Reaction to Letter on Justice and Open Debate Proves its Point

Free speech is not for everyone.

An incredibly diverse group of writers, thinkers, and academics published an open “Letter on Justice and Open Debate” at Harper’s. Spearheaded by Thomas Chatterton Williams, its content was sufficiently banal as to get signatories ranging from Noam Chomsky to Francis Fukuyama and Matt Yglesias to David Brooks.

The content, in its entirety:

Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. 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 forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.

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. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a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. 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. 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.

This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. 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.

So, we have support for Black Lives Matter, condemnation of Donald Trump, and a call for the Enlightenment values of respectful dialogue at the heart of the Western experiment.

Naturally, the backlash was immediate. And, no, not from white supremacists and Trump supporters.

NYT (“Artists and Writers Warn of an ‘Intolerant Climate.’ Reaction Is Swift.“):

And on social media, the reaction was swift, with some heaping ridicule on the letter’s signatories — who include cultural luminaries like Margaret Atwood, Bill T. Jones and Wynton Marsalis, along with journalists and academics — for thin-skinnedness, privilege and, as one person put it, fear of loss of “relevance.”

[…]

“We’re not just a bunch of old white guys sitting around writing this letter,” Mr. Williams, who is African-American, said. “It includes plenty of Black thinkers, Muslim thinkers, Jewish thinkers, people who are trans and gay, old and young, right wing and left wing.”

“We believe these are values that are widespread and shared, and we wanted the list to reflect that,” he said.

[…]

He said he was surprised by some of the blowback to the letter.

“It seems some of the conversation has turned to who the signatories are more than the content of the letter,” he said.

There was particularly strong blowback over the inclusion of J.K. Rowling, who has come under fierce criticism over a series of comments widely seen as anti-transgender.

[…]

Emily VanDerWerff, a critic at large at Vox who is transgender, posted on Twitter a letter she said she had sent to her editors, criticizing the fact that the Vox writer Matthew Yglesias had signed the letter, which she said was also signed by “several prominent anti-trans voices” — but noted that she was not calling for Mr. Yglesias to be fired or reprimanded.

Doing so “would only solidify, in his own mind, the belief that he is being martyred,” she wrote.

Mr. Yglesias declined to comment except to say that he has long admired Ms. VanDerWerff’s work and continued to “respect her enormously.”

Amid the intense criticism, some signatories appeared to back away from the letter. On Tuesday evening, the historian Kerri K. Greenidge tweeted “I do not endorse this @Harpers letter,” and said she was in touch with the magazine about a retraction. (Giulia Melucci, a spokeswoman for Harper’s, said the magazine had fact-checked all signatures and that Dr. Greenidge had signed off. But she said the magazine is “respectfully removing her name.”)

Another person who signed, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in an effort to stay out of the growing storm, said she did not know who all the other signatories were when she agreed to participate, and if she had, she may not have signed. She also said that the letter, which was about internet shaming, among other things, was now being used to shame people on the internet.

I don’t know whether to be more amused that VanDerWerff is refraining from calling for her boss being fired over his support for free expression or Greenidge demanding “a retraction” from an open letter on free expression that she endorsed before finding out that people whose views she disagreed with also signed it. But this one wins the prize for most absurd:

I’m not of sufficient prominence as a public intellectual to have been invited to sign but would, of course, have done so. But it’s notable that a call for civility coming from a group of thinkers who range from pretty far left on the American spectrum to the squishy center is being attacked almost exclusively from the left.

Freddie deBoer, who is of the left but rather hard to pigeonhole into an orthodoxy, is less amused:

Please, think for a minute and consider: what does it say when a completely generic endorsement of free speech and open debate is in and of itself immediately diagnosed as anti-progressive, as anti-left? There is literally no specific instance discussed in that open letter, no real-world incident about which there might be specific and tangible controversy. So how can someone object to an endorsement of free speech and open debate without being opposed to those things in and of themselves? You can’t. And people are objecting to it because social justice politics are plainly opposed to free speech. That is the most obvious political fact imaginable today. Of course Yelling Woke Twitter hates free speech! Of course social justice liberals would prevent expression they disagree with if they could! How could any honest person observe our political discourse for any length of time and come to any other conclusion?

You want to argue that free speech is bad, fine. You want to adopt a dominance politics that (you imagine) will result in you being the censor, fine. But just do that. Own that. Can we stop with this charade? Can we stop pretending? Can we just proceed by acknowledging what literally everyone quietly knows, which is that the dominant majority of progressive people simply don’t believe in the value of free speech anymore? Please. Let’s grow up and speak plainly, please.

I’m amenable to the idea that some issues are sufficiently settled that respectful debate. The New York Times op-ed page should almost certainly not provide a platform for arguments that Black people are too stupid to hold public office women shouldn’t be allowed to vote. And even Ross Douthat, a dutiful Catholic, acknowledges that the gay marriage debate has been won by the other side and that it’s no longer worthwhile arguing against it.

I don’t fully understand J.K. Rowling’s insistence on standing her ground on the transgender debate. She’s not changing anyone’s mind on the issue and she’s hurting people already struggling with acceptance in the process.

Still, I don’t think she should be “canceled” over having a very mainstream view that probably 99 percent of people held five, certainly ten, years ago. And the fact that people’s minds are changing is precisely because we’ve listened to people’s arguments and considered their feelings.*

Beyond that, even if one believes Rowling deserves to be drummed out of polite society for her heterodoxy, it’s absurd to disassociate oneself from shared beliefs on the basis that she shares them. It’s akin to reductio ad Hitlerum.

