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So much for the bravery of the Harper’s letter The response to the free speech petition has once again exposed the intolerance of the Left

No retraction. Margaret Atwood's name remains on the now controversial Harper's letter

No retraction. Margaret Atwood's name remains on the now controversial Harper's letter


July 10, 2020   5 mins

Is it possible to re-establish the bare minimum rules of political disagreement in the internet age? Latest developments at the front line of the culture wars would suggest not.

Earlier this week a group of 150 writers appended their names to an open letter published in Harper’s Magazine (note to British readers — this is not the same thing at Harper’s and Queen, which would be a stranger home for such a declaration).

The contents were, as at least one signatory admitted, fairly anodyne. The letter spoke of “the free exchange of information and ideas” and of how this constituted “the lifeblood of a liberal society”. It went on to criticise the current vogue for ‘cancelling’ people because of their expressed opinion, stating that “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.”

All of which seems eminently reasonable, almost to the point of something so bland it hardly needs to be said. What is more, the organisers of the letter were clearly careful to signal that they were based in the dead-centre/centre-left of the political culture wars; its opening paragraph spoke of the “forces of illiberalism [that] are gaining strength” and which have, according to the letter, “a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy”.

This latter offering probably made good political sense to the writers. After all, the last four years have increasingly seen ‘free speech’ being depicted as some kind of ‘alt-right’ issue. If you are in favour of free speech but would like to be seen as politically respectable then it is crucial that you clear your throat by denouncing the US President as an equal threat (at least) to the illiberal Left. Otherwise your peers may have too easy a time presenting you as yet another tiki-torch-wielding racist.

The signatories of the letter were well chosen. There were plenty of women among their number; not all of the signatories were white. And there was even – rarest of all — a degree of political diversity among the signatories. As well as people like Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and J.K. Rowling — all figures identifiably of the political Left — the letter was also signed by David Frum, former speechwriter to George W Bush and ardent ‘never-Trump’-er.

In a way this cut-off point only a millimeter to the Right of the political centre told its own story about the extent of political diversity. If you are to get a large group of Left-wingers to sign a letter, even a letter in support of a fundemantal liberal principle like free speech, one must be careful not to contaminate them by proximity to anyone further to the Right than David Frum.

Interview
So much for the bravery of the Harper's letter

By Freddie Sayers

Alas even this cautious positioning did not entirely work. J.K. Rowling may be the most successful author of her generation, perhaps of all time, and a woman whose political views have always denoted her as being of the political Left. But in recent months an author idolised by millions of young readers has asserted that biological sex exists and that, while trans people should be afforded the same rights and dignity as everyone else, nevertheless they are not quite the same thing as born-women.

For expressing this view J.K. Rowling has come to be viewed by a certain type of activist as to all intents and purposes indistinguishable from Donald Trump or Steve Bannon. So the Harry Potter creator affixing her signature to the Harper’s letter was already going to be a provocation too much for some sensitive souls, while the inclusion of even one solitary figure — Frum — from the centre-Right made the whole affair too toxic for others to bear.

From the moment that the letter was published its critics were inadvertantly revealing why it needed to be written in the first place. Many asserted that cancel culture did not exist, that it was another example of the interminable ‘gas-lighting’ or ‘dog-whistle’ claims of an increasingly marching Right. Many of the activists making this claim were, of course, also arguing that signatories of the letter should be cancelled, for proximity to transphobia, among other thought-crimes. Vox’s Matt Yglesias was denounced by his own colleague because, of course, political opinions threaten safety; this, again, proved the point of the letter.

Elsewhere, and perhaps even more enjoyably, there were those who objected to the idea that in a letter purporting to span the political divide there should be people on the list who, er, spanned the political divide. One of the signatories, a little-known author called Jennifer Finney Boylan, even issued an apology within hours of the letter’s publication. “I did not know who else had signed that letter,” she wrote: “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.”

It must be an awful thing to discover, that. You wake one morning believing that you have just signed the usual “well-meaning, if vague” letter alongside a genocide-denier and other reputable Left-wing authors, only to discover that a former speechwriter to a Republican president is on the same list of names as yours. What a lot of weight that must be to bear. Almost intolerable in its way.

Of course, others did not even reach the great point of bravery achieved by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Some authors revealed that the letter had come across their desks but that they had given it a pass, among them someone called Kaitlyn Greenidge, who announced on Twitter that the letter had been passed to her a week before.

“I was so mad about it when I read it and have been angry about it for days,” she tweeted. She then copied in the email she had written to the organisers in which she wrote that she did not think that ‘cancel culture’ was a real threat. “Or, at least, I do not believe being asked to consider the history of anti-blackness and white terrorism when writing a piece, after centuries of suppression of any other view in academia, is the equivalent of a loss of institutional authority.”

In a way the reaction to the Harper’s letter neatly demonstrates the impossibility of the task it sought to achieve. A letter calling for unity across political divides showed up the great political problem of the era, which is not intolerance in the general, but the absolute unwillingness of the political Left to tolerate the political Right. In trying to be inclusive it was accused of including people accused of bigotry; in attempting to find a common cause for writers to unite around it was accused of providing cover for ‘white terrorism’. In attempting a ‘hang together’ ethic it found some of its number hanging apart within hours of lift-off.

It is bad news, this. It suggests the difficulty of finding any ethic around which our societies might unite. For all the decency of their stand, the Harper’s organisers could not reach out in any real way. They dared not, for instance, reach out to any figures who are supportive of the current President of the United States, a figure who, while divisive, happens also to have been elected. Why were Roger Kimball, Conrad Black or Victor Davis Hanson not among the letter’s signatories, for example, if the aim was to show that liberal society offered a wide spectrum of debates that could be reasonably argued?

And yet, even in a letter whose lines of delineation were chosen with exceptional, unrepresentative care, the wider, clamouring crowd could not be satisfied. Is it the worst thing in the world that the Harper’s letter met such an opposition? Obviously not. Is it a bad sign? Absolutely.


Douglas Murray is an author and journalist.

DouglasKMurray

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Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago

Isn’t the most alarming thing about this the admission by Jennifer Finney Boylan that her opinion about the validity of the claims made in the letter she signed is affected by her discovery of who else happens to endorse them?

animal lover
animal lover
3 years ago

You’ve made a really great point that most people seem to have missed

David Probert
David Probert
3 years ago

It reveals her as a person whose opinion on these matters is not worth even considering.

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago
Reply to  David Probert

While she earns her six figure taxpayer-funded salary to indoctrinate.

Julia H
Julia H
3 years ago

Pure tribalism.

Simon Stephenson
Simon Stephenson
3 years ago

Well, the expression has become a bit hackneyed, I know, but surely it’s a racing certainty that her appending her signature to the letter was fundamentally a piece of self-interested virtue signalling on her part, and not really in any way a principled demonstration of her support for a matter of importance. She signed it because she felt that this would be a good way to show the in-group that she still wanted to be part of the in-group, but when she found that some people from the out-group had also signed it, she worried that she might be shunned by the rest of the in-group to which she so desperately wants to belong.

M Blanc
M Blanc
3 years ago

In other words, she has the integrity of a pick-pocket.

Me The first
Me The first
3 years ago

society really is swirling round the toilet bowl

mark taha
mark taha
3 years ago

Who the hell is she? I believe that supporters of free speech should stop indulging emotional blackmail.

Jay Williamson
Jay Williamson
3 years ago

The inclusion of Rowling seemed to bother her!

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago
Reply to  Jay Williamson

Of course. Rowling is now a “transphobe” because she believes transgender women are different from biological (“cis”) women. She is on the militant Left’s shitlist.

Alan Matthes
Alan Matthes
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Sieger

What can be done when biological reality such as the presence of XX and XY chromosomes is rejected. We really are being ordered to believe that the earth is flat.

simonjthorpe
simonjthorpe
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Matthes

It worries me very deeply that we are having to bear this all out affront to scientific reality which is being force-fed to our children, to believe that there is no difference between a trans woman & a biological woman (or trans/biological-man, etc). It’s literally insane to reject actual science in such manner. Where the hell do we go from here? I have nothing against trans people incidentally, I just object to the inanity of the way debate & genuinely inquisitive free speech is shut down as if these realities were not as they are & happen to be.

Scott Norman Rosenthal
Scott Norman Rosenthal
3 years ago
Reply to  simonjthorpe

In direct contact, I get along with “queer” people. I don’t get along with coercing children and drugging them in the name of “Gender Dysphoria” or for any other reason.

aelf
aelf
3 years ago

Principles are for little people.

Ian Anderson
Ian Anderson
3 years ago

Quite. An utterly craven retraction.

mzeemartin8
mzeemartin8
3 years ago

Many who signed this letter at one time agreed with you, and then the mob came for them.

