JK Rowling & other intellectuals worry that free speech might have consequences

'Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald' UK Premiere - Arrivals

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.

[From Harper’s Magazine]

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.

Photos courtesy of WENN.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

92 Responses to “JK Rowling & other intellectuals worry that free speech might have consequences”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. Belli says:

    Writers shocked to discover that words are powerful.

  2. Eleonor says:

    I read the news this morning.
    I mean what’s the point?

  3. Darla says:

    Ah, man, I didn’t know Steinem signed this thing Really? Oh that’s a disappointment.

    • Jane's Wasted Talent says:

      And Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, Wynton Marsalis! and Fareed Zakaria.

      I’m just going to hope that this idea started out differently, and the original reason got twisted somehow along the way.

      • Cassandra says:

        Yeah just came here to say I’m disappointed AF with Margaret Atwood right now.

        The people who signed this are, at best, extremely out of touch. I sure as heck wouldn’t be putting my name next to anything JKR co-signs.

      • Mac says:

        For all the brain power behind that letter, it comes off as remarkably tone deaf and simplistic. For example, James Bennet didn’t resign because of the Tom Cotton op-ed, he resigned because he didn’t own it. He tried to blame a 24 year old editorial assistant. Not firing Amy Copper would have created a morale issue in her workplace. Waving a gun at a black woman is a hate crime. Etc.

      • L4frimaire says:

        Disappointed but actually not surprised by Marsalis. He’s such an elitist snob when it comes to hip hop and rap music, very dismissive and says it’s damaging. He thinks he’s the definitive gatekeeper to American Jazz. I respect his talent and his family legacy ( RIP to Ellis) but not surprised.

  4. Priscila Bezerra-Fischer says:

    Ugh, cancel culture is a myth. It is just a twitter thing and often, does not have any implications to one´s work/private life

    In a digital society where people literally live, breath and poop online, if you do something online, you will face consequences. There is no separation between online life and not. many people work online or use these plataforms to their benefit, so common sense states that they would also encounter opposition and backlash there.

    But cancel culture is a hell of a good enemy for a writer to have, right? It has no face, it does not exist in the real world and is abstract enough to be made into what you believe will have the greatest appeal.

    They are writing fiction for a reason, lol.

    • Mara says:

      Completely agree, this is just a Twitter thing. If you think you are going to say problematic things then don’t sign up to Twitter (it’s addictive). And its not as though these authors don’t have other platforms.

  5. Lara says:

    I’d really like to know what these people think that they can’t say? I suspect many of them are actually getting paid to write these things to either make their point or cause controversy.

  6. Florence says:

    It’s Harper’s though, right? The driest, least relevant publication right now. It doesn’t even have the decency to be properly controversial.

    I wish Rowling would just stop the hurtful, uninformed comments.

  7. Who ARE these people? says:

    Just so I understand this: Elite writers and “thinkers” are so uncomfortable and angry that non-elite writers and thinkers can use social media to bypass the traditional barriers to entry in to popular and intellectual discourse that they used a traditional elitist publication to run a bunch of hooey.

  8. Valiantly Varnished says:

    Please note that not a single black author signed that stupid letter. Just a bunch of men and white feminists.

    • fishface says:

      Interesting huh! Nauseating white privilege all over the place…

      • Mac says:

        I glanced briefly at the list and Mia Bay, Reginald Dwayne Betes, Orlando Patterson, Melvin Rogers, Daryl Michael Scott and Wynton Marsalis are all Black.

    • Jo73c says:

      check the list again @Valiantly Varnished

    • Grace says:

      From the Washington Post: “The process of producing the letter began about a month ago, writer Thomas Chatterton Williams told The Washington Post. Williams, a columnist for Harper’s who helped spearhead the effort, said about 20 people contributed language to the letter before it was sent out for signatures.

      ‘We wanted the document to reflect the reality that many people who are not old white men share these concerns,’ said Williams, who is black. He added that support for the letter was gathered organically.”

      Also, you need to check the names. For example, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis signed the letter.

      • Lanie says:

        Wynton Marsalis is big into respectability politics, aka, “One of the good ones.”

        I am surprised they didn’t get some of these crybaby comedians to sign this. They also love hate speech with zero public pushback.

    • Edith says:

      Thomas Chatterton Williams, John McWhorter, Coleman Hughes, Bill T. Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Dael Orlandersmith, and Chloe Valdery are all black writers/intellectuals who signed the letter, among several others.

      • L4frimaire says:

        Some of those names on this are very disappointing, especially Bill T. Jones, but they are also uncomfortable with some of the discourse going on right now, as well as the pushback on respectability politics. This isn’t going to change anything but nice of all these folks to let us know they don’t want to hear from the rest of us.

