Cancel Culture: A Serious Satire

For my PhD studies at Harvard, I had to choose four “sub-fields” for my oral exams. Among the four, I selected Modern Jewish History. I then took a course with one of the most dynamic teachers I have ever had the privilege of hearing: Prof. Yosef Yerushalmi. His most famous book (the core of our course) was “Zakhor” – “Memory in Jewish History.”

It strikes me today in our era of “Cancel Culture,” that the Jewish approach to history is diametrically opposite: we are commanded to remember the past. This is not to say that Jews glorify anything heinous in the past. Quite the opposite! The Bible commands us to actively remember the past, especially if immoral or otherwise disastrous. Other than the High Holidays, that’s the basis of almost all Jewish holidays and fast days: Passover (freedom after centuries of slavery), Purim (Haman), Hanukkah (assimilation), Tisha B’av (Temple destruction, twice), 17th of Tammuz (breeching Jerusalem’s walls), the Fast of Gedaliah (assassination of Jewish viceroy), and so on. Even more germane is the commandment to publicly remember what Amalek did to the Israelites in the desert – a passage read every pre-Purim Sabbath. Indeed, this passage is particularly “paradoxical” because it demands that Jews “erase the memory of Amalek” by recounting every year what they did way back then! In other words, the Jewish approach to “canceling” is remembering!!

In that latter spirit, and as a protest (also quintessentially Jewish) against Cancel Culture, I decided this time to do something very different: pen a quasi-serious satire of Cancel Culture, taking place in the relatively distant future, but looking back at the present. Call it a “future memorial” if you wish.



October 2071

“Hi Gramps. How did your genetification treatment go today?”

“Pretty well. Instead of 75, my biocell-age is down to 52. Should be able to run the marathon next week in under two and half hours. How’s college going?”

“Actually, better than I thought. We spend half our time outside the campus.”

“Virtual classes from afar?”

“That’s a good one! No, we’re into historical justice activism.”

Historical justice? What’s that? In my day, we were into social justice.”

“Well, it’s almost the same thing. But instead of fixing the contemporary system, we are pointing fingers at past injustices.”

“Interesting. But how does that help us change things today?”

“If we let the historicriminals of the past maintain their visibility, we can’t deal with the foundations of today’s injustices.”

“Did you say historicriminals? Is that one word or two?”

“Wow, gramps, don’t you receive any BrainBook news these days?”

“BrainBook. What’s that?”

“It’s the relatively new way of social mediating – based on Machine-to-Brain communication. Sort of a neuronal Facebook.”

“Sorry, too newfangled for me. I’ll stick to reading books. Anyway, the news is too depressing; haven’t gotten any in a few years. Much better for my blood pressure.”

“Have it your way. In any case, historicriminality is all about important people in the past who influenced or caused serious harm to society or lots of individuals.”

“For example?”

“Last week our class did some serious research about the major meat producers. A few of my friends didn’t even last an hour. Can you imagine that people once killed animals and then ate them? How gross and cruel can you get? When we got to augmediated clips of early 21st century slaughterhouses, one acquaintance fainted, and a few others couldn’t continue.”

“What was the purpose of that research?”

“To go through all Wokeapedia items that covered such murderous companies and their founders or major corporate managers.”

“And then?”

“And then to Cancel all the ones we could find.”


“Come on, gramps. You may be a bit old, but you’re not senile. From what I understand, the idea of Cancel Culture started when you were about my age. We can’t allow historicriminals to be glorified or even memorialized. That just preserves and continues the long chain of immorality.”

“So you just say ‘delete’ and Wokepedia erases these people?”

“It’s not that simple. We’ve got to show that each of these individuals caused great suffering or evil. But with universal genemeat consumption today, that’s a lot easier. Public opinion is on our side.”

“Anything else that’s harder?”

“You bet!”

“Like what?”


“Excuse me? Did you say Jesus? What did he do wrong?”

“Gramps, do you know how many Jews, Moslems and other non-believers were tortured and murdered by the Church as an institution, not to mention Christian believers who took matters into their own hands without Church encouragement?”

“So Jesus was to blame for all that? Don’t tell me that you…what did you call it… ah yes, Canceled him?”

“In principle, we could have. Your generation did a great job eliminating Columbus, so why not Jesus?”

“Why not, indeed.”

“Well, here’s a surprise for you. At first, we thought to do exactly that. But you know, college is for learning stuff. We discovered that Jesus wasn’t at fault at all – in fact, he wasn’t even a Christian!”

“You don’t say! A ‘surprise’, indeed.”

“That sounded like sarcasm, Gramps. That’s not like you.”

“Sorry. There are some things that old fogies like us are aware of, that your generation seems to be ‘discovering’ anew.”

“In any case, turns out that Jesus was Jewish to the very end. It was one of his students—”


“Right, disciples. The one called Paul that really started Christianity as a religion.”

