Issue #109 / August 2020
What is mercy for you?
VALERIO, TURIN, ITALY
What do you think of cancel culture?
FRANCES, LOS ANGELES, USA
Dear Valerio and Frances,
Mercy is a value that should be at the heart of any functioning and tolerant society. Mercy ultimately acknowledges that we are all imperfect and in doing so allows us the oxygen to breathe — to feel protected within a society, through our mutual fallibility. Without mercy a society loses its soul, and devours itself.
Mercy allows us the ability to engage openly in free-ranging conversation — an expansion of collective discovery toward a common good. If mercy is our guide we have a safety net of mutual consideration, and we can, to quote Oscar Wilde, “play gracefully with ideas.”
Yet mercy is not a given. It is a value we must nurture and aspire to. Tolerance allows the spirit of enquiry the confidence to roam freely, to make mistakes, to self-correct, to be bold, to dare to doubt and in the process to chance upon new and more advanced ideas. Without mercy society grows inflexible, fearful, vindictive and humourless.
Frances, you’ve asked about cancel culture. As far as I can see, cancel culture is mercy’s antithesis. Political correctness has grown to become the unhappiest religion in the world. Its once honourable attempt to reimagine our society in a more equitable way now embodies all the worst aspects that religion has to offer (and none of the beauty) — moral certainty and self-righteousness shorn even of the capacity for redemption. It has become quite literally, bad religion run amuck.
Cancel culture’s refusal to engage with uncomfortable ideas has an asphyxiating effect on the creative soul of a society. Compassion is the primary experience — the heart event — out of which emerges the genius and generosity of the imagination. Creativity is an act of love that can knock up against our most foundational beliefs, and in doing so brings forth fresh ways of seeing the world. This is both the function and glory of art and ideas. A force that finds its meaning in the cancellation of these difficult ideas hampers the creative spirit of a society and strikes at the complex and diverse nature of its culture.
But this is where we are. We are a culture in transition, and it may be that we are heading toward a more equal society — I don’t know — but what essential values will we forfeit in the process?