Now, it’s always worth reminding ourselves that Twitter, where most of the early reaction manifested, isn’t particularly representative. The platform rewards dunking and other virtue-signaling behaviors. But deBoer is right: it’s one thing to be opposed to a particular expression of speech; it’s just bizarre to be opposed to the very notion of give-and-take.

*UPDATE: Shortly after publishing this post, I saw a tweet string from Ryan Teague Beckwith, a reporter and journalism professor, that provided useful examples.

What’s noteworthy to me is that all of those examples favor the Left. Indeed, the overall trend on pretty much any social issue one can think of is in that direction.

UPDATE 2: Another tweet stream, this by former national security official Loren DeJonge Schulman, makes an excellent counterpoint. I’ve put it into plain text for formatting purposes:

I think people are missing…several points when they focus on whether letter signatories should be expected to agree with their fellows on everything.

Setting aside the merits of The Letter, a few things you should consider deeply when asked to sign collective statements:

1. who is organizing letter, how are they getting support? Letters are relevant because of elites signing. If you get 1 you support being organized by David Duke, or circulated on darkest 4chan, you’re unlikely to sign, right? Who at the top and THEIR intent and networks matters.

2. What does the letter actually say? Statements with vague allusions to real incidents are a red flag: if an event is motivating collective action, it deserves context—and should make the statement stronger. If you’re signing, understand the story you’re telling.

3. Is the statement still being edited, by whom, and what measure of control do you have of the final outcome? This seems obvious. I rarely see circulate letters gaining signatures make this clear. Ask!

4. Where might the letter go and how will it be read? Again, the point of elite letters is to drive public opinion and discourse, and influence institutions. Signing only because you agree is naive. The Never Trump letter is a great example of a statement with legs beyond intent.

5. Where will the letter be published? This is usually unknown up front. But if it IS known that your letter will be published in a forum that shades, diminishes, or skews your intent, you should understand that before signing.

I think the organizer and venue are sufficiently clean that they’re not concerns in this instance. But point 2 is a strong one: “vague allusions to real incidents are a red flag.” They can very much turn a generic debate into a particular one.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Society
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. HarvardLaw92 says:

    * quietly begins handing out mirrors *

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  2. SKI says:

    Counter-thought: What these public figures are mostly objecting to is speech that disagrees with them. As Ken indicated in the tweets that preceded your quoted ones (notable editorial choice, btw):

    I like and respect many of these people. But i continue to struggle with the concept. The distinction between “silencing” and more/responsive/critical speech eludes me. I see instead the problem of the preferred first speaker.

    “The problem of the preferred first speaker” is the tendency to impose norms of civility, openness, productiveness, and dialogue-encouraging on a RESPONSE to expression that we do not impose on the expression itself.

    Further, in deliberately choosing numerous TERF and anti-Trans voices, something some of the signers indicated they weren’t aware would happen and that they wish they had known because they would not have joined), there is a subtext here you are ignoring.

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  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Free speech is met with free speech. And that’s a problem? Or is it the piling on? When has there ever NOT been piling on? Or is it the tone? The tone police are back?

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  4. drj says:

    @SKI:

    Indeed. I think this is a key point:

    I like and respect many of these people. But i continue to struggle with the concept. The distinction between “silencing” and more/responsive/critical speech eludes me.

    It is not coincidental, I think, that there is some sleight of hand going on in the letter:

    The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation.

    One thing is quite unlike the other.

    Then there is this:

    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.

    Are those boundaries narrower now than in the 1950s? The 1980s? The 1990s? While the boundaries are undoubtedly in a different place than they once were, I severely doubt that the range of acceptable public debate is narrower than it was before.

    So my sense is that quite a few signatories object more against the shifting of these boundaries than the narrowness of what is currently permitted.

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  5. Teve says:

    I imagine that David Karpf saw that Bret ‘Bedbug’ Stephens signed this and got a nice chuckle out of it.

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  6. Modulo Myself says:

    The letter’s pretty lame and anodyne, and most of the younger writers on it are hacks working an old white person grift. I do feel bad for Martin Amis though–he’s a genuine snob and would be appalled to find out that Jesse Singal and Damon Linker even exist. Overall, the only real example for cancel culture is that Money or Success could not be published right now. Everything else is a bunch of babies seeing their scam dry out.

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  7. Grewgills says:

    So, Harvard, are you just a troll now? Are you auditioning to be the new Drew?

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    A few years ago I was in the middle of running battles with the far Left in kidlit, fights I deliberately picked because I was big enough that I couldn’t be ignored, but not so big that I became a Rowling level event. I think I’ve been proven correct on every point of contention, indeed a number of things have worked out exactly as I predicted they would. But I’ve dropped the issues because a) I more or less got my way, and b) I’ll fight the Left when the current battle against a corrupt cult of personality is done, and unlike the far Left I’m not in the business of shooting allies in the back while the larger war is still raging.

    The timing of this letter could have been better. Six months from now, let all the guns blaze, and let’s have these fights. But I’m not going to argue economics with Stalin in 1943. I’ll argue systems with Stalin in 1946. I’m able to prioritize.

