Last week, we told you about an open letter signed by approximately 150 intellectuals, academics and writers -- most of whom reside on the left end of the ideological spectrum -- that fired a shot across the bow of 'cancel culture' practitioners and defended the liberal values of free thought, speech and expression. Minor quibbles aside, it was a strong and needed missive that advanced important arguments against the outrage mob's growing, rapacious and illiberal designs to wield power through brute force. As the Wall Street Journal and others have documented, the letter infuriated the hard left, resulting in a handful of signatories grovelingly recanting their Wrong Thought, with others facing intense pressure to do the same. The mobsters simultaneously argue that cancel culture is a myth, while actively seeking to shame and punish those who transgress against the ever-shifting wokeness style guide.
It's an incoherent and contradictory argument, but principled thoughtfulness and logical consistency aren't typically associated with vengeful mobs. After a few days of online shouting and recriminations over the Harper's piece, a counter-letter was published on Friday. It is poorly argued, sloppily reasoned, and, amusingly, features multiple anonymous signatories. It begins with an assault on the magazine that published the original letter, followed by an identity-driven dismissal of many of the people who signed onto to it as "white" and "wealthy." On that score, it seeks to brush off the inconvenient fact that a black writer helped spearhead the statement with this bizarre yet revealing critique of his worldview:
The response letter is up, which I'll need to read again and reflect on before commenting. But why is THIS quote they chose to use supposed to be somehow damning against me? I am right here explicitly recognizing the existence of racism, especially where it intersects with class! pic.twitter.com/aBCye2WoeF— Thomas Chatterton Williams ?? ?? (@thomaschattwill) July 10, 2020
Williams believes that individuals can transcend racist attitudes. Monstrous. Though these leftists briefly allow that some excesses may bubble up here or there, they write that the emergence and effectiveness of cancel culture mobs is actually a sign of progress because, "Black, brown, and LGBTQ+ people — particularly Black and trans people — can now critique elites publicly and hold them accountable socially." The key concept here is 'accountability,' which is how they euphemize their Wrong Thought purges and bullying efforts to stamp out disagreements, which are often framed as dangerous or hateful. The new essay is much longer than the initial piece to which it responds and includes specific, tendentious and reductive attacks on individuals who affixed their names to it -- including Bari Weiss, J.K Rowling (guilty of supposedly "spout[ing] transphobic and transmisogynist rhetoric"), and Jesse Singal.
The letter sets out to debunk, refute, or minimize the previous letter's short list of broadly-stated examples and manifestations of the mob's thought enforcement and vindictiveness: "Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes." In running through each of these claims, the new letter either defends cancelations as justified by alleged 'bigotry' or some such (the signers believe that those responsible for the publication of Tom Cotton's now-famous New York Times op/ed deserved severe punishment), or ignores major, applicable examples (see here, here and here, for starters).
The letter seems to acknowledge one incident as potentially problematic, but hints that there may more to the story and asserts that it's "anomalous" anyway. But that incident is well-documented, particularly egregious, and is the sort of thing that simply could not have occurred in a vacuum. There's a deepening cultural trend that allowed it to play out the way it did -- the very deepening cultural trend about which the initial letter signers are rightly worried. Numerous similar instances have cropped up for years (we chronicled many in End of Discussion, published five years ago), with the phenomenon accelerating in recent months. Contra the response letter's premise, it is not just "elites" who are targeted by the mob, as is the case in this wild attempted take-down of a prominent Harvard professor; people without large followings, prestigious platforms, or deep pockets are are singled out and hounded on a regular basis. Indeed, these people are often least equipped to stand up to the cancel mobsters:
Yes, cancel culture is real. And it's realer for people who aren't famous or well established in their careers. https://t.co/xSD1PtN7Sy— Megan McArdle (@asymmetricinfo) July 11, 2020
A “conversation” with woke commissars. This clip deserves to become iconic.— Mike (@Doranimated) July 10, 2020
His sign says, "The right to openly discuss ideas must be defended." pic.twitter.com/hjtBarx3Bk
The woman in the first clip would likely align herself with the liberals who signed the original letter. The intolerant mob in the second clip would likely applaud hard leftists' reply. I know whose side I'm on. Relatedly, this is worth your time:
Bravo to this honesty. Since May I have gotten almost an email a day from a professor who fears speaking out against the modern distortion of progressivism would get them fired. https://t.co/iOhF1p9cKD— John McWhorter (@JohnHMcWhorter) July 12, 2020