Harper’s Gives Prestigious Platform to Famous Writers So They Can Publicly Whine About Being Silenced
Jennifer Schuessler and Elizabeth A. Harris, New York Times:
The killing of George Floyd has brought an intense moment of racial reckoning in the United States. As protests spread across the country, they have been accompanied by open letters calling for — and promising — change at white-dominated institutions across the arts and academia.
But on Tuesday, a different type of letter appeared online. Titled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” and signed by 153 prominent artists and intellectuals, it began with an acknowledgment of “powerful protests for racial and social justice” before pivoting to a warning against an “intolerant climate” engulfing the culture.
“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” the letter declared, citing “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.”
And, again, it is fundamentally ridiculous and ahistorical to argue that the boundaries of what can be said have narrowed. Honestly, you do not have to go back very far to find examples of topics of conversation that were fundamentally taboo and are now widespread and common. And many of those new ideas have resulted in massive, important social change: civil rights and civil liberties now exist in more meaningful forms than they ever did before because of people speaking out. The ability of LGBTQ+ people to marry whom they love coming just decades after it was literally illegal to do so is a result of more people being able to speak out. The ability of the Black Lives Matter movement to rally so many people in support of their cause and pull the curtains back on centuries of institutional, systemic racism is a result of more people being able to speak out.
The idea that there’s been some narrowing of ideas is nonsense. These people are getting criticized for their bad ideas and their response is to play victim and pretend that the space in which they can speak has narrowed. They’re full of shit.
This letter is self-serving nonsense at best — and, at worst, masks anti-trans discrimination as “open debate” — and it is dispiriting to see people like Margaret Atwood, Jeet Heer (no relation), and Garry Kasparov endorsing it.