    The thing that has changed, the thing that has validated some of the Left’s concern with free speech absolutism, is that the power balance between truth and lies has shifted dramatically in favor of lies. The idea has always been that the dialectic would lead us to some consensus. Two things have changed: far more people are involved in the political/philosophical/sociological debate because of social media. And far more malign forces are more invested in lying to that public, and lying in ways intended to destroy consensus, destroy lives and indeed destroy this country.

    The Left did not start this war of words. If you want to see what gave impetus to cancel culture, look to Gamergate. Debates over sex and gender issues in gaming were dialed up to 11 by young men who used their skills to dox the people on the other side of the debate. The problem has been that debate in social media quickly goes from an exchange of views to damaging attacks. In that environment, where women are regularly subjected to threats of rape and murder for daring to criticize game developers, the call for free debate rings hollow. Free speech with rape threats is not free speech.

    Social media is not actually debate, it’s not actually a free exchange of views, it’s a battleground where dishonesty is the norm. You aren’t engaging in debate with X person when that person is not who they claim to be, but is a bad actor working for Russians or Saudis or whoever and hiding behind anonymity.

    Cancel culture is not censorship, it is not a government action, it is free speech, and therein lies the paradox. ‘Cancel culture’ is just a reworking of boycotting. It is much quicker in effect sometimes, but so are doxxing and waves of death threats. Free speech as envisioned by the Founders involved identifiable people (even if under pseudonyms, as was common in the 18th century) exchanging views. It did not envision paid armies of anonymous verbal combatants deliberately spreading lies. In the 18th century you had to live in the real world and justify your views out in the open. Anonymity removes all the natural limits imposed by having to walk the talk.

    So, as much of a free speech absolutist as I have always been, I’ve begun to feel a bit like a gun nut arguing that of course the Founders meant that private individuals should have arsenals of machine guns. Social media has weaponized ‘opinion’ and that changes the rules of the game.

    We need to face the reality that social media has altered the First Amendment just as automatic weapons altered the Second A. I don’t know WTF to do to fix it, but the reality is we no longer live in a media environment remotely like anything Thomas Jefferson was thinking of.

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  9. Jon says:

    @drj:

    So my sense is that quite a few signatories object more against the shifting of these boundaries than the narrowness of what is currently permitted.

    Agreed. And there sure are a lot of allegations without any actual sustaining facts being provided, and what seems to be a tendency to extrapolate from single events out in to trends, and/or treating each event as if it happens in a vacuum.

    Editors are fired for running controversial pieces

    I presume that is a reference to Bill Bennett, for example. He wasn’t fired for running a controversial piece; he was fired because under his watch the editorial process had completely fallen apart and he had a history of green-lighting (little-white-manning?) objectively bad work. He didn’t even read the Tom Cotton piece that was the final straw.

    ETA: As CSK pointed out below, this should have read James Bennett rather than Bill Bennett.

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  10. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Grewgills:

    So any contrary opinion or shining a light on the flaws of the commentariat itself must be automatically condemned as trolling, because we only like being agreed with and mutually stroked here.

    Congratulations. You’ve modeled exactly the sort of behavior this piece addressed.

    Have a mirror …

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  11. SKI says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Wow. What did happen to you? You didn’t used to regularly engage in bad faith characterizations and use of labels instead of facts, logic and reason. You now seem to be constantly arguing against strawmen and calling people who disagree names. What gives?

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  12. SKI says:

    @Jon:

    I presume that is a reference to Bill Bennett, for example. He wasn’t fired for running a controversial piece; he was fired because under his watch the editorial process had completely fallen apart and he had a history of green-lighting (little-white-manning?) objectively bad work. He didn’t even read the Tom Cotton piece that was the final straw.

    This.

    He wasn’t fired for the topics of the editorials that were run, he was fired for being bad at his job of managing the editorial unit.

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  13. SKI says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Strikes me that it is similar to the different concept of “respect”.

    Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority”

    and sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person”

    and they think they’re being fair but they aren’t, and it’s not okay.

    Seems like some of these public figures are upset they aren’t being treated as authorities immune to criticism…

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  14. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @SKI:

    Mutual admiration societies passing themselves off as debate annoy me. Always have. I’m also more of a centrist who has a decided distaste for the extremes of both ends of the political spectrum. I just finally got fed up enough to lose the filters, stop caring about blowback, and say exactly what I think. If doing that somehow makes me a troll, then I’d humbly suggest that I’m not the problem.

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  15. CSK says:

    @Jon: @SKI:
    It was James Bennet, not Bill Bennett who was fired by theTimes.

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  16. Teve says:

    I don’t remember people moaning about Cancel Culture when they were driving steamrollers over Dixie Chicks CDs and scrubbing Long Time Gone off the playlists.

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  17. Jon says:

    @CSK: Hah, oops! Thanks for catching that! I reckon I should leave it in place so people can rightfully make fun of me. I’ll add a footnote.

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  18. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Social media has weaponized ‘opinion’ and that changes the rules of the game.

    I’m not sure that the human tendency has ever been anything but to shout down unpopular speech. Examples of that abound throughout our history. What social media has done has been to take what was “micro” and convert it to “macro”. It hasn’t changed the rules of the game – it has changed the stakes.

    But one of the multitude of reasons that it’s toxic to society.

