The most important component of not fighting cancellation is not recruiting friends to my cause. The expectation that one’s friends exhibit the “courage” to speak up one one’s behalf, the inclination to see the cancellation as a test of the friendship, which suddenly requires proofs of loyalty — these are the first step on the road to the friend purge. Here is how it goes: a few of the cancelee’s friends meet the expectation to speak up in support, but those who remain silent — which is most of them — become suspect. New, publicly aligned friends are acquired to take their place. The beleaguered cancelee now feels she sees who her “real friends” are, but in fact she has no friends anymore. All she has are allies. First she turned her friends, and perhaps even her family members, into allies; and then she acquired more allies to fill the ranks of the purged friends. The end result is a united front, but what I would call real friendship has gone missing in the bargain.

I do not want any of that. I want friends who feel free to disagree with me both publicly and privately; friends who will admonish me, gently but firmly, with whatever grain of truth there is in any accusations against me. I want friends whose minds are not tethered to my own in bonds of allegiance, but spin freely of their own accord. I love my contrarian friends, and the way their thinking traces wonderful and mysterious paths, following a logic all their own; and I cherish my conformist friends, who keep me in touch with the wisdom of most people. I want friends who ask the right questions, friends who bring me cookies, friends who help me up when I stumble, friends who expend so much attention on the inner me that they have little to spare for how I am perceived by others. I want friends, not allies. I value my public persona, but not enough to sacrifice the liberty of my friendships at its altar.

But what if, when the moment arrives, I come to see all this differently? Isn’t there a chance that when I’m in the thick of it, I’ll want “my” people to rally round me, to stand up for me, to call out my accusers, to be willing to risk their own reputations on my behalf, to show the world that I stand equipped with a team of supporters ready to fight at my side? Yes, of course.

My brief tangle with the mob taught me that it is not when I am most embattled that I see most clearly. Hence I, like Odysseus, am tying myself to the mast in advance. I commit now, publicly, in print: please don’t fight on my behalf. Don’t stand up for me. Don’t rescue my good name. Let it be tarnished. Let my reputation die.

Agnes Callard is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago.

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