Your comment about Ted Cruz was garbled. Can you clean it up a little so I can understand what the argument is?

Sidney Eschenbach
Sidney Eschenbach
3 years ago
Reply to  mzeemartin8

Sorry Dan, and yes, a few Otto Kurrekt mistakes and boy was it garbled. Teach me to proof first!

The Cruz argument is simple :U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Friday said calls for a boycott of Goya Foods because its CEO praised President Donald Trump were an attempt to “silence free speech.” But one year ago, the Texas Republican encouraged people to boycott Nike after the company halted plans to sell shoes featuring the Betsy Ross flag that some say glorifies slavery and racism. In other words, when it’s against one’s particular point of view… cancel culture. When it agrees with one’s particular point of view… not so much. Hypocrisy is one of the things that the new social environment is particularly good at chasing down, because of the same tech and electronic records that make the past so accessible. Obviously, that cuts all ways, it’s not just a lefty or righty issue, and per the Me Too movement, not political at all. Hope that clears it up a bit, and apologies for garbling.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

Cancel culture is not just about disagreeing with people. It’s about destroying their lives by weaponizing social media to drive people from their livelihoods through mob attacks, eliminating such messy civil rights as due process. Free speech, which was used by the boomer generation to argue for minority, female and gay rights, is now openly attacked by academia and the media.

Cancel culture is illiberal because it undermines human rights to free speech. If you think this is simply “a right wing attack meme”, you’re not paying attention.

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

John Jones — you hit the nail on the head. It is about what O’Brien, the inquisitor of Orwell’s “1984”, tells Winston Smith the present (and future) hold: “Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery is torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but MORE merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy ““ everything. Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. … There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy.”

Sidney Eschenbach
Sidney Eschenbach
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

John, please see above

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago

“a non-story about a fictitious reality called ‘cancel culture'”

Such a non story that 150 writers felt the need to publicly condemn it? Or are the signatories to the letter, predominantly from the left, just merely “right wing pearl-clutchers”?

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago

Cancel culture is not boycotting or disagreeing. It’s about changing history, banning certain books, songs or films, and having people fired for adopting or rejecting the ‘correct’ political stance. Simple disagreements are fine, but not when they lead to people being fired from their jobs.

I’m not a big fan of the left-right dichotomy because it blurs a lot of issues and usually leads to a lot of finger-pointing. However, what is referred to as the Left here (academia, media, big tech) certainly has become authoritarian. There is very little room for diversity of opinions in these sectors; each operates from a morality based on perceived injustices against a chosen in-group aka social justice. The problem with social justice is that it needs a social elite to dispense it. It is this social ‘elite’ – mostly people who make a living from social media – that decides what is culturally acceptable and what is taboo, so much so that even political leaders are cowed by it.

The idea that you have to follow a political ideology or risk becoming unemployable is totally authoritarian. This is not about firing ‘racists’, ‘bigots’ or ‘transphobes’, although that is often the reason given. The underlying message is ‘you will agree with us or else’. Many who go along with this don’t see it this way, because they’re all too happy to silence and cancel those they disagree with. However, this is a very short-sighted strategy. If you make it permissible for mob-justice to be used against your enemies, it is only a matter of time before these same tactics are used against you by your opponents.

Sidney Eschenbach
Sidney Eschenbach
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

Brian, when you write “Cancel culture is not boycotting or disagreeing. It’s about changing history, banning certain books, songs or films, and having people fired for adopting or rejecting the ‘correct’ political stance”, would you be writing about Scott Ritter, the lone voice, the ex-marine UN Inspector for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq… the man who lost his job and was ridden out of town on a rail because he disagreed with the Neo-Con ‘correct’ way of thinking of the day? I doubt it, but you could be and should be. As I said, and like this one simple example I could pick from the annals of history hundreds of others that show that this is nothing new. It’s just a new name for the expression of social scorning, as old as man.

People have been shouted down off of their soap boxes since soap was invented and before, so …. nothing new here other than the tools used to do it, and that’s what, IMO, bothers the powerful. They no longer have the only nor the tallest soapboxes. Just ask Harvey Weinstein or any of the hundreds of other powerful men that got called out for their behavior. https://www.nytimes.com/int

Mobs can indeed by guided by malign or any number of uninformed or incorrect opinions… witness Ritter… and it’s always a concern. However, in public forums, they generally get it right, and I for one welcome the ability to express my views, left, right or center, in these ways. Like the videos that put the lie to disclaimers of those responsible for abuses of power, the ‘cancel culture’ is the technological leveler that brings power to the otherwise powerless. We’re all got a bully pulpit now, and like the outed ‘me too’ men, those who have nothing to fear have nothing to worry about. All others had better check their views and actions carefully. My two cents.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

“In open forums, mobs generally get it right”.

Really? Like the mobs of fascists burning books? Or the lynch mobs stringing up some innocent black man?

Mobs almost never get it right, particularly when they can hide behind the anonymity of Twitter. It’s true that people have always disagreed, and I’m fine with previously unheard voices having their say. But everyone they disagree with is not Weinstein. Many people are having their lives ruined simply for expressing politically inconvenient truths, like Damore.

Claiming that “those who have nothing to fear have nothing to worry about” is a complete non sequitur, because it ignores the fact that those speaking their minds should never have to fear the mob, no matter how odious their opinions. Free speech is simply a joke if you think it applies only to those with whom you agree. The entire point is to protect those with whom you disagree- otherwise, we all end up with no venue to express our views, but are bullied into groupthink by those with the “correct” opinions.

Without seeming to patronizing, could I recommend Mill’s On Liberty for a fuller discussion of why you are wrong?

M Blanc
M Blanc
3 years ago

You’ve obviously wandered into the wrong party. Someone please show Mx Eschenbach the door.

neil.fitzgerald449
neil.fitzgerald449
3 years ago
Reply to  M Blanc

I don’t think we collectively endorse a piece about free speech, and then, er…. ironically ask someone to be shown the door for a different opinion? Really?!

M Blanc
M Blanc
3 years ago

It’s free to say what it wants, but I’m free to not listen to it.

Simon Sharp
Simon Sharp
3 years ago

You seem so consumed by your ideological hatred of ‘the right’ that you can’t see this illiberal trend will hurt everyone. Of course right wingers will try to weaponize the free speech debate – just like the Critical Social Justice ideologues will try. If you have any remaining thread of value attached to liberal culture then you might realize this is actually a real issue- rather dismissing it al as ‘right wing pearl clutching’ just because some people you don’t like are playing the rhetoric game.

northernobserver331924
northernobserver331924
3 years ago

Right Sidney, and Stalin never hurt anybody. Come back when you’re ready to acknowledge reality, you immoral c**t.

joe_falconer
joe_falconer
3 years ago

Of course there’s a cancel culture and it rests on a fictitious reality of an unsafe world inhabited by opinions or thoughts that can harm others (see the wording in Emily VanDerWerff’s tweet for such tosh).

The key attribute of this cancel behavior is not to challenge the unpalatable opinions through debate but to claim offense whilst citing personal “safety” concerns. This is done as a means of tooling up knowing full well that a claim of personal hazard is enough to get those in corporate HR or PR to act as proxy weapons.

For evidence of such, again refer to Emily VanDerWerff’s tweet where she gallantly states that she doesn’t want Matthew Yglesias fired or reprimanded for his opinion. No doubt if she were a little bit more offended, made a little bit more “unsafe” it would be reasonable in her mind that she could demand a reprimand (or even to have him sacked).

None of this has anything to do with political colour – its all about those with weak arguments attacking through the back door. It’s cowardly and insidious and must be rejected at all cost.

And, stop conflating actions and behaviors with debate and opinion.

Kirk B
Kirk B
3 years ago

Boylan is actually quite well-known as a commentator on the NYT as a trans woman on trans issues. She’s a creative writing professor at a small college, but probably lesser know for her other writing.

Scott Norman Rosenthal
Scott Norman Rosenthal
3 years ago

It is absolutely appalling. If Trump stated that he opposed genocide, would that make genocide right?

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Thank you Douglas. Perfectly articulated and 100% correct, as always. In particular this:

‘It suggests the difficulty of finding any ethic around which our societies might unite.’

It has been obvious to me for some time that the gap between the two sides is now unbridgeable. There is already, effectively, a civil war in the US and if the woke-left wi’ns the next election there will be re-education camps and a collapse into some combination of Venezuela/Zimbabwe/Mao’s China and various other horror shows. The same would have happened here had Corbyn won.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I think you’ll find the woke-left is going to be pretty disappointed in President Biden, should he come to pass…

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Well it depends on the extent to which they are able to control him. Given that he doesn’t know where he is or who he is half the time, and given that he will probably appoint a very left-wing woman of colour as his VP, all the signs are that The Squad and others will have all the power they need to destroy the US.

