The Harper’s letter, the social media witch hunt, and the recantations were all part of a predictable mess. The letter brought together people whose only apparent linkage was being writers of some sort and feeling that perhaps people shouldn’t be lynched outright for missteps, not so much dissent. The signatories were defending a liberal idea, the value of debate, but were often not liberals.
The letter was full of muffled and ambiguous language. It was timid and unconvincing.
The reaction to it represented the clash between social media, the ugly home of cancel culture, and old timey literary media.
People who take a while to write words are more likely to be liberal than those who shoot them off emotively in seconds. The digital disconnect is a big part of why our political culture has become so much uglier.
But the bigger part is crisis mode. Illiberal movements always operate around an urgent crisis that must be solved at once or everyone dies. That’s BLM, it’s also global warming, gun control, and everything that the Left advances at any time.
A crisis means there’s no time for liberalism, dissent or process.
And many of the lefty attackers explicitly attacked the signers for not recognizing the seriousness of the crisis that is ‘hate speech’, ‘transphobia’ or any of the other urgent crises that require lynchings now.
A failure to recognize the crisis is privilege. And itself damnable. There’s no room for liberalism in a crisis. And that’s where the liberal critics of cancel culture have failed. They intellectualize the problem while leftists make it violently visceral. That’s why Black Lives Matter has made inroads even into the minds of people who know better. The radicals run on emotion, fear, hate, guilt, while liberals try to reason their way out of the crisis. And they’ve yet to address what happens if we can’t reason our way out of it.