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  19. MarkedMan says:

    @SKI:

    He wasn’t fired for the topics of the editorials that were run, he was fired for being bad at his job of managing the editorial unit

    We will never know exactly why he was fired, but count me skeptical that it was for being bad at his job of managing the editorial unit. We have had no mention that he was under pressure previous to this, or that there was a mass of complaints or resignations, or that he had been on a Performance Improvement Plan. It is possible that he wasn’t directly fired because running the Cotton piece was too controversial but rather because of the way he reacted when challenged behind closed doors. But there is no evidence of that so as of right now it looks like he was fired for publishing an opinion piece by someone considered a likely 2024 Republican candidate.

    I was glad they published it. This was Cotton speaking to a general audience. I only made it through the first two paragraphs or so and thought it was incoherent garbage, full of outraged language and nonsense sloganeering, i.e. typical of the whiny and angry diatribes that are the norm in the modern Republican Party. I’m glad I got that from the horse’s mouth (or perhaps from the other end).

    I subscribe to the NYTimes because I want to learn things I didn’t know or wasn’t certain of. I don’t need “context” to instruct me on how to think about an editorial.*

    I also don’t need to read a paper that consists of like minded people sitting around singing Kumbayah. Facts and hard reporting in the articles, and a variety in the editorial page, of which I’m most appreciative of the opinions of those I would otherwise not come into contact with.

    *Fact checking statements of fact are another matter, but very, very few editorials are fact checked and that has been the status quo for centuries. It certainly wasn’t the proximate cause here.

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  20. Grewgills says:

    Harvard
    You didn’t express an opinion or shine a light on anything, you dropped of some weak tea drive by snark in hopes that someone would bite. You are becoming Drew. Own it. Tell us about how awesome you are, and how rich, and blah, blah, blah… more weak tea snark.
    Next up, you’ll be dropping zero hedge links.

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  21. Neil Hudelson says:

    While I generally agree that cancel culture is vaguely bad, deBoer’s response is pretty revealing:

    So how can someone object to an endorsement of free speech and open debate without being opposed to those things in and of themselves? You can’t. And people are objecting to it because social justice politics are plainly opposed to free speech. That is the most obvious political fact imaginable today.

    These extremists with their extremists positions have no room for nuance, and if you disagree with me–for any reason! I’m sure not going to suss out your nuance–you hate free speech itself.

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  22. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Grewgills:

    I actually did express an opinion. One that quite blatantly and explicitly said “this piece describes how many of you conduct yourselves with regard to what passes for debate”.

    I’m guessing from your reaction that the message was, indeed, received exactly as intended.

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  23. MarkedMan says:

    @Teve:

    I don’t remember people moaning about Cancel Culture when they were driving steamrollers over Dixie Chicks CDs and scrubbing Long Time Gone off the playlists.

    Really? Because I sure do. Of course “Cancel Culture” wasn’t a term back then but I remember an awful lot of people calling the right out for running the group out of town simply because they had a different political opinion.

    FWIW, I’m not against people who get annoyed by musicians or actors who became public faces of causes, whatever that might be, even if I don’t mind it myself. It’s their right to be annoyed. I imagine to some people hearing a public figure go on about causes when all they want to do is listen to some music gives them a similar reaction to the one I had in the 1970’s listening to a 20 minute harangue by Frank Zappa about the evils of his record company. It’s not for nothing that my favorite Zappa albums were the “Shut Up and Play Your Guitar” series.

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  24. gVOR08 says:

    It gives me pause that some of the signatories are people I greatly respect. But my reaction is that this is just another example of Murc’s Law, the fallacy that “only Democrats have any agency or causal influence over American politics.” The letter itself acknowledges that the right has long suppressed speech, but somehow it only became important when the left tries to do it.

    I struggle with some of this. I haven’t been a full time student since 1969, nor even part time since around 2010. I see numerous stories about campus PC run amok, followed by comments from faculty that it isn’t really like that. I have no first hand insight. I’m not a member of the intelligentsia so I can’t tell if these things are being blown out of proportion. In journalism the bothsides, he said, she said, “objectivity” model has brought us to the pass we’re in, wholesale rejection of objective reality.

    J. K. Rowling said something commonplace but silly in public and caught a lot of flack for it. But did it go beyond Twitter to anything substantive? James Bennett got fired. I doubt it was solely over the (Land O’) Cotton op-ed, but I’m not privy to NYT office politics. There have been excesses on the Left. There have been more and larger on the Right. And I don’t expect perfection from my side. Outrages will occur, but are they exceptions or a pattern?

    I’m not in a position to judge whether this letter addresses a mountain or a molehill. But absent better evidence to the contrary, I lean toward molehill.

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  25. Tim D. says:

    Ironically, the letter strikes me as being pretty poorly written and conflates several different issues in a way that is unclear and unhelpful!

    1. The much dreaded “cancel culture” in *most cases* is simply free speech itself — and often (tho not always) this “counterspeech” is used by the less powerful to critique and shame the more powerful. To pull a different quote from that Popehat thread: “Be suspicious of free speech philosophies that require you to refrain from speaking to promote speech.” The letter reads quite a bit like well known writers not wanting to be criticized by the riff raff.

    2. A charitable reading of the letter is that it is a specific call to cultural institutions (media, universities) to toughen up a bit and not make these incidents into an immediate firing offense. And to that extent, I think it’s a good debate to have. Although let’s be honest, the vast majority of us who aren’t in unions have to live as at-will employees without any semblance of “academic freedom” or “free speech” associated with our employment. Maybe that should change?