I certainly agree that the ‘traditional’ Biden, who locked up millions of black men in the 1990s, who has always bowed to the corporates, who voted for iraq etc, and who has explicitly ruled out single payer healthcare would be a great disappointment to the left. In that respect you would think they might have learned their lesson with Obama.

Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Strange as it may seem, I think the woke left in the US wants Bidens and Obamas. They certainly don’t want anything that looks like a Sanders.

Darren Parker
Darren Parker
3 years ago

I agree. Sanders is far more in tune with ordinary voters and is ,of course, Jewish so the woke brigade will never warm to him.

David Probert
David Probert
3 years ago

Whatever he is Sanders is not an empty vessel – as for the other two – just pour into them whatever you choose.

The old Groucho cliché comes to mind yet again: “These are my principles, if you don’t like them, I have others’.

Jordan Flower
Jordan Flower
3 years ago

There’s probably something to this… the degree that Sanders could have remained true to his principles, is the degree he’d need border enforcement. It was only up until a few years ago that he was decrying open borders as libertarian or right-leaning, profit/cheap labor-seeking policy. Bernie’s kind of socialism relies on some level of isolationism. It can’t sustain itself otherwise, with lax immigration policies, as observed in what were once our beacon economic models of socialist utopia: the Nordic countries.

Dave Tagge
Dave Tagge
3 years ago
Reply to  Jordan Flower

Yes, Sanders was expressing that view on open borders at least as recently as 2015 – https://www.vox.com/2015/7/… .

More generally, he adapted to the issues that matter to the woke for his 2020 presidential campaign, but it’s not really his natural worldview.

He’s an old-school left-winger whose inclination is to think about issues from the standpoint of economics and class. Bernie’s first reaction when thinking about someone in a job making $10 per hour is to claim that the person is being screwed by a capitalist boss, not to inquire about demographic details to figure out if the person benefits from “white privilege”.

cas2689
cas2689
3 years ago

They want a Sanders in Biden clothing.

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago

Meghan Kathleen Jamieson — Because nothing the Left says is true — it can be judged on its actions not its empty hyperbole. Sanders has too much legacy heresy in him, given his age and other factors. Also, as a Jewish socialist (I am Jewish so please do not assume anything untoward), Sanders is unlikely to prevail in any national election, which is why Hillary, Donna Brazile, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz stole the primary from him in 2016 in favor of a candidate believed more likely to actually win the election (Hillary), hence the collective meltdown by half the US population when Trump defeated Hillary.

David Probert
David Probert
3 years ago

Disappointment is hard-wired into their fantasies.

Esmon Dinucci
Esmon Dinucci
3 years ago

All things pass – and looking at him him might pass sooner than most.

Lucy Smex
Lucy Smex
3 years ago

The woke Left will be thrilled with President Biden, not least of which is that he won’t be the one in charge. He will be little more than a puppet, if he’s not quickly pushed aside for whoever they decide will be the VP.
The manifesto has already been written for him, which, if enacted, will ensure the U.S. becomes a one-party state, i.e., by giving around 22 million illegal migrants full citizenship and the right to vote, along with dispensing with any control on immigration into the U.S.. They are also proposing to turn Washington D.C. into an additional state, with two new senators, guaranteed to be Democrats.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago
Reply to  Lucy Smex

Yes, I suspect Biden would also push forward statehood for Puerto Rico, which would also favour the Democrats. One-party state isn’t much of an exaggeration.

Sidney Eschenbach
Sidney Eschenbach
3 years ago
Reply to  Lucy Smex

Yes, Smedley, it’s called Democracy. I know that’s a difficult concept for some to grasp, but keep trying.

Su O.
Su O.
3 years ago

Manipulation of election results by the specific admission into the country of carefully selected groups who can be expected to vote for a given party is in no way Democracy.

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago
Reply to  Lucy Smex

L Smedley — Absolutely right. The Dem VP (Hillary? Kamala? I dunno.) will be running things if Trump loses in November.

M Blanc
M Blanc
3 years ago

Well, you’re right, of course. Biden is not Mao. But he’s merely the first click of the ratchet.

Andrew Best
Andrew Best
3 years ago

The unhappy truth for any rational sane person is that the left have become authoritarian communists in action if not in ideology, though they are pretty much there now…..
No dissent
Airbrushing people out of history
No free though
No free spech
Etc etc etc
They accuse any one to the right is stalin of being a…..
Nazi
Alt right
White supremacist
Etc etc etc
I do wonder if it repulse other people as much as me when the supposed well educated, intelligent, rational, liberal, middle and upper classed professional people are the most nasty, tone deaf, irrational, western hating, frankly unhappy people in the world (though they have and have had every chance in life with no real strife) with this never ending complaining about any one who dares not think like them?
or maybe it is just me?
Oh wait that must make me a
Nazi
Alt right
Etc etc etc

Simon Stephenson
Simon Stephenson
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

“I do wonder if it repulse other people as much as me when the supposed well educated, intelligent, rational, liberal, middle and upper classed professional people are the most nasty, tone deaf, irrational, western hating, frankly unhappy people in the world (though they have and have had every chance in life with no real strife) with this never ending complaining about any one who dares not think like them?”

I think that in fact they’re just a relatively small section of the “nasty, tone deaf… etc people in the world”, but that social media and the internet in general has opened up to them, with their intellects, the means to swamp the rest of the world with their cries for recognition and “respect”. The reality, I fear, is that there is, as there always has been, a chunk of society which has been brought up in such a way that they never develop an awareness of how strongly the human mind wishes to disregard the subjectivity of perception. They have never been helped to develop the confidence to accept the limitations of their own humanity, or the realisation that they must act accordingly, and as a result they become people with whom it is utterly impossible to maintain a constructive or co-operative relationship.

Dave Tagge
Dave Tagge
3 years ago

I agree with Simon.

Expanding on his point about lack of development, the woke Twitter mobs show signs of never having moved past two distinct phases of development.

One is the high school popularity game of the cool kids and the out-group and “if you talk to that person then you’re not my friend.”

The other resemblance is to young children throwing a tantrum to get what they want. As everyone realizes – except apparently the people running universities – such behavior persists if it works. Instead, it seems that universities teach students these days that it works to throw a tantrum as long as one uses the right magic words about “feeling unsafe” (in response to speech, not any actual physical threat), the “privilege” of the offending speaker, racism, etc.

David Jory
David Jory
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

It was ever thus. Think of the division between Tankies and non-Tankies in the Communist Parties of Europe in 1956 when the Soviets invaded Hungary.
Talking with Eden/Macmillan style Conservatives was not even considered then.
David Horowitz of the New Left in the 60s was shocked when he started supporting the Right/Conservatives. The malice and fury over small differences in Leftist meetings was replaced by friendly and open debate, even when disagreement was passionate.He found his erstwhile opponents far more welcoming and cheery than his former allies.

Paul Theato
Paul Theato
3 years ago

I have been noticing more and more comments in responses to blistering essays like Douglas’s, where ordinary citizens who once believed that cancel culture and the diversity agenda was all to do with some ‘vague’ idea of fairness, have realised, abruptly, that it’s true aim is to undermine democracy and civil society, and that therefore it must be being spread and propagated by an old and dangerous enemy, dressed up (like Chucky the doll) as something else (e.g. ordinary Labour Party politics).
The working classes were far quicker to notice, which is why Johnson and not Corbyn is running the country – although Johnson is never going to be the cure in my view.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Theato

As I remarked here recently, when I encounter someone who actually knows what’s going in the world it is invariably a male member of the working classes.

Jay Williamson
Jay Williamson
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

No wimmin?

Lucy Smex
Lucy Smex
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

You need to get out more. 😉

jcurwin
jcurwin
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I’m a Canadian woman with 17 years of post-secondary education and I’ve been warning people about this “woke” craziness for years now. I agree, though, that some people seem to have had the common sense educated right out of them.

Patrick Elson
Patrick Elson
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

you’re right because generally to be a ‘successful’ functioning member of the working class, duty and responsibility are your foundation stones, everything you do and think stems from that philosophy

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Theato

Sadly not, Boris looks, and is a “man of straw”.

As the adage says “You can’t put in what God left out”.

David Redfern
David Redfern
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Boris is all we have, seven months into his ‘stretch’ as PM.

Immediately upon taking office he was faced with tangling with the EU over Brexit, swiftly followed by the concurrent Coronavirus, then Floyd used as an excuse for UK BLM/antifa/XR (yea, same Mob, different cause) to riot over something that had nothing to do with them whilst violating social distancing protocols; unsupported by his successor Khan, the utterly astonishingly incompetent Dicks, and the bungling Ferguson at Imperial College; and far from ‘being in this together’ the despicable Sturgeon has stridently sought to make as much political mileage as possible: having himself been hospitalised and quarantined with COVID19. Oh, the Baby, I almost forgot!

