- JK Rowling and Margaret Atwood are among 150 signatories on an open letter condeming cancel culture and public shaming.
- “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” published in Harper’s Magazine, states that: “the free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.”
- Another signatory, trans author Jennifer Finney Boylan, has apologised for signing the letter: “I did not know who else had signed that letter. I thought I was endorsing a well meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming.”
- Meanwhile, Vox writer Emily VanDerWerff wrote her own letter after her fellow Vox colleague Matthew Yglesias signed the letter, which she said she was “deeply saddened” by.
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Authors JK Rowling and Margaret Atwood are amongst 150 public figures who have signed an open letter condemning cancel culture.
The letter, entitled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” and published in Harper’s Magazine, states that “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: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.
“We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.
“Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal,” the letter continued.
“We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.”
The letter was also signed by writer Salmon Rushdie, journalist Malcolm Gladwell, and linguist Noam Chomsky. The letter concluded: “We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.”
“Harry Potter” author Rowling signed after facing intense and severe backlash over her tweets and personal essay about trans people, while “The Handmaid’s Tale” author Atwood received her own backlash in 2016 after supporting an open letter asking the University of British Columbia to state the reasons why they fired Steven Galloway, who was accused of sexual assault.
Rowling shared the letter to her Twitter, writing: “I was very proud to sign this letter in defence of a foundational principle of a liberal society: open debate and freedom of thought and speech.”
I was very proud to sign this letter in defence of a foundational principle of a liberal society: open debate and freedom of thought and speech.https://t.co/noh8VRHMyN
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) July 7, 2020
The letter has already been the focus of controversy with one of the 150 signatories already apologizing for signing it.
Trans author Jennifer Finney Boylan tweeted on Tuesday: “I did not know who else had signed that letter. I thought I was endorsing a well meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming. I did know Chomsky, Steinem, and Atwood were in, and I thought, good company. The consequences are mine to bear. I am so sorry.”
I did not know who else had signed that letter. I thought I was endorsing a well meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming. I did know Chomsky, Steinem, and Atwood were in, and I thought, good company.
The consequences are mine to bear. I am so sorry.
— Jennifer Finney Boylan ???? (@JennyBoylan) July 7, 2020
Meanwhile, Vox writer Emily VanDerWerff, who is also transgender, penned her own letter to Vox editors (which she shared on Twitter) in response to finding out that fellow Vox writer Matthew Yglesias was one of the signatories.
VanDerWerff wrote that she was “deeply saddened” to see Yglesias’ signature on the letter. She also wrote that while she doesn’t want Yglesias “to be reprimanded or fired or even asked to submit an apology,” “the letter, signed as it is by several prominent anti-trans voices and containing as many dog whistles toward anti-trans positions as it does, ideally would not have been signed by anyone at Vox.”
I sent a version of this to the editors of Vox. (I have redacted some bits that are internal to Vox and shouldn’t be aired publicly.) pic.twitter.com/splNNSMivd
— Emily VanDerWerff ???? (@emilyvdw) July 7, 2020
The letter and the full list of signatories can be read at Harper’s Magazine.
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