    3. Osita Nwanevu had an interesting piece about “freedom of association” that provides a different angle on these debates. Current technology affords basically anyone more speech opportunities than at any point in history, but obviously no one has a “right” to a NYT op-ed. So some of this debate is not about “free speech” per se, but about cultural norms for certain institutions about how scarce resources should be allocated across a range of views. Also an interesting debate to have, but clearly one about institutions rather than acceptance of free speech.

    https://newrepublic.com/article/158346/willful-blindness-reactionary-liberalism

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  26. SKI says:

    @MarkedMan: Don’t have time to dig right now but I saw info, at the time, that indicated that such concerns were ongoing and not a one-time thing.

    @HarvardLaw92: Something to think about: you weren’t expressing an opinion about what James said or the subject on the article but of the community – as if the community is a monolith. And you said it as the first comment in the thread so you weren’t reacting to how some posters were corresponding to this thread but to your own stereotype about who the community are. You picked a fight that wasn’t, at that point at least, needed or appropriate.

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  27. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The timing of this letter could have been better. Six months from now, let all the guns blaze, and let’s have these fights. But I’m not going to argue economics with Stalin in 1943. I’ll argue systems with Stalin in 1946. I’m able to prioritize.

    I think the signatories would argue the hard left attacking the moderate left is helping Trump. Whether that’s true is hard to measure but I’d lean that way.

    Cancel culture is not censorship, it is not a government action, it is free speech, and therein lies the paradox. ‘Cancel culture’ is just a reworking of boycotting. It is much quicker in effect sometimes, but so are doxxing and waves of death threats. Free speech as envisioned by the Founders involved identifiable people (even if under pseudonyms, as was common in the 18th century) exchanging views. It did not envision paid armies of anonymous verbal combatants deliberately spreading lies. In the 18th century you had to live in the real world and justify your views out in the open. Anonymity removes all the natural limits imposed by having to walk the talk.

    We’re in agreement that this is a problem and we share not knowing WTF to do about it. Still, the notion that fellow citizens shouting down free speech that defies the orthodoxy is in some ways as oppressive as government censorship has long roots in Enlightenment culture.

    @Teve:

    I don’t remember people moaning about Cancel Culture when they were driving steamrollers over Dixie Chicks CDs and scrubbing Long Time Gone off the playlists.

    Lots of people were moaning about that.

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  28. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @SKI:

    Thank you for attempting to let me know what is needed or appropriate, but I’ll determine that for myself.

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  29. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    ‘Cancel culture’ is just a reworking of boycotting.

    I disagree.

    You need to go back to where the term “cancel culture” came from: College campuses. Student groups (almost always conservative) invited speakers because that group wanted to hear the speaker’s message. Other groups took offense at the speaker–a speaker they were never going to listen to in the first place–and demanded that the administration cancel the event. i.e., “This person cannot be allowed to speak to anyone.”

    A boycott would have been: Not buying tickets to the event, encouraging others to not purchase tickets, and/or encouraging people to not patronize businesses or organizations which support the event. Free speech would have been standing outside the event and protesting it, writing op-eds saying why the speaker is wrong, and/or bringing in speakers who hold a different or opposing view on the topic.

    It’s not a boycott to say “I don’t like what my colleague wrote, I demand he be fired”.
    It’s not a boycott to say “Hearing a white man quote MLK offends me, I demand the professor be fired.”

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  30. Jay L Gischer says:

    @HarvardLaw92: It’s not for me to divine your intentions. However, if you want to engage people, rather than enraging them, the second formulation of your remark is going to be healthier, more direct, and more likely to produce something of value than the first, which, to me, conveys a message of superiority and arms-length.

    I mean, you’d still take some heat over it, but I don’t think you mind that.

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  31. SKI says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Of course you will. The real question is whether you will actually think/respond to what I said instead of avoiding the substance with a pithy comment.

    You started the thread with an attack on the community. As it was the first post in the thread, it wasn’t responding to anything anyone else had said.

    Since you have been back, seems like all you have done is negatively comment about the community. Not individual posters or posts but “everyone”. You never used to be that sloppy.

    So, what happened?

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  32. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    You’ll get no argument from me that the far Left are shitty allies. They’re the NKVD shooting Soviet soldiers in the back for retreating. In fact their main targets are their allies, and the notion that alliance might impose any burdens of tolerance on them is absolutely alien to them. ‘Ally’ means someone who will fall in line and never say a dissenting word.

    And the other side? They’re people who enforce their views with threats of rape, torture and murder. You know, I’m old enough to remember being threatened (in real life) with beatings because I had long hair and wore bell bottoms. (They may have had a point about the bell bottoms.) That’s the kind of ‘free speech’ the Right loves: Hey, fag*ot, I’m gonna kick your ass.

    Free speech as regards politics was always a debate between intellectuals (broadly speaking.) That’s not what social media is. Social media is armies in the midst of a raging war between average people who know absolutely fuck-all about history, politics, culture or anything beside their own narrow, ill-defined ideology du jour. All egged on by malign state actors.

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  33. Sleeping Dog says:

    Nobody asked me to sign the letter either and the letter is pretty innocuous, but I would have signed on. I was probably napping.

    I am enjoying the pained reaction of the woke and the signatories who now regret their participation due to another signatory being a rhetorical opponent. Guess they don’t believe what they claim to.

    @Michael Reynolds: Makes the pertinent point that honesty is key to open debate. Alas we are living in an Orwellian world.

    An aside, I’m glad to see that Freddie deBoer is back, I noticed his by-line last week at The Atlantic.

