Game of Throness: The Insatiable Appetite of Cancel Culture and the Cancelling of Laurie Throness.
By Rob Bogunovic.
It came as something of a shock to the citizens of Chilliwack-Kent when their twice-elected MLA resigned from his party ten days before a provincial election. For many social conservatives it was a deeply troubling development, while many “progressives” celebrated the fall of a hated nemesis who – as near as I can tell – never reciprocated their hate. The resignation of Laurie Throness was yet another example of the cancel culture that has seized our society by force.
Cancel culture involves vitriol directed at an individual perceived to have crossed some ill-defined rule while engaging in public discourse. “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” describes cancel culture as “an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.” Those who engage in it are often vicious in their self-righteous condemnations; they exaggerate the impact and significance of the supposed “thought-crime” and assume the worst of the “offender”. Cancel culture never grants the “offender” a chance to learn from their mistake, and no apology ever seems sufficient to satisfy the mobs’ demand for total contrition and repentance.
In a virtual debate, Laurie Throness was addressing the NDP proposal to provide free prescription contraception. Throness said that the proposal “contains a whiff of the old eugenics thing where, you know, poor people shouldn’t have babies”, adding “And so, we can’t force them to have contraception, so we’ll give it to them for free. And maybe they’ll have fewer babies so there will be fewer poor people in the future. And to me, that contains an odour that I don’t like.”
The reaction was both instant and intense. NDP MLA Selina Robinson had long been critical of Laurie Throness’ social conservatism. Robinson had wanted Throness booted from the Liberal caucus over an earlier “scandal” when it was discovered that Throness advertised in a free Christian magazine. Regarding this newest outrage, Robinson declared, “it is so disrespectful for women that I’m outraged”, adding “I feel like I can’t even contain my outrage.” She further declared that “He’s from a different century as far as I’m concerned and I think as far as British Columbians are concerned. He is outdated and it’s harmful to people.” She added that his comments “demonstrates just how out of touch he is and his party is.” Many of his Liberal colleagues were quick to publicly disavow Laurie Throness and his opinion. Throness offered some clarification of his rationale on Twitter, and to Facebook he posted some comments regarding what his leaving the party meant for his campaign, saying “I am still on the ballot as a BC Liberal. I will inform voters that if they vote for me, I will sit as an Independent in the House and continue to speak from my heart and my conscience. I’m in it to win it.”
But he didn’t win. Neither did his former party. The BC NDP easily won re-election, capturing 47.7% of the popular vote, along with 57 of 87 ridings. The BC Liberals had their worst showing since 1991.
There were a lot of us in Chilliwack who were perplexed by the outrage, though I don’t think it really surprised anyone who has been paying attention to our politics of late. We have seen many examples of such manufactured outrage, and Throness already had a huge target on his back due to his Christian faith and social conservative values.
Teale Phelps Bondaroff, the chair of Access B.C. (which was championing the proposal) said that Throness’ comments were misogynistic and out of touch, and said “I think the only way we can possibly even talk about [eugenics] is to jump in a time machine,” adding “When you oppose actions that try and increase access to [contraception], especially in the way Mr. Throness did, you’re basically saying women don’t have the ability to make choices about things that happen to their body, and that’s unacceptable.” I think his comments are typical of how many approach controversial statements when they appear, and for that reason I think they invite some reflection.
Bondaroff asserts something Throness never said. When he declares “you’re basically saying”, he blatantly ignores what Throness was actually saying. Throness’ comments had nothing to do with women’s ability to make choices about things that happen to their body. They had to do with the possible motives lurking behind a proposed government policy.
Moreover, Bondaroff’s assertion that one needs a time machine to even talk about eugenics is absurd. We don’t need a time machine; we just need to have a basic understanding of 20th Century history. The historical record provides ample justification for the allusion Throness made. Eugenics involves attempts (usually by governments) to influence reproduction within a human population so to increase the occurrence of “desirable” characteristics and reduce “undesirable” ones. It became a very popular notion in the decades preceding WWII, being widely regarded as the application of “science” to human procreation. It was supported by people across the political spectrum, influencing the policies of many countries.
One famous advocate of eugenics was Margaret Sanger. Sanger is most remembered for her advocacy of abortion rights and for creating Planned Parenthood, but she is also credited with coining the term “birth control”. In the 1920s and 30s, Sanger used the popularity of the eugenics idea to promote her cause, and eugenics became a dominant theme at her birth control conferences. In 1920, Sanger publicly declared that “birth control is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit [and] of preventing the birth of defectives.”
Sangar’s eugenic beliefs were perhaps best articulated in her 1919 essay “Birth Control and Racial Betterment”. Sanger wrote “Before eugenists and others who are laboring for racial betterment can succeed, they must first clear the way for Birth Control.” Sanger further elaborates that ”Birth Control … not only opens the way to the eugenist, but it preserves his work”, and “Birth Control of itself, by freeing the reproductive instinct from its present chains, will make a better race.” Sanger concluded by saying, “Eugenics without Birth Control seems to us a house built upon the sands. It is at the mercy of the rising stream of the unfit. It cannot stand against the furious winds of economic pressure which have buffeted into partial or total helplessness a tremendous proportion of the human race. Only upon a free, self-determining motherhood can rest any unshakable structure of racial betterment.”
In her 1997 book Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, Dorothy Robert’s wrote: “The language of eugenics did more than legitimate birth control. It defined the purpose of birth control, shaping the meaning of reproductive freedom. Birth control became a means of controlling a population rather than a means of increasing women’s reproductive autonomy.”
The cancelling of Laurie Throness demonstrates three of the great problems afflicting Western civilization at large. The first problem is a tendency among many of us to afford no generosity towards our ideological opponents. We tend to attribute to them the worst possible motives while assuming that our differences in opinion are due to an inexcusable flaw in the other’s character. In the case of Selena Robinson, she felt she couldn’t even contain her outrage as Throness’ comments were “so disrespectful for women,” yet Throness said nothing derogatory about women. His expressed concerns regarded a policy and the ideology that may be influencing it, and many of those advocating for this policy were men. The second problem is the assumption that we understand the meaning and intentions of the words we encounter, and how those words are being employed by others. Many who reported on Throness’ comments narrowed the definition of eugenics to make this historical allusion as objectionable as possible.
The third problem is how inconsistent and one-sided political correctness tends to be. A local editor of Chilliwack’s main community newspaper can say that opposing Covid lockdown measures is “akin to eugenics” – a statement that is objectively more ludicrous and insulting than Throness’ “whiff of the old eugenics thing”, yet there was no community outrage. Political correctness is mostly used as a weapon to disparage and marginalize conservative opinions, discouraging them from engaging in any kind of open discussion or debate. When it is used to cancel a liberal or Leftist, it is usually because the person ran afoul of some “progressive” notion.
Throness made an historical allusion that is supported by quite a lot of evidence, yet he was almost instantly cancelled. In casting judgments and condemnations upon Throness, Selena Robinson dismissed a large segment of the population as being “out of touch” and “from a different century” simply because they disagree with her “progressive” political beliefs – yet she wasn’t cancelled for her bigotry. Indeed, she who feels she can’t even contain her outrage was re-elected with 59% of the vote. I’m not sure why being emotional, bigoted, and judgmental have all become hallmarks of “progressive” politics, but it certainly seems to be working for them.
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