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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

OPINION:

The perils of cancel culture, safe space madness and self-obsession collided into a cacophony of noxious absurdity last week when conservative commentator Ben Shapiro’s mere presence at a podcast conference ignited a seemingly illogical meltdown.

Podcast Movement, an organization devoted to audio storytelling, held a massive conference filled with hosts and shows of various persuasions. The Daily Wire, Mr. Shapiro’s company, was permitted to have a booth, and Mr. Shapiro, like scores of other hosts, decided to attend.


And that was apparently a line too fiendish and unendurable to cross. 

Those attending evidently complained about his presence at the event, and rather than respond with an eye roll and ignore the outrage, the conference offered up a public atonement almost too wild to believe.

“Yesterday afternoon, Ben Shapiro briefly visited the PM22 expo area near The Daily Wire booth,” Podcast Movement tweeted. “Though he was not registered or expected, we take full responsibility for the harm done by his presence.”

Yes, you read that correctly. The “harm done by his presence.” And they weren’t done there. In follow-up messages, his attendance was called “unacceptable” and apparently inflicted a long-lasting wound.

“The pain caused by this one will always stick with us,” another tweet read. “We promise that sponsors will be more carefully considered moving forward.”

It’s easy to laugh at these reactions and carry on, but this demoniacal escapade requires a more reflective exploration. The toxic nature of our politics and constant coddling have created a bizarre inability to tolerate divergent perspectives, bringing us to this minacious point.

Had Mr. Shapiro unleashed a virulent or polemic assault at the conference, ranted tirades, or harassed attendees, that would be one thing. But witnesses told me he graciously took photos, met fans and offered a kind demeanor at the conference. 

That’s what makes that term — “harm done by his presence” — so troubling. Unless some bombshell emerges surrounding terrible behavior, we’re left with this gem: Critics simply found Mr. Shapiro’s apparition inside the venue so triggering they bellowed to the point of sparking an awkward display of public groveling. 

The resulting question: What in the world is going on?

Have we so incubated people and tolerated the progressive safe space megaplex that we’ve empowered them to convulse over the mere proximity of people with whom they disagree? While it’s hard to imagine adults exhibiting the initial outrage that led to complaints, it’s even more onerous to contemplate what would possess an entire organization to co-sign publicly.

The real problem with this ordeal is the chilling, heedless action at its core to diminish and sideline Mr. Shapiro, dismissing him as an untouchable no one with any sanity would embrace or even entertain. The irony — that this unfolded at a conference purportedly meant to celebrate multifarious voices — adds to the strangeness.

Plus, millions of Americans not only agree with Mr. Shapiro but also support his work.

Sadly, this sort of cancel culture madness is increasingly gripping our institutions, poisoning our social media, rooting out free thought, and destroying the synchronicity needed to foster and prop up a healthy republic. 

And while we can — and should – rail on about the utter madness at the core of all of this, the more pressing matter is the damage being done to Americans who are suddenly unwilling and unable to be exposed to divergent people and ideas. 

How have so many people embracing the “liberal” and tolerant labels become the poster children of everything but? Why is it that only one idea, narrative or persona is amenable? And who in the world has no interest in understanding the different perspectives around them?

The self-isolation and over-emotive reactions are leading us to lose our ability to think, reason, debate and allow the postures of our opponents to help us better refine our own standpoints.

This choking wokeness devoid of logic certainly hurts conservative voices. Still, the biggest losers in the mix are the liberals and progressives left to the confines of their own ideological limitations. They’re left unchallenged, overtly intolerant, and ill-prepared for the real world around them — a universe where safe spaces generally don’t exist. 

The Shapiro flap is just the latest situation showing us our dangerous slippery slide into utter small-mindedness, and it simply shouldn’t stand.

• Billy Hallowell is a journalist, commentator and digital TV host who has covered thousands of faith and culture stories. He is the director of content and communications at Pure Flix, and previously served as the senior editor at Faithwire and the former faith and culture editor at TheBlaze.


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