I’ll pause to breathe now. Oops! [Taking the knee here to absolve myself immediately for a culturally appropriated reference].

Yea, so far BoJo has been pretty ineffectual. But what do we expect when he walked into a parliament that was entirely Remain dominated whilst launching DomCum like an Exocet at the rabidly left wing Civil Service.

All things considered, for Boris not to be knocked off his perch, as May was, in double quick time is quite extraordinary.

I mean, the worst thing Cameron had to deal with was failing to scupper his own referendum. And of course Corbyn failed to win the election he thought was a slam dunk.

Perhaps a bit of slack cutting for Boris might be appropriate.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  David Redfern

Yes indeed, duly admonished.

However this is a case of ” the Gatling’s jammed and the Colonel dead, and the Regiment blind with dust and smoke”.
Boris has a mountain to climb and must to look to his Classical education to find the solution.

I wish him well, “Play up! play up! and play the game!” as we old dinosaurs used to say.

cererean
cererean
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

I wish he had more than a classical education to rely upon. Some grasp of basic mathematics would have really helped.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago
Reply to  cererean

Actually I’d like our politicians really to have learned from a classical education – no-one who truly understood Sophocles could purvey the sunny optimism that is Mr Johnson’s trademark. Oh, for politicians with a true tragic vision of life!

Su O.
Su O.
3 years ago

In the U.S., Jimmy Carter once tried to eschew the sunny optimism and tell what he at least perceived to be the unpleasant truth. We couldn’t wait to get rid of him.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  cererean

Isn’t that what the Chancellor is for?
Caesar’s Gallic War, should keep Boris happy.

.
.

Patrick Elson
Patrick Elson
3 years ago
Reply to  David Redfern

Here here. I think there’s a lot of activity behind the scenes, draining the swamp of far left activist beaurocrats, legislative tweaks etc. I think this time next year will see a more promising looking landscape

Lucy Smex
Lucy Smex
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Theato

Johnson’s government is not much better than Blair’s, on current form, with the one exception of Brexit. For everything else, they might as well be card-carrying Marxists.

payments4gary
payments4gary
3 years ago

Good points, although I can’t agree with your conclusion that this was a failure. I think it was a massive success. Obviously it was always going to be rejected by the “progressives”. I took that as a given. The purpose of letters like this, as I saw it, is you need people to start standing up for others to follow suit. This needs to be followed by more letters of a similar type. This needs to start happening in different spheres of life. A letter from university professors, a letter from tech CEOs, a letter from journalists, etc etc. That’s the sort of thing it will take to get people collectively fighting back. There needs to be some serious organisation going on, but this was a good first step.

samuel.goulding
samuel.goulding
3 years ago
Reply to  payments4gary

I entirely agree with you in that what is needed is an organised respond by those that you mentioned.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  payments4gary

Agreed. Disagree with Mr Murray’s mild criticism of this point.

The reason this letter aims to be effective is precisely because it is coming from the left. Otherwise it would 100% just be ignored by those they’re trying to convince back towards more moderate left liberal stances.

Stephen Crossley
Stephen Crossley
3 years ago
Reply to  payments4gary

I agree that the torch of free speech needs to be carried on by other influential groups, in particular for company CEOs to resist pressure to sack employees for expressing “bad” views. Salem cannot be far away when a Boeing employee is dismissed for expressing a view 33 years ago against women serving on the front line. I can only imagine the backlash from club and sponsors should a single Premiership footballer refuse to “take a knee” before a match. We may need to modify the current employment laws regarding appropriate grounds for dismissal in order to prevent such victimisation becoming commonplace.

HJ Beach
HJ Beach
3 years ago
Reply to  payments4gary

Agreed, Gary. Recently a Canadian professor of law at Queens University wrote an article standing up to the policing of speech nonsense.
https://financialpost.com/o

Lucy Smex
Lucy Smex
3 years ago
Reply to  payments4gary

Although they only signed up to it after some on the Left were being cancelled. They weren’t interested when it was happening to conservatives.

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
3 years ago
Reply to  payments4gary

Good point Gary. I’m reminded of D.H.Lawrence’s expression of the need for a ‘hit-hit here and a hit-hit there’. We mustn’t let this new breed of illiberal authoritarians think they can have it all their own way.

Stephen Crossley
Stephen Crossley
3 years ago

Thank you Douglas for another good article. Reading that one of the signatories, Jennifer Finney Boylan signed the letter, implying that she agreed with the ideas expressed within it, only to recant on discovering that such evil “transphobics” as JK Rowling had also signed was particularly priceless.

However, given that many on Unherd (me included) have been railing against cancel culture for some time there would appear to be a glaring omission in the article namely a sincere thank you to Thomas Chatterton Williams for instigating the letter in the first place. Surely such a high profile event highlighting the cancer that is cancel culture should be applauded, even if many of its signatories are from the left of society. Otherwise we are guilty of downplaying an important opportunity to speak out against this appalling trend purely because we didn’t think of it.

craig
craig
3 years ago

Spot on. The extent of the woke left decoupling from public opinion is staggering.

Great article!

First Last
First Last
3 years ago

After reading the letter, and the responses to it that I could find, two things stand out to me:

1.) The contents are eminently reasonable, and regardless of the signatories I find it incredable that any well educated and free thinking person could disagree with the spirit of the letter.

2.) The disagreements with the letter are attacks not on its content but on its signatories, and have rightly been called out for proving the need for the letter in the first place.

While we may be a reasonable distance from re-education camps (or maybe its just whishful thinking that we are) but:

First they came for the [writers], and I did not speak out”
Because I was not a [writer].

Simon Stephenson
Simon Stephenson
3 years ago
Reply to  First Last

“The contents are eminently reasonable, and regardless of the signatories I find it incredable that any well educated and free thinking person could disagree with the spirit of the letter.”

Well, of course no genuinely free-thinking person could disagree with it, but there are thousands and thousands of people who, despite being utterly certain that they’re free-thinking, have in fact got minds which are entirely circumscribed by, and obedient to, the set-in-concrete prejudices that they developed as a result of their childhood and adolescent experiences. There’s always a driving force in their minds that’s so much more powerful than contemporary observation or deliberation that it will overwhelm any tendency towards the formation of new beliefs.

Robin P
Robin P
3 years ago

minds which are entirely circumscribed by, and obedient to, the set-in-concrete prejudices that they developed as a result of their childhood and adolescent experiences.

My own guess is that this has much more to do with innate tendencies, to wishful thinking, to conformity with powerful authorities, etc. Which not all people have in equal intensity.

And the people with the most lack of objectivity have all the less ability to recognise their own lack of objectivity. And so as they see it, it is the truth-tellers who are blinded by bias. And so telling someone that they lack objectivity is rarely a cure, at least for the noisier “intellectuals” and their faithful followers.

Simon Stephenson
Simon Stephenson
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin P

Yes, it’s a matter of conjecture whether it’s innate or learned, or a bit of both, or, indeed a combination of both plus other so far unidentified forces.

And I agree with your third paragraph. This has a huge impact on society due to the still widespread perception that if one is “educated” or an “intellectual” or a “scientist”, one is guaranteed to have become such a slave to objectivity that one can be taken to be a competent authority on ones subject.

Geoff Cox
Geoff Cox
3 years ago
Reply to  First Last

“The contents are eminently reasonable… ” I beg to differ – at least to this extent. The letter attacks the right in the form of Trump who has suffered worse at the hands of the msm and their running dogs on the left than anyone in history. And this sentence puts the blame on entirely on the wrong people:

“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 …”

The right are not to blame. But it shows how these “Hampstead liberals” actually have no idea what is going on in their name.

First Last
First Last
3 years ago
Reply to  Geoff Cox

Maybe your right, I’ll have to think about it.. but I would expect the free exchange of ideas to be curtailed on the radical right.

Maybe it shouldn’t have been mentioned in the letter as I would also expect them to be curtailed by the radical left.

What I wouldn’t have expected is the free exchange of information and ideas to be trumpted as something bad by those at least claiming to be centrist liberals (or outside of the traditional left / right sectrum).

Its almost the definition of centrist libralism.

Geoff Cox
Geoff Cox
3 years ago
Reply to  First Last

It all depends on the definition of right/left. Basically the left, who have had control of the language for many years, have defined everything they don’t like as “right”. So that is their mindset.

Lucy Smex
Lucy Smex
3 years ago
Reply to  Geoff Cox

Their mistake is in thinking that there’s much difference between the radical right and the radical left. They are far, far closer together than they are to the centre, to conservatives or to classical liberals.