“So, what did you people do then?”

“Well, there was a huge battle to Cancel city names with ‘Paul’ in it. Minnesotans put up a furious fight. We lost that one.”

“So ‘Paul’ is saved?”

“Are you kidding? Of course not! We put the name Paul on our Cancel baby list.”

“Baby list?”

“The baby name list. Once a name gets put on that list, almost no one will call their child by that name.”

“Sounds pretty draconian to me.”

“Gramps, don’t be such a hypocrite. When you were growing up, how many American or European kids were given the name Adolf?”

“So St. Paul and Adolf Hitler get the same treatment?”

“Not yet. We’ve succeeded in Canceling the word Hitler from all U.S. education textbooks. That probably won’t happen with Paul.”

“You can’t win ‘em all, I guess.”

“Right. But we’ve scored quite a number of major successes.”

“Like what? Or should I say: like who?”

“Well, if we got rid of Hitler, we had to do the same with Stalin and Mao. You know, some historians argue that both of them led to more people dying than Hitler! Scary.”

“China and Russia went along with that?”

“China, yes. Ever since the Third Revolution, they are willing to join in expunging historicriminals from their records too.”

“But Russia not?”

“Ever since Putin’s grandson took over, their history has become sacrosanct.”

“I wasn’t aware he had a grandson.”

“See what you could learn if you’d be on BrainBook? Putin’s son was Kirill Shamalov, and his son is Shamalov, Jr. But we prefer to call him shame, no love.”

“That’s a good one.”

“Thanks. Who says we historic justicians don’t have a sense of humor?”

“Not me. Any other campaigns you’ve been part of?”

“Yeah, the biggest one of all – climate warming deniers. What a massive project! You wouldn’t believe how many climate deniers there were.”

“I sure would. Remember, I lived much of my early life in that atmosphere.”

“Good pun, Gramps!”

“Unintended, I assure you. Who’s the leading historicriminal of this campaign?”

“Well, we had so many names that it took us a long time to decide who was disworthy, and on the other hand who we ought to leave alone.”

“Disworthy? Is that a new term?”

“Not at all. Boy, you really haven’t been following the news for a long time. It’s a mashup meaning whoever is worthy of dissing.”

“And the disworthy winner was?”

“President Trump. It wasn’t that he was any more forceful in his denial than others. But he came much later than most of the others, at a time when the evidence was already overwhelming. And despite that, he not only stuck to his guns on the issue but also pushed his government agencies to allow for more pollution. Can’t get more disworthy than that.”

“Must have been easy to Cancel him all over. One of the history books I read recently called him the worst U.S. President. Not sure how they measured that, but it seems you guys weren’t the only ones on his case.”

“Gramps, please don’t use that expression.”

“On his case?”

“No. You guys. Language has to be gender-neutral.”

“OK, sorry again. Bad habits die hard.”

“Sure. But that’s why we’re cleaning up history. To clear the air: language, people, movements – everything and everyone who don’t deserve to be remembered.”

“What’s next? You’ve got two more years of college.”

“Are you kidding? The list is almost endless. Two years won’t be enough to Cancel everything disworthy.”

“Almost endless? Just give me another example or two. That will suffice.”

“Across the country, our college movement will be taking courses next semester to Cancel warmongers.


“Yeah, those leaders who pushed their nations into unnecessary wars. You should know – some of them lived close to your generation: LBJ in Vietnam, George W. Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq. They weren’t as bad as Hitler and Stalin, but still their actions were unconscionable.”

“I suppose you’re also going after some non-Americans too. Like Théoneste Bagosora.”


“Too complicated to explain for now. He’s African – from a country called Rwanda. You should… what did you call it?”

“BrainBook it?”

“Right. You rely on the brain; I’ll rely on the book. Anyway, what he did is enough material for another semester’s Cancel work.”

“OK, sounds worthwhile.”

“You mean disworthwhile.”

“Are you trying to be funny? This is serious stuff we’re doing.”

“I agree. It’s very serious.”

“By the way, this Rwanda fellow. Which other country did he attack?”

“His own.”

“His own country?”

“His own countrymen…I mean countrypeople. You know, sometimes civil wars are far worse than wars between nations.”

“Really? I wasn’t aware of that.”

“That’s what history is for. So, after you’re done with the warmongers – what then?”

“For next year, we’ve convinced the Union of American colleges to offer Cancel Courses on the anti-vaxxers. Crazy movement. Hard to believe that people won’t learn from history.”

“Learn from history?”

“Sure. Until the 19th century, hundreds of millions of people died from cholera, smallpox, bubonic plague, typhoid and other infectious diseases. By the late 20th century the vaccines almost entirely eliminated those diseases. Not to mention the mutating Corona viruses this century – finally got that under vaccine control a few decades ago.”