  9. manda says:

    I just don’t even understand what they are talking about. The examples are vague. Who has been canceled wrongly in their opinion? I just don’t get it

    • TrixC says:

      Their point is that we shouldn’t ‘cancel’ anyone, we should challenge their ideas and opinions if we don’t agree with them.

      • Who ARE These People? says:

        Isn’t “cancelling” simply shorthand/slang for challenging ideas and opinions if we don’t agree with them?

        What do they think it means? Are they being purposely obtuse?

        Also, people have the right not to buy or not buy their creative products. Not buying them does not equal ‘cancelling.’

        They’re writing as if the Pope ‘excommunicated’ them and they really still believe it means they’ll go to hell.

        My suspicion is they don’t like where the “cancellation” – the criticism – is coming from, and that it is visible to all who partake. All those people are comfortable criticizing one another, of that you can be sure, but within their own spheres of success and competence.

      • Tok says:

        I totally get what they mean and back it up – the cancel culture is toxic and needs to be cancelled. Say what you want and let’s have a discussion, without fear, without shame. This by the way, is one of the reasons so many dropped the exacting liberals and brought Trump to power. Even Obama talked about cancel culture as a very dangerous development. I might agree or disagree with others, but I will defend their right to say what’s on their mind without fear.

      • A says:

        Except, to a lot of the signatories, they do in fact believe wholeheartedly that facing any type of challenge or pushback against their views, no matter how polite or kindly stated, is in fact an example of cancel culture.

        For a lot of these signatories, they fully expect that they should be able to blow their views out their ass, unfettered, and everyone should thank them for the privilege and not say a single word about how awful some of the things they say truly are, especially in light of the immense platform and influence many of these people have.

        People like Bari Weiss, JK Rowling, etc think that they deserve the right to discuss whether or not other people who don’t conform to their particular view of the world are entitled to basic human respect and decency, and that they additionally deserve the right to have their incorrect, erroneous, and flat out harmful opinions go unchallenged when they express it on a public platform.

        When you characterize ALL dissent against your views as “cancel culture” and an example of “fascism” and expect to be able to say what you want freely without any consequences for the things that you’re saying, then you’re not supporting freedom of speech. You’re supporting your freedom to never be criticized by plebeians who you see as beneath you. And that’s something completely different entirely.

  10. Sarah says:

    Thank you for covering this, I saw a headline about her on the BBC app and couldn’t bring myself to read it. I get that they’re supposed to be neutral in how they report but this doesn’t deserve a neutral response!

  11. Ann says:

    Lol at dragging Bari Weiss! She sucks so, soooo much. She defended Kavanaugh just to take a swipe at Me Too and she likens basically all criticism of Israel as antisemitism. She’s dumb and a lazy journalist with bad takes on everything. If the NYT ever cancel her she’ll fit right in at Fox.

    • Nic919 says:

      Bari Weiss only exists because of her snowflake politics when she gets called out time and again over her lies and the pretence that she is neutral. She is massively biased when it comes to cancelling people who support Palestinian issues but always she never did that.

      People who bitch about political correctness tend to be the ones mad that they got called out for saying racist or sexist comments.

      And obsessing with what universities do or don’t do is such an elitist issue considering the small percentage of people who even attend university much less stay there beyond 4 years for a degree.

      • Otaku fairy says:

        “People who bitch about political correctness tend to be the ones mad that they got called out for saying racist or sexist comments.” That, and/or they’re mad that the ‘political correctness’ is also being extended to individuals they dislike who happen to be from a marginalized group, when they’d prefer for the PCness to only go to their ‘tokens’ and those they consider perfect victims.

    • A says:

      Bari Weiss spent her undergraduate years at Columbia attempting to get various Arab and Muslim professors and academics fired for expressing their support for Palestine and the Palestinian cause. It was so bad that the New York Civil Liberties Union had to come out and publish a statement condemning the effort.

      Columbia wound up conducting an extensive investigation where they exonerated those professors from being anti-semitic, and discovered that there was a concerted and systematic campaign of intimidation aimed against them in order to silence their opinions.

      Bari Weiss is a f-cking hypocrite. Not only does she not acknowledge her own role in these efforts, she actively denies them and tries to paper over them like they never happened. She’s the walking embodiment of the “all for me and none for thee” attitude. Her “support” for free speech is highly suspect and incredibly hilarious, all things considered.

  12. LeonsMomma says:

    Nice age-ism.

    While I dislike the snobbery and out-of-touch the literary (and the academic, even more), these responses are so reactionary, and prove the letter’s point.

    Would any of you liked to have taken Salmen Rushdie’s place after he published “The Satanic Verses”? Are you calling out Margaret Atwood who wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale,” of which the handmaid’s costumes are now being used as a form of protest?

    Oh, wait, they are over 50 and useless.

