Stay Woke or Get Canceled!
The purpose of this post is the author’s attempt at proving the importance and relatedness of Alexis de Tocqueville’s observations, particularly the ‘Tocqueville Effect’, related to the modern American society and culture using a holistic approach.
One of many observations Alexis De Tocqueville foresaw in ‘Democracy in America’ (1835) was what is known as ‘The Tocqueville Effect’, related to the rise of modern movements in the USA, especially the two infamous cultures i.e. the Cancel Culture and Wokeness. To put it simply, an inexcusable event or a controversial individual trigger a world-wide response that suddenly takes a major change of direction and the movement eventually starts dealing with unimportant issues without accomplishing anything or addressing the problems that caused them in the first place.
Apart from being established online, and using (social) media to spread the word about the events related to them rapidly, these movements have another thing in common with the media which is what Michael Cuenco describes as the characteristic of not having an end. In other words, these movements appear to have a deep understanding of a complex cause, however, if we investigate further, we realize that they only scratch the surface of a problem and move on to more insignificant issues and so on. For instance, the unjust murder of George Floyd resulted in more police brutality, and exactly one year after the incident, there is still no sign of any US police reform. Instead, in the midst of the before mentioned protests, the activists were annoyed with social media figures for not supporting the BLM movement by being inactive on their socials and consequently preoccupied with canceling them – ‘the appetite grows by what it feeds on.’
Perhaps, one of the reasons why this phenomenon is taking place is because the electronic media has ‘rendered young people post-literate’ , and as the regular user faces the information overload daily, it doesn’t come off as a surprise that ‘I read it on the Internet’ and ‘many people are saying’ (Cuenco, 2021) have become valid proofs, which is what makes these movements dangerous – without critical thinking, the activists could potentially jeopardize someone’s safety and rights with their actions. To expand this idea further, John Dewey claimed that ‘unless freedom of individual action has intelligence and informed conviction back of it, its manifestation is almost sure to result in confusion and disorder’, meaning that without appropriate education of history, social and politic issues and fact-checking the data sources, it is only likely that the supporters are prone to such hyper intolerance.
Finally, another thing worth mentioning is the double standards of these paradoxical movements: e.g. while claiming that they aren’t infringing the right of free speech, they welcome Trump’s social media censure (even though he was instigating violence, but that’s another topic). Moreover, they encourage the idea of freedom of speech as long as you’re sharing their beliefs, thus their manner of thinking can easily lead to what De Tocqueville considered ‘the tyranny of the majority’(De Tocqueville, 1835) (one of the dangers of Tocqueville’s Effect). This leads to homogenizing the majority to think the same, and therefore infringing not only the freedom of speech, but the basic freedom of mind or action, thus repressing and depriving the rest who might think differently to contribute to the society (Dewey, 1916).
To conclude, in order not to end up stuck in a loop of what McLuhan referred to as the ‘cool media’, or even worse, become ‘an algorithmic man’ with ‘no point of view’, who is apparently demolishing historic monuments (Closson, 2020), we should focus on rethinking our ideas and learning to use media to our advantage (instead of the other way around in which they use us to profit). By doing this, we will hopefully get more tolerant towards different ideas and stances which will in turn lead to ‘finding true answers to our questions’ (Hankins, 2021) instead of being preoccupied with trivial things.
I hereby confirm that this work is solely the result of my own independent scholarly work and that if any ideas, text passages, or diagrams from books, papers, the Web or other sources have been copied, paraphrased, or in any other way used, all references – including those found in electronic media – have been clearly acknowledged and fully cited.
This post may be used for research purposes.
Tocqueville, A., Mansfield, H. C., & Winthrop, D. (1835). Democracy in America (1st ed.). University of Chicago Press.
Wikipedia contributors. (2021). Tocqueville effect . Wikipedia.
Cuenco, M. (2021). America’s New Post-Literate Epistemology. Palladium Magazine [An online article]. Palladium. Governance Futurism.
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy And Education. Free Press.
McLuhan, M. (1968). Understanding Media: Extensions of Man. Sphere Books.
Closson, D. (2020). “Cancel Culture” and the Historical Illiteracy That Fuels It. RealClearPolitics [An online article].
Hankins, J. (2021). Offshore Core – James Hankins . Law & Liberty [An online article].
Graham, P. (2020). Orthodox Privilege . paulgraham.com [An online article].