Robin P
Robin P
3 years ago
Reply to  Lucy Smex

The whole terminology of “left” and “right” is cobblocks. But don’t tell DM or any of the others of the team here as such a concept would require them crossing a bridge too far.

Alex Mitchell
Alex Mitchell
3 years ago
Reply to  Lucy Smex

I always think of the left right spectrum more as a mobius strip.

Helen Wood
Helen Wood
3 years ago
Reply to  Geoff Cox

Ive been around Hampstead since the 70s…it was libertarian and progressive in those days.
I think the totalitarian woke critical race theory infecting society has come from US.
We need to actively contest the way organisations are policing our thoughts now…as the previous writer said…the Harpers letter needs to be one of many.

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago
Reply to  Helen Wood

Helen Wood Wood — You may be right about the influence from “across the pond” (i.e. the US), but Canada is also across the pond and are not that far behind in wokeness. I remember reading more than two decades ago an article by George Will about an English (London area, I am pretty sure) council which publicly condemned “heterosexism”, long before that lunacy was prevalent here (in the US), so please rethink your position.

Eddie Johnson
Eddie Johnson
3 years ago

Great article as usual, Douglas.
I thought Jonathan Freedland’s comment in the Guardian – a chief purveyor of this profoundly illiberal wokeist authoritarianism – on the reaction to the article sums it up
nicely:

“As it happens, the letter speaks of this phenomenon whenit describes “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism.” It seems the Harper’s letter might be a rare example of the reaction to a text making the text’s case rather better than the text itself.”

Steve Dean
Steve Dean
3 years ago
Reply to  Eddie Johnson

Are you a ‘bot’ brother of David Johnson? You have posted exactly the same thing!

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
3 years ago

This is a generational thing. I’m afraid most of us will not see change in our lifetimes. But change there will be, because for every action there is a reaction. The pendulum swings. A recent reputable yougov poll showed respondents around the age of 18 and younger as a more conservative generation. In thirty years time they will starting to be in positions of influence and power. Too late for us, but it will happen.

David Barnett
David Barnett
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Don’t be so sure that this will take a generation. In a way, the rapidity with which “cancel” is become so absurdly extreme may be an indicator that a bubble is about to burst.

How long did the Salem witch hunt last? The trials ran for about 15 months, ending in May 1693. By 1697 some of the jurors were seeking forgiveness.

daniel Earley
daniel Earley
3 years ago

A very interesting article that certainly highlight many problems. There is only one line that I would have issue with, “the wider, clamouring crowd could not be satisfied.” I do not think the the response is from the wider, clamouring crowd, merely from the noisiest and, ironically, the very people whom the letter is purportedly aimed at.

Robin P
Robin P
3 years ago
Reply to  daniel Earley

What? You accusing Dr Murray of getting something wrong? Get thee hence!

Chris Martin
Chris Martin
3 years ago

Like in the run up to the first American Civil War, the two halves of society are cleanly divided on a hot topic of moral purity, and neither side can easily tolerate each other. There is only one way that this is going to be resolved, and everyone should be prepared for that outcome.

Simon Stephenson
Simon Stephenson
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Martin

I’m not sure you’re right here. Ultimately, the woke Left’s position is that the human race is so malignant that it shouldn’t be allowed to continue to exist, but this is such a self-defeating position to hold that it can only really be an uncompromising front to camouflage what they are really after. The moral purity aspect is not sincere, I feel, it’s just a convenient means of denoting a price that is so high that it is impossible ever to pay.

I think what they’re really saying is “We’re at war with you, we’re going to win, and after that we’re going to be the Kings of the Castle for evermore. The only way you’re going to be able to avoid being defeated in this war is to agree to putting in place a series of measures that would make it impossible for you even to fight one. Our total domination of you for evermore will happen just the same, but without the fighting. This is the choice you have to make”

David Johnson
David Johnson
3 years ago

Great article as usual, Douglas.
I thought Jonathan Freedland’s comment in the Guardian – a chief purveyor of this profoundly illiberal wokeist authoritarianism – on the reaction to the article sums it up nicely:
“As it happens, the letter speaks of this phenomenon when it describes “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism.” It seems the Harper’s letter might be a rare example of the reaction to a text making the text’s case rather better than the text itself.”

Steve Dean
Steve Dean
3 years ago
Reply to  David Johnson

Are you a ‘bot’ brother of Eddie Johnson? You have posted exactly the same thing!

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago

Unfortunately there are elements within the far left who consider anyone to their right to be unacceptable and undeserving.

This culture of “hating your opponent” has a long way to run and will get a lot uglier before it gets better.

Lucy Smex
Lucy Smex
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

As exemplified by some of the Twitter responses to Kaitlyn Greenidge, who refused to sign, e.g.,:

“Just another surreal day, gift of 2020. I’ve been ragingly mad all day.”

“I’m still angry about it as well.”

“Thank YOU. I cannot begin to fathom the horror pain and fuckery such a public stance is putting on all the BIPOC and NBPOC writers, activists, artists. This is just absolutely disgust” (sic)

They seem to thrive on anger. I don’t know how it’s possible to ever bridge the gap with those on the far Left. They detest anyone who dissents from their viewpoint, and are filled with rage at those who disagree.

Alex
Alex
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

Yes, although they don’t only hate their opponents, they can very quickly turn to hating their recent allies if they dare to say a word out of place. There was a lot of hatred directed towards Starmer when he sacked Long-Bailey,for example. Our best hope is that they end up ostracising and alienating so many of their own side that it ends up collapsing.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex

Yes. Devotion to the cause is everything. Even a minor deviation to the path set by the leader (and that is still Corbyn) is enough for expulsion!

animal lover
animal lover
3 years ago

We are being purposely divided. We need to look at the reason why

David Redfern
David Redfern
3 years ago

I have to laugh…..LOL (thought I’d emphasise it).

Everyone here falling over themselves to congratulate Douglas on a ‘marvellous’ article – once again. But how do we judge that other than by slapping ourselves on the back. I don’t see any of the left in here screaming blue murder.

What the hell is going on? I joined Parler expecting a rush of the left to swamp it and engage it virtuous battle, instead it’s a virtual right wing echo chamber, just because it has the audacity to utter the term ‘Free Speech”.

I wonder if we are all Twitter refugees. Those having the audacity to be rude to someone. Not sweary or threatening, just good old rude, perhaps even sarcastic, and finding there is an excuse in Twitters vague policies to shut down or ‘restrict’ an account. In my case it’s just hanging as I refuse to withdraw a suitably rude comment to an idiot insisting Hitler was right wing and Stalin had the best intentions at heart.

I’m lonely. I need the rough and tumble of debating the congenitally stupid (I’m one) and am now picking fights with some of the ‘right wing’ idiots on Parler.

Just what does happen to the cancel culture community when they rapidly build a wall between them and anyone with an opinion that doesn’t agree with theirs?

Do they really take over the world and launch it into a socialist, green, wind turbine utopia?

Sod Coronavirus, it won’t kill me, I’ll die of boredom first.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  David Redfern

Well said, but no, we are England, or as we should say “Look on my works ye mighty and despair!”

Simon Sharp
Simon Sharp
3 years ago
Reply to  David Redfern

internet debate forums isn’t the main battleground – its a distraction of sorts. Its in Academia and the corporate worlds – and increasingly in Governments (yes even the Conservative ones) that the critical social justice virus is spreading. And ‘robust debate’ is not its intent. Once they have more full control of these agencies its intent is to act as a ‘societal solvent’, transforming every human interaction into a ‘power dynamic discourse’ and the ‘deconstructing’ that ‘power-knowledge’ until even scrabble players feel apologetic for their ‘complicity’ in ‘white supremacy’. Presumably once they’ve succeeded in reducing what is left of liberal society to a confused incoherent quivering mess, things will then be freed up for the introduction of their utopian social justice vision…. Healthy robust debate ain’t part of their concern.

tiensieh
tiensieh
3 years ago
Reply to  David Redfern

Well said. Also doesn’t matter how many letters and how much hand wringing or back slapping goes on within these and other echo chambers, the battle is lost, the mob have tasted blood and will not give up their guns. The only places safe from the various legions of the new Red Guard are places like this.

David C.
David C.
3 years ago

Thank you for all your work, Mr. Murray. I’m a staunch Leftist but I agree with every word you write on these issues. People who claim to be on the Left but not support any slight deviation from “acceptable speech,” judging before listening, are not really Left or Right, but Authoritarian. I sense that you, Mr. Murray, are the true liberal in the most honest sense of the word. Authoritarians on both sides of the political spectrum are pushing the liberal thinkers on the Left and Right to band together for support. I know you’re a conservative and I disagree with you in some other areas of your work, but your voice is important.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
3 years ago

Just incredible that a writer (Boylan – who she?) can seemingly think that the words she writes are less important than who she’s sitting next to when she writes them.

