Dan's Musings

Cancel Cancel Culture


I was reading a now deleted thread from Hacker News about how a certain individual who had contributed a great deal to modern computing had expressed morally alarming opinions and/or done some horrible act on the internet. These trespasses were found to be so egregious that many people objected to some of his contributions being attributed to him. They wished to use his accomplishments while forgetting to whom they were indebted for the use of them. I omit his name here because it's not important. It's also good to be vague because several people match this description, and my argument applies to all of them.

"Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones". Never has there been a time where our lives were more transparent, our reputations more fragile, then this time of the internet. Information about our lives going back years stands readily available to anyone wishing to search it out. AIs remember everything that they have read (which corpus often spans the entire internet) and are able to recall that information with a high degree of accuracy. We truly live in glass houses in this day and age.

Whenever I read about how people want to throw out the good deeds of their forebearers with the bad, I am saddened because people who try to cancel others never acknowledge the good deeds or humanity of those whom they seek to cancel. Always with them the baby is thrown out with the bathwater.

While thinking about this subject, I often think of a passage in one of my favorite novels. It comes from the novel quote The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander. In the novel, a character known as King Morgant betrays the protagonist. The protagonistic band are finally defeat and kill him, largely due to the sacrifice of another character known as Ellidyr.

Ellidyr longed to build a legacy for himself, but never could. He even tried to kill the main characters in his quest to leave a legacy. Once he realized that legacy wasn't as important as doing the right thing, he sacrificed himself to save others. Ironically, this became his legacy.

Conversely, Morgant had already left a strong legacy of loyalty and great deeds, but turned from it at the last in favor of seeking power.

Ultimately, Prince Gwydion, the author's insert character, sets up memorials for both.

"Morgant? Taran asked, turning a puzzled glance to Gwydion. "How can there be honor for such a man?"

"It is easy to judge evil unmixed", replied Gwydion. "But, alas, in most of us good and bad are closely woven we the threads on a loom; greater wisdom than mine is needed for the judging."

"King Morgant served the Sons of Don long and well," he went on. "Until the thirst for power parched his throat, he was a fierce and noble lord. In battle he saved my life more than once. These things are part of him and cannot be put aside nor forgotten.

"And so I shall honor Morgant," Gwydion said, "for what he used to be, and Ellidyr Prince of Pen-Llarcau for what he became."

We can learn a lot from this passage. We can and should honor those who have contributed to our lives, even though they do other things later in their life with which we disagree. It is important to acknowledge people for all the good deeds that they did and do, even if they go astray. This encourages onlookers to do good deeds as well. We should not forget the giants whose shoulders we have built on, even if they later disappoint us. If we do, on what perch do we have to stand?