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  34. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    Still, the notion that fellow citizens shouting down free speech that defies the orthodoxy is in some ways as oppressive as government censorship has long roots in Enlightenment culture.

    I thought the answer to free speech was more free speech?

    You seem to be complaining about people using free speech to object to others free speech.

    Free speech is speech free of government restriction. It is not speech free of the consequences of others reacting negatively to it.

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  35. JohnMcC says:

    I have almost zero social media access. Don’t twit. Ain’t faced. So probably I miss a lot that seems important. Makes me feel like grampa yelling from the recliner. And I’m temperamentally a pretty absolutist type on open, free speech. BUT…..

    The ‘cancel culture’ of the left, if prioritized, would occupy my mind in the brief interval between brushing my teeth and pulling up the covers. I would worry all day about abolishing Obamacare. Or withdrawing from the WHO. Or voter suppression. I could go on I suppose but there are only 24 hrs in a day.

    I strongly advocate dynamite for ‘social media’.

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  36. Sleeping Dog says:

    @gVOR08:

    but somehow it only became important when the left tries to do it.

    If you can’t call out your reputed allies, then you have lesser standing calling out your opponents. Criticism of the rights quashing of speech has gone on for as long as I’ve paid attention.

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  37. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think the signatories would argue the hard left attacking the moderate left is helping Trump. Whether that’s true is hard to measure but I’d lean that way.

    I’m skeptical that it moves the needle at all. If it meant much, Biden wouldn’t be the nominee.

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  38. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @SKI:

    You started the thread with an attack on the community. As it was the first post in the thread, it wasn’t responding to anything anyone else had said.

    I began the thread with an observation. It’s an attack only if one reacts to it as “hey, that was aimed at me”, and even then calling it an attack is a matter of perspective, not absolute fact. You’re in a position to gauge your reaction, not one from which to gauge my intent. I’d proffer that the next step in that sequence might be to ask oneself “why did I react that way?”, but I’m not in a position to suggest to others how they should conduct self-awareness.

    Since you have been back, seems like all you have done is negatively comment about the community. Not individual posters or posts but “everyone”. You never used to be that sloppy.

    It’s actually been a mix. People focus in on the issue that matters most to them to the exclusion of others. In your case that seems to be community solidarity. That’s fine if that’s what matters to you.

    I’d assure you, however, that I’m being anything but sloppy. I’m an attorney. Former prosecutor. It’s not often that you’ll see me doing anything I haven’t thought through to the outcome and beyond before engaging. As always, it’s a matter of perspective.

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  39. Jay L Gischer says:

    There’s an attitude here that bothers me: “You signed this thing that that bad person signed, so you must be a Bad Person!”

    Why doesn’t that get turned around? Why don’t we say: “Hey, we got this Bad Person to endorse some Good Ideas, so Yay Us!”.

    ——————————————-

    In meatspace, when dealing with face-to-face relationships that are meaningful to us, it is really important to exercise curiosity and grant the benefit of doubt to your counterpart. Online, we’ve thrown that away in a race to see who can jump to the most radical conclusion with the harshest most colorful language, because that will get them the most clicks/likes/retweets whatever. Stopping it without doing damage to the entire concept of free speech is probably impossible, but that doesn’t mean I have to participate.

    Somehow the lack of a physical embodiment of any other person online contributes to this dehumanization of The Other, and makes us freer with our contempt.

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  40. grumpy realist says:

    I think we all have this idea of “free speech” as where people with different opinions say things to each other, but with the unspoken assumptions that a) the individuals are not deliberately disseminating fake data in their arguments, and b) they in fact do believe in the value of what they are saying.

    Unfortunately, after all these years of trolls-on-the-internets posting fake stuff “for the lulz”, we now have a totally different culture when it comes to communications.

    I’m old enough to think that we should at least insist that stuff that gets posted should be real and not fraudulent–and that people who push crappy theories they can’t back up with accurate data get banned from public communications for 5 years or until they learn better. (I also want to see this policy implemented for any sort of pundit gassing off on TV or radio. You make wild predictions which don’t hold up, you’re off the air for 5 years. Maybe if they had to put their money where their mouths are, they wouldn’t be so casual about truth and the validity of theories, especially theories which have huge ramifications, like anti-vaccination.)

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  41. gVOR08 says:

    @HarvardLaw92: @SKI: I used to occasionally advise Doug to not dive into comments all the time and just say what he had to say and let it stand or fall on it’s own.

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  42. SKI says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I began the thread with an observation. It’s an attack only if one reacts to it as “hey, that was aimed at me”, and even then calling it an attack is a matter of perspective, not absolute fact. You’re in a position to gauge your reaction, not one from which to gauge my intent. I’d proffer that the next step in that sequence might be to ask oneself “why did I react that way?”, but I’m not in a position to suggest to others how they should conduct self-awareness.

    I don’t feel attacked. I just roll my eyes and wonder what has become of a poster who I used to enjoy and relate to. My recollection is that you used to bring facts and logic. From my perspective, you now trade in stereotypes and personal attacks.

    It’s actually been a mix. People focus in on the issue that matters most to them to the exclusion of others. In your case that seems to be community solidarity. That’s fine if that’s what matters to you.

    Given almost all my posts are challenging/disagreeing with others, I’m definitely not a proponent of community solidarity. I am a proponent of attacking ideas and facts, not people though.

