150 authors and academics, including J.K. Rowling, sign the open letter
It is a truth universally acknowledged that an open letter in a bougie, semi-irrelevant magazine that still exclusively offers unpaid internships must be a little tone-deaf. But the 150 writers and thinkers who signed today’s letter in Harper’s Magazine decrying cancel culture are further from the mark than most. Signers include author Margaret Atwood, linguist Noam Chomsky, journalist Malcolm Gladwell, and infamous New York Times opinions columnists David Brooks and Bari Weiss.
“Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial,” the Harper’s letter begins. “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. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second.”
The letter highlights recent leaders ousted amidst a crisis and editors fired after running controversial pieces as evidence of the nationwide “restriction of debate.” Instead of simply criticizing bad ideas, the signers argue, we must call for exposure, argument, and persuasion–but most readers on Twitter felt that the treatise is really a series of complaints from many wealthy, powerful and established voices who probably don’t really need to worry about getting cancelled.
“I, too, have written an open letter,” tweeted Desus and Mero writer Josh Gondelman, “Nobody is allowed to be mad at me for things I say.”
“Over 200 people, many of them writers, signed the Harper’s letter, yet no one seemed to call out excessive use of passive voice or lack of specific examples,” said the New York Times’ Jamal Jordan in a tweet.
“If you’re a big enough writer where you can have Harper’s ask you to sign the world’s dumbest letter, your free speech isn’t in danger of being stifled,” said another tweet from @Passionweiss.
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling signed, and given the last few weeks she’s had on social media, many critics of the letter can’t help but see it as a vehicle for defending her perceived transphobia.
Here’s the first tweet in a hilarious thread from The Midnight Society, which usually satirizes horror authors:
JK Rowling: for too long have I endured the muggless who do not undersstand my ssstruggle
Rowling: it iss time for a new order to rise
Rowling: I GIVE YOU THE SSOCIETY OF MIDDLE BROW INTELLECTS WHO GET YELLED AT ONLINE A LOT
Rowling: AND ALSO NOAM CHOMSKY IS HERE FOR SOME REASON
— The Midnight Society (@midnight_pals) July 7, 2020
“[I] wonder if some of the academics who signed that weird [H]arper’s letter are embarrassed now that they know it was mainly a vehicle for a billionaire children’s book author to whine about being criticized for promoting transphobia on twitter,” said twitter user @kept_simple.
“[A] lot of people are confused about the intent of the hH]arper’s letter so [I] made some helpful edits to clarify many of the signee’s positions,” said another tweet, which added “about trans people” throughout the statement.
As of this writing, two signatories to the letter have already apologized on Twitter. Author Jennifer Finney Boylan wrote: “I did not know who else signed the letter.”