“You forgot this century’s malaria and AIDS vaccines.”

“Didn’t forget them. I could add the universal flu vaccine and a few others. But you get the idea, Gramps. And despite all that, there are still people out there who are against vaccination!”

“I suppose you’re right. I think we can both agree that remembering the details of history is important.”



Change Culture; Don’t Cancel History

In 2008 I was teaching at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, during my sabbatical year. One course was a research seminar entitled “Zionist Intellectual History.” I had nine students – seven Jewish, one a Catholic, and one a Native American. I invited them for an erev Shabbat dinner at our home, where they could relax with their “professor.” During the meal, I asked the Native American student (who happened to be the best one in the class) why he was taking such a course. His answer floored me: “My goal in life is to help my people, but they are not at all united; I wanted to understand how Herzl united the Jews and started them on the way to their own sovereign state!”

I was doubly impressed. First, about his lofty (if probably unattainable) goal of uniting the First Nations into a political force to improve their lot. Second, because here was student willing to learn from history – and not only his own nation’s. The study of history is not normally high on the list of things that today’s students are interested in learning about. Which brings me to what happened next…

A couple of weeks later, he approached me and noted that he couldn’t make the next week’s class. I asked why. “I am leading a protest against Columbus Day,” came his reply. Once again, I was taken aback. 

What he (and his fellow protesters) obviously hadn’t taken into account was the fact that Rhode Island had the proportionally largest Italian-American population of all fifty states! To put it mildly, the protest was not very popular.

That was then; today there’s “Indigenous People’s Day,” as an alternative to Columbus Day (each state or city can take their pick – or celebrate both). My question is whether this will stay as a double commemoration, or whether we are halfway to the cancellation of Columbus Day. To be clear, this is but the tip of the iceberg; America’s society is starting to run aground of a Titanic crash in many walks of life, called “Cancel Culture.”

The problem is not that progressives want to be sure that we remember the dark sides of our history (whatever nation we belong to) – that is not only worthy but also socially cathartic. The problem starts when they want to delete history e.g., tear down statues, expunge historical people from the history books, etc. Replacing one “narrative” with another unidimensional, counter-narrative is illogical and even self-defeating. Illogical because you cannot argue that history is multi-dimensional, and then go ahead and replace it with a different, unidimensional history. Self-defeating because if one expunges the darker sides of history, we lose the ability to properly learn from those past mistakes. As the 19th century, Spanish philosopher George Santayana opined: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

And there’s another negative aspect to Cancel Culture: the feeling of moral superiority and lack of historical perspective. Cancel Culture progressives feel that their stance not only takes the ethical high ground, but that it is the only high ground to take. There are no other ideas permissible or even thinkable. This in turn leads to the lack of self-reflection: whether anything they stand for will actually hold up in the future – or will their progeny look back with dismay at their supercilious approach to social morality, and whether things that they believe in today might not stand the test of time.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t get rid of any historical statues (or similar cancelling of other historical mementos)? Not all. The basic criterion has to be what was considered acceptable at the time – not what we anachronistically evaluate through the prism of contemporary mores. Otherwise, we have to cancel the Hebrew Bible (slavery was sanctioned!), the entire Hellenistic world (Greek women were not allowed to vote in the Agora!), the Catholic Church (supporting the Inquisition!), and the list goes on (potentially endlessly).

I’m all for Indigenous People’s Day. But it should be a celebration of First Nation culture and history, and not a cudgel against European Colonizers and their supposed genocide (95% of Native Americans died from European plagues from which they had no immunity, not in warfare with the Europeans). Similarly, Columbus Day is an excellent opportunity to not only highlight the travails of the early settlers trying to tame a harsh physical environment but also to note what such colonization ultimately meant for Native American society.

No one can change the past, but we can influence the future. However, that will only succeed if we commemorate and remember all of history. The good, the bad, and yes – even the ugly.

You’re Incredibly Lucky to be Alive

You’re Incredibly Lucky to be Alive

My parents met in Cuba. My mother Jenny Weinreb was a refugee, escaping Nazi Germany in 1939 (alone on a German boat at age 13!) to Lisbon (where my Aunt Eva was married with two baby twins), and from there to a British refugee camp in Jamaica (1942?), and finally to Cuba in 1944. My father Arthur Wilzig left Poland in 1936 straight to Cuba (where a large expatriate community had established itself in 1926 after widespread Polish pogroms).

They married in 1946 and I was conceived in Cuba in 1948, but born in May 1949 in the U.S. where they had immigrated because “there was no future Jewish life in Cuba”, as my mother explained to me decades later. Thus, I definitely qualified as an “international baby” from several perspectives.

How often have we heard others say that they’re “lucky to be alive” because they just missed being killed in some accident? Indeed, Judaism has a special prayer for someone escaping danger: “gomel”.