    • huncamunca says:

      Yeah, we are calling out Margaret Atwood because you can’t appreciate the irony that the same person who yes, wrote that book, is essentially siding with a TERF (the exigence for this letter is undoubtedly the blowback Rowling faced). Over the years, she has consistently been on the wrong side in her comments about #MeToo, among other things.

      Rushdie is trash too. A misogynist through and through. In both his comments about female writers and his treatment of the women in his life. You’re acting like the response to his book (no matter how extreme) was something he couldn’t have predicted and didn’t capitalize on later. He made his choices.

      • TrixC says:

        Aren’t you kind of proving their point though, because you don’t like the messenger(s) you’ll refuse to properly debate the point they’re making? It’s childish and simplistic to talk about people being on the “wrong side”. I’m sure all of the people who signed the letter have some views I agree with and other views I disagree with.

      • LeonsMomma says:

        Correct with all you said.
        Trust me, I know all about Atwood and Rushdie. That doesn’t mean they can’t make their opinions known — if that’s the case, that is censorship.
        I am also reminded about my friends on FB and Twitter who brag about “Defriending” or “Blocking” former family and friends that they don’t agree with. You are placing yourself in an intellectual bubble, one when you see that not everyone agrees with your enlightened position makes you more enraged and shocked when you find out anyone can think that way. I still follow people whose opinions I don’t agree with or think are heinous (ok, have muted a few when they get out of hand) and occasionally chime in if I think it will make a difference.
        It’s also called knowing your enemy.

      • Amy Too says:

        Leonamomma, maybe people put themselves in an “intellectual bubble,” as you call it, for their own mental health and safety, though. It seems like the signers of this letter and the people who are defending it and think that blocking people or cancelling people isn’t acceptable are demanding that the people who would cancel or block do the emotional labor to persuade or “intellectually debate” racists, misogynists, TERFS, xenophobes, etc. Maybe POC, LGBTQ+, victims of sexual assault, and/or other minorities don’t want their social media feeds full of “intellectual discussions” about whether or not they (the minorities) are deserving of respect and basic human rights. Maybe that’s stressful for them. Maybe that makes them want to cry, die, or rage? Maybe it literally raises their blood pressure, makes it hard for them to breathe, and makes them shake. Because things like “do black lives really matter?” and “but whatever did that raped woman do to deserve being raped?” aren’t just cerebral, academic, discussion topics for them.

        You’re asking people who are already under considerable stress just by living their lives as the race/gender/sexual orientation they were born as, didn’t choose, and can’t change, to A) ignore their immediate fight/flight (rage at/block) response when reading hateful words about themselves and B) expend time and energy on patiently and emotionlessly “debating” why it is that they really are deserving of basic respect and human rights, hopefully persuasively enough so that they can “win“ the argument and change someone’s mind.

        Do you honestly and truly think that the people spouting hateful ideas are going to change their mind if only the right person takes the time to debate with them properly? (“Properly” of course having so many caveats: you must speak in the correct, academic, emotionless tone, you must use words I understand and none that I’m “uncomfortable” with or haven’t heard of, you must back up everything you say with multiple sources and those sources must be from websites or newspapers that I personally read and respect, no “liberal elite” or “fake news media” sources.) JK Rowling has had people explaining to her for YEARS why her tweets are hateful and harmful and her arguments are wrong, and yet she hasn’t changed her mind and continues to double, triple, and quadruple down on them. Is it still not acceptable for people to block, mute, or cancel her?

      • Otaku fairy says:

        +1000, Amy Too. That’s the trouble with how vague that article is too- as if we can afford to pretend that all ‘disagreement’ is equal. They aren’t all equal, and your post perfectly points out why. There’s no ‘both sides’ when someone’s words excuse or encourage the death and violence that a group of people deals with. When people already come to the conversation convinced that an oppressed group of people is beneath them and deserves, or should not complain about their lot in life, OR already come to the conversation determined to treat non-violent responses as some societal ill when those responses fail to be comfortably subservient or robotic, there’s no real room for debate.

    • Who ARE These People? says:

      It could be worthwhile to analyze the list of signers in terms of their ages, but several of the better-known are under 50. It’s more that the younger ones seem to be thinking and reacting like the older ones in terms of confusing disagreement with suppression, muddled by the emergence of multiple voices as traditional media gatekeeping declines. Social media can be a mess but there is a low barrier to entry, making it more lower-case “d” democratic in its way. Actual merit has emerged at times in ways that are quite gratifying.

      Still, criticism and disagreement are not the same as the targeted death threats Rushdie faced. We know he went through a lot. But if someone doesn’t agree with him and says so on Twitter, it’s not the same. His prior experience with a known terrorist organization does not justify the argument made in that letter.

