Cancel Culture and The Crucible Essay Example

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The Crucible was written not just as a story of the Salem witch trials, but also to show Arthur Miller's opinions on the red scare. The scathing opinion comes from Miller himself being falsely accused of being a communist. The second red scare was thought of in such a way due to the ridiculous ways that the government used to determine who is a communist. Due to the way the second red scare panned out, it remains as a warning to groupthink, as it exemplifies the ways that using groupthink can cause not only errors in judgement but also amplify said errors. Another example of groupthink is not historic, however it is relevant in today’s society. I believe that cancel culture is an example of groupthink and clearly shows its harmful effects and why it can so easily cause harm.

Cancel culture is the act of a large group of people “canceling” a specific group/person who had done something that they deemed offensive in order to mitigate the harm spread by the individual, whether real or imagined. This cancellation can take place through direct messaging, posts, and other methods generally utilizing social media. This relates back to The Crucible as it demonstrates a similar mob mentality, polarizing people’s ideologies and harshly punishing/criticizing those who don’t follow said ideals. An example from the Crucible would be  Martha Corey. Martha did not believe in and did  not know much about witches, and because of her ignorance it made her seem more suspicious as everyone around her seemed to believe in witches. Another similarity between the two is their lasting effects on its victims; in The Crucible, the accused’s reputation is destroyed, with them being thought of as consorting with the devil because of false accusations. In the example of cancel culture, those who have said things many years ago have their old tweets or messages dug up, or possibly even have false accusations made by others in order to “kick them when they are down”. This kind of attack is an example of mob mentality and can unjustifiably damage or destroy the careers of those who do not deserve it.

To summarize, the behaviors and mindset seen in The Crucible and cancel culture are very similar, with groupthink being used widely in both. Cancel culture’s amplification of people’s past wrongdoings and oversensitivity to others opinions and beliefs as well as the similarities between The Crucible’s mass hysteria and accusations of witchcraft, along with cancel culture’s calling for the firing of others or the ruining of their reputations and careers.

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How the Crucible is Relevant to Today’s Society

the crucible cancel culture essay

Written by Arthur Miller, The Crucible is one of the most popular historical dramas — and recent movie– the world has ever seen. The award-winning movie teaches modern high school students invaluable morals and emphasizes sensitive issues of the the past — such as the role of religion and politics — that are still relevant to the present society.

The Crucible takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, and focuses on the mass hysteria surrounding the Salem Witch Trials. Set in the 17th Century, the play allows audiences of all ages to step into a strict Puritan world and experience firsthand the love, hate, deceit, and jealousy that was behind the ordeal. The movie begins when the town minister Reverend Parris discovers his daughter Betty and his niece Abigail dancing in the woods with his slave, Tituba. Knowing that they have commited a sin, the girls say that they were bewitched by Tituba. Rumors of witchcraft quickly engulf the town as the townspeople gather around the Parris home. Reverend Hale, an expert on witchcraft, is quickly sent for, as Abigail tells the rest of the girls not to say anything.

In that time, Abigail ends up alone with John Proctor, a farmer in the town of Salem, and the man Abigail is rumored to have an affair with. Abigail confides in Proctor and tells him that the girls were just dancing. Under threat of punishment if she refuses to confess, Tituba admits to being friendly with the devil and  begins to name other witches in the town. Abigail, seeing this as her way out, begins naming names as well, and the rest of the girls join in. As the lies spiral, a fallacious story is birthed and leads to the heartbreaking death of 20 innocent people, including that of John Proctor.

On October 21, 1996, Arthur Miller wrote Why I Wrote The Crucible: An Artist’s Answer to Politics for The New Yorker, in which he compares the events of Salem Witch Trials to the Red Scare and the similar hysteria that both of these events created. As someone who lived through the Red Scare, Miller was able to write a piece that compared it with the Salem Witch Trials in 1953.The article highlights the paranoia that filled the hearts of Americans in 1949 when Mao Zedong took power in China, and how the Communist Party continued to grow in Western Europe in the 1950’s. Miller also compares details of his play and the events that unfolded in this time period such as “… how the State Department proceeded to hound and fire officers who knew China, its language and it’s opaque culture,” to the trial and prosecution of the women who simply knew the ‘bewitched’ girls.

Miller compared The Crucible to events that were relevant in his lifetime, like the Red Scare. In the 21st century, Americans can still relate to the fear that the town of Salem felt. America is a country consumed with fear: all you need to do is turn on the news channel or check social media to see any number of horrifying stories and the inherent need to find someone to blame for them. Just a few days ago, a video of a police officer using excessive force in an attempt to arrest a 14-year-old girl surfaced. In this case, the police department released a statement that shifted the blame onto the teenage girl. This is just one example of the headlines Americans see everyday. This fear – just like the fear in Salem – creates critical issues in our society, such as transphobia, racism and islamophobia. Fear is a powerful feeling that can immensely affect our actions, and often those actions are made without a second thought, therefore it can lead to violent actions and issues. Puritan values are the stimulation for the destruction of Salem as the urge to expose and destroy the evil creates a much deeper loss of morality then any case of witchcraft. At one point, Deputy Governor Danforth (leading judicial figure overseeing the Salem trials) states in the play, “I should hang ten thousand that dared to rise against the law…” which could easily come from a number of global community leaders today.

Traumatic events in today’s day and age, like those in Salem, allow for false claims to hinder the truth. Mary Warren (who was part of the bewitched girls, but eventually comes clean), states at one point of the play, “… and you, Your Honor, you seemed to believe them, and I– it were only a sport in the beginning, sir, but then the whole world cried spirit,” which can only highlight how easily the opinions of the people can shift in the weight of hysteria. It is argued that one of the most recent cases of mass hysteria was the Ebola crisis, and the resulting shift of opinions on modern medicine, especially regarding the effectiveness.    

The Crucible is a play based off historical events that unfolded in the town of Salem that highlights the effects of hysteria and explores the fear that can create critical issues in a society.  Examples of this include the Ebola outbreak, the West Bank Fainting Epidemic and the Borneo Kidnapping Scare. Due to events similar to the ones mentioned before, The Crucible is one of the few period plays that still feels contemporary on a global scale.

Sarah Jumma, senior editor

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Why I Wrote “The Crucible”

Arthur Miller sitting at a desk holding a pen

As I watched “The Crucible” taking shape as a movie over much of the past year, the sheer depth of time that it represents for me kept returning to mind. As those powerful actors blossomed on the screen, and the children and the horses, the crowds and the wagons, I thought again about how I came to cook all this up nearly fifty years ago, in an America almost nobody I know seems to remember clearly. In a way, there is a biting irony in this film’s having been made by a Hollywood studio, something unimaginable in the fifties. But there they are—Daniel Day-Lewis (John Proctor) scything his sea-bordered field, Joan Allen (Elizabeth) lying pregnant in the frigid jail, Winona Ryder (Abigail) stealing her minister-uncle’s money, majestic Paul Scofield (Judge Danforth) and his righteous empathy with the Devil-possessed children, and all of them looking as inevitable as rain.

I remember those years—they formed “The Crucible” ’s skeleton—but I have lost the dead weight of the fear I had then. Fear doesn’t travel well; just as it can warp judgment, its absence can diminish memory’s truth. What terrifies one generation is likely to bring only a puzzled smile to the next. I remember how in 1964, only twenty years after the war, Harold Clurman, the director of “Incident at Vichy,” showed the cast a film of a Hitler speech, hoping to give them a sense of the Nazi period in which my play took place. They watched as Hitler, facing a vast stadium full of adoring people, went up on his toes in ecstasy, hands clasped under his chin, a sublimely self-gratified grin on his face, his body swivelling rather cutely, and they giggled at his overacting.

Likewise, films of Senator Joseph McCarthy are rather unsettling—if you remember the fear he once spread. Buzzing his truculent sidewalk brawler’s snarl through the hairs in his nose, squinting through his cat’s eyes and sneering like a villain, he comes across now as nearly comical, a self-aware performer keeping a straight face as he does his juicy threat-shtick.

McCarthy’s power to stir fears of creeping Communism was not entirely based on illusion, of course; the paranoid, real or pretended, always secretes its pearl around a grain of fact. From being our wartime ally, the Soviet Union rapidly became an expanding empire. In 1949, Mao Zedong took power in China. Western Europe also seemed ready to become Red—especially Italy, where the Communist Party was the largest outside Russia, and was growing. Capitalism, in the opinion of many, myself included, had nothing more to say, its final poisoned bloom having been Italian and German Fascism. McCarthy—brash and ill-mannered but to many authentic and true—boiled it all down to what anyone could understand: we had “lost China” and would soon lose Europe as well, because the State Department—staffed, of course, under Democratic Presidents—was full of treasonous pro-Soviet intellectuals. It was as simple as that.

If our losing China seemed the equivalent of a flea’s losing an elephant, it was still a phrase—and a conviction—that one did not dare to question; to do so was to risk drawing suspicion on oneself. Indeed, the State Department proceeded to hound and fire the officers who knew China, its language, and its opaque culture—a move that suggested the practitioners of sympathetic magic who wring the neck of a doll in order to make a distant enemy’s head drop off. There was magic all around; the politics of alien conspiracy soon dominated political discourse and bid fair to wipe out any other issue. How could one deal with such enormities in a play?

“The Crucible” was an act of desperation. Much of my desperation branched out, I suppose, from a typical Depression-era trauma—the blow struck on the mind by the rise of European Fascism and the brutal anti-Semitism it had brought to power. But by 1950, when I began to think of writing about the hunt for Reds in America, I was motivated in some great part by the paralysis that had set in among many liberals who, despite their discomfort with the inquisitors’ violations of civil rights, were fearful, and with good reason, of being identified as covert Communists if they should protest too strongly.

In any play, however trivial, there has to be a still point of moral reference against which to gauge the action. In our lives, in the late nineteen-forties and early nineteen-fifties, no such point existed anymore. The left could not look straight at the Soviet Union’s abrogations of human rights. The anti-Communist liberals could not acknowledge the violations of those rights by congressional committees. The far right, meanwhile, was licking up all the cream. The days of “ J’accuse ” were gone, for anyone needs to feel right to declare someone else wrong. Gradually, all the old political and moral reality had melted like a Dali watch. Nobody but a fanatic, it seemed, could really say all that he believed.

