Nick Cave criticises cancel culture as ‘bad religion run amuck’

Political correctness has ‘asphyxiating effect on the creative soul of a society’, musician says

Political correctness has an "asphyxiating effect on the creative soul of a society", according to Nick Cave, who has criticised "cancel culture" in his latest newsletter where he calls it "bad religion run amuck".

In his latest Red Hand Files newsletter, the Australian musician was asked what he thinks of cancel culture. In response he decried people's refusal to engage with "difficult ideas" and claimed that moving toward a more equal society could mean essential values were forfeited.

“Political correctness has grown to become the unhappiest religion in the world,” he wrote. “Its once honourable attempt to reimagine our society in a more equitable way now embodies all the worst aspects that religion has to offer (and none of the beauty) – moral certainty and self-righteousness shorn even of the capacity for redemption.”

He added that cancel culture’s refusal to engage with uncomfortable ideas had an asphyxiating effect on the creative soul of a society, and that creativity could knock at foundational beliefs and in doing so generate fresh ways of seeing the world.


“This is both the function and glory of art and ideas,” he said. “A force that finds its meaning in the cancellation of these difficult ideas hampers the creative spirit of a society and strikes at the complex and diverse nature of its culture.”

The musician, who recently staged a live concert at Alexandra Palace, which was described as "the most elaborately creative response yet to the constrictions of the lockdown," ended with a rhetorical question. "We are a culture in transition," he wrote. "And it may be that we are heading toward a more equal society – I don't know – but what essential values will we forfeit in the process?"

Cave has regularly discussed contemporary talking points in his newsletter, which he started in September 2018, such as why he and his band the Bad Seeds decided to play in Israel and not back the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement.

He has also responded to more personal topics, such as his experiences with grief after the death of his 15-year-old son, Arthur, in 2015, and answered more abstract queries, such as “what is shyness?”.

Recently he wrote a follow-up letter addressed to fans imploring them to stop sending emails to the Italian piano manufacturers Fazioli after he said he had played one of their pianos in the Alexandra Palace gig, writing an embellished, gonzo account of his manager trying to acquire one for him.

Cave had previously said that “the new moral zealotry that is descending upon our culture could actually be a good thing,” after a fan asked him in 2019 about the reckoning that was reverberating through the music world after #MeToo.

“Contemporary rock music no longer seems to have the fortitude to contend with these enemies of the imagination, these enemies of art – and in this present form perhaps rock music isn’t worth saving,” he wrote. “The permafrost of puritanism could be the antidote for the weariness and nostalgia that grips it.”

In July, several well-known authors and public intellectuals signed an open letter that was published in Harper’s magazine saying the spread of censoriousness is leading to an intolerance of opposing views and a vogue for public shaming and ostracism.

JK Rowling, Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood were among the signatories who acknowledged that "powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society". The letter went on to criticise what it called "a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity". – The Guardian