      I don’t know what you are trying to say about Margaret Atwood and The Handmaid’s Tale. The fact that her imagined dehumanizing handmaids’ dress is now used in protest only supports the reality that her freedom of speech has not been suppressed.

      The signers are just waving their hands in hysteria. Meanwhile, actual fascism, a radical right-wing movement of the type Atwood depicted, has been rising for some time, enforced by people holding actual power over the masses and in many ways ignored (or tolerated) by traditional mass media.

      Can they protest about that, please?

      • LeonsMomma says:

        I agree that social media — like traditional — has its faults — and you are correct it gives voice to those who haven’t before. And making sure truthful stories are told.

        I can see where you thought I was saying Atwood and freedom of speech was limiting. (I wasn’t.) What I have been reading (mainly elsewhere) the dismissiveness of their age, in the way that anyone over 50 doesn’t count.

        And yes, keep on protesting, including the handmaids’ attire. Trump is awful, and I always thought Nancy Pelosi held off on the Trump impeachment because of the the extremely scary thought of a President Pence.

      • Who ARE These People? says:

        LeonsMama thanks for your thoughtful response. I’m well over 50 myself. It is a shame if people are viewing the signers only in light of their age, though their age maybe be a contributing factor if they’re uncomfortable with how norms and modes of communication are changing.

      • Who ARE These People? says:

        And I should have spelled Momma your way, but couldn’t fix it.

    • Wilma says:

      I don’t know why that would make Rushdie or Atwood exempt from criticism. Receiving death threats doesn’t exempt Rushdie from people disagreeing him when he voices his opinion. It seems strange that I would not be able to criticise Atwoord for her stances on the #metoo movement because she wrote a book that people deem feminist.

      • LeonsMomma says:

        Not saying you can’t. Just saying some of these opinions read as age-ism.

      • Wilma says:

        In your comment you specifically referenced the death threats to Rushdie and Atwood writing The Handmaiden. What you didn’t do was come up with arguments for why people were ageist in their critiques.

      • LeonsMomma says:

        Quoting this post: “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.”

        Why bring up age? Being out of touch knows no age limit.

    • Christina says:

      Amy Too, I love you.

      As an over-50 minority woman, you have articulated everything I feel when I hear the complaints about cancel culture. I worry about free speech at times, but I understand how intellectuals insist that we talk around the corporeal problems of the world. Talking in abstractions is valued over feeding people, actual fair treatment, racism. It HURTS, and that hurt is diminished by the inteligencia, and they many times don’t realize it. And the powerful get more power, and the people make less than in the 1950s, and everybody thinks that they are doing the beat they can when some just don’t care, but they have lots of frames degrees that discount poor people.

    • A says:

      First of all, it’s Salman Rushdie. Not Salmen Rushdie. If you’re going to talk about the man, at least have the courtesy to spell his name correctly.

      Second, what happened to Salman Rushdie in the aftermath of the publication of the Satanic Verses was deplorable, no questions asked. However, that is not comparable to the criticism he might receive, either regarding his works, or his personal opinions, especially if he’s making the choice to express those personal opinions on a public platform, in an industry where your income is directly tied to whether or not people like what you have to say.

      As for Margaret Atwood, much of the criticism that she’s received is because of her support for an alleged sexual predator, Stephen Galloway. Galloway was the chair of the UBC creative writing program, and he leveraged his position and the power it afforded him to conduct an affair with a potential applicant, who later entered a formal complaint with the department that he had sexually assaulted her.

      There were other allegations made against him that he was a notorious bully, who often used his position to implicitly threaten the careers of students and faculty members who pushed back against him or his advances. And while there were criticisms to be made of how the university handled the investigation into these complaints, Galloway received an outpouring of support from a number of prominent Canadian authors, including Margaret Atwood.

      Atwood and others wrote a public letter expressing their support for Galloway. They insisted that he’d been the victim of false accusations and dismissed from the university unfairly. Throughout the whole letter, written by some of the most prominent and influential authors in Canada, there was not a single expression of empathy for the alleged victim who had seen her complaint utterly mangled by a university bureaucracy that bungled the investigation at every corner.

      These were powerful people siding with a powerful person, right from the outset, out of what seems to be a desire to protect one of their own. An understandable impulse since it’s such a small world in Canada, but a nevertheless appalling one that did nothing for the victims, who don’t even have a fraction of the clout and influence that all of these people have combined.

      Criticizing Margaret Atwood for her open, public, and emphatic support of such an individual at the expense of his alleged victims, especially in the context of her own feminist credentials, is fully justified. She wrote a subsequent hand-wavey apology that didn’t do much to address this criticism in the slightest.

