This is a difficult post to write, because somehow Vox’s Matthew Yglesias ends up the good guy. Here’s the deal, and it’s been making the rounds of the Twitter elite most of the day. Harper’s Magazine published a letter with some 150 signatories that will appear in the October print issue.
A statement signed by 150 people incl. Bill T. Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Jennifer Finney Boylan, Noam Chomsky, J.K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood, and Salman Rushdie expresses concern over the illiberal trend intensified by our national reckoning.https://t.co/4zPjuPNXBu
— Harper's Magazine (@Harpers) July 7, 2020
It’s about cancel culture in a way; the first paragraph is filled with the obligatory “we all hate Trump” stuff, but the second paragraph gets interesting:
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. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes.
Sounds good, right? There’s a problem, though: It seems as though some of the cool kids didn’t know some uncool kids, like the notoriously transphobic </sarc> J.K. Rowling would be signing too. So in a piece about the open exchange of ideas, signatories are getting called out for allowing the open exchange of ideas by other signatories.
For example, Emily VanDerWerff, a trans woman and critic-at-large for Vox, told Vox she was very disappointed to see Yglesias’ name on the letter next to so many anti-trans voices.
I sent a version of this to the editors of Vox. (I have redacted some bits that are internal to Vox and shouldn’t be aired publicly.) pic.twitter.com/splNNSMivd
— Emily VanDerWerff 😎 (@emilyvdw) July 7, 2020
“But his signature being on the letter makes me feel less safe at Vox.”
— I didn't vote for him, so think of a new retort (@jtLOL) July 7, 2020
Author Jennifer Finney Boylan also didn’t know who else’s names were attached to the letter:
I did not know who else had signed that letter. I thought I was endorsing a well meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming. I did know Chomsky, Steinem, and Atwood were in, and I thought, good company.
The consequences are mine to bear. I am so sorry.
— Jennifer Finney Boylan 🐕 (@JennyBoylan) July 7, 2020
You should be sorry.
"I am so sorry", she grovelled over supporting free expression.
My first thought on seeing things like this is that should civil war ever come, people like her are so weak it would be over in a weekend.
But then I realize that the real enemies are the people who terrify her… https://t.co/I65p37OX3X
— InTheRightColumn (@TheRightColumn) July 8, 2020
Really something how many people tried to defend their appearance next to a who’s who of internet racists and transphobes rather than just admit they didn’t get a full list of the signatories https://t.co/r41OrDKeQw
— Sam Thielman (@samthielman) July 7, 2020
This is how they bully liberals.
Just perform a little guilt by association et voila, instant retractions and apologies.
The mob grows larger in number, made up of invertebrates, each as scared as the next of being seized upon by the self-devouring, ever hungry mass. https://t.co/nw6FcomO2r
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) July 8, 2020
Again, this letter was supposed to be a warning about the shrinking free exchange of information and ideas among lefties.
Historian Kerri Greenidge, whose name did appear on the letter, has gone missing.
I do not endorse this@Harpers letter. I am in contact with Harper's about a retraction
— Kerri Greenidge (@GreenidgeKerri) July 7, 2020
But you signed it
You do realize what a signature means right..
— NR_Garrett (@NR_Garrett) July 7, 2020
Good job validating the concerns articulated in the letter.
— Shevek (@sheveksdilemma) July 8, 2020
Thereby proving its need.
— Karyn Lisignoli (@KarynLisignoli) July 8, 2020
Seems Greenidge succeeded in getting her name removed:
Her name's been removed but was on earlier today. I'm curious how you can sign a statement you don't agree with… pic.twitter.com/4siHfVyc4G
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) July 8, 2020
Along with @JennyBoylan
— Grady🧢 (@GradyLocklear) July 8, 2020
Removing their names after being shamed by the mob shows exactly why the letter exists in the first place. Amazing, really.
— Corie Whalen (@CorieWhalen) July 8, 2020
The only thing that changed is they found out who else signed it.
— Noam Blum (@neontaster) July 8, 2020
"I was on board with this message until I realized who else was on board with it" should be a credibility-ending statement.
— Noam Blum (@neontaster) July 7, 2020
— Damon Linker (@DamonLinker) July 8, 2020
Principles: 0. Guilt by association: 1.
— Guy David (@DBCWriter) July 8, 2020
More proof that cancel culture is all just a fantasy right?
— Stanislav Petrov (@StanislavPetrov) July 8, 2020
I kinda thought the Harpers letter was pointless. Then it instantly outed everyone who WANTS there to be a climate of fear. So it was a great service.
— Tim Carney (@TPCarney) July 8, 2020
Not sure who's funnier — the cancel culture maniacs insisting that cancel culture doesn't exist while trying to cancel those who disagree, or the brave souls who signed a letter decrying cancel culture then immediately unsigned the letter out of fear of cancel culture.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) July 8, 2020
It’s a shame when progressives better than ourselves can’t agree that the open exchange of ideas is a good thing — but it’s the right-wing that’s all about censorship.
‘It isn’t HATE to speak the truth’: J.K. Rowling challenges silly narrative that sex isn’t real and SJW’s lose their freakin’ MINDS https://t.co/bMcD70HTSB
— Twitchy Team (@TwitchyTeam) June 7, 2020