President Truman was among the first to have to deal with the dilemma, and his way of resolving it—of having to trim his sails before the howling gale on the right—turned out to be momentous. At first, he was outraged at the allegation of widespread Communist infiltration of the government and called the charge of “coddling Communists” a red herring dragged in by the Republicans to bring down the Democrats. But such was the gathering power of raw belief in the great Soviet plot that Truman soon felt it necessary to institute loyalty boards of his own.

The Red hunt, led by the House Committee on Un-American Activities and by McCarthy, was becoming the dominating fixation of the American psyche. It reached Hollywood when the studios, after first resisting, agreed to submit artists’ names to the House Committee for “clearing” before employing them. This unleashed a veritable holy terror among actors, directors, and others, from Party members to those who had had the merest brush with a front organization.

The Soviet plot was the hub of a great wheel of causation; the plot justified the crushing of all nuance, all the shadings that a realistic judgment of reality requires. Even worse was the feeling that our sensitivity to this onslaught on our liberties was passing from us—indeed, from me. In “Timebends,” my autobiography, I recalled the time I’d written a screenplay (“The Hook”) about union corruption on the Brooklyn waterfront. Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures, did something that would once have been considered unthinkable: he showed my script to the F.B.I. Cohn then asked me to take the gangsters in my script, who were threatening and murdering their opponents, and simply change them to Communists. When I declined to commit this idiocy (Joe Ryan, the head of the longshoremen’s union, was soon to go to Sing Sing for racketeering), I got a wire from Cohn saying, “The minute we try to make the script pro-American you pull out.” By then—it was 1951—I had come to accept this terribly serious insanity as routine, but there was an element of the marvellous in it which I longed to put on the stage.

In those years, our thought processes were becoming so magical, so paranoid, that to imagine writing a play about this environment was like trying to pick one’s teeth with a ball of wool: I lacked the tools to illuminate miasma. Yet I kept being drawn back to it.

I had read about the witchcraft trials in college, but it was not until I read a book published in 1867—a two-volume, thousand-page study by Charles W. Upham, who was then the mayor of Salem—that I knew I had to write about the period. Upham had not only written a broad and thorough investigation of what was even then an almost lost chapter of Salem’s past but opened up to me the details of personal relationships among many participants in the tragedy.

I visited Salem for the first time on a dismal spring day in 1952; it was a sidetracked town then, with abandoned factories and vacant stores. In the gloomy courthouse there I read the transcripts of the witchcraft trials of 1692, as taken down in a primitive shorthand by ministers who were spelling each other. But there was one entry in Upham in which the thousands of pieces I had come across were jogged into place. It was from a report written by the Reverend Samuel Parris, who was one of the chief instigators of the witch-hunt. “During the examination of Elizabeth Procter, Abigail Williams and Ann Putnam”—the two were “afflicted” teen-age accusers, and Abigail was Parris’s niece—“both made offer to strike at said Procter; but when Abigail’s hand came near, it opened, whereas it was made up into a fist before, and came down exceeding lightly as it drew near to said Procter, and at length, with open and extended fingers, touched Procter’s hood very lightly. Immediately Abigail cried out her fingers, her fingers, her fingers burned. . . .”

In this remarkably observed gesture of a troubled young girl, I believed, a play became possible. Elizabeth Proctor had been the orphaned Abigail’s mistress, and they had lived together in the same small house until Elizabeth fired the girl. By this time, I was sure, John Proctor had bedded Abigail, who had to be dismissed most likely to appease Elizabeth. There was bad blood between the two women now. That Abigail started, in effect, to condemn Elizabeth to death with her touch, then stopped her hand, then went through with it, was quite suddenly the human center of all this turmoil.

All this I understood. I had not approached the witchcraft out of nowhere, or from purely social and political considerations. My own marriage of twelve years was teetering and I knew more than I wished to know about where the blame lay. That John Proctor the sinner might overturn his paralyzing personal guilt and become the most forthright voice against the madness around him was a reassurance to me, and, I suppose, an inspiration: it demonstrated that a clear moral outcry could still spring even from an ambiguously unblemished soul. Moving crabwise across the profusion of evidence, I sensed that I had at last found something of myself in it, and a play began to accumulate around this man.

But as the dramatic form became visible, one problem remained unyielding: so many practices of the Salem trials were similar to those employed by the congressional committees that I could easily be accused of skewing history for a mere partisan purpose. Inevitably, it was no sooner known that my new play was about Salem than I had to confront the charge that such an analogy was specious—that there never were any witches but there certainly are Communists. In the seventeenth century, however, the existence of witches was never questioned by the loftiest minds in Europe and America; and even lawyers of the highest eminence, like Sir Edward Coke, a veritable hero of liberty for defending the common law against the king’s arbitrary power, believed that witches had to be prosecuted mercilessly. Of course, there were no Communists in 1692, but it was literally worth your life to deny witches or their powers, given the exhortation in the Bible, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” There had to be witches in the world or the Bible lied. Indeed, the very structure of evil depended on Lucifer’s plotting against God. (And the irony is that klatches of Luciferians exist all over the country today; there may even be more of them now than there are Communists.)

As with most humans, panic sleeps in one unlighted corner of my soul. When I walked at night along the empty, wet streets of Salem in the week that I spent there, I could easily work myself into imagining my terror before a gaggle of young girls flying down the road screaming that somebody’s “familiar spirit” was chasing them. This anxiety-laden leap backward over nearly three centuries may have been helped along by a particular Upham footnote. At a certain point, the high court of the province made the fatal decision to admit, for the first time, the use of “spectral evidence” as proof of guilt. Spectral evidence, so aptly named, meant that if I swore that you had sent out your “familiar spirit” to choke, tickle, or poison me or my cattle, or to control my thoughts and actions, I could get you hanged unless you confessed to having had contact with the Devil. After all, only the Devil could lend such powers of invisible transport to confederates, in his everlasting plot to bring down Christianity.

Naturally, the best proof of the sincerity of your confession was your naming others whom you had seen in the Devil’s company—an invitation to private vengeance, but made official by the seal of the theocratic state. It was as though the court had grown tired of thinking and had invited in the instincts: spectral evidence—that poisoned cloud of paranoid fantasy—made a kind of lunatic sense to them, as it did in plot-ridden 1952, when so often the question was not the acts of an accused but the thoughts and intentions in his alienated mind.

The breathtaking circularity of the process had a kind of poetic tightness. Not everybody was accused, after all, so there must be some reason why you were . By denying that there is any reason whatsoever for you to be accused, you are implying, by virtue of a surprisingly small logical leap, that mere chance picked you out, which in turn implies that the Devil might not really be at work in the village or, God forbid, even exist. Therefore, the investigation itself is either mistaken or a fraud. You would have to be a crypto-Luciferian to say that—not a great idea if you wanted to go back to your farm.

The more I read into the Salem panic, the more it touched off corresponding images of common experiences in the fifties: the old friend of a blacklisted person crossing the street to avoid being seen talking to him; the overnight conversions of former leftists into born-again patriots; and so on. Apparently, certain processes are universal. When Gentiles in Hitler’s Germany, for example, saw their Jewish neighbors being trucked off, or farmers in Soviet Ukraine saw the Kulaks vanishing before their eyes, the common reaction, even among those unsympathetic to Nazism or Communism, was quite naturally to turn away in fear of being identified with the condemned. As I learned from non-Jewish refugees, however, there was often a despairing pity mixed with “Well, they must have done something .” Few of us can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable And so the evidence has to be internally denied.

I was also drawn into writing “The Crucible” by the chance it gave me to use a new language—that of seventeenth-century New England. That plain, craggy English was liberating in a strangely sensuous way, with its swings from an almost legalistic precision to a wonderful metaphoric richness. “The Lord doth terrible things amongst us, by lengthening the chain of the roaring lion in an extraordinary manner, so that the Devil is come down in great wrath,” Deodat Lawson, one of the great witch-hunting preachers, said in a sermon. Lawson rallied his congregation for what was to be nothing less than a religious war against the Evil One—“Arm, arm, arm!”—and his concealed anti-Christian accomplices.

But it was not yet my language, and among other strategies to make it mine I enlisted the help of a former University of Michigan classmate, the Greek-American scholar and poet Kimon Friar. (He later translated Kazantzakis.) The problem was not to imitate the archaic speech but to try to create a new echo of it which would flow freely off American actors’ tongues. As in the film, nearly fifty years later, the actors in the first production grabbed the language and ran with it as happily as if it were their customary speech.

“The Crucible” took me about a year to write. With its five sets and a cast of twenty-one, it never occurred to me that it would take a brave man to produce it on Broadway, especially given the prevailing climate, but Kermit Bloomgarden never faltered. Well before the play opened, a strange tension had begun to build. Only two years earlier, the “Death of a Salesman” touring company had played to a thin crowd in Peoria, Illinois, having been boycotted nearly to death by the American Legion and the Jaycees. Before that, the Catholic War Veterans had prevailed upon the Army not to allow its theatrical groups to perform, first, “All My Sons,” and then any play of mine, in occupied Europe. The Dramatists Guild refused to protest attacks on a new play by Sean O’Casey, a self-declared Communist, which forced its producer to cancel his option. I knew of two suicides by actors depressed by upcoming investigation, and every day seemed to bring news of people exiling themselves to Europe: Charlie Chaplin, the director Joseph Losey, Jules Dassin, the harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler, Donald Ogden Stewart, one of the most sought-after screenwriters in Hollywood, and Sam Wanamaker, who would lead the successful campaign to rebuild the Old Globe Theatre on the Thames.

On opening night, January 22, 1953, I knew that the atmosphere would be pretty hostile. The coldness of the crowd was not a surprise; Broadway audiences were not famous for loving history lessons, which is what they made of the play. It seems to me entirely appropriate that on the day the play opened, a newspaper headline read “ALL THIRTEEN REDS GUILTY” —a story about American Communists who faced prison for “conspiring to teach and advocate the duty and necessity of forcible overthrow of government.” Meanwhile, the remoteness of the production was guaranteed by the director, Jed Harris, who insisted that this was a classic requiring the actors to face front, never each other. The critics were not swept away. “Arthur Miller is a problem playwright in both senses of the word,” wrote Walter Kerr of the Herald Tribune , who called the play “a step backward into mechanical parable.” The Times was not much kinder, saying, “There is too much excitement and not enough emotion in ‘The Crucible.’ ” But the play’s future would turn out quite differently.

