A Bunch of Lefty Thought Leaders Timidly Dissent From the Mob
If you expected a moment of courage from liberals, you'll need to keep waiting because the Harper's letter isn't it.
It starts out, in the same fashion as any form of lefty movement criticism of extremist must these days, with a condemnation of Trump and a warning that the "right" will exploit cancel culture. Except they don't name it that.
"Resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting," the letter argues. "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."
And then comes the, "we're living under Stalinsim, but we're nervous about saying so."
"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 Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a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. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement."
None of this actually specifies anything, including the specific terminology of intersectionality. The references are vague and no names are included.
And it's hard to describe the signatories as representing a liberal response.
There's a mix of hard lefties, Noam Chomsky, Adam Hochschild and Salman Rushdie are signatories. Along with more conventional establishment lefties like Gloria Steinem, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and Steven Pinker, also the target of a cancellation attempt, along with assorted lefty media types, including Michelle Goldberg and Fareed Zakaria, and targeted non-conformists like J.K. Rowling and Nicholas A. Christakis.
The signatories, as intersectional lefties will rush to point out, are mostly white, many of them have little to fear from the mob, but the letter is filled with meaningless boilerplate and vagueness to such a degree that it lacks all force. As they well know. Come on, Noam Chomsky is supposed to be a linguist. A number of writers are included. But it's a statement of solidarity comparable to those that western lefties occasionally put out when they thought the Soviet crackdown on literary figures was going too far. It takes great pains to establish its general agreement from the mob while arguing that freedom to speak and debate might actually be an important quality.
" As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us," the letter concludes.
Then it looks like it won't be defended.