Folks upset about “cancel culture” aren’t reacting to the same thing you are. (Whether “cancel culture” exists or not or is a moral panic or not is neither here nor there for the purposes of this post.)
When Rowling says something you consider despicable, remember this: you disagree with her. For you looking at Rowling, she experiences at best some mild–though widespread–pushback and remains a wildly wealthy and influential person.
But that’s exactly the point. She remains because she already was. She is sheltered, like many other public anti-whatevers, from the consequences of her actions because of her status and bushels of money.
Her average-joe defenders know this. And they know that if they were to say the same things outside of their safe spaces (the countryside, the church, the mosque, the club, whatever) they might be on the receiving end of that mob.
Without influence and money they might lose their jobs, be ostracised from their communities, etc, etc. Now, this is explanation, not an excuse. As always this sort of existential anxiety (rooted in the fear of death), whether real or imagined, drives extremism, and extremism drives violence.
They call this “free speech”. It’s not a right that’s ever existed, except in some imaginary past or some imaginary libertarian utopia. It’s not, at least as long as we have a secular liberal democracy, a right that can possibly exist.
It’s becoming more and more apparent that this section of the population will gladly sacrifice secularity, liberality, and democracy so long as they’re the ones who can speak their minds without consequence.
Having lived in fundamentalist communities for a good part of my life, I’m highly aware that this idea of “free speech” isn’t something they’re willing to extend to members of their own community, much less to everyone else. This is important, because it reveals the actual desire: power. Not some laissez-faire free speech utopia extended to all, but to grab the levers of power and attempt to reverse the perversion of this or that conceptual category.
Every single fundamentalist moral panic is about exactly this. Things must not change, and if they do, we must change them back. Their inability to do so in countries like Canada only compounds the anxiety. Thus we should expect only more extremism from here on out until they change their minds, die, or violently enact their Gilead.
So the question is this: What’s worse? Cancel culture or anxiety culture? If I had to pick, I’d say take a brief look at history and see what existential anxiety has done.