This reads like a satire from Jonathan Swift or George Orwell, and if it were a movie, it would be the film of our times. John wrote yesterday about the letter signed by 153 “prominent artists and intellectuals,” as the New York Times describes them, decrying cancel culture and defending free speech and open debate. They argued at Harper’s that the Left’s cancel culture had become “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.”
When the Left set about proving it, it didn’t take long for the signatories to start surrendering to the very phenomenon they protested:
The letter, which was published by Harper’s Magazine and will also appear in several leading international publications, surfaces a debate that has been going on privately in newsrooms, universities and publishing houses that have been navigating demands for diversity and inclusion, while also asking which demands — and the social media dynamics that propel them — go too far.
And on social media, the reaction was swift, with some heaping ridicule on the letter’s signatories — who include cultural luminaries like Margaret Atwood, Bill T. Jones and Wynton Marsalis, along with journalists and academics — for thin-skinnedness, privilege and, as one person put it, fear of loss of “relevance.” …
Amid the intense criticism, some signatories appeared to back away from the letter. On Tuesday evening, the historian Kerri K. Greenidge tweeted “I do not endorse this @Harpers letter,” and said she was in touch with the magazine about a retraction. (Giulia Melucci, a spokeswoman for Harper’s, said the magazine had fact-checked all signatures and that Dr. Greenidge had signed off. But she said the magazine is “respectfully removing her name.”)
Come on, man. Harper’s wasn’t just going to take someone’s word that the other 152 signatories put their names to the letter. Of course they checked it out. Greenidge simply quailed at the first sign of criticism and tried to construct a cover story. That certainly says something about cancel culture, but it says even more about Greenidge’s personal and professional credibility.
Others retreated after getting blasted for the company they kept rather than the principles they espoused.
Another person who signed, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in an effort to stay out of the growing storm, said she did not know who all the other signatories were when she agreed to participate, and if she had, she may not have signed. She also said that the letter, which was about internet shaming, among other things, was now being used to shame people on the internet.
Not everyone was anonymous about embracing their guilt-by-association conviction (via Twitchy):
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
It’s tough to know where to start with this explanation. Did Boylan not read the letter closely before signing it, just chiming in to hang out with Chomsky, Steinem, and Atwood? If that’s the case, it seems like the NYT is stretching the term “intellectual” to the breaking point. On the other hand, if Boylan really believed in the principle of free speech and open debate, and especially opposes cancel culture, then why does it matter who else supports those positions? That is why we adhere to principles rather than tribes. Or at least, that’s why we should.
Now that the progressive mobs have a couple of scalps on their belt over the Harper’s letter, don’t expect them to stop. Instead, they will be motivated to hunt down as many more as they can. Previous cancel-culture attack figures like J.K. Rowling probably will hang firm, but how many of those who have not experienced that kind of character assassination will do the same? Hopefully most will, but that appears pretty optimistic at the moment.
The point of the list was to show how broadly these principles are shared, the list’s creator told the New York Times. “We believe these are values that are widespread and shared, and we wanted the list to reflect that,” Thomas Chatterton Williams explained. Instead, its launch now seems ready to show just how shallow those commitments to those values really are among “prominent artists and intellectuals.”
Did I say it would be a great satire of our time as a film? More like a farce, really.