About a year later, a new production, one with younger, less accomplished actors, working in the Martinique Hotel ballroom, played with the fervor that the script and the times required, and “The Crucible” became a hit. The play stumbled into history, and today, I am told, it is one of the most heavily demanded trade-fiction paperbacks in this country; the Bantam and Penguin editions have sold more than six million copies. I don’t think there has been a week in the past forty-odd years when it hasn’t been on a stage somewhere in the world. Nor is the new screen version the first. Jean-Paul Sartre, in his Marxist phase, wrote a French film adaptation that blamed the tragedy on the rich landowners conspiring to persecute the poor. (In truth, most of those who were hanged in Salem were people of substance, and two or three were very large landowners.)

It is only a slight exaggeration to say that, especially in Latin America, “The Crucible” starts getting produced wherever a political coup appears imminent, or a dictatorial regime has just been overthrown. From Argentina to Chile to Greece, Czechoslovakia, China, and a dozen other places, the play seems to present the same primeval structure of human sacrifice to the furies of fanaticism and paranoia that goes on repeating itself forever as though imbedded in the brain of social man.

I am not sure what “The Crucible” is telling people now, but I know that its paranoid center is still pumping out the same darkly attractive warning that it did in the fifties. For some, the play seems to be about the dilemma of relying on the testimony of small children accusing adults of sexual abuse, something I’d not have dreamed of forty years ago. For others, it may simply be a fascination with the outbreak of paranoia that suffuses the play—the blind panic that, in our age, often seems to sit at the dim edges of consciousness. Certainly its political implications are the central issue for many people; the Salem interrogations turn out to be eerily exact models of those yet to come in Stalin’s Russia, Pinochet’s Chile, Mao’s China, and other regimes. (Nien Cheng, the author of “Life and Death in Shanghai,” has told me that she could hardly believe that a non-Chinese—someone who had not experienced the Cultural Revolution—had written the play.) But below its concerns with justice the play evokes a lethal brew of illicit sexuality, fear of the supernatural, and political manipulation, a combination not unfamiliar these days. The film, by reaching the broad American audience as no play ever can, may well unearth still other connections to those buried public terrors that Salem first announced on this continent.

One thing more—something wonderful in the old sense of that word. I recall the weeks I spent reading testimony by the tome, commentaries, broadsides, confessions, and accusations. And always the crucial damning event was the signing of one’s name in “the Devil’s book.” This Faustian agreement to hand over one’s soul to the dreaded Lord of Darkness was the ultimate insult to God. But what were these new inductees supposed to have done once they’d signed on? Nobody seems even to have thought to ask. But, of course, actions are as irrelevant during cultural and religious wars as they are in nightmares. The thing at issue is buried intentions—the secret allegiances of the alienated heart, always the main threat to the theocratic mind, as well as its immemorial quarry. ♦

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"The Crucible" Literary Analysis

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Themes and Analysis

The crucible, by arthur miller.

Through 'The Crucible,' Miller explores several important themes, such as the power of fear and superstition and the dangers of religious extremism.

Emma Baldwin

Article written by Emma Baldwin

B.A. in English, B.F.A. in Fine Art, and B.A. in Art Histories from East Carolina University.

Arthur Miller’s ‘ The Crucible ‘ is one of the most powerful and poignant plays ever written . Set in the Puritan town of Salem during the 1690s, the play focuses on a series of trials that ultimately reveal the dangers of fear and ignorance. The play is filled with important symbols and themes that drive the narrative, many of which are highly relatable, even today.

The Corruption of Power

In the story of ‘ The Crucible ,’ power corrupts absolutely. In the village of Salem, the court proceedings are directed by those in authority, such as Reverend Parris and Deputy Governor Danforth. They misuse their power to further their own personal agendas, leading to false accusations and wrongful executions. The corruption of power serves as a warning against allowing authority figures to control everyday life without consequence.

The Dangers of Hysteria

‘ The Crucible ‘ demonstrates how quickly hysteria can spread and affect a community. With the accusations of witchcraft, fear and paranoia spread like wildfire among the citizens of Salem. This leads to even more accusations and further isolation of those thought to be guilty. The play warns readers against succumbing to hysteria and shows the real danger it can pose when left unchecked; this relates directly to McCarthyism in the 1950s in the United States.

Ignorance and Intolerance

Many of the characters in ‘ The Crucible ‘ are ignorant and intolerant of others, especially those they view as outsiders. This is demonstrated through the character of Reverend Parris, who is deeply suspicious of anyone who is different or opposes him. Similarly, intolerance is shown when those accused of witchcraft are assumed to be guilty despite a lack of evidence. The play emphasizes the need for tolerance and understanding in order to prevent further strife.

Key Moments

  • Reverend Parris discovers his daughter and niece dancing in the woods with Tituba, his slave, and other girls from the village. Betty falls into a coma.
  • Parris questions the girls about witchcraft.
  • It’s revealed that Abigail had an affair with her former employer John Proctor. She still wants to be with him.
  • Betty wakes up screaming.
  • Tituba confesses to witchcraft. Abigail joins her.
  • Abigail and the other girls begin to accuse various citizens of Salem of witchcraft.
  • Mary Warren, now a court official, testifies against John Proctor in court. 
  • Elizabeth urges John to go to town and convince them that Abigail is not telling the truth. She is suspicious of their relationship.
  • Mary gives Elizabeth a poppet.
  • John is questioned by Reverend Hale.
  • The town marshal arrests Elizabeth and finds the poppet, which has a needle in it.
  • Mary admits she made the poppet in court, and Elizabeth claims she’s pregnant.
  • The girls start screaming in court, saying that Mary is sending her spirit to them.
  • Elizabeth convinces John to admit to witchcraft.
  • John Proctor signs a confession but then rips it up before it can be used as evidence against him. 
  • John Proctor is put to death after refusing to lie about being a witch.

Tone and Style

The tone of Arthur Miller’s ‘ The Crucible ‘ is serious and intense due to the subject matter of the Salem Witch Trials. Miller captures a sense of urgency and fear that pervaded the small town of Salem at the time, which amplifies the drama and tension between the characters. This serves as a reminder of the underlying paranoia that can quickly infect a community.

The writing style of Miller’s play is direct and succinct. Miller deliberately focuses on dialogue and action, allowing for a natural flow to the story as it unfolds. He also uses strong language to draw attention to the ways in which fear and paranoia can lead to injustice. Through this approach, Miller effectively conveys the consequences of these events. In part, this is due to the format of the story. It’s a drama, meaning that it is almost entirely composed of only dialogue.

Witchcraft is the most obvious symbol in ‘ The Crucible ‘, representing the fear and paranoia of the characters during the Salem Witch Trials. Miller uses it to reflect the rampant hysteria of the time and how quickly false accusations spread throughout Salem. Witchcraft can also be seen as a metaphor for the powerlessness of individuals in the face of a repressive and superstitious society. 

Proctor’s House

John Proctor’s house serves as a symbol of both the struggles and the strength of his marriage to Elizabeth. It is not only a physical representation of their relationship but also an example of their commitment to one another. As their relationship unravels, so does their home, until it is eventually burned down by the townspeople. This symbolizes the breakdown of their marriage and the ultimate downfall of their relationship. 

The forest is a symbol of freedom in ‘ The Crucible .’ It represents the escape from repression, control, and oppression in Salem. By venturing out into the woods, characters like Tituba, Abigail, and Parris are able to reject societal norms and restrictions, allowing them to find their own paths. It is also a sign of hope for those who are struggling against the unjust and oppressive nature of Salem society.

What is the most important theme in The Crucible by Arthur Miller?

The most important theme in “The Crucible” is the power of public opinion and hysteria. It demonstrates how an environment of fear and superstition can be manipulated to create a situation of paranoia and distrust. 

Why is The Crucible by Arthur Miller important?

‘ The Crucible ‘ is important because it explores themes of morality, justice, and personal responsibility. It also examines the effects of unchecked hysteria and paranoia on individuals and society as a whole.

Why did Arthur Miller write The Crucible ?

Arthur Miller wrote ‘ The Crucible ‘ as a metaphor for McCarthyism, which was a period of intense anti-communist sentiment in the United States during the 1950s. He wanted to illustrate how similar events could happen again if unchecked fear and paranoia were allowed to spread.

Who are some of the main characters in The Crucible ?

Some of the main characters in The Crucible include John Proctor, Abigail Williams, Elizabeth Proctor, Reverend Parris, Reverend Hale, and Judge Danforth.

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Teaching The Crucible: An Outline of My Unit

Welcome to my second post in my series on teaching Arthur Miller’s drama, “The Crucible.” In my first post, I offer my top 5 tips on teaching the play, and in this one, I’m mapping out my entire unit, from pre-reading to assessment. I love teaching “The Crucible” now, but I actually hated the play in high school. Year after year, this unit has been a favorite for me and my students. I’m hoping that a glimpse into my planning process helps you make this text more engaging and accessible for your students.

the crucible cancel culture essay

FOCUS SKILLS & STANDARDS

“The Crucible” is a text rich for analysis, and you can teach just about any skill or standard with it. Here are the Common Core standards I prioritize while teaching this text:

  • Analyzing author’s choices:  CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.3  and  CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.5
  • Citing textual evidence to support analysis:  CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1
  • Analyzing the development of theme and author’s purpose:  CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.2  and  CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.6
  • Analyzing the impact of word choice:  CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.4
  • Analyzing irony:  CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.6

PRE-READING

In my previous post, I emphasized the need for teaching historical, cultural, and political context, so check that out to learn more about why it’s so crucial to invest time in this before reading.

My hook for this unit is a fun “How Puritan Are You?” magazine-style personality quiz that helps students learn about Puritan values and practices. After students take the quiz, we discuss what the questions reveal about the Puritan way of life. Then, students learn more about Puritanism through learning stations that introduce students to Puritan ethics, theology, and more.

the crucible cancel culture essay

After students understand Puritanism, we listen to excerpts from Jonathan Edwards’ infamous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” This lesson is always engaging due to its inherent shock value.

Finally, I introduce my students to the allegorical layer of the play: McCarthyism and the Red Scare. To tackle this, I have students complete a Webquest that builds historical background knowledge. Then, we play the “red dot game,” a simulation that models the process of unfounded accusations during the McCarthy era. This is not my own idea, but a quick Google search will give you instructions on this fun but meaningful activity.

Since “The Crucible” is the first piece of literature we read as a whole class, I heavily scaffold Act 1 and spend a lot of time on it. We always act it out, because I’m a firm believer in the fact that plays are meant to be seen and heard. Acting automatically increases engagement and allows students to take more ownership of the text and unit. For more information on how I do this with my students, check out my previous post.