      Saying as much to her, on a public platform like Twitter, where she has an account, where she is active with the understanding that people can and will respond to her, is not “cancel culture.” No one called for her books to be removed from the shelves, and her name to be struck from the registers and forgotten for the rest of history. Her critics suggesting that perhaps her works should be re-examined in light of her support for Stephen Galloway is not cancel culture. No one is obligated to an audience for their views, let alone perpetual adulation.

      There are other issues here with the Stephen Galloway shit I haven’t gotten into, because this comment is long enough. But I’ll also say this rather briefly–I do think age is a factor in this issue for many of these authors, purely because social media was not a thing when they were first getting published. I do think a lot of these people who are on the older side are unused to the sheer immediacy and volume of responses you can receive if you’re on a platform like Twitter, or Instagram, or Facebook, etc. They’re not ignorant of or incapable of contending with criticism, but they are ill-equipped to handle the scope of it on SM. The logical response to this is to not have a social media presence, but of course, when “freeze peach” is a consideration, that’s not an option many of these signatories are willing to consider, is it?

  13. OriginalLala says:

    So, as an “intellectual” myself, I have a PhD and work in an academic, research position – this letter is bull-crap. What nonsense! Freedom of speech is not being curtailed, speech has consequences, and it seems like these “intellectuals” don’t like that their views are receiving push back rather than praise.

  14. Scal says:

    Aka please let us continue to say horrible racist and sexist things but don’t call us out on it. That makes us feel bad and we don’t want to feel bad.

    Cancel culture is a myth. Name one person that has actually been canceled.

    • Mara says:

      Agree, cancel culture (if it exists) is a Twitter thing and is not reflecting in real life.

  15. Marjorie says:

    Some of the people on the list do not have outdated views at all – like Margaret Atwood, for instance.

    I’ve read that the signers didn’t know who else was signing, and quite a few are upset about JK Rowling.

    Also loved (snark) the NY Times article about it that you had to read all the way through before you learned that NYT writers signed the letter, but the NYT isn’t going to name them here! Geez, what’s happened to that paper?

    • Nanny to the Rescue says:

      Why would they be upset that JKR signed it?

      She’s the most obvious choice for it.

      It’s others that are more baffling, yes, especially Atwood.

      (I don’t know most names, tho, so I can’t judge their experiences and backgrownds.)

    • A says:

      Margaret Atwood absolutely does have several outdated views, many of which she’s expressed openly and was criticized for on Twitter, which is what prompted her to sign this letter in the first place.

      She’s written and signed at least one open letter prior to this expressing her support for an alleged sexual predator and fellow author, Stephen Galloway.

      In the process of defending her support for Galloway, she also waded into some really shitty territory where she said that the allegations against Galloway were a result of him being of First Nations descent, and therefore an example of discrimination. Her source for this was another Canadian author called Joseph Boyden, who claims to be of First Nations descent, but whose claims have been challenged and openly called out as faked by numerous First Nations activists and authors.

      On top of all of this, Atwood wound up writing an op-ed for a Canadian paper defending herself by saying that the Me Too movement was an example of unchecked vigilante justice. She failed to engage with the criticism she received throughout the whole piece, either for the fact that she supported her powerful male friend over the women he victimized, or for her inability, as a white woman, to contend with issues around race.

      In fact, if you go through the list of people who signed that letter, you’ll notice that a lot of the women who put their names on it, like Bari Weiss, Emily Yoffe, etc, are open about their skepticism and “critique” of the “dangers” of the Me Too movement and how it can be a tool for “vigilante justice.” These are their regressive views that they expressed and were thusly criticized for on social media and are still unable to let go of.

  16. Kate says:

    This is a much bigger and more complicated issue than JK not wanting trans women to use female toilets. I have been reading and educating myself on this topic because I was a little confused when it blew up last week but I would encourage everyone to do the same. I also agree that we should be allowed to discuss things in an open and honest way- which is what I believe this letter is about.

    • Who ARE These People? says:

      We ARE allowed to discuss things in an open and honest way.

      The signers are protesting their “right” to be hateful and not have anyone say they’re hateful. They can say whatever they want and they have and they do. What they’re not used to is public complaint, public criticism, even public (but not governmental) censure outside their traditional literary sphere and carefully restricted outlets.

      They are actually the ones looking to shut down other voices.

      It seems to be spearheaded by JK Rowling and some of those folks probably didn’t read things through carefully or understand what’s been happening with her and her bigotry against trans people. They probably just thought, “Oh, Harry Potter lady!” and thought being associated with her would get their name out there some more.

      She used them.

