May 7, 2021

There is an interesting site which breaks down American voting trends by occupation. Some of it is mysterious — why should pediatricians swing so overwhelmingly to the Democrats? Why should urology be so dominated by Republicans? Readers may insert their own jokes here.

But some of the voting patterns are far from surprising. No one would expect yoga teaching to be a hotbed of radical right-wing activity, for instance, and yogis do indeed push heavily to the left.

Perhaps even less shocking, though, is the realisation that there is one area in which the political left appears to have an absolute clean sweep of the profession. In the book publishing industry 100% of respondents in the survey identify as being on the left, the sort of echo chamber that even academia can only look at with envy.

To those with friends in publishing, despairing at the regular struggle session-style get-together they are now subjected to in which every conceivable centre-left political orthodoxy is celebrated, this is not a revelation. Although the survey in question is from the US, it is certain that a similar pattern can be found over here, too.

It is only by understanding this that one can make any sense of an otherwise baffling and strikingly badly-written letter which appeared this week in The Bookseller (the trade publication of the book publishing business). The open letter, inaccurately titled “The paradox of tolerance”, is a strange document for many reasons. Not the least is that it is signed anonymously, by figures in the book trade at once both sure of their convictions and also terrified of having their convictions attributed to them. What is the cause of this pseudo-samizdat? What opinion can be so errant that it requires this level of anonymity?

The answer is that the open letter is based around the claim that “transphobia is still perfectly acceptable in the British book industry”. From the outset this anonymous letter is framed in Lutherian terms. “Somebody, sooner or later, must speak up,” the authors bravely begin. This is proper “Here I stand” territory. Yet whereas Martin Luther was simply facing down the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Emperor at the Diet of Worms, the anonymous authors of this letter are taking on the might of children´s fiction departments across west London. No wonder they wish to keep their identities secret. The retributions could be unimaginable.

Although The Bookseller claims that it has tried to independently verify that the signatories of the letter are in fact people in the book trade, one does begin to have doubts. For instance, in relation to trans issues the authors believe that “Our industry is still very comfortable about giving this form of prejudice a powerful platform.”

Doubtless referring to the decision of Hachette to publish the fearsome and controversial work known as The Ickabog, by J.K. Rowling, the letter makes the claim that it is perfectly acceptable in the publishing industry to argue that trans people should have “less than full human rights”. Anti-trans sentiment is now so rife that they are forced to make a stand.

“We need to step away from the paradigm that all opinions are equally valid,” they state: “It isn’t true, and it never was.” To back up this claim they rope in the late Douglas Adams, and his quote: “All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others”.

That is true, of course, although not in the way they think.

The letter then goes onto make the claim that “gender is a spectrum, a whole colour wheel, rather than just pink and blue”, although they at least make a somewhat original argument here.

Ordinarily at this stage activists wheel out the example of the clownfish, the argument generally being that because of the existence of clownfish (not a very close relative of homo sapiens) we humans are part of a hermaphroditic species.

Instead, they write that other world cultures recognise different genders and therefore we in the West are just so far behind, citing the examples of the Buginese people of South Sulawesi. Because a minority ethnic group in Indonesia have a slightly esoteric attitude to gender – they recognise five in total – therefore biological sex does not exist. All opinions are not equal, indeed.

One suspects that the authors of the letter are the sort of liberal arts graduates who dominate the publishing world, and who bring with them the intellectual clutter of their education and their class, indicated by such jargon as “paradigms”. These are not social milieus where any sort of dissenting opinion is encouraged or tolerated, let alone the sort of hardened illiberal prejudice that they imagine – or pretend to imagine – is rife.

Perhaps one of the clearest characteristic of people raised in this utterly homogenous political world is the tendency to slip into “historian here” appeals to authority to make wildly dubious analogies.

Warning that “At this moment what needs to be expressed most urgently is the distinction between a petty anxiety and the horror that rises when you become aware that you are witnessing a persecution,” they go on to say: “Those of us who have studied history can see perhaps more clearly than many that the language and accusations against the trans community are ‘exactly’ those that have been used against: homosexuals, Jews, disabled people, people of colour, Muslims, suffragettes, even left-handed people in our past.”

Anyone who has actually read any history would surely know that Jews in Nazi Germany were not treated in “exactly” the way in which the publishing industry is here alleged to be treating trans people today.

There is no ban on trans authors being published in Britain or America. Quite the opposite, most publishing houses are going out of their way to find and push them to the fore. Publishing houses have lately taken to sending around author questionnaires in which the questions rather noticeably quiz authors on their race, sexual orientation and whether they identify as trans or not. These clearly do not exist in order to trick and expel any author who identifies as trans, but in order to try to highlight how relatively few trans authors there are and use this as a reason to seek out more.

Publishing houses in Berlin and Vienna in the late 1930s did not send out questionnaires asking about the ethnicity of authors in order to better promote Jewish authors. They were not competing to find and publish the next Joseph Roth. They were trying to do away with them, remove them from their catalogues, and allow their books to be burned.

Besides, if the treatment of trans people by the publishing industry today is “exactly” like the treatment of Jews in the past then there must be at least some prominent people in the publishing industry or the wider culture calling for the physical annihilation of all trans people? Can anybody find such a monster? Does he or she exist anywhere but in the feverish imaginations of these anonymous publishing brains?

Having “studied history”, the authors feel qualified not only to declare what history has said, but also what it will say. They warn their colleagues that “Íf you are a publisher or organisation that is aware that you are providing a platform for these fearmongering, discriminatory views to be expressed, and for that bias against a minority in society to perpetuate, then please consider very carefully why you have allowed that to happen and not acted when the matter came to light. How will your actions appear in the clear light of history?”

Ah yes, the famously clear light of history which always bathes your own views in the most positive possible warm glow of righteousness.

How is it possible to have such an inaccurate understanding of the industry in which you work? What level of delusion is demanded of a person for them to work in what is the most left-leaning business in one of the most liberal societies on earth, and still imagine yourself dwelling among aspiring Nazis? Imagine looking at the politics section of Waterstones, or even the now heavily-political children’s section, and not being at least aware that British publishing might be somewhat more liberal than the public at large?

The letter was revealing, although not in the way the authors intended, showing a group of people so devoid of intellectual diversity or curiosity that the slightest ideological deviation is comparable to the most monstrous crime in history – which, aside from American history, is the only that they know.

This is a pattern seen across publishing houses in Britain and America; they tried and failed to cancel J.K. Rowling, and tried and failed to cancel Jordan Peterson, only because book sales still trump politics. But they will find it easier to push out smaller authors and editors, and to make the industry even more politically uniform and intolerant than it already is – and they will.

For now, the adults running the industry can ignore their wilder claims while making soothing noises, but one day the people who write and believe this will be the adults in the industry. And you don’t have to be a historian to appreciate how awful it will be when that time comes.