Between the acting, close reading, analysis, activities, film, and assessment, we spend nearly 2 weeks on Act 1, because it’s crucial to understanding the rest of the play. During acting, we pause, discuss, and check for comprehension frequently. In addition, I have my students complete a character/conflict map as we read. This helps students track of all of the details Miller provides in his mini-essays before new characters come onstage.

We also closely read, annotate, and analyze the scene between Abby and Proctor and then evaluate the changes made to the film adaptation of this scene. At the end of the act, I facilitate learning stations to analyze characters and conflict, allegorical parallels to the Red Scare/McCarthyism, the Puritan paradox, and the role of fear. Finally, we watch the film and analyze the directors’ choices. Film analysis is the perfect way to scaffold the literary analysis we will practice throughout the rest of the play. More on that later!

My Act 1 assessment is a “blame chart” that asks students to critically think about who is responsible for the hysteria at the end of the act. Students distribute blame in a pie chart and defend their interpretation with explanations and textual evidence. You can find all of my Act 1 activities here.  

the crucible cancel culture essay

We spend around 3 days acting out Act 2. I typically have my students read the first portion of this act in small groups. Then, they analyze the conversation between the Proctors with giant close-reading task cards . In small groups, students annotate the excerpts and discuss the conflict between the Proctors.

We act out the rest of Act 2, because who doesn’t want to use props like a poppet, handcuffs, and a search warrant? Along the way, we stop to analyze the purpose of the irony, as well as character development. Analyzing Miller’s choices in the earlier acts of the play scaffolds students’ understanding of the theme and allegorical purpose of the text later on. Finally, after we have analyzed the text in great detail, we watch the film and analyze the director’s choices as a way to practice literary analysis.

To creatively assess students’ understanding of characters and plot, I have them write a diary entry from the perspective of one character. If you’d like to check out all of these activities for Act 2, they’re bundled for you here.

the crucible cancel culture essay

During my first few years of teaching “The Crucible,” we read/acted out all of Act 3 & 4, but it always took too long. I’m pretty sure we spent an entire 2 months on “The Crucible” my first year of teaching. I love acting it out, but I can’t justify too many days of acting the play out when I have analysis standards to teach. To maximize my time, I began substituting the 1996 film adaptation for the text of Act 3 & 4. I created these film analysis guides to scaffold literary analysis through film analysis.

These guides are not your typical “movie guides” filled with comprehension questions to keep the kids busy when you press play. Instead, these guides force students to be active viewers while they analyze characterization, author’s choices, purpose, plot devices, and more. After viewing, we discuss the changes made to the film adaptation and the effect on one’s interpretation of the film. You can read more about my decision to use film with “The Crucible” here and learn about how I engage reluctant readers with film here.

Because I still want students to be exposed to key parts of the text, I supplement the film with close readings of key excerpts from Proctor and Danforth. After viewing Act 3, we do another round of critical thinking learning stations that challenge students to analyze the power structure, characterization, irony, author’s choices, dramatic structure, and author’s purpose. You can check out my close reading activities and learning stations for Act 3 here.

After watching Act 4, I host a funeral for John Proctor, which is just a creative way to force my students to analyze the characterization of Proctor, the meaning behind his death, and how Miller’s choice to end the tragedy in this way contributes to theme and purpose. Students write an elegy or eulogy that creatively demonstrates mastery of these essential questions, and then I set the stage with “sad music” from YouTube and battery-powered tea light candles from the Dollar Tree. It’s always a hit and a much more effective way to address these complex questions.

Finally, I challenge students to “escape the Salem hysteria” through an engaging escape room activity that’s designed to function as review and analysis. The escape room challenges start simple, with comprehension and identification of literary devices, and gradually progress to more cognitively complex tasks involving close-reading, analysis, allegory, and theme. Because this activity forces students to examine the text, we are always able to have much more meaningful discussions about the text as a whole after the escape room.

the crucible cancel culture essay

To assess the literary analysis standards, I use two extended response questions that ask students to analyze character development, theme, and purpose. These written responses offer student choice and are a great way for students to demonstrate mastery of the standards. I’ve found that these written responses are a much better measure of my students’ skills than previous multiple-choice assessments I’ve given. Plus, they offer some much-needed writing practice that will come in handy for our following unit on argumentation. While any written assessment takes more time to grade, I’ve found that I can grade these efficiently with my rubric and sample responses.

Thanks for reading!

I hope this post helps make teaching “The Crucible” easier for you and more engaging for your students. If you are interested in any of these lessons or activities, check out my  Crucible unit bundle! In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions about how I teach this play.

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the crucible cancel culture essay

Quick question about the blame chart assessment: do you grade it for completion or is it more of a quiz grade to assess comprehension and analysis? Thanks!

the crucible cancel culture essay

I usually grade it as a quiz because it’s assessing their analysis + ability to cite evidence. 🙂

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A Different Perspective on Cancel Culture

David Crego

  • Daily Economy
  • Art and Culture

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Cancel culture is riddled with its fair share of problems. While there are people who deserve cancellation , the majority of victims seem to be undeservedly besmirched. Cancel culture causes great rifts in our society as even the dead are not safe , and many see it as a witch hunt . Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible is a good representation of cancel culture now: a series of baseless accusations inspired by righteous furor bringing ruin upon the innocent. 

The Crucible, set during the Salem Witch trials, shows how a kangaroo court perverted justice and enforced injustice. However, the court system was not the problem in the play. Instead, the court took extreme measures to remove social deviants through the acceptance of “spectral evidence” and tortures used to draw out confessions.

Cancel culture is an extreme example perverting the benefits of social pressure. It is commonly used nowadays as a way to dismiss or target anyone who holds even a slightly different opinion. This is unacceptable, but despite the egregiousness of cancel culture, social reprobation is still a necessary component of free speech. We can freely say what we want but those expressions come with consequences that we must also face. You cannot have your cake and eat it, too.

People should have the ability to say what they want, provided they are not directly advocating for acts of violence. Social pressure is useful in deterring speech that is harmful to a civil society. For example, groups of white supremacists congregate and broadcast information on the superiority of white people. While they have the right to voice their obviously wrong and evil ideas, we can socially censure such people who engage in this type of speech and behavior because we recognize that racism is unjust.

Social pressure is not even unique to our society today. Every society throughout history had its way of showing social disapproval, but its manifestation looks different in each one. Social pressure, after all, is just a society’s way of expelling or admonishing those who challenge its integrity. The reasons for this condemnation could be political, social, or religious. Thus, “cancelling” someone is censuring or punishing him for unjustly challenging civil society.

For example, the word ostracize comes from the Athenian practice “ostracism,” where one person was expelled from the community for ten years. After the Revolutionary War, many patriots harassed Loyalists for their support of the Crown, so they emigrated to Canada or to Britain. The Pope of the Catholic Church can excommunicate those who have proven dangerous to the faith. Each of these cases sought preservation of the existing culture and of civil society. Athenians ostracized those who threatened their democracy. Patriots challenged those who worked against the Revolution. The Church bars those who lead scandalous lives. Each case is conducive to a functioning social group.

Since people are fallible, there will be instances of unjust ostracism. Careful examination is necessary to see if ostracism is warranted. People have an intuitive sense for justice, so this discernment is not hard. No mental gymnastics are needed to know that something is unjust. This is why there is broad agreement on the censuring of Harvey Weinstein but questions about Dr. Seuss. This is why we see the Revolutionary War as justified disobedience but not the Confederacy’s secession. This is why we revolt in opposition to the laws against Martin Luther King’s Birmingham protest but celebrate laws cracking down on the Ku Klux Klan. If there is one instance where we can rightfully reproach someone, then a social censure is not inherently wrong.

Social pressure becomes wrong if the punishment is too extreme or unnecessary. Recalling The Crucible , the play ends with the hanging of John Proctor. He refused to admit to something he did not do and hoped that his death would show the gross perversion of justice in Salem. Displaying injustice by suffering injustice is the bet of everyone who engages in civil disobedience. John Proctor hoped that his cruel punishment would evoke sentiments of justice within people. Henry David Thoreau hoped his imprisonment for not paying a poll tax would show the absurdity of the Mexican-American War. MLK hoped that his imprisonment in Birmingham and the crackdown on protestors would show the lunacy of the segregationists. Each case revealed that punishment was unwarranted.

Censuring someone is no small thing; it is very serious. A victim of social condemnation will experience a huge loss. He could lose reputation, access to many goods and services, and material well-being, so admonishing anybody should not be taken lightly. But a social pressure to encourage good behavior is necessary. 

Without properly oriented social norms, civil society would collapse. Imagine if we did not reprove people for saying racist things. Imagine if your annoying co-worker said what he truly thought about everyone without reproach. Cancel culture may be such a controversial phrase that cannot be salvaged, but the idea that we should ostracize those who unjustly challenge the public order is necessary for a civil society.

David Crego

David Crego

David Crego is an Editorial Intern with the American Institute for Economic Research. He is a student at Hampden-Sydney college where he studies Mathematical Economics.

At Hampden-Sydney, he is a fellow of the Center for the Study of Political Economy, a teaching assistant for the Economics department, a fellow of the Wilson Center for Leadership in the Public Interest, a scholar in the Hobbie Business Ethics Program, and a member of the Catholic Campus Ministry leadership.

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the crucible cancel culture essay

Home — Essay Samples — Sociology — Cancel Culture — The Argument Against Cancel Culture

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The Argument Against Cancel Culture

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the crucible cancel culture essay

Cancel Culture: The Adverse Impacts Essay

  • To find inspiration for your paper and overcome writer’s block
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Planning the Introduction

Planning the body of your essay, planning the conclusion.

Topic sentence: Public shaming has been around since ancient times. Only recently, Gen Z created the term cancel culture to refer to the modern form of public shaming. Cancel culture refers to the practice of an individual or company stopping a public organization or figure after they have said or done something offensive or objectionable (Hassan, 2021).

The following paper bases its idea on three facts:

  • Cancel culture simplifies intricate problems and promotes hasty judgments.
  • Cancel culture has prompted individuals to ask for forgiveness without typically comprehending the weight of their deeds.
  • Cancel culture is an invasion of privacy; it involves criminal threats and might drive an individual to suicide.

Thesis: There are positive effects of cancel culture, such as holding people accountable; however, it is a harmful and wrongful act, and people should not condone it.

Supporting Evidence Paragraph #1

Topic Sentence: The increased awareness of cancel culture has promoted sudden judgments and simplified complex problems.