      • Grace says:

        Actually this was not spearheaded by Rowling. As the Washington Post reported today, writer Thomas Chatterton Williams was one of the main drivers of this effort. This is what the Post reported: “’We wanted the document to reflect the reality that many people who are not old white men share these concerns,’ said Williams, who is black. He added that support for the letter was gathered organically. ‘It wasn’t meant as a prize or any definitive list of people who believe these things,” he said. “But it was trying to show a diverse range of voices, of experiences, of ideologies, of ages and all that, all being unified in commitment to a set of principles that I think are pretty uncontroversial.’”

        So whether you agree with it or not, I think it’s important to understand the origin and intent.

      • horseandhound says:

        how are people allowed to openly say what they want when jk rowling got death and rape threats for saying she doesn’t think women and trans women are exactly the same and that there are some concerns about trans movement? everybody who raises genuine concerns about women’s sports or some men faking they are trans to get in a position to hurt women, like in prison, is seen as an evil individual and no issue is discussed. I don’t see how that helps trans people. that constant demonization of everybody who questions any aspect of anything, really, is just the worst. people need to talk without vilifying others and issues need to be put out and observed and discussed.

    • TrixC says:

      Yeah, I agree. I will admit to not being very well informed about trans issues, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. It did feel like the response to Rowling focused on name-calling (TERF etc), at the expense of explaining why her views were flawed or misguided. As it says in the letter “The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away”. As far as I can gather Rowling seems to think we should all be worried about men pretending to identify as trans women to gain access to women’s spaces in order to attack them, this seems totally ridiculous to me.

      To give a completely different example, I live in the UK (although I’m not British) and it seems one of the reasons Brexit is happening is that a lot of people felt they couldn’t express any sort of negative view about immigration without being accused of racism. As a result their views were neither listened to or challenged.

      • Slowsnow says:

        I’m also a non-British person living in the UK and I’m afraid you may be over-simplifying things about Brexit: there is plenty of room to speak negatively about immigration in the UK. The problem is that if you want to speak about immigration negatively FIRST then some communities will not listen because you are not at least acknowledging people from your house cleaner to your urologist at the hospital as people but as a group. Immigration is such a complex subject that implicates work/economy. Perhaps even the fact that taking immigration as such an uncomplicated notion might already say a lot about the person’s unwillingness to dig deeper.
        Which is what this letter seems to point at: an unwillingness to understand the reasons why some people were fired, set aside, derided and just understanding the phenomenon as an impossibility of voicing opinions.

      • TrixC says:

        @Slowsnow, perhaps I didn’t express myself very well, I agree that immigration is a complicated issue and a lot of the views that people have about it are over-simplifying it and do not stand up to scrutiny at all. Ironically it is only due to Covid that people are really appreciating how critical immigration is to the NHS, for example. I do think there has been a reluctance to have a mature discussion here about immigration, and a tendency on the left to dismiss people who express less positive views about immigration as racists and bigots – which some of them undoubtedly are, but others are just poorly informed, and some have legitimate concerns about pressure on public services and the like. I also believe this was a significant factor for a number of people who voted for Brexit, and some of those people may have voted differently if there had been a better quality public discussion.

      • Slowdown says:

        You had me at better quality public discussion 😁

      • A says:

        Referring to someone as a TERF is not “name-calling.” You claim that you’re lacking in the requisite knowledge necessary to fully understand the situation. Here’s some information that might help: TERF stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist.

        It is not an insult. It’s a term, a classification, used to designate a subset of second wave radical feminist thought that JK Rowling ascribes to. TERFs object to this descriptor, although they’ve never been fully clear on why they do, since no part of it is objectionable, accusatory or defamatory.

        Just because you haven’t been privy to the criticism that JKR has received, which has painstakingly explained in a respectful manner why her views are fundamentally misguided, discriminatory, and harmful towards trans women, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It does. Much of the pushback that JKR received was thoughtful in its assessment and explanations, even though the views that JKR expressed were harmful and not based on facts.

        In fact, the views expressed by JKR and those like her have resulted in the death of at least one homeless trans woman in Puerto Rico. Alexa Luciano died after a cis woman accused her of being a man in a dress without any proof to back up her claim. But the unfounded claim spread on social media, and it resulted in Alexa being murdered as a result.

        Alexa was described as a “man in a dress” in the initial police report, after the law enforcement was called on her for having used the women’s restroom. There was a video on social media which shows three men who are alleged to be her murderers, following Alexa around, taunting her. They repeatedly refer to her as a man in the video.

        The letter that JKR signed states that, “The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.” Criticizing her ideas, calling them what they are, and explaining the very real harm that they do to vulnerable people is not an attempt to silence her.

        In order to be persuaded or exposed to counterpoints, you have to first contend with the idea that perhaps the views you hold are flawed. JKR and a lot of her fellow signatories are unwilling to engage with that notion on any level.

