Winston Marshall, Jess de Wahls, Sarah Ditum: free speech in the Arts
The latest UnHerd Live event, hosted by Freddie Sayers
Do we currently enjoy free speech in the arts? In recent years the worlds of publishing, fine art, and music, have been engulfed in controversies over speech and manners. Several high-profile artists have been cancelled — removed from their positions for failing to go along with prevailing political orthodoxies.
At a live UnHerd members event this week, Freddie Sayers was joined by musician Winston Marshall, artists Jess de Wahls, and writer Sarah Ditum to ask: what is the state of free speech in the arts? Is there the beginnings of a return of freedom of thought? Each of them has experienced their own version of cancellation, and they shared their experiences and thoughts before a small audience at the Sekforde Arms in Clerkenwell.
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On being cancelled:
Jess de Wahls:
On hope for the future:
Jess de Wahls:
On the ‘anti woke’ brigade
This was a very interesting event, imo.
I was initially skeptical because of Sarah Ditum’s article in Unherd this week based on her participation in this event. I suspected the event would be nothing more than a giant pity party. I was wrong.
The first part of the event was mainly the participants explaining how they were cancelled and the practical and emotional effects that had on them. I think it’s important for all of us to understand the real world consequences of cancellation. I was particularly struck by Jess de Wahls recounting how she’s been the subject of cancellation efforts for a couple of years and it’s clear some people actively track her life and attempt to cancel her at every opportunity. This type of behavior is truly corrosive.
For me, things didn’t really become interesting until the participants began discussing how to fight cancel culture. I have so much respect for Jess de Wahls. She stands tall and strong and faces down these bullies. It’s clear she pays a price but I think her most telling comment was that if we don’t start standing up to these people and challenging the nonsense they preach then where do we expect society to be in five or ten years? This week there’s an article on Unherd titled “The Dangers of Twitter” that considers the possibility that the verbal abuse associated with certain vocal groups on Twitter might ultimately lead to violence. If we don’t stand up to these people now that’s likely where we’ll end up.
A couple of participants briefly referred to having received legal advice in connection with their cancellation. I would love to know more about legal courses of action against those who practice or enable cancellation. The law of libel and defamation are obvious starting points, but what about torts such as intentional interference with business relationships when cancellation deprives people of their livelihood? Also, does human rights law have a role to play here? It would be interesting if Unherd interviewed a legal expert about these issues. Perhaps they could tempt Lord Sumption to offer some analysis.
Great event, Unherd. I hope this is the first of many such events and articles in which you explore how to fight back against cancel culture.
I enjoyed this. 3 very different perspectives. I could identify with Mr Marshall…the trip wires…when I least expect it. Centrist types cop it from all sides. Character building? Yes. We are all fallen, we all fly. All the best to all at Unherd.
A good portion I watched wile my mop like wire haired Jack Russel would hop onto my lap, and then my little dachshund would stand up attack his feet and legs to try and play battle to pull him down, with great roars and snapping on each side. A perfect counter point to the docility of the people on the talk.
I liked one bit, where Jess said Germans have a history of letting things get out of control by not speaking up soon enough, how modern people think they would have spoken up if they had been there – but how in reality they would have said nothing either.
I watched the whole thing
So what I got was Lefty/Liberalism is running its course. These guys were part of it, and Lefty/Liberalism is obviously an illness. But what are its symptoms? What harm is it doing? And what is its R-factor, how fast is it spreading? About 2016 it appeared as we now know it, and … well, you know.
See Liberalism is entirely focused externally. It is all about Correctness, and some concept of ‘Social Injustice’ which others cause, and yet others then suffer from, and You need to fix. It is never about how you can be better, it is about making ‘Them’ better. This means it is redistributive, it is a Zero Sum Game where some have more, some less, and this is unfair and needs fixing as obviously the ones with more have some of the stuff which belongs to the one with less.. (education, status, money, houses, jobs, and so on)
Where a Right, or Conservative see inevitability in much unequal distribution, Look at a sports Star, the guy on stage there, the Doctors, Stock Brokers, Business owners, and just the millions of youth who did their homework 2 hours every night, did 4 hours a night at university, and then seriously put their nose to the grind stone in the job market – Right Wing have no issue with inequality of outcomes, (but kind of balk at gross inequality of opportunity).
A Conservative sees someone ignorant and lazy and thinks ‘what a loser’ wile a Liberal thinks ‘This guy has been wronged by us all, and so needs some of that guys money.’
You build an entire Creed around scrutinizing every person and every situation’ to root out ‘Social Injustice’, and you will find plenty of it. It is a cult of redistributive Justice, or SJW as we know them. Canceling is just a way of redistributing social credit, weird as it sounds.
Everyone in that room is one of these believers, just some more, some less – and they have, like Jess said, let the monster grow by not speaking up till it is devouring them all.
The thing which disappoints me is why Unherd did not get some Right Wing guy who is canceled to also be up there. I mean he is the actual ‘Fair Game’ of the vigilantes – and so to play this you need some of those, not just the ones hurt as ‘Collateral Damage’ Think of the President of USA during his vital Election! Canceled by some Lefty/Liberals from ALL Social Media, wile huge Social Media bias is given to his opponents – and so loses his job.
Several people asked this panel what is to be done, to general shrugs and vagaries as answer. Wrong answer. Attack them back. That is what needs figuring out. (and I am always amazed when I log on and find I still can post – that Unherd actually allows my side is a great credit to them, and unique in the industry as everywhere I post eventually cancels me.)
Yup, great post. I hadn’t really thought about it but you’re right that all three participants are members of the left-wing establishment. They are social provocateurs in their own ways and now they’ve been beaten at their own game (although let me be clear, I strongly disagree with their cancellation).
You make a very good point about interviewing a more right-wing figure who has been cancelled. But the reality is there seems to be very little sympathy for them, even on Unherd.
Anyway, I really hope Unherd picks up on the theme of fighting cancel culture and we see much more coverage of that issue. My sense is they haven’t quite figured out what sort of publication they want to be, and maybe leading the fight against censorship will give them a niche in the hyper-competitive media market.
I watched this evening and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had something pertinent to comment on, something Winston said…. It will hopefully come back.
I do think we need to re-think our labelling. As became evident in the discussion, yesterday’s liberals (I am one), find that the fit with the left isn’t comfortable any longer – as the liberal values of inter alia tolerance of free speech and debating and individualism are now being attacked to the extent that speech is violent and actions aren’t. Even if you are not old enough to be yesterday’s liberal, many thoughtful people from the centre right to centre left are finding it difficult to find a political ideology that appeals.
I’m afraid the two words ‘art’ and ‘arts’ are confused in the title. It should be ‘art’, not ‘arts’.
One of those quotes is attributed both to winston & Jess
‘Art is dead’ and ‘History is Bunk’
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