Explain Topic Sentence: Often, there is a definite contrast between wrong and right. However, in a situation whereby people are constantly searching for mistakes, they may not know it and can be quick to judge (Romano, 2021).

Introduce Evidence: For instance, politicians and other individuals have used cancel culture to coerce people (Romano, 2021).

Concluding Sentence: The acts of cancel culture stop people from sharing their opinions even though that is the appropriate or necessary action.

Supporting Evidence Paragraph #2

Topic Sentence: Additionally, the current cancel culture has led to the perpetrator routinely asking for forgiveness for their past errors after a public outcry (Romano, 2021).

Explain Topic Sentence: The main problem with this outcome is that these individuals solely ask for forgiveness after the public outcry and not after personally acknowledging their mistakes.

Introduce Evidence: For instance, according to Hassan, people should reach out to the perpetrator and constructively share their thoughts and expose their faulty logic instead of calling them out (Hassan, 2021).

Concluding Sentence: Cancel culture affects the habits of individuals negatively. For instance, it causes people to senselessly apologize to people without understanding the cause of the problem.

Supporting Evidence Paragraph #3

Topic Sentence: Unquestionably, cancel culture is toxic when it entails driving an individual to suicide, privacy invasion, or criminal threats (Hassan, 2021).

Explain Topic Sentence: The nature of most social media comments appears to demonstrate that cancel culture does not necessarily result in positive social change. Cancel culture spreads hate online, just like cyberbullying (Hassan, 2021).

Introduce Evidence: For instance, cancelling culture is illegal since hate crimes are prohibited.

Concluding Sentence: The violation of civil rights is viewed as a crime in America, and cancel culture denies citizens who disagree with other people to speak.

Counterargument

Topic Sentence: The advantage of cancel culture is that it typically gives people who have not heard the platform to call out injustices and voice their opinions through social media. It makes individuals impact real-life situations, such as raising awareness against ableism, sexism, or racism. For instance, a canceled entertainer such as Roseanne Barr lost her job and fans after making a racist tweet (Romano, 2020).

Concluding Sentence: When correctly used, cancel culture gives absolute power to everyday people and allows them to have such a significant impact in a virtual setting. However, the problem with this outcome is that the legal system does not share the perceptions towards the deviant behavior done by the canceled individuals.

Topic Sentence: In conclusion, the positive effect of cancel culture does not supersede the adverse impacts of cancel culture, which is harmful and wrongful. Cancel culture should not be allowed. Most individuals think it is an essential social justice tool, especially in an environment with substantial power imbalances between influential public figures and the affected communities and individuals. However, cancel culture has become uncontrollable and has allowed other individuals to invade people’s privacy, leading to senseless apologies while encouraging lawlessness.

Concluding Sentence: Cancel culture is unavoidable in today’s society, but optimistically, people should make a more positive culture with fair criticism.

Public shaming has been around since ancient times. Only recently, Gen Z created the term cancel culture to refer to the modern form of public shaming. Cancel culture refers to the practice of an individual or company stopping a public organization or figure after they have said or done something offensive or objectionable (Hassan, 2021). The following paper bases its idea on three facts: cancel culture simplifies intricate problems and promotes hasty judgments, quickly bringing outrageously severe outcomes in less harsh circumstances. Secondly, cancel culture has prompted individuals to ask for forgiveness without typically comprehending the weight of their deeds. Lastly, cancel culture is an invasion of privacy; it involves criminal threats and might drive an individual to suicide. There are positive effects of cancel culture, such as holding people accountable; however, it is a harmful and wrongful act, and people should not condone it.

The increased awareness of cancel culture has promoted sudden judgments and simplified complex problems. These deeds can easily result in outrageously severe outcomes in less harsh circumstances. Often, there is a definite contrast between wrong and right. However, in a situation whereby people are constantly searching for mistakes, they may not know it and can be quick to judge. For instance, politicians and other individuals have used cancel culture to coerce people (Romano, 2021). The acts of cancelling culture stop people from sharing their opinions even though that is the appropriate or necessary action.

Additionally, the current cancellation culture has led to the perpetrator routinely asking for forgiveness for their past errors after a public outcry. The main problem with this outcome is that these individuals solely ask for forgiveness after the public outcry and not after personally acknowledging their mistakes (Romano, 2021). For instance, according to Hassan, people should reach out to the perpetrator and constructively share their thoughts and expose their faulty logic instead of calling them out. Cancel culture affects the habits of individuals negatively. For instance, it causes people to senselessly apologize to people without understanding the cause of the problem.

Unquestionably, cancel culture is toxic when it entails driving an individual to suicide, privacy invasion, or criminal threats. The nature of most social media comments appears to demonstrate that cancelling culture does not necessarily result in positive social change (Hassan, 2021). Similar to cyberbullying, cancel culture spreads hate online. For instance, cancelling culture is illegal since hate crimes are prohibited. The violation of civil rights is viewed as a crime in America, and cancel culture denies citizens who disagree with other people to speak.

The advantage of cancel media is that it typically gives people who have not heard the platform to call out injustices and voice their opinions through social media. It makes individuals impact real-life situations, such as raising awareness against ableism, sexism, or racism. For instance, a canceled entertainer such as Roseanne Barr lost her job and fans after making a racist tweet (Romano, 2020). When correctly used, cancel culture gives absolute power to everyday people and allows them to have such a significant impact in a virtual setting. However, the problem with this outcome is that the legal system does not share the perceptions towards the deviant behavior done by the canceled individuals.

In conclusion, the positive effect of cancel culture does not supersede the adverse impacts of cancel culture, which is harmful and wrongful. Cancel culture should not be allowed. Ordinary folks have been vigilant of individuals who have rejected their values and morals. These deeds of public humiliation have always existed. In the age of social media and technology, social shaming has taken a new name called the cancel culture. Most individuals think it is an essential social justice tool, especially in an environment with substantial power imbalances between influential public figures and the affected communities and individuals. However, cancel culture has become uncontrollable and has allowed other individuals to invade people’s privacy, leading to senseless apologies while encouraging lawlessness. Cancel culture is unavoidable in today’s society, but optimistically, people should make a more positive culture with fair criticism.

Hassan, S. A. (2021). Why cancel culture by anyone is harmful and wrong. Psychology today. Web.

Romano, A. (2020). Why we can’t stop fighting about cancel culture. Vox. Web.

Romano, A. (2021). The second wave of ”cancel culture.” Vox. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2022, December 14). Cancel Culture: The Adverse Impacts. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cancel-culture-the-adverse-impacts/

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IvyPanda . (2022) 'Cancel Culture: The Adverse Impacts'. 14 December.

IvyPanda . 2022. "Cancel Culture: The Adverse Impacts." December 14, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cancel-culture-the-adverse-impacts/.

1. IvyPanda . "Cancel Culture: The Adverse Impacts." December 14, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cancel-culture-the-adverse-impacts/.

Bibliography

IvyPanda . "Cancel Culture: The Adverse Impacts." December 14, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cancel-culture-the-adverse-impacts/.

Schneier on Security

The hacking of culture and the creation of socio-technical debt.

Culture is increasingly mediated through algorithms. These algorithms have splintered the organization of culture, a result of states and tech companies vying for influence over mass audiences. One byproduct of this splintering is a shift from imperfect but broad cultural narratives to a proliferation of niche groups, who are defined by ideology or aesthetics instead of nationality or geography. This change reflects a material shift in the relationship between collective identity and power, and illustrates how states no longer have exclusive domain over either. Today, both power and culture are increasingly corporate.

Blending Stewart Brand and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, McKenzie Wark writes in A Hacker Manifesto that “information wants to be free but is everywhere in chains.” 1 Sounding simultaneously harmless and revolutionary, Wark’s assertion as part of her analysis of the role of what she terms “the hacker class” in creating new world orders points to one of the main ideas that became foundational to the reorganization of power in the era of the internet: that “information wants to be free.” This credo, itself a co-option of Brand’s influential original assertion in a conversation with Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak at the 1984 Hackers Conference and later in his 1987 book The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT , became a central ethos for early internet inventors, activists, 2 and entrepreneurs. Ultimately, this notion was foundational in the construction of the era we find ourselves in today: an era in which internet companies dominate public and private life. These companies used the supposed desire of information to be free as a pretext for building platforms that allowed people to connect and share content. Over time, this development helped facilitate the definitive power transfer of our time, from states to corporations.

This power transfer was enabled in part by personal data and its potential power to influence people’s behavior—a critical goal in both politics and business. The pioneers of the digital advertising industry claimed that the more data they had about people, the more they could influence their behavior. In this way, they used data as a proxy for influence, and built the business case for mass digital surveillance. The big idea was that data can accurately model, predict, and influence the behavior of everyone—from consumers to voters to criminals. In reality, the relationship between data and influence is fuzzier, since influence is hard to measure or quantify. But the idea of data as a proxy for influence is appealing precisely because data is quantifiable, whereas influence is vague. The business model of Google Ads, Facebook, Experian, and similar companies works because data is cheap to gather, and the effectiveness of the resulting influence is difficult to measure. The credo was “Build the platform, harvest the data…then profit.” By 2006, a major policy paper could ask, “Is Data the New Oil?” 3

The digital platforms that have succeeded most in attracting and sustaining mass attention—Facebook, TikTok, Instagram—have become cultural. The design of these platforms dictates the circulation of customs, symbols, stories, values, and norms that bind people together in protocols of shared identity. Culture, as articulated through human systems such as art and media, is a kind of social infrastructure. Put differently, culture is the operating system of society.

Like any well-designed operating system, culture is invisible to most people most of the time. Hidden in plain sight, we make use of it constantly without realizing it. As an operating system, culture forms the base infrastructure layer of societal interaction, facilitating communication, cooperation, and interrelations. Always evolving, culture is elastic: we build on it, remix it, and even break it.

Culture can also be hacked—subverted for specific advantage. 4 If culture is like an operating system, then to hack it is to exploit the design of that system to gain unauthorized control and manipulate it towards a specific end. This can be for good or for bad. The morality of the hack depends on the intent and actions of the hacker.

When businesses hack culture to gather data, they are not necessarily destroying or burning down social fabrics and cultural infrastructure. Rather, they reroute the way information and value circulate, for the benefit of their shareholders. This isn’t new. There have been culture hacks before. For example, by lending it covert support, the CIA hacked the abstract expressionism movement to promote the idea that capitalism was friendly to high culture. 5 Advertising appropriated the folk-cultural images of Santa Claus and the American cowboy to sell Coca-Cola and Marlboro cigarettes, respectively. In Mexico, after the revolution of 1910, the ruling party hacked muralist works, aiming to construct a unifying national narrative.