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago

Dougie Undersub — I don’t entirely get your point but I suspect you are being naive. Jennifer Finney Boylan is a but a well paid (six figures and tenured) cog in the massive indoctrination wheel known as academia and higher education in the United States.

David Colquhoun
David Colquhoun
2 months ago
Reply to  Robert Sieger

Yes -let’s abolish universities. Life in the stone age was so much better.

Simon Sharp
Simon Sharp
3 years ago

I recommend becoming familiar with the work of James lindsay Helen pluckrose et al at new discourses. Now that I’ve spent quite a bit of time understanding what ‘critical social justice’ is its clear why this letter was doomed from the start. Claiming to defend ‘liberal society’ is a non starter for that increasingly influential ideology. This is itself viewed as a product of white supremacy power structures. A luxury only the priveledged white structure can enjoy. All of the people on the list would be considered de facto apologists for this white supremacist culture before they even wrote a word. The fact that they did write only serves to show up their complicity and their ‘white fragity’ (unwillingness to have their own racism shown to them). And yes black people can be assimilated Into the sysyem of white supremacy so including ‘priveledged’ black personalities wont help if they show sympathy for liberal values.

The goal of critical social justice is not to critique problems in liberal culture so it can improve. It views the culture as hopelessly corrupt and oppressive so the only option is to dissolve it by destroying its internal consistency in every possible area like a virus.

So trying to plead with such people for ‘fair open discussion’ is pointless. They have no interest in that.

Ask a CSJ advocate about what I wrote above and they wont disagree or say it’s an unfair representation. They will just claim that they are right about their position…and that your attempt to argue otherwise is just a demonstration of your complicity.

I strongly recommend more people get familiar with what CRITICAL social justice is. Then you know better when you are encountering the ideology and can take steps to defend yourself from it or move away from it rather than wasting your time trying to have ‘reasoned debates’ with it

deancardno
deancardno
3 years ago

I thought the letter was nice enough – anodyne fluff as pointed out in the article. For the most part, though, the signatories are all of the crowd that thought cancellation and de-platforming was all fine and dandy; after all, it wasn’t them that was going to be shouted down from a campus forum. So long as it was Charles Murray who was going to be hooted off stage and hustled into a car, none of them seemed all that concerned. Now that the looniest of the Left are going after their slightly-less looney colleagues, it’s suddenly time to restore Liberal values and respect the right of free speech and civil discussion. Good for them, but where have they been for the past decade?

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago
Reply to  deancardno

“So long as it was Charles Murray who was going to be hooted off stage and hustled into a car, none of them seemed all that concerned.” — sad but true.

Andrew Crisp
Andrew Crisp
3 years ago

In a more hands-on society the equivalent action of “cancelling” would be lynching. This is mob rule that is just short of the actual physical “purging” that took place in the communist revolution of Mao’s China, Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany. It appears milder because it is mostly in cyber space. The silent majority need to take a stand and be heard. The push by the MSM to foment and further the discord IS hate journalism and covert hate speech that the left are so quick to accuse others of.

Esmon Dinucci
Esmon Dinucci
3 years ago

Thank you for another excellent article Douglas – it is always a pleasure to read your thoughtful and accurate assessment of what is going on in the far left and how it is permeating and spoiling so many things that we should be able to cherish – such as being able freely to express an opinion. There is one sentence that I think will now need updating:

“It went on to criticise the current vogue for ‘cancelling’ people because of their expressed opinion”

One’s expressed opinion is not the only thing that counts – as some of the responses clearly demonstrate – it is also what can be inferred about you from your associations – as Jodie Comer – currently dating – according to an “amateur detective” on Twitter – a registered Republican – how very repulsive of her – there is now a special hashtag designed to urge the mob to destroy her – This is far worse than the Salem witch hunt in its reach and potential for disaster.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago

The below is an interview of Odette Hallows GC where she describes being tortured; having her toe nails ripped out and her back burnt. As some of the writers appear to change their minds so easily , how would they cope under torture ? Leonard Cheshire VC considered that Odette Hallows GC showed far greater courage than himself. Odette Hallows GC considered the greatest of all the SOE personnel was Violette Szabo GC. It is interesting to observe the modesty of those awarded the highest awards for courage. All those who complain about the violence of words should listen to Odette Hallows GC; hopefully some may learn.

After thousands of years of civilisation we have appeared to have arrived a position which combines, the Inquisition, the hysteria of the Witch Trials of the mid 17th century and earlier Middle Ages and the joy of denounciation of the French and Russian Revolutions. We used to laugh at those in the Middle Ages who tried witches by throwing them into water: if they floated they were guilty and if they sank and drowned they were innocent; modern day cancel culture appears to share the same mentality..

My Grandmother said that if Britain had been invaded in WW2, the same sort of person would have collaborated with the Nazis as happened in occupied countries. We are rapidly approaching the state where peole denounce others in order to save themselves. Those who collaborated and fought the Nazis came from all classes, what united them was character.

Perhaps we should not be too hard on the kapos in the concentration camps as the desire to save one’s life tends to be more common than the willingness to die for.others freedom. As The Kohima Epitaph says ” We gave out today for your tomorrow “. Can we honestly look at the names of those who died in WW2 and say we honour their fight for our freedom?

https://www.youtube.com/wat

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
3 years ago

Yet hop over to the Guardian and see Billy Bragg trying (and failing) to make an argument in support of cancel culture – under the guise of not criticising it.

His position is completely incoherent and just highlights the mental gymnastics and intellectual contortions required to defend something so obviously indefensible.

The headline and sub-head demonstrate this incoherence perfectly:

Cancel culture’ doesn’t stifle debate, but it does challenge the old order

‘Speech is only free when everyone has a voice ““ that’s why young people are angry

In the article he makes the very strange leap from quoting Orwell’s

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”

to then question that with

“Surely the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four would understand that people don’t want to hear that 2+2=5?”

I struggle to see how anyone who looks at this situation with their eyes (and minds) open would fail to recognise that many of the people who have been cancelled, or branded as heretics, were insisting that 2+2 =4. It was those who were doing the cancelling that were insisting the sum added up to 5.

If mathematical truth is his model, one of scientific and measurable correctness, as opposed to the perceived political correctness of our time, then, just as a recent example, take JK Rowling, is Bragg seriously suggesting she was scientifically and measurably wrong when she suggested that biological sex was a thing, and that mere self-identification doesn’t alter ones chromosomes?

Because it doesn’t – it REALLY AND FACTUALLY doesn’t.

There is surely a debate about gender to be had but, if he’s using maths and science as his yardstick, rather than ‘culturally acceptable’ norms, then his argument falls on its face. JK Rowling was attacked for saying something that was, until very recently, universally accepted, and in scientific terms is still correct. Yet she was criticised and threatened for it.

I’d ask people of Mr Bragg’s persuasion, Which is more important to you, being able to voice uncomfortable truths, or protecting those who wish to only hear consoling half-truths or believe in absolute untruths?

One of the favourite insults from the Left when castigating those they disagree with is “Orwellian”.

Yet that tag could be far better applied to the “progressive Left” attitudes and the insistence we all adhere to the new orthodoxy or face cancellation, a social media pile-on, the deletion of content, demonetising of channels, banning from platforms or any other penalty for straying from what they deem acceptable thought. Surely?

As Orwell wrote in “1984”,

“Orthodoxy means not thinking–not needing to think.”

Bragg writes,

“The ability of middle-aged gatekeepers to control the agenda has been usurped by a new generation of activists who can spread information through their own networks, allowing them to challenge narratives promoted by the status quo”,

yet these new activist gatekeepers of acceptable speech and thought have a FAR narrower definition of what is acceptable than their predecessors. It is a retrograde step, as anyone who has fallen foul of these new blasphemy laws can attest. I cannot understand how anyone can honestly think that is progress?

There are many media and social media outlets that proudly boast mission statements full of praise for free-speech and sharing ideas across the world yet seem determined to become the online world’s Thought-Police.

What is perhaps most extraordinary is that we still refer to this woke orthodoxy as “The Liberal Consensus” – when there is clearly no Consensus and it is, surely, the very antithesis of libera” thought. What could possibly be more authoritarian than promoting a narrow worldview and punishing and shaming anyone who dares to think outside it?

Jonathan Webb
Jonathan Webb
3 years ago

Great article. How ironic is it that the woke/liberal left, hold such illiberal views when it comes to free speech and those individuals who express opinions that don’t correspond with their own.

How morally patronising of them. How depressing, that an educated elite seem to have abandoned the concept of discussion, mutual understanding and a discovery of the truth, in favour of group think and dogma.