        They refuse to expose themselves to opposing views and arguments. They dismiss any critique of their stances and instead paint all of it as an attempt to shut down their right to free speech. They refuse to extend the same courtesy they demand others should extend towards them and their views. They do this in defense of views which cost vulnerable people, who don’t have the money or fame a person like JKR has, their lives.

        Who, do you think, will be writing a letter on behalf of Alexa Luciano? Who will sign, defending the right of a penniless, homeless woman to live her life without fear or shame? Would a person like Alexa have ever gotten the chance to write a letter that would be published in Harper’s magazine? Whose voices do we, as a society, choose to elevate? Which narratives take precedence in our culture?

        And why is a billionaire like JKR, with a powerful platform, who continues to retain the freedom to espouse the sorts of views that led to a penniless, homeless woman being murdered as a result of false accusations and mob justice, the face of this movement for free speech and against cancel culture?

        Murdering Alexa Luciano for using the women’s washroom is, somehow, not a crime against freedom of expression, even as a voice has been silenced forever. But explaining to JKR that her views are harmful is. This is the discrepancy that people are pushing back against, because it defends the rights of a powerful person to express opinions that put vulnerable people in harm’s way, under the guise of free speech. And that is alarming in its implications.

  17. Keekey says:

    Some of the people who signed the letter have already walked it back on Twitter. Basically said that they didn’t realize the full context of what they were signing. SMH.

    • Nanny to the Rescue says:

      That’s ridicilous. (I mean them, not you.)

      You get a letter you’re asked to sign. You read it, hopefully. You sign if you agree with the content, or refuse if you disagree. The text is quite clear, and not hard to understand.

      Saying you didn’t know what you signed just makes you sound dumb. Or hypocritical.

    • Lanie says:

      Which is such a cop out. I’m really supposed to believe that these intellectual heavyweights didn’t know what they were signing in it’s full context? They why did you sign it? Either they are liars trying to CYA now, or they wanted to coast on their reps as deep thinkers while not being too bright outside of their areas of expertise (The Ben Carson Paradox).

      • Nanny to the Rescue says:

        At least one said she signed because of a few names (mentioned Chomsky) but wouldn’t have done so if she knew of some other names (like JKR).

        Which is probably an honest statement, but ffs, you signed not because of the content, but because you heard Chomsky is signing? That’s such an odd thing to admit publicly. It also clearly excludes her from being an actual intellectual.

        Read what you sign, people. Noam Chomsky doesn’t necessarily know better than you.

  18. Sarah says:

    Freedom of speechless does not mean, and has never meant, freedom from consequences in the court of public opinion. Why is this so hard for *checks notes* prominent writers with profound cultural influence to understand?

    • Who ARE These People? says:

      Ego? The fact that they’ll only ‘respect’ the voices of other people who, like many of them, are over-paid for their work?

  19. Caty Page says:

    So if they say something masses of people disagree with, they’ll… be dragged on Twitter for a bit? Meanwhile they’ll stay in their mansions, being paid to continue writing.

    What is the argument they are making? People shouldn’t be so quick to “cancel”? In a world where the powerful have no accountability, it’s the only tool we have! And it doesn’t do much more than MAYBE push someone put of the spotlight for a little while. Which is good!

    Racists are getting called out. Abusers are getting called out. What “dogma” is present in the powerless using an open platform to say, ENOUGH?

  20. JBH says:

    “We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters.”

    Doesn’t sound like “critics shut up” to me. It’s disheartening to see so many people not get the point of the letter.

  21. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Omg that’s hilarious. And rich coming from writers. Yes dahlinks, words have consequences. And being tolerant doesn’t equate to being quiet. Y’all can voice your ideals and readers can critique and converse. It’s a mighty big world online, and if you don’t appreciate opinions of all kinds in large quantities, you might reconsider how you want to publish your thoughts. And people who find your words distasteful might not want to read your work anymore. Now, isn’t that something. I didn’t have one political thought in my head writing that.

  22. Slowsnow says:

    I am not sure that this is about cancel culture.
    It is far deeper than that: of course it probably has to do with ‘poor’ J. K. Rowling being corrected in her misinformed views.
    But it also has to do with a sense of scape-goatism in our society that is scaring powerful people,
    who thought they had arrived to a place of truth and instant charisma. And they also thought that their friends are great people who can do no harm, like Lena Dunham.
    But I think that this also references yet another thing brewing in the literary world, more recently with the books American Dirt and My Dark Vanessa: an instant critique of the white writer or the non-abused writer writing about ethnicity or sexual abuse. While a writer of fiction can go anywhere, especially in America it is very easy to spot cliché or appropriation, which to some, in an over-simplification of the subject, has become a rule of thumb of a white writer cannot write a black character, a person who was not a victim of sexual abuse cannot write a character who was etc. This took a publishing house to cancel Jeanine Cumming’s book tour for her much derided book American Dirt for fear for her (I suppose mental) safety.
    However, the fact that the debate was raised is very important because many people who feel that their ethnicity was portrayed in a cliche or exploitative way in some books should be listened to.
    This is a longer story but I don’t want to take up too much space and I am sure others will have things to say about this.
    The question here is that Cummings, who apparently wrote quite a bad book, was not listened to and had to reverto to saying that she was a fifth (from memory) Latina and the author of My Dark Vanessa had to disclose her personal story of abuse in order to validate the books. Which is obviously silly an not the point at all.
    The point is: writers, do your research.
    And also, not everyone’s take on a book is valid but people have to right to express themselves.