Culture hacks under digital capitalism are different. Whereas traditional propaganda goes in one direction—from government to population, or from corporation to customers—the internet-surveillance business works in two directions: extracting data while pushing engaging content. The extracted data is used to determine what content a user would find most engaging, and that engagement is used to extract more data, and so on. The goal is to keep as many users as possible on platforms for as long as possible, in order to sell access to those users to advertisers. Another difference between traditional propaganda and digital platforms is that the former aims to craft messages with broad appeal, while the latter hyper-personalizes content for individual users.

The rise of Chinese-owned TikTok has triggered heated debate in the US about the potential for a foreign-owned platform to influence users by manipulating what they see. Never mind that US corporations have used similar tactics for years. While the political commitments of platform owners are indeed consequential—Chinese-owned companies are in service to the Chinese Communist Party, while US-owned companies are in service to business goals—the far more pressing issue is that both have virtually unchecked surveillance power. They are both reshaping societies by hacking culture to extract data and serve content. Funny memes, shocking news, and aspirational images all function similarly: they provide companies with unprecedented access to societies’ collective dreams and fears. 6 By determining who sees what when and where, platform owners influence how societies articulate their understanding of themselves.

Tech companies want us to believe that algorithmically determined content is effectively neutral: that it merely reflects the user’s behavior and tastes back at them. In 2021, Instagram head Adam Mosseri wrote a post on the company’s blog entitled “Shedding More Light on How Instagram Works.” A similar window into TikTok’s functioning was provided by journalist Ben Smith in his article “How TikTok Reads Your Mind.” 7 Both pieces boil down to roughly the same idea: “We use complicated math to give you more of what your behavior shows us you really like.”

This has two consequences. First, companies that control what users see in a nontransparent way influence how we perceive the world. They can even shape our personal relationships. Second, by optimizing algorithms for individual attention, a sense of culture as common ground is lost. Rather than binding people through shared narratives, digital platforms fracture common cultural norms into self-reinforcing filter bubbles. 8

This fragmentation of shared cultural identity reflects how the data surveillance business is rewriting both the established order of global power, and social contracts between national governments and their citizens. Before the internet, in the era of the modern state, imperfect but broad narratives shaped distinct cultural identities; “Mexican culture” was different from “French culture,” and so on. These narratives were designed to carve away an “us” from “them,” in a way that served government aims. Culture has long been understood to operate within the envelope of nationality, as exemplified by the organization of museum collections according to the nationality of artists, or by the Venice Biennale—the Olympics of the art world, with its national pavilions format.

National culture, however, is about more than museum collections or promoting tourism. It broadly legitimizes state power by emotionally binding citizens to a self-understood identity. This identity helps ensure a continuing supply of military recruits to fight for the preservation of the state. Sociologist James Davison Hunter, who popularized the phrase “culture war,” stresses that culture is used to justify violence to defend these identities. 9 We saw an example of this on January 6, 2021, with the storming of the US Capitol. Many of those involved were motivated by a desire to defend a certain idea of cultural identity they believed was under threat.

Military priorities were also entangled with the origins of the tech industry. The US Department of Defense funded ARPANET, the first version of the internet. But the internet wouldn’t have become what it is today without the influence of both West Coast counterculture and small-l libertarianism, which saw the early internet as primarily a space to connect and play. One of the first digital game designers was Bernie De Koven, founder of the Games Preserve Foundation. A noted game theorist, he was inspired by Stewart Brand’s interest in “play-ins” to start a center dedicated to play. Brand had envisioned play-ins as an alternative form of protest against the Vietnam War; they would be their own “soft war” of subversion against the military. 10 But the rise of digital surveillance as the business model of nascent tech corporations would hack this anti-establishment spirit, turning instruments of social cohesion and connection into instruments of control.

It’s this counterculture side of tech’s lineage, which advocated for the social value of play, that attuned the tech industry to the utility of culture. We see the commingling of play and military control in Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, which was a huge influence on early tech culture. Described as “a kind of Bible for counterculture technology,” the Whole Earth Catalog was popular with the first generation of internet engineers, and established crucial “assumptions about the ideal relationships between information, technology, and community.” 11 Brand’s 1972 Rolling Stone article “Spacewar: Fantastic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer” further emphasized how rudimentary video games were central to the engineering community. These games were wildly popular at leading engineering research centers: Stanford, MIT, ARPA, Xerox, and others. This passion for gaming as an expression of technical skills and a way for hacker communities to bond led to the development of MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) programs, which enabled multiple people to communicate and collaborate online simultaneously.

The first MUD was developed in 1978 by engineers who wanted to play fantasy games online. It applied the early-internet ethos of decentralism and personalization to video games, making it a precursor to massive multiplayer online role-playing games and modern chat rooms and Facebook groups. Today, these video games and game-like simulations—now a commercial industry worth around $200 billion 12 —serve as important recruitment and training tools for the military. 13 The history of the tech industry and culture is full of this tension between the internet as an engineering plaything and as a surveillance commodity.

Historically, infrastructure businesses—like railroad companies in the nineteenth-century US—have always wielded considerable power. Internet companies that are also infrastructure businesses combine commercial interests with influence over national and individual security. As we transitioned from railroad tycoons connecting physical space to cloud computing companies connecting digital space, the pace of technological development put governments at a disadvantage. The result is that corporations now lead the development of new tech (a reversal from the ARPANET days), and governments follow, struggling to modernize public services in line with the new tech. Companies like Microsoft are functionally providing national cybersecurity. Starlink, Elon Musk’s satellite internet service, is a consumer product that facilitates military communications for the war in Ukraine. Traditionally, this kind of service had been restricted to selected users and was the purview of states. 14 Increasingly, it is clear that a handful of transnational companies are using their technological advantages to consolidate economic and political power to a degree previously afforded to only great-power nations.

Worse, since these companies operate across multiple countries and regions, there is no regulatory body with the jurisdiction to effectively constrain them. This transition of authority from states to corporations and the nature of surveillance as the business model of the internet rewrites social contracts between national governments and their citizens. But it also also blurs the lines among citizen, consumer, and worker. An example of this are Google’s Recaptchas, visual image puzzles used in cybersecurity to “prove” that the user is a human and not a bot. While these puzzles are used by companies and governments to add a layer of security to their sites, their value is in how they record a user’s input in solving the puzzles to train Google’s computer vision AI systems. Similarly, Microsoft provides significant cybersecurity services to governments while it also trains its AI models on citizens’ conversations with Bing. 15 Under this dyanmic, when citizens use digital tools and services provided by tech companies, often to access government webpages and resources, they become de facto free labor for the tech companies providing them. The value generated by this citizen-user-laborer stays with the company, as it is used to develop and refine their products. In this new blurred reality, the relationships among corporations, governments, power, and identity are shifting. Our social and cultural infrastructure suffers as a result, creating a new kind of technical debt of social and cultural infrustructure.

In the field of software development, technical debt refers to the future cost of ignoring a near-term engineering problem. 16 Technical debt grows as engineers implement short-term patches or workarounds, choosing to push the more expensive and involved re-engineering fixes for later. This debt accrues over time, to be paid back in the long term. The result of a decision to solve an immediate problem at the expense of the long-term one effectively mortgages the future in favor of an easier present. In terms of cultural and social infrastructure, we use the same phrase to refer to the long-term costs that result from avoiding or not fully addressing social needs in the present. More than a mere mistake, socio-technical debt stems from willfully not addressing a social problem today and leaving a much larger problem to be addressed in the future.

For example, this kind of technical debt was created by the cratering of the news industry, which relied on social media to drive traffic—and revenue—to news websites. When social media companies adjusted their algorithms to deprioritize news, traffic to news sites plummeted, causing an existential crisis for many publications. 17 Now, traditional news stories make up only 3 percent of social media content. At the same time, 66 percent of people ages eighteen to twenty-four say they get their “news” from TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter. 18 To be clear, Facebook did not accrue technical debt when it swallowed the news industry. We as a society are dealing with technical debt in the sense that we are being forced to pay the social cost of allowing them to do that.

One result of this shift in information consumption as a result of changes to the cultural infrastructure of social media is the rise in polarization and radicalism. So by neglecting to adequately regulate tech companies and support news outlets in the near term, our governments have paved the way for social instability in the long term. We as a society also have to find and fund new systems to act as a watchdog over both corporate and governmental power.

Another example of socio-technical debt is the slow erosion of main streets and malls by e-commerce. 19 These places used to be important sites for physical gathering, which helped the shops and restaurants concentrated there stay in business. But e-commerce and direct-to-consumer trends have undermined the economic viability of main streets and malls, and have made it much harder for small businesses to survive. The long-term consequence of this to society is the hollowing out of town centers and the loss of spaces for physical gathering—which we will all have to pay for eventually.

The faltering finances of museums will also create long-term consequences for society as a whole, especially in the US, where Museums mostly depend on private donors to cover operational costs. But a younger generation of philanthropists is shifting its giving priorities away from the arts, leading to a funding crisis at some institutions. 20

One final example: libraries. NYU Sociologist Eric Klinenberg called libraries “the textbook example of social infrastructure in action.” 21 But today they are stretched to the breaking point, like museums, main streets, and news media. In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams has proposed a series of severe budget cuts to the city’s library system over the past year, despite having seen a spike in usage recently. The steepest cuts were eventually retracted, but most libraries in the city have still had to cancel social programs and cut the number of days they’re open. 22 As more and more spaces for meeting in real life close, we increasingly turn to digital platforms for connection to replace them. But these virtual spaces are optimized for shareholder returns, not public good.

Just seven companies—Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft, Nvidia and Tesla—drove 60 percent of the gains of the S&P stock market index in 2023. 23 Four—Alibaba, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft—deliver the majority of cloud services. 24 These companies have captured the delivery of digital and physical goods and services. Everything involved with social media, cloud computing, groceries, and medicine is trapped in their flywheels, because the constellation of systems that previously put the brakes on corporate power, such as monopoly laws, labor unions, and news media, has been eroded. Product dependence and regulatory capture have further undermined the capacity of states to respond to the rise in corporate hard and soft power. Lock-in and other anticompetitive corporate behavior have prevented market mechanisms from working properly. As democracy falls into deeper crisis with each passing year, policy and culture are increasingly bent towards serving corporate interest. The illusion that business, government, and culture are siloed sustains this status quo.