It’s something you would see in a totalitarian state, and not a free country.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
3 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Webb

And how ironic after all you have said in your post that you chose to downvote my comment. Could you not have let it stand and disagree with it at the same time? Could you not have replied with your own POV?

kaptainhammer
kaptainhammer
3 years ago

Well said Douglas.. the mentality on display here by the reactions of some of these signatories is beyond childish and perfectly illustrates the issues of said letter. The irony is too pure, tragic in fact, I feel we are headed for dark times

quicotoro
quicotoro
3 years ago

Marcuse Lives. Somehow. Why?

vince porter
vince porter
3 years ago

When grovelling becomes respectable, we are all in trouble, Comrade.

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago

Margaret Atwood is one of the worst practitioners of the mindless political correctness we are witnessing. I suppose she deserves some credit for signing this petition, which was never going to go anywhere because the Left would never accept it. But her refusal to retract and apologize for “The Handmaid’s Tale” tells us all we need know about her. I read the book and saw the movie back in the early 1990s and I am afraid I attributed more credibility to it than it deserved/deserves. I was still drinking the Kool-Aid. However, Atwood may genuinely have believed it and Christian fundamentalism was a scary prospect.

Now, however, that “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been remade by Netflix and is being embraced as truth by a generation far more mindlessly violent, reactionary, and ignorant than any before it in modern times, Atwood’s refusal to acknowledge that the dystopian United States she described not only failed to appear but is 180 degrees OPPOSITE the dystopia befalling the present-day United States as of this minute is a disgrace. There may be some countries in the Third World where women are treated as chattel but Atwood is not interested in them, evidently. I wish she would refrain from writing about the United States. Her ignorance is stupefying.

David Barnett
David Barnett
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Sieger

Substitute ISIS for Gilead, and maybe “Handmaid’s Tale” is novelised documentary.

jerry lawler
jerry lawler
3 years ago

I too felt the letter was a success. Judging from the comments on the article about it in the NYT yesterday where roughly 9 in 10 supported the contents and decried those dissenting, I was encouraged that even liberal America is starting to see through this silliness..

Jane Jones
Jane Jones
3 years ago

It is interesting that this letter appeared in Harper’s, one of the liberal bastions of American journalism. Interesting to me, because I was a years-long subscriber to Harper’s until I think it was December 2016. I believe it was the very first issue after the election, Harper’s cover showed a “portrait” of Donald Trump behind bars.

https://www.mediapost.com/p

As a lifelong registered Democrat, I certainly was not a fan of Trump. (Nor of Hillary Clinton, for that matter.) I was totally shocked by the cover, and by the terrible judgment it showed and what it said about the losers in this election. They would stop at nothing to blame their opponent for winning and to avoid acknowledging their own disastrous mistakes. I soon saw that Donal Trump was not even accorded basic *human* rights by those he had so ingloriously defeated.

Trump qua President was not going to enjoy even the merest shred of respect for even the office of the President. The post-election but pre-Inaugurationcartoons and magazine covers crossed so many lines my head was left spinning.

At least Trump had promised deescalation of tensions with Russia! We will now never know whether, absent Russiagate, he might have actually made good on that promise. We do know what happened whenever he or his appointees tried to communicate with Putin.

There is no point in recapping that whole pathetic story. Kurz um, I canceled my subscription to Harper’s then and there. And I told them why. They had absolutely gone too far. The poor intern (probably) who took my call said he agreed with me. I also canceled my decades-long support of the ACLU after they declared their joining “the Resistance” the month after the election. WTF? The ACLU is supposed to be nonpartisan.

The disastrous missteps of the “liberals” in the Democratic Party since the Clinton admnistration have been entertainingly detailed by Thomas Frank in “LIsten, LIberal.” Missteps that have led to the mess the USA, esp its working class, poor, and minorities now find thesmeves in.

BTW I want to distance myself from those here who conflate Corbyn with Biden. Honestly, folks, this kind of category error is why I can’t really associate myself with the right, even though I am totally disgusted by the liberal left. What was done to Corbyn via the Zionist-controlled wing of Laour, well documented, is beyond disgusting.

gordon.pedersen
gordon.pedersen
3 years ago

For some reason I was reminded of the “Brooks Brothers riot” in Miami in 2000. This clamorous caper, expertly carried out, led directly to cancelling a crucial ballot recount. (That recount proposed, in the face of voting machine failures, to get to the truth of who voted for whom – George Bush or Al Gore – in the Presidential election.) Now that was a cancellation!

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
3 years ago

Yet hop over to the Guardian and see Billy Bragg trying (and failing) to make an argument “in support of” cancel culture – under the guise of “not criticising it”.

His position is completely incoherent and just highlights the mental gymnastics and intellectual contortions required to defend something so obviously indefensible.

The headline and sub-head demonstrate this incoherence perfectly:

“Cancel culture’ doesn’t stifle debate, but it does challenge the old order

‘Speech is only free when everyone has a voice ““ that’s why young people are angry”

In the article he makes the very strange leap from quoting Orwell’s “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear” to then question that with “Surely the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four would understand that people don’t want to hear that 2+2=5?”

I struggle to see how anyone who looks at this situation with their eyes (and minds) open would fail to recognise that many of the people who have been cancelled, or branded as heretics, were insisting that 2+2 =4. It was those who were doing the cancelling that were insisting the sum added up to 5.

If mathematical truth is his model, one of scientific and measurable correctness, as opposed to the perceived political correctness of our time, then, just as a recent example, take JK Rowling, is Bragg seriously suggesting she was scientifically and measurably wrong when she suggested that biological sex was a thing, and that mere self-identification doesn’t alter ones chromosomes?

Because it doesn’t – it REALLY AND FACTUALLY doesn’t.

There is surely a debate about gender to be had but, if he’s using maths and science as his yardstick, rather than ‘culturally acceptable’ norms, then his argument falls on its face. JK Rowling was attacked for saying something that was, until very recently, universally accepted, and in scientific terms is still correct. Yet she was criticised and threatened for it.

Id ask people of Mr Bragg’s persuasion, ‘Which is more important to you, being able to voice uncomfortable truths, or protecting those who wish to only hear consoling half-truths or believe in absolute untruths?’

One of the favourite insults from the Left when castigating those they disagree with is “Orwellian”.

Yet that tag could be far better applied to the “progressive Left” attitudes and the insistence we all adhere to the new orthodoxy or face cancellation, a social media pile-on, the deletion of content, demonetising of channels or any other penalty for straying from what they deem acceptable thought. Surely?

As Orwell wrote in “1984”, “Orthodoxy means not thinking–not needing to think.”

Bragg writes, “The ability of middle-aged gatekeepers to control the agenda has been usurped by a new generation of activists who can spread information through their own networks, allowing them to challenge narratives promoted by the status quo”, yet these new activist gatekeepers of acceptable speech and thought have a FAR narrower definition of what is acceptable than their predecessors. It is a retrograde step, as anyone who has fallen foul of these new blasphemy laws can attest. I cannot understand how anyone can honestly think that is progress?

There are many media and social media outlets that proudly boast mission statements full of praise for free-speech and sharing ideas across the world yet seem determined to become the online world’s Thought-Police.

What is perhaps most extraordinary is that we still refer to this woke orthodoxy as “The Liberal Consensus” – when there is clearly no “Consensus” and it is, surely, the very antithesis of “liberal” thought. What could possibly be more authoritarian than promoting a narrow worldview and punishing and shaming anyone who dares to think outside it?

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

I have heard of Bragg. I didn’t realize he was that far gone.

nadam37
nadam37
3 years ago

I do not wish it but cannot help thinking that only when life standards and conditions will rapidly and significantly deteriorate for everybody, will people, especially on far left, stop quibbling about all these topics and concentrate on things that really matter. With a full belly and general dumbing down of society, no wonder the chosen battles are often the wrong ones. Which is a shame, because there is so much at present worth fighting for!

Jay Williamson
Jay Williamson
3 years ago

Douglas- the letter started off bashing the democratically elected President of America and then went on to accuse the right of most ‘cancel culture’ and still got shouted down!
Where do we go from here, folks?

Rowli Pugh
Rowli Pugh
3 years ago

There is an invidious inflamation in society, almost viral, where differences from the herd who traduce others of differing opinion is satanised, with the intent to silence.
I hope this abhorrent trend fades with the risk to life that is Corvid-19, but possibly like the effects of the virus this new, intolerant ultra-left are the new normal.

Jay Williamson
Jay Williamson
3 years ago

Is it only my comments that have to ‘wait to be approved’ by unherd?

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago
Reply to  Jay Williamson

NO. I got that message too. Took them awhile but they did it.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago

Exposing once again the essential falsity of ideological liberalism, i.e. at least, that part supposed to be guaranteed in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Sydney Hook,et. al., the ADA, and ACLU so covered themselves in patriotic glory during the previous Scoundrel Time.

aelf
aelf
3 years ago

Why were Roger Kimball, Conrad Black or Victor Davis Hanson not among the letter’s signatories, for example, if the aim was to show that liberal society offered a wide spectrum of debates that could be reasonably argued?

