I enjoy reading The Maine Millennial’s columns, and columnist Victoria Hugo-Vidal seems like a well-intentioned, earnest person. Which is why I’m assuming that she was naïve rather than disingenuous when claiming that she does not know what “cancel culture” is (March 28).

Merriam-Webster defines it as “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass withdrawing of support as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.” Ms. Hugo-Vidal says it is part of free speech, but those who practice cancel culture use intimidation to deny the right to speak to those with whom they disagree.

Rather than engage in dialogue with, or speak in opposition to, those with whom they disagree, they take actions to prevent them from speaking at all. This is precisely what happened in the example at the heart of Ms. Hugo-Vidal’s column – Smith College canceled Christine Lagarde by disinviting her as commencement speaker. This was a violation of freedom of speech even if it did not affect Ms. Lagarde’s career.

Beyond obviously unlawful speech (slander, libel, incitement), Ms. Hugo-Vidal is right that incorrect or obnoxious speech should result in consequences. However, a society that values free speech should limit those consequences to making better speech and better arguments, to rebut the speech some find incorrect or obnoxious. It should not be about silencing those who express views with which some disagree. Institutions of higher learning, like Smith, should value and encourage this type of exchange rather than silence it.

John Voyer
emeritus professor of business administration, University of Southern Maine

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