Our digitized global economy has made us all participants in the international data trade, however reluctantly. Though we are aware of the privacy invasions and social costs of digital platforms, we nevertheless participate in these systems because we feel as though we have no alternative—which itself is partly the result of tech monopolies and the lack of competition.

Now, the ascendence of AI is thrusting big data into a new phase and new conflicts with social contracts. The development of bigger, more powerful AI models means more demand for data. Again, massive wholesale extractions of culture are at the heart of these efforts. 25 As AI researchers and artists Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler explain in the catalog to their exhibition Calculating Empires, AI developers require “the entire history of human knowledge and culture … The current lawsuits over generative systems like GPT and Stable Diffusion highlight how completely dependent AI systems are on extracting, enclosing, and commodifying the entire history of cognitive and creative labor.” 26

Permitting internet companies to hack the systems in which culture is produced and circulates is a short-term trade-off that has proven to have devastating long-term consequences. When governments give tech companies unregulated access to our social and cultural infrastructure, the social contract becomes biased towards their profit. When we get immediate catharsis through sharing memes or engaging in internet flamewars, real protest is muzzled. We are increasing our collective socio-technical debt by ceding our social and cultural infrastructure to tech monopolies.

Cultural expression is fundamental to what makes us human. It’s an impulse, innate to us as a species, and this impulse will continue to be a gold mine to tech companies. There is evidence that AI models trained on synthetic data—data produced by other AI models rather than humans—can corrupt these models, causing them to return false or nonsensical answers to queries. 27 So as AI-produced data floods the internet, data that is guaranteed to have been derived from humans becomes more valuable. In this context, our human nature, compelling us to make and express culture, is the dream of digital capitalism. We become a perpetual motion machine churning out free data. Beholden to shareholders, these corporations see it as their fiduciary duty—a moral imperative even—to extract value from this cultural life.

We are in a strange transition. The previous global order, in which states wielded ultimate authority, hasn’t quite died. At the same time, large corporations have stepped in to deliver some of the services abandoned by states, but at the price of privacy and civic well-being. Increasingly, corporations provide consistent, if not pleasant, economic and social organization. Something similar occurred during the Gilded Age in the US (1870s–1890s). But back then, the influence of robber barons was largely constrained to the geographies in which they operated, and their services (like the railroad) were not previously provided by states. In our current transitionary period, public life worldwide is being reimagined in accordance with corporate values. Amidst a tug-of-war between the old state-centric world and the emerging capital-centric world, there is a growing radicalism fueled partly by frustration over social and personal needs going unmet under a transnational order that is maximized for profit rather than public good.

Culture is increasingly divorced from national identity in our globalized, fragmented world. On the positive side, this decoupling can make culture more inclusive of marginalized people. Other groups, however, may perceive this new status quo as a threat, especially those facing a loss of privilege. The rise of white Christian nationalism shows that the right still regards national identity and culture as crucial—as potent tools in the struggle to build political power, often through anti-democratic means. This phenomenon shows that the separation of cultural identity from national identity doesn’t negate the latter. Instead, it creates new political realities and new orders of power.

Nations issuing passports still behave as though they are the definitive arbiters of identity. But culture today—particularly the multiverse of internet cultures—exposes how this is increasingly untrue. With government discredited as an ultimate authority, and identity less and less connected to nationality, we can find a measure of hope for navigating the current transition in the fact that culture is never static. New forms of resistance are always emerging. But we must ask ourselves: Have the tech industry’s overwhelming surveillance powers rendered subversion impossible? Or does its scramble to gather all the world’s data offer new possibilities to hack the system?

1. McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto (Harvard University Press, 2004), thesis 126. ↑

2. Jon Katz, “Birth of a Digital Nation,” Wired , April 1, 1997. ↑

3. Marcin Szczepanski, “Is Data the New Oil? Competition Issues in the Digital Economy,” European Parliamentary Research Service, January 2020. ↑

4. Bruce Schneier, A Hacker’s Mind: How the Powerful Bend Society’s Rules, and How to Bend Them Back (W. W. Norton & Sons, 2023). ↑

5. Lucie Levine, “Was Modern Art Really a CIA Psy-Op?” JStor Daily , April 1, 2020. ↑

6. Bruce Schneier, Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World (W. W. Norton & Sons, 2015). ↑

7. Adam Mosseri, “Shedding More Light on How Instagram Works,” Instagram Blog , June 8, 2021; Ben Smith, “How TikTok Reads Your Mind,” New York Times, December 5, 2021. ↑

8. Giacomo Figà Talamanca and Selene Arfini, “Through the Newsfeed Glass: Rethinking Filter Bubbles and Echo Chambers,” Philosophy & Technology 35, no. 1 (2022). ↑

9. Zack Stanton, “How the ‘Culture War’ Could Break Democracy,” Politico, May 5, 2021. ↑

10. Jason Johnson, “Inside the Failed, Utopian New Games Movement,” Kill Screen , October 25, 2013. ↑

11. Fred Turner, “Taking the Whole Earth Digital,” chap. 4 in From Counter Culture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, The Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (University of Chicago Press, 2006). ↑

12. Kaare Ericksen, “The State of the Video Games Industry: A Special Report,” Variety , February 1, 2024. ↑

13. Rosa Schwartzburg, “The US Military Is Embedded in the Gaming World. It’s Target: Teen Recruits,” The Guardian , February 14, 2024; Scott Kuhn, “Soldiers Maintain Readiness Playing Video Games,” US Army, April 29, 2020; Katie Lange, “Military Esports: How Gaming Is Changing Recruitment & Moral,” US Department of Defense, December 13, 2022. ↑

14. Shaun Waterman, “Growing Commercial SATCOM Raises Trust Issues for Pentagon,” Air & Space Forces Magazine , April 3, 2024. ↑

15. Geoffrey A Fowler, “Your Instagrams Are Training AI. There’s Little You Can Do About It,” Washington Post , September 27, 2023. ↑

16. Zengyang Li, Paris Avgeriou, and Peng Liang, “A Systematic Mapping Study on Technical Debt and Its Management,” Journal of Systems and Software , December 2014. ↑

17. David Streitfeld, “How the Media Industry Keeps Losing the Future,” New York Times, February 28, 2024. ↑

18. “The End of the Social Network,” The Economist, February 1, 2024; Ollie Davies, “What Happens If Teens Get Their News From TikTok?” The Guardian, February 22, 2023. ↑

19. Eric Jaffe, “Quantifying the Death of the Classic American Main Street,” Medium , March 16, 2018. ↑

20. Julia Halprin, “The Hangover from the Museum Party: Institutions in the US Are Facing a Funding Crisis,” Art Newspaper, January 19, 2024. ↑

21. Quoted in Pete Buttigieg, “The Key to Happiness Might Be as Simple as a Library or Park,” New York Times , September 14, 2018. ↑

22. Jeffery C. Mays and Dana Rubinstein, “Mayor Adams Walks Back Budget Cuts Many Saw as Unnecessary,” New York Times , April 24, 2024. ↑

23. Karl Russell and Joe Rennison, “These Seven Tech Stocks Are Driving the Market,” New York Times, January 22, 2024. ↑

24. Ian Bremmer, “How Big Tech Will Reshape the Global Order,” Foreign Affairs, October 19, 2021. ↑

25. Nathan Sanders and Bruce Schneier, “How the ‘Frontier’ Became the Slogan for Uncontrolled AI,” Jacobin, February 27, 2024. ↑

26. Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler, Calculating Empires: A Genealogy of Technology and Power, 1500–2025 (Fondazione Prada, 2023), 9. Exhibition catalog. ↑

27. Rahul Rao, “AI Generated Data Can Poison Future AI Models,” Scientific American , July 28, 2023. ↑

This essay was written with Kim Córdova, and was originally published in e-flux .

Tags: data collection , hacking , noncomputer hacks

Posted on June 19, 2024 at 7:09 AM • 16 Comments

K.S. • June 19, 2024 7:44 AM

Young people are hard-wired to rebel against existing culture. This sometimes creates paradoxical rebellions against rebellious mainstream culture that manifests as conservatism. We are in one such shift, where young people are rebelling against GenX culture by embracing conservatism and traditional values.

Because of this phenomenon any corporate hold on culture could only be temporary in Western society. That is, as long as rights-based society where individuals are free to chose culture remains in place. For example, Iranian women are not free to adopt punk culture, but that is because Iranian society suppresses individual rights.

Mariano • June 19, 2024 9:17 AM

Some years ago, I had noted and wrote some posts about a “decay of culture” drove by media, advertising and corporations ( and a sleeping policy of government ), but, I thought it was a problem regarding my Country only, but now reading your sharp and deep analysis about this thing I reconsidering my position about it.

You gave me a great kick toward a bigger level of understanding this thing. I totally agree with you in many parts of this post. I didn’t know I was in track with your thinking, before of this post, and this make me happy ( so: “I’m not alone” ).

Thank you for the sharing ( also if my bottom is not so happy for the kick 😉 )

Anonymous • June 19, 2024 10:01 AM

I have to pay to enjoy my culture.

Sven • June 19, 2024 12:02 PM

Fully agree especially, on the issues we get from large companies and not acting on it. One of the main issues is that these break capitalism. With companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and Nvidia there is no fair competition, anymore. They take and do what they want and are more powerful than many nation states.

The point regarding shopping malls is a bit one- and short-sighted. Online shopping is not just negative (accessible, can be efficient = climate friendly) and another big issue for our local shops and us as humans is how we design cities for cars and it is older than the internet. Cars make cities congested and unaccessible. This leads to direct dying of shops and other places to go to. Additionally, they take a lot of the space in a city and make us even more depending on cars by spreading things out. A shopping mall is already a socio-economic issue: it requires a car and time to go there. Furthermore, mostly big stores and brands are within a mall. Every kilometer driven using a car is associated with significant external costs for infrastructure, health issues and more.

camelCaseEnjoyer • June 19, 2024 12:03 PM

To answer the questions posed at the end of the article, subversion is not only possible, it’s easier than ever for these “too big to jail” tech companies to subvert both culture and governance.

Poisoning the well seems like the only form of recourse left for the general populous if there’s any hope of clawing back control. Who remembers @tay.ai?

ratwithahat • June 19, 2024 12:08 PM

Currently, the internet is inherently corporate, and most anything you do will be influenced and extracted by manipulative companies. Unless some global organization creates a universal platform uncontrolled by any corporate (or governmental, if you’re worried about that) influences, there is no way to erase corporate control over culture.