  23. Diamond Rottweiler says:

    Beyond the obnoxiously self serving bad faith of JKR being on this list, at least a half dozen of the dudes who signed this have either been Me Tooed or are ripe to be soon, given the women’s whisper network around them in the writing world. Another couple of them are just piggish, like Jeffrey Eugenides who said in interview there is no bias toward white male writers in publication because he *personally* works out next to a famous woman writer at his gym (he actually said this, in response to the VIDA Count statistics clearly demonstrating this significant bias for the last decade annually). The rest of the majority live in or at the edges of the rarefied air of NY/London conservative money circles and fully embrace the privilege of not having a clue as to what’s going on amongst the peasants. But I’m still honestly surprised by what a feckless, vague and silly letter this is. Of course, imagine getting all these writers to agree on any text. Lol. It reads like it had a hundred cranky editors. In any case, the issues to these writers are mostly theoretical, except to the ones who fear being directly in line for a public conversation about their behavior.

    • Slowsnow says:

      “It reads like it had a hundred cranky editors.”
      LOL, it so does.
      And it’s annoying because there are discussion to have? Ok. Have them, don’t be vague about your cases in point.

  24. L4frimaire says:

    This is just dumb and whiny. Especially seeing some of the names on the list. I actually follow some of these people like Frum ( still hate his politics) and Atwood, but so many I can’t stand. Yeah, they’re being whiny, and it comes off as elitist. They just don’t like any pushback or challenge to their infinite wisdom and authority. Yes some people have lost their jobs, because they were sh*tty bosses and were being racist, sexist,treated people really badly. As for JK Rowling, ugh. They’ve done this before, e,g. That widely criticized article Zadie Smith wrote on black pain. Anyway, I used to subscribe to Harper’s years ago but they are just not on my radar, and glad this is getting push back and some authors are asking for their names tho be removed. It’s an interesting debate, a very real thing happening. They want their words to have meaning and influence, but apparently don’t want any accountability or consequences for the real damage their words or actions, because it’s not just words, do cause others.

  25. alexc says:

    It’s not overwrought and the signers are correct.

  26. Lizzie Bathory says:

    Jennifer Finney Boylan, a trans woman who signed the letter, has said she knew some of the signatories but did not realize JK Rowling was one of them. She has now apologized for signing the letter, which she originally thought was “well meaning, if vague.” In response, JK Rowling is on Twitter now calling out Boylan & comparing herself to a victim of the Salem witch trials. Seriously.

    • horseandhound says:

      but I don’t get her point. if I believe in something, I believe it, even if I find out somebody terrible thinks so too. she signed the letter because of the cause, not because of the company.

  27. Aang says:

    Noam Chomsky is a genius. I don’t have to agree with everything he’s ever said to recognize his contribution to linguistics and philosophy. His economic critiques are spot on.

  28. Gelya says:

    Yes, we do cancel out racists and racist phobics. That is common sense & has nothing to do with Freedom of Speech. When all the social media platforms became a dominant force Freedom of Speech became a thing of the past. These platforms are used to influence. For the life of me I will never be able to figure out how an intellectual can think that Twitter and an award winning article are in the same sphere for Freedom of Speech.

    JK Rowlings needs to understand that Harry Potter showed she was a decent writer but her racist rants onTwitter shows that she is a horrible human being. People need to stop throwing around the Freedom of Speech badge like it’s a shield to protect the, from their stupidity.

  29. Purple prankster says:

    I think the letter was too vague, can’t comment on it either way.

  30. Nuzzybear says:

    Cancel Culture is the natural reaction to the ease of fame without substance that social media has opened up. What was given easily, can be taken away just as easily. People may enjoy an image or a turn of phrase, but if it is coupled with something that is despicable, people may find the image tarnished and they don’t want to support it.

    That being said, when Cancel Culture is coupled with the decline of civility and basic respect for other human beings, it definitely has the potential to fester into a Scorched Earth Culture – e.g. If you vehemently disagree with someone, nothing is forbidden. Scorched Earth Culture is something that can and will censure expression and threaten critical thought.

    I’m okay with accountability – just disagree with respect.