On July 7, over 150 liberal authors and activists signed an open letter to end “cancel culture.”
The succinct letter was published online in Harper’s Magazine. Signees include famed linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, New York Times Opinion editor Bari Weiss, and author J.K. Rowling — the target of recent controversy.
Now, more than ever, free speech is being threatened in America and in democratic countries abroad. “Cancel culture” has grown into full-blown censorship of opposing viewpoints — particularly those that are no longer considered politically correct in a society that’s increasingly encouraging victimhood and sensitivity.
It’s Time for Cancel Culture To Go
“Cancel culture” is the reason why authors like the renowned J.K. Rowling can’t express viewpoints without receiving extremely angry backlash, threats, and denouncements of her beloved novels. It’s the reason why mobs are pulling down statues of historical figures, such as our first president. It’s the reason why people call for the banning of “controversial” classic novels (i.e. Huckleberry Finn) and even children’s television shows.
Anything that could become a source of contention or dissension is deemed worthy of deletion.
Anything that could become a source of contention or dissension is deemed worthy of deletion. There’s no longer any tolerance for differing ideas. “Cancel culture” demands that all abide by a set of misguided “truths” and ideals put into place by a select ruling minority (typically from the political left).
Ideological Conformity over Tolerance
This letter, then, is a breath of fresh (and much needed) air. The authors open by noting that the demands for police reform and greater equality are indeed right-minded and important. However, they go on to express their concern that “this needed reckoning” has harmed “open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.” This has led to an increase in undue retributions for those who dare utter a non-PC opinion.
Cancel culture is stifling debate, silencing opposition, and restricting the rights of citizens.
People — especially authors whose work it is to uncover and proliferate truth — must now cower under these absurd “threat[s] of reprisal.” Recently, American media institutions have experienced a wave of firings and resignations because of this. This culture is stifling debate, silencing opposition, and restricting the rights of citizens in democratic societies. The letter’s authors courageously assert that they “refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other.”
The Backlash Was Swift and Predictable
Not surprisingly, the letter has stirred up much debate. Matthew Yglesias, the editor and cofounder of Vox, has received backlash for signing. Vox writer Emily VanDerWerff tweeted a letter that she sent to the editors of Vox, expressing her concern that Yglesias’ signature pointed to anti-trans beliefs. VanDerWerff is a transgender woman and wrote that she now feels less safe working for the publication.
Katelyn Burns, who also writes for the site, supported VanDerWerff and tweeted that she, too, took issue with many of the signatories’ “anti-trans” stances. The publication’s engagement editor Nisha Chittal tweeted that the letter was composed by “a bunch of mostly white people with platforms at prestigious media outlets complaining that minorities are silencing them.” But Vox senior correspondent German Lopez accurately summarized the reaction to the letter:
The Mob Is Already Succeeding
The immediate backlash against the letter, while expected and unsurprising, has already worked. One writer who signed, Jennifer Finney Boylan, an op-ed writer for The New York Times, has already apologized for her signature. She claims that she didn’t realize “who else had signed that letter.” She thought she was simply “endorsing a well meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming.” Apparently, being associated with anything to do with J.K. Rowling is now off-limits in the publishing world. Unfortunately for Boylan, her apology is simply proof that the dangers pointed out in the letter are alive and well.
One signee has already retracted her signature, saying she didn’t realize “who else had signed that letter.”
We need to agree to have disagreements in order to arrive at greater truths. A free society operates best when citizens can communicate and discuss their ideas freely and with impunity. Suppressing opinions because they may be considered improper, erroneous, or “triggering” to others leads only to a culture of fear and tyranny. The Founding Fathers penned the First Amendment to protect against this very abuse.
There is no room for “cancel culture” in a free nation. Rather, it’s an ailment of a society that has succumbed to dictatorship. It’s our hope that many read and heed the words of these writers who seek to preserve the freedom of thought and speech for all.