Due to the role of the internet in connecting people (especially young people) to different social groups and internet subcultures, young people are, in my opinion, more susceptible to corporate manipulation.

When there are cultural changes, the pioneering groups are usually niche movements that have to somehow reach mainstream. Currently, the easiest way for this to happen is by spreading online through social media, strengthening the corporate influence on the particular subculture. However, corporations can control the spread of all subcultures on a platform, by suppressing or promoting certain posts in their algorithms. You said that “individuals are free to chose culture,” but are we really free if an algorithm manipulates us into choosing a specific culture?

Long comment short, we can’t rely on culture turn-over to fix all our problems because currently the corporate-controlled internet is so integral to the spread of culture (unless the next culture is luddism)

M.Black • June 19, 2024 12:52 PM

our human nature, compelling us to make and express culture, is the dream of digital capitalism

But what is “digital capitalism”? One might argue that all capitalism is digital, given that the term “capitalism” appeared in the mid-1600s, about 200 years after Arabic digits became popular in Europe—although the influential “Liber Abaci” had described digital double-entry accounting in 1202.

Does the term refer to digital data as capital, that is, as privately-owned means of production for profit? Some capitalists, like data brokers and large copyright holders, do treat it like that, and the idea of “data as oil” supports it; but it seems to contradict the above text about “express[ing] culture”. Unless maybe it’s saying that capitalists dream of exploiting the human desire toward expression?

Perhaps it’s explained in one of the 27 references; but, considering none of those are links (and probably many would be restricted by paywalls or copyright anyway), I’m not going to look. Please, define the terms you’re relying on!

What Price common sense? • June 19, 2024 4:38 PM

‘“Build the platform, harvest the data…then profit.” By 2006, a major policy paper could ask, “Is Data the New Oil?”’

Ahh the old three step business plan where Build and Harvest were clear click bait for the several cons to follow that were supposedly how you profit, but actually loose.

The Digital economy is actually not about “building” anything useful and “harvesting” mostly junk you would have thought “common sense” would prevail.

But people took their eyes off of the gauges of industry and thus the fundamental economy.

In the 1980’s in the UK the madness that was Thatcherism came to a mental aberration and spawned a very false notion

“The UK did not need industry, as it had a service sector”.

The problem whilst industry promots actual growth of utility thus wealth all the service sector did and still does is create price inflation.

Yes such inflation might look like “economic churn” even “economic growth” but the result is that inflation is unsupportable in real terms.

This nonsense about “The new oil” is just the play for a “long con” so for the past 1/3rd of a century all the industry that produces actual wealth got sent abroad to strengthen their economies whilst in the WASP nations the financial services and similar sectors ensured that atleast 99% of the population became not just poorer, but their lives in some nations became in effect twenty years shorter.

That’s the price of the “Digital Economy” and all the cons of the “Information economy”. Not just crypto-coins, Web3.0 NFTs and Smart Contracts, and now the AI Hype bubble designed to separate those with more money than sense from not just their money but their potential life span.

Have a look at Molly White’s comments on Web3

https://blog.mollywhite.net/is-web3-bullshit/

If you think mine are not right on the money.

Web3 is something that should be in there along with “Information wants to be free” and similar that sounds catchy but apart from being a poster child for pump-n-dump and similar scam and investor bubbles is not just useless but environmentaly harmfull.

https://spectrum.ieee.org/web3

https://blog.mollywhite.net/

https://www.web3isgoinggreat.com

Something “voters” really should think about.

ResearcherZero • June 20, 2024 4:57 AM

The modern web is not the real world. It is a hyper saturated space. It distorts the picture of reality in short, attention grabbing bursts. A world without nuance is one without real or effective discussion.

Digital capitalism is capitalism, only the effects are more visible.

Rather than bring together a wide range of views and beliefs for both local and the wider community benefit, the web’s over commercialised space is exploiting conflict for profit.

The public must recapture the internet to serve the public’s civic needs and interests. Commercial companies and governments are not going to do this for us…

‘https://berjon.com/public-interest-internet/

Along with economic growth, capitalism has produced low wages and exploited workers.

https://ipen.org/news/samsung-workers-line%c2%a0unique-report-reveals-lives-vietnamese-women-workers-making-samsung-smart

Economic migration is an inevitable by-product of inequality.

‘https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1024529418809067

We need migration to fill critical labour shortages. 70% of Indian immigrants to the U.S. have professional degrees, in comparison to 20% of the American population

https://omnia.sas.upenn.edu/story/past-present-and-future-human-migration

Ismar • June 20, 2024 7:49 PM

Very pertinent article, albeit, written in a style a bit different to that of other Bruce’s articles. It got me thinking that our one hope of tackling fake content generation would be going outside digital realm to more analog recording devices like film cameras and such and then broadcasting the content via analog means? Not sure how plausible this still might be …

ResearcherZero • June 21, 2024 1:12 AM

Here is the answer and it sounds simple enough. Build your AI data centers in small town Australia.

The nation’s biggest electric utilities have rejected the proposal so far. But Bill Gates is building a project in Wyoming, slated for completion in 2030.

Now people complain that data centers us a lot of water, but this SMR uses sodium. That does not address the water use, but it would create jobs in small towns. SMRs have not actually been completed yet, and at this point it remains an idea. It may further concentrate the market and reduce competition, but don’t over think it.

Globally, AI demand may use up to 6.6 billion cubic meters of water in 2027, or “more than the total annual water withdrawal of Denmark or half of the United Kingdom.” In the event of a nuclear accident a UHS may need to supply 10,000 to 30,000 gallons of water per minute, but climate considerations do not stop at the installation level. We can find solutions to these problems, or perhaps sort them out later on.

Such projects would bring badly needed investment to areas with little representation. Importantly, these sites would be situated very far from the city, where land is cheap.

‘https://www.forbes.com/sites/alanohnsman/2024/06/10/desperate-for-power-ai-companies-look-to-the-nuclear-option/

If it takes longer and costs more than anticipated, charge it to the taxpayers. https://theconversation.com/peter-dutton-has-promised-to-solve-our-energy-problems-but-his-nuclear-policy-still-leaves-australians-in-the-dark-232816

ResearcherZero • June 21, 2024 1:23 AM

I propose that we begin with building universities and colleges in areas slated for reactors now. I haven’t figured out what to do with the populations of these small towns, but we could build colleges and educate them with the necessary literacy and skills needed.

It will take 20 years to build these reactors and we could train a workforce in this time. Otherwise the populations of such communities would be unable to afford to live locally.

ResearcherZero • June 21, 2024 3:07 AM

Social life does not go on unchanged when the means of producing wealth, and the means of exchange, are changing. They have changed repeatedly in the last few centuries.

“Labor market risk threatens the social status of workers, to which they respond via activating traditionalist predispositions to uphold their status.” (1)

People are assumed to be guided by instrumental rationality. They aim to vote the party into power that offers the optimal policy bundle, which assumes that voters are (at least minimally) informed about the policy platforms of parties and past government performance.

Yet political elites influence how people perceive the world and what policies they favour.

Given the now 24-hour media cycle, the demand in our society is for instant solutions, and in the “labyrinthine complexity” of modern society, politicians often favour simple, easy to explain “announceables” over long-term, evidence-based, nuanced solutions. (2)

Even before the pandemic, unanticipated leadership failure was a widespread issue among organizations, with an estimated 50% of leaders failing . (3)

In a vicious cycle, the combination of undermined legitimacy of technical advice and the perception of value-driven advice has fed into the development of a much more politically driven pattern and content of expert policy advice. Some advice may be uncontroversial while other advice may deal with far more complex issues and analysis.

“Whenever scientists provide advice to political leaders they risk their expert authority being used in ways they cannot control in order to serve political ends. At one extreme, when they give unwelcome advice they risk being dismissed on the grounds that they must be taking sides. At the other extreme, expert authority can be used to shield political leaders from responsibility.” (4)

(1) ‘https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s41358-024-00366-w

(2) ‘https://theconversation.com/challenge-5-the-trouble-with-policy-makers-thinking-ahead-7614

(3) ‘https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2010-06019-015

(4) ‘https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4039

Poor leadership is certainly producing poor results. Perhaps if leaders focused less on themselves they would make less reckless decisions. This would also require those around them to be more honest, and perhaps be a lot more careful when choosing leaders.

“Pandering is a strategy designed to meet rebel leaders’ proximate goals of increased mobilization and may or may not help achieve ultimate, long-term goals.” (1)

The impact of supervisory responsibility:

‘https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1748-8583.12550

Reckless decision-making: The vicious circle

Leaving or ignoring problems for a later date. https://academic.oup.com/policyandsociety/article/42/3/275/7257190

(1) ‘https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09636412.2022.2086818

ResearcherZero • June 23, 2024 2:51 AM

One way to save on government expense would be to scrap all those inquiries, strategic studies and inter-generational reports. Most of the public take little interest in, or understand sound policy. Governments implement few of the findings, politicians rarely bother to read them, with proceeding governments often abandoning or altering commitments for poorly planned and short-sighted announcements to cynically exploit the public.

Many policies have laid dormant for decades as they were never economically viable. For example – plans to build nuclear reactors in regions without adequate water availability. Fortunately some have the capital to protect their interests by driving the news cycle through close relationships with the decisions makers who look after those interests.

Most outcomes come election time are based around a small number of factors. These factors are often dictated by world economic conditions, rarely on careful policy considerations. Best of all, taxpayers will happily wear the burden if you promise them jobs and growth.

ResearcherZero • June 25, 2024 1:33 AM

A closer look at the projected 6GW of proposed nuclear power.

Australia will require 120GW of extra capacity by 2037. By that point in time, any of the nuclear reactors may risk becoming stranded assets due to the availability of far cheaper alternatives. The sites chosen have an existing coal fired power capacity of 8.5GW, likely all to be replaced before 2037. Even before all of the proposed reactors could come online.

“This 6GW of nuclear will make very little difference to the total energy landscape – and at the expense of introducing a much more costly technology.”

In the current environment it’s questionable who exactly the project would benefit. Perhaps when a similar project was proposed 30 years ago it might then have stacked up.

‘https://reporter.anu.edu.au/all-stories/the-coalitions-nuclear-plan-does-it-add-up

(Nuclear power was instead prohibited in Australia by both state and federal law.)

https://www.energycouncil.com.au/analysis/nuclear-power-for-australia-a-potted-history/

What Price common sense? • June 25, 2024 6:03 AM

The Digital economy is actually not about “building” anything useful and “harvesting” mostly junk you would have thought “common sense” would prevail.

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