    I’d assure you, however, that I’m being anything but sloppy. I’m an attorney. Former prosecutor. It’s not often that you’ll see me doing anything I haven’t thought through to the outcome and beyond before engaging. As always, it’s a matter of perspective.

    I’m an attorney too. I’m sharing my perspective on your behavior. Whatever your intention are, I’m sharing how it is coming across – sloppy and primarily attacking this strawman concept you espouse of the community as a monolith. I think you are factually wrong in that assessment.

    Even your response to my critique seems to be premised on a false stereotype of who I am and a self-view that you are a brave truth-teller against a sea of group-think idiots. In short, you seem to have developed a mythology of victimhood that the old HL would have abhorred.

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  43. Neil Hudelson says:

    @SKI:

    In short, you seem to have developed a mythology of victimhood that the old HL would have abhorred.

    Well said.

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  44. Crusty Dem says:

    There’s something about “A signed group letter from a pile of privileged-as-fuck people complaining about a cultural shift that has caused discomfort to a few of the privileged” that doesn’t exactly move me… I think it’s partly that their examples are weak and dishonest, but mostly that their motivation to maintain their exalted position, I mean Bari Weiss, Zaid Jilani, David Brooks AND Matthew Yglesias? I LOL’d that they couldn’t get Bret Stephens.

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  45. Grewgills says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    Now that you’ve dropped your credentials again you can tell us how awesome your stereo is.
    You are becoming a caricature of yourself while accusing others of being caricatures of themselves.
    Never go full Drew.

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  46. Michael Reynolds says:

    I would suggest that this over-the-top reaction to @HL92 is rather making the point that the Left can’t engage without shaming and name-calling. He did not transition to evil just because of a snarky remark. Jesus, people, everything doesn’t have to be dialed up to 11.

    I’ll just drop some Reagan here: “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor.”

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  47. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @SKI:

    I said nothing more than suggesting that this community could serve as a useful example of what’s being described in the piece. Of course it doesn’t apply to everybody. Only an absolutist would presume that it does. On the other hand, only a partisan would ignore that it – the contention that, by and large the collapse of this community into almost wholly being comprised of variations on a single worldview due to vigorous shouting down of dissent – bears some consideration. It’s certainly in keeping with the tone and subject matter of the piece itself. The alternative is to call out individuals and directly assert “this applies to you” – which I will absolutely not do.

    Victimhood presumes that I have a grievance or an axe to grind. I assure you neither is the case. No one here in the group of strangers on the internet is realistically of enough consequence to merit either of them. Sometimes the apple cart just needs to be uprighted in order to illustrate a point. In other words, sometimes in the bigger picture a little chaos is a healthy thing.

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  48. JohnMcC says:

    @grumpy realist: “…(P)eople who push crappy theories they can’t back up with accurate data get banned for five years or until they learn better.” Excellent!

    Still prefer dynamite.

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  49. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And the bigger picture concept begins to emerge. I’m glad somebody finally grasped the actual intent. Thank you!

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  50. Kurtz says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    On one hand, I gave a thumbs up to your first comment. I got a chuckle out of it.

    On the other, this post is off-base. First, this isn’t exactly a Lefty blog. Secondly, calling you a troll may be dismissive, but that isn’t the same thing as silencing.

    Can these threads lean toward toxic sometimes? Sure. But compare it to other comment sections, and it is way more civil, thoughtful, and ideologically diverse.

    In the end, conflating silencing of voices based on immutable identity characteristics with sharp criticism of a worldview is a mistake. The former cannot be changed and is not the result of choice; the latter is a choice.

    I find it strange that you specifically make this claim here considering that the person most likely to be arrogant and rude is Michael. He offers no apologies for it either. But he is still a valuable voice. Moreover, he specifically mentioned that he respects you and @Lounsbury for your intelligence.

    As far as the open letter, consider three signatories: Noam Chomsky, Bari Weiss, and Bret Stephens. You have an anarchist-adjacent professor, a wild card columnist, and a conservative.

    For those of you who throw around the term “far-left” like Rushbo pops Oxys, ask yourself, which one of those people has zero voice in highly circulated publications? Well, it ain’t the conservative, nor is it the idiosyncratic one. It’s the far-left intellectual who accomplished more by the time he was thirty than either of the other two will in their entire careers.

    So spare me your off-key fiddling. It’s a little like Fox News commentators boasting about #1 cable news ratings to make the alleged ‘silent majority’ feel justified while simultaneously crowing about ‘the mainstream media’ putting the thumb on the scale.

    Here’s your mirror.

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  51. Grewgills says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    He’s not evil, he’s just decided to transition from thoughtful commentary to trolling because… I don’t know, maybe he’s bored in quarantine. That’s really the only reason I bothered to respond to his trolling.
    If he decides to say something thoughtful, I’ll respond appropriately. If he continues to troll, I might bite if I’m bored enough.

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  52. Kurtz says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I would suggest that this over-the-top reaction to @HL92 is rather making the point that the Left can’t engage without shaming and name-calling. He did not transition to evil just because of a snarky remark. Jesus, people, everything doesn’t have to be dialed up to 11.

    I did my best to not do that. If mine is over the top as well, let me know.

    Also, when I was going to buy the novel you suggested to me, I wasn’t sure where to purchase it. Which one gives you more royalties, Google or Kindle? Google is cheaper, but I’d rather you get more compensation even if it cost me a little more.

