would be much worse, even for the “winner,” than avoiding conflict in the first place. When it comes to cancel culture, though, sizable factions seem to think they are just a few escalations away from some sort of post-apocalyptic paradise.

Nor is there any real way for cooler heads to prevail. The Cold War was a standoff among a handful of armed countries where launch decisions were controlled by a small few. That select group could, and did, talk to each other to manage tensions and de-escalate crises. Cancel culture, by contrast, is like an arms race in which everyone, everywhere, has their finger on the launch button at all times.

In these conditions, it seems almost certain that tit-for-tat will act less as a restraint than as fuel for an ever-escalating cycle of vengeance.

And yet, I understand why conservatives feel pushed in this direction. Cancel culture is like an offensive weapon with no good countermeasures — the very problem that led nuclear strategists to conclude that the best defense is a good offense. The only way to harden yourself against attack in such a scenario is to build a (Trumpian) sort of ideological bunker that criticisms from the other side can never penetrate. But that strategy leaves you blind to uncomfortable facts, and unable to curb egregious abuses even by your own side — support for racial prejudice, say, or looting.