This presumes the stated purpose was, in fact, the actual purpose.

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago
Reply to  aelf

Absolutely. Plus they didn’t have the cojones to actually include those with whom they disagree, except anti-Trumper Frum, whose inclusion was pure tokenism. But it didn’t matter. The (mostly wealthy and heavily publicly subsidized) Left cannot and will not tolerate divergent views or disagreement of any kind.

alistair.gorthy
alistair.gorthy
3 years ago

Let’s not confuse free speech with the need not to fratanise with those who are bigoted and threats to free speech. There issue is far from clear cut.

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago

There is no question of fraternization. Neither side wants to fraternize with the other. One side, however, is determined to destroy the other, by any and all means necessary.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
3 years ago

I think you pretty much covered every base there Douglas with each one reflecting some type of logical fallacy.

Here Billy the Bragg, takes the alt-right position and then ties himself in knots trying to appeal to liberty, equality and accountability as being foundational to free speech. The man who at every opportunity labelled and name called anyone he disagreed with as a bigoted, fascist, racist, xenophobe.
https://www.theguardian.com

Clearly what we are dealing with here is simple in your face bigotry but with a twist. It is OK to be a bigot if you are on the Woke Left because in their bigotry they are simply calling out bigots.

The problem of course is that bigotry has taken on a whole new meaning for the Woke Left since for them it simply describes any viewpoint they fundamentally disagree with, rather than their intolerance of a viewpoint. In this respect, the whole basis of Wokeism is underpinned by their new found definition of bigotry which legitimises their intolerance because what right minded person tolerates the intolerable. Hence they need to construct a straw man argument at every turn which requires searching for risky experimentation, inadvertent mistakes or dubious associations.

Without this new found understanding of bigotry, Wokeism cannot be sustained. Therefore their main weakness is their conception of bigotry which is why they need to defend their intolerance so fiercely. Wokeism simply cannot exist without bigotry being redefined as ‘a viewpoint I fundamentally disagree with’ which for them translates as ‘a viewpoint I find intolerable’ which then legitimises their bigotry.

Somehow they have made bigotry a virtue by casting the net of the intolerable as wide as possible which now includes any utterance from the political right, or in Bragg’s mind, “the old order”.

For all intent and purposes, Woke bigotry is primarily a cultural matter because what underlies cancel culture is ethical consumerism. This is why the Harper letter came about. It seeks to protect their cultural livelihoods from Woke ethical consumerism which explains why so many Guardian lefties turned Woke. They are protecting their cultural/literary/music/acting/celebrity based livelihoods with their greatest fear being cancelled and then having to turn to a more right wing audience to support their livelihoods.

Essentially then, the Woke, as a form of cultural power, are using the Left’s greatest fear against their own, that being associated with the enemy on the Right. Hence, the people most susceptible to Wokeism are those in the dead centre or on the centre left who are essentially being coerced to vacate the centre or else face the ultimate inner hell of being forced into the evil clutches of the Right with the consequence of their souls being dammed forever.

Clearly then, this is all being orchestrated by the Socialist Momentum Left who have come up with the ultimate manipulative strategy. You are either with us or you are against us and if you even try and occupy the centre ground then you will be forced to choose one way or the other, either the Socialist Left or the evil Right.

This is perhaps why the 18-20 year olds are drifting right. They can see it is simply a choice between being on the Socialist Left or not and if not then the only real alternative is the Right. In this respect, the Right is anything other than the Socialist Left and if you dare to be on the Left but not a Socialist, then you risk your career being cancelled. So why take the chance.

So if these dynamics persist, I definitely think Ed may well be wrong and that we will see a Right renaissance amongst the young in which different political positions other than Socialism will be the new terrain of the Right. Clearly this has already started with the new working class base and so far so good, Boris/Gove/Cummings/Rushi are all on board with the New Broad Centre Right
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Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
3 years ago

The problem, I think, is that even the moderate left is totalitarian, in the strict sense of combining morality and politics.

When you write “Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts.” you are saying that your morality must prevail. But gubmint can’t do much more than try to enforce non-discrimination.

When you write “The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy.” you are saying that the Other Party is a threat to democracy and Our Party must prevail.

But political peace depends on Our Party conceding the election, and saying “we are all Americans” or “we are all Brits” as the case may be, and “wait until next time!”

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago

“The problem, I think, is that even the moderate left is totalitarian, in the strict sense of combining morality and politics.” — CORRECT, but it is not “morality” they are mixing with politics but a constantly increasing series of litmus tests, from which, as Orwell put it in “1984”, no divergence can be tolerated.

gordon.pedersen
gordon.pedersen
3 years ago

For some reason this put me in mind of the “Brooks Brothers riot” at the Miami ballot recount site in 2000. You’ll recall that widespread voting machine failures had introduced grave uncertainty into the actual outcome of the Presidential contest in Florida. In 2000 it was George Bush v Al Gore, and it turned out that Florida held the key to national victory. Bush had the tiniest edge over Gore in Florida. In the America where small-d democracy is practiced, such miniscule margins still today by law trigger a manual recount. And in Florida in 2000, the initial automated count of the flawed ballots was not trustworthy enough to certify such a close election for Bush.

The recount was meant to ensure that Florida’s Presidential electoral votes hewed true to the actual ballots cast by Floridians, but the rioters had a different outlook: Who cares about the actual vote? Really, it was a mob, not a true riot: the disorder was faked. A mob infused with one purpose – stop the recount – and one authority – the Republican Party. And the mob got its way: the recount was halted midstream.

Now that was a cancellation!

[yesterday’s comment went astray somehow after posting…trying again…]

Giambattista Vico
Giambattista Vico
3 years ago

This would be the same Douglas Murray who sought to remove Dr Timothy Winter from his job for his daring to express a view on homosexuality of which Murray disapproved (the view is shared by all major religions). As for ‘genocide denial’ Mr Murray has continuously promoted unjust wars and helped to spread propaganda in favour of them (see his association with Henry Jackson Society and Gatestone Institute). Somehow this is ‘conservatism’ in our day and age – pro-war, pro-sodomy and more than happy to cancel or smear his opponents.

M Blanc
M Blanc
3 years ago

There is no “ethic around which our societies might unite”. There’s us and there’s them (and you know which side you’re on). Either they crush us or we crush them. Or, possibly, we find some route to dissolution. Anything else is a pipedream.

Simon Sharp
Simon Sharp
3 years ago

Everyone always seems willing to indulge in rhetorical justifications for the erosion of free speech and treating liberal values as a ‘luxury’ as long as its in in service of going against someone they don’t like. That is until the precedent they have helped establish turns around and starts eating THEM.

jencastle3
jencastle3
3 years ago

I think the problem parts of the Left are having with the letter is they find many of the signatories aren’t that interested in the reasoned debate that they claim to be. So the critics of the lettter aren’t against the message but against the messengers. Here’s Leftist journalist Max Blumenthal’s opinion:
https://twitter.com/MaxBlum

Me The first
Me The first
3 years ago

How does one donate to Unherd? I really want to support this kind of journalism.

markvelarde
markvelarde
3 years ago

Cancel culture is about ad hominem attacks and heckling over rational discourse. You can’t argue with people who refuse to enter the debate. The crying shame is the institutions, many are their number, who have given ground to this childish nonsense. The trolls are taking over the forum.

Scott Allan
Scott Allan
3 years ago

The pen may be mightier than the sword but it seems woke cancel culture (Neo-Marxist cultural revolution) is mightier than the pen. Time to wake up! Time to stand up and be counted.

roger wilson
roger wilson
3 years ago

What opposition did the letter meet? Twitter comments. This is public debate in the internet age. It’s healthy – it’s not violence in the streets and it’s democratic – anybody with a Twitter account can call out Chomsky, Trump, Kanye West or Douglas Murray – regardless of their position or platform.

Murray is a snake – his support for Brexit was based on supposed anti-elitism. Now that the elites he likes are being challenged, he’s not so keen. Bad Faith.

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago
Reply to  roger wilson

“[A]nybody with a Twitter account can call out Chomsky, Trump, Kanye West or Douglas Murray – regardless of their position or platform” — maybe. But can anyone with a Twitter account call out Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem or Planned Parenthood for enabling a serial sexual predator/accused rapist (Bill Clinton) or Joe Biden (for his incipient dementia) or George Soros or BLM or METOO or CNN or Planned Parenthood or DACA beneficiaries or even SCOTUS Chief Justice Roberts? Of course not. Twitter is even less tolerant than Facebook.