This is not the most important story of the week. It’s not even top ten in our current hellscape. This is why I’m struggling to understand why more than 100 prominent writers, professors, journalists and thinkers thought it was important enough to sign their names to this mess. Yesterday, Harper’s Magazine published an open letter, signed by the likes of: Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, Caitlin Flanagan, David Frum, Dahlia Lithwick, Wynton Marsalis, Olivia Nuzzi, J.K. Rowling, Salman Rushdie, Gloria Steinem, Bari Weiss, Matthew Yglesias and Fareed Zakaria, among many others. You can read the full open letter here. Here is the crux of the overwrought open letter, in which “cancel culture” is not uttered and yet that’s what the whole thing is about:
Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. 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, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified 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. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second. The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.
The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.
Basically, some of the brightest minds of the over-50 intellectual/academic set are using a public forum to moan about how words have consequences and repercussions. It’s not that they feel as if free speech is truly under threat, they worry that their free speech might have consequences, like being “cancelled on Twitter” or “getting ratio’d for a bad take.” JK Rowling and Bari Weiss’s presence in the list of signees is particularly suspicious. Bari Weiss is basically a crisis actor with a New York Times column, and JK Rowling is a transphobic bully who refuses to see past her own nose. That’s all this is – Rowling wants to be a transphobic a–hole without facing any consequences. Bari Weiss is the kind of person who capes for fascists constantly and calls people “snowflakes.” So… just ignore this sh-t.
Are you actually being canceled or can you just not keep up?
— Samhita (@TheSamhita) July 7, 2020
That Harper's letter, to me, is in large part from people who are unhappy that they're not leading the current conversation, addressed to the many other people they believe are also unhappy that they're not leading it.
— Linda Holmes Thinks You're Doing Great (@lindaholmes) July 7, 2020
If you're a big enough writer where you can have Harper's ask you to sign the world's dumbest letter, your free speech isn't in danger of being stifled.
— Otto Von Biz Markie (@Passionweiss) July 7, 2020
publicist starts a new job at Harper's Magazine pic.twitter.com/WGzRHQCMJk
— Tess, Please! (@tessplease) July 8, 2020
Photos courtesy of WENN.