But this is missing the main point: EVERYONE in the world is unbelievably lucky to be alive! From several standpoints.

First, although we do not know for sure if there is life anywhere else in the universe, it is clear that the chances of life “evolving” on any one planet are very, very small (but as there are trillions upon trillions of stars and planets in the universe, overall the probability is that there is “life” elsewhere: see “Drake’s Law”). You and I happen to be living on a planet where this did happen – the chance of that is less than winning the national Powerball Lottery. So thank your lucky star (pun intended)!

Second, in many cases the chances of your parents meeting when they did is also quite small (notwithstanding the occasional “marrying one’s high school sweetheart”). In the course of a person’s youth and young adulthood, we will meet – even superficially – a few thousand people, among the hundreds of millions that they could have met, and of them the thousands they reasonably could have married. And if they had met someone else, you wouldn’t be here! Doubly lucky.

Third, and something of a head scratcher, is the most important “lucky event” of them all. In a nutshell, whereas your mother dropped one ovum each month down her fallopian tubes to be (potentially) impregnated, your father’s ejaculate contained close to one hundred million (100,000,000!) sperm. So, think about this: if the specific sperm that impregnated your mom’s egg had been beaten in that swimming race by one other among the “99,999,999” sperm, would YOU be alive at all? Probably not – just someone pretty similar to you (at least, similar to when you were a newborn).

Never thought of that, did you? And that’s the point. Life is largely a matter of attitude and perspective. You can look at your cup that’s missing a few drops on top, or at the cup that’s brimming with life (yours). I am certainly aware that this is not the way people usually think about their life, but that’s my point: as human beings, we are capable of shifting our viewpoint once we look at the mirror straight on, instead of from the side. Some people don’t need to do this – their natural predisposition (what is usually called “attitude”) is to be positive and optimistic. Others are naturally pessimistic, seeing more night than day. And then there’s the broad middle who can go either way, depending…

On what? On their social circle; on their socio-economic status; on their social happiness (quality of marriage; relationship with their kids; etc); and dare I say it? On how they consume media information.

No, I am not about to partake in modernity’s national sport: media-bashing. Actually, the “people” (that’s you and me) are at fault. When was the last time you read this headline (change the country name as you wish): “Yesterday, 8 million Israelis had an Uneventful Day.” Never. Because we, the readers, listeners, and viewers, want to get “bad news” – almost the only kind that we consider “news” at all.

Why? For that we have to go back several hundred thousand years (or even millions). All creatures on earth – and certainly evolving humans who were not particularly strong or fast – had (and have) to be on constant lookout for danger that could annihilate them: back then, tigers and human enemies; today, technology (e.g. cars) and human enemies. Thus, danger-sniffing is planted deeply in our genes. And what constitutes “danger” (socially and not only personally) is not only the usual stuff (plane crashes; war breaking out) but also – even increasingly – unusual stuff that we are not familiar with. Flying machines? (Early 20th century) People changing their sex?? (Mid-20th century) Robots building cars faster than humans can??? (Late 20th century) Designer babies?!?! (21st Century).

The media – old (“legacy”) and new (“digital”) – are doing an increasingly better job of ferreting out each and every “potentially dangerous”/ unusual item of information from around the world. And as we absorb more and more of this (with the occasional respite through sports scores and fashion fads), our perception of the world is that things are going to hell in a basket faster than ever. Ah, nostalgia: “when I was growing up, the world was a better place”. Baloney. As a matter of fact, there is less violence in the world today (per capita) than ever before in human history! (Don’t take my word for this; read Steven Pinker’s The Better Nature of Our Angels.)

So we “moderns” are caught in a paradoxical situation: the better things get (objectively), the worse they seem (subjectively). The solution is not to avoid the media (we do want to know what real dangers lie out there). Rather, it is to choose wisely which media to consume – and then understand that 99% of what is happening in the world is positive, precisely what is NOT found in the media (because we don’t want to read “good news”).

Freed from the shackles of informational negativity, we can then more realistically work on developing a more positive and optimistic attitude towards the world – micro (ours personally) and macro (society and the world at large).

Coda: the latest research shows that people with a generally positive attitude have, on average, a lifespan that’s a few years longer than those with ingrained (or acquired) negativity. So not only are the former “lucky to be alive”, but by appreciating that fact they actually live longer – and that’s not a matter of luck.

So here’s my final “you’re really lucky booster”. Remember what I said about your parents’ egg and sperm? Now take that back every generation of your personal forebears! In other words, if any procreation act of any of your grand/grand/grand(etc)parents had a different sperm win that specific impregnation race to the ovum, you would not be here (or anywhere, ever)! So just this one, repeated, “generational” piece of good fortune should be enough to get you to count your blessings every minute of your day.