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  53. JohnMcC says:

    @Grewgills: And there can be no doubt that our friend with with ivy league moniker became the subject of the thread totally by accident. He couldn’t have known, could he?

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  54. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kurtz:
    Thanks for the concern, dude, but the book was so miserably published – and for the record, I normally blame myself when something doesn’t sell – that royalties will remain irrelevant. The head of the company that was acquiring this publisher had to call me to get me to climb down after I saw the first efforts. They fixed the issues I had, but did not fix their abject lack of distribution.

    I’m just waiting for the right moment to take back the rights and re-publish with someone else. I’d be more annoyed but honestly I’ve enjoyed way more than my fair share of sales and sometimes, as a wise waiter once told me, ‘You have to take a beating.’

    Also I got to write off two trips to Amsterdam, where, I guarantee you Rijksmuseum security has me on a watch list as, ‘that American who kept looking behind paintings and eyeballing security cameras.’ Writing it was fun. I re-wrote the rules of art theft while smoking weed by the canals and getting fat(ter) on bitterballen. Hard to really bitch about that.

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  55. wr says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “It’s not often that you’ll see me doing anything I haven’t thought through to the outcome and beyond before engaging. ”

    So what is your desired outcome for insulting all the other commenters here? Is there any other reason than some bizarre need to have complete strangers pay attention to you? As a lawyer, you certainly understand that these posts can’t hope to convince anyone of anything — I’m sure you do know how to construct an actual argument that might stand a chance — and you’ve made it quite clear that the comments here are far below any standard you find acceptable.

    And yet you keep coming back to make these same “points.”

    A normal person, finding himself in the middle of a conversation he thinks tedious, would simply leave. Perhaps some would attempt to turn the conversation in a direction he found more useful.

    You come here time and again to spew insults and complain about what a waste of time this all is, claiming you have predetermined the outcome.

    So?

    I can’t imagine any outcome you think you’re working towards beyond “Pay attention to meeee!!!”I can’t imagine why someone who presents himself as a rich lawyer living in Paris would feel compelled to stoop to this pathetic level simply to be reminded that he exists, but whatever floats your boat.

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  56. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Grewgills:

    I don’t know, maybe he’s bored in quarantine.

    Honestly we should all try to be more chill, very much including me. I think during Covid everyone gets a 10% grace for anything they say, because most days we’re all on the verge of going on a killing spree.

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  57. wr says:

    @Crusty Dem: “I LOL’d that they couldn’t get Bret Stephens.”

    Stephens would have signed but he was too busy trying to get another academic fired for saying mean things about him. Fortunately they have Bari Weiss, who only tries to get academics fired for disagreeing with her politically.

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  58. gVOR08 says:

    @Crusty Dem: Yes. So far unremarked is the affirmative action flip-side of this, in which mediocrities like Bret Stephens are given prestige spots at major outlets out of some felt need to present conservative views. Same applies to Brooks, although he was apparently once worth reading.

    Also, is there anything except tradition that says editors can’t have opinion pieces fact checked? When Cotton says the prez should send in troops, that’s an opinion and he’s entitled to it. When he says ANTIFA is a major factor in demonstrations, that is a matter of fact, contradicted by NYT’s own reporting. In court someone would have objected “argument from facts not in evidence.” NYT eventually had to fire Bill Kristol because his lies became too embarrassing. Now they’ve embarrassed themselves with Cotton. Fair is fair. Insist both Bret Stephens and Paul Krugman argue fairly, based on facts. If that’s more of a burden on Stephens than on Krugman, so be it. If they can’t do that, at least allow comments on the op-eds so the on-line readers can fact check.

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  59. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Kurtz:

    No offense is intended, but I get the impression that you like to hear yourself speak. You missed the actual intent – that it required no more than five words to provoke exactly the sort of reaction and tactics described by this piece – entirely. Drove right over it at highway speeds, no less.

    It’s telling that only Michael recognized it.

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  60. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @wr:

    Projection isn’t healthy. You should work on that.

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  61. grumpy realist says:

    @JohnMcC: I was toying with the idea of guillotines…..

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  62. MarkedMan says:

    You know, when my kids were like 10 and 12 they used to get in these sniping, insulting arguments with each other and I thought I was gently nudging them to wisdom when I would say, “Hey, if you only repeat yourself one more time in an even more insulting manner, I bet your brother/sister will finally agree with you.” But the sarcasm was lost on them. They just kept going…

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  63. Gustopher says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Free speech is met with free speech. And that’s a problem? Or is it the piling on? When has there ever NOT been piling on? Or is it the tone?

    It’s that big people are having to face the consequences of offending little people.

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  64. Sleeping Dog says:

    @SKI:

    The Times reported this morning that 96% of Dems plan to vote for Biden, so the far left isn’t hurting the party.

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  65. Han says:

    @James Joyner:

    @Teve:

    I don’t remember people moaning about Cancel Culture when they were driving steamrollers over Dixie Chicks CDs and scrubbing Long Time Gone off the playlists.

    Lots of people were moaning about that.

    They were moaning about the specific event, not a generalized trend. Keep in mind this happened days before we went to war, and GWB had approval ratings in the high 50s which soon topped 70%. The 30% or so of us that were appalled that we were about to invade Iraq were not in a position to give a general criticism of the vastly more popular sentiment of the time. There were few people willing to put their necks out there and publicly say what they thought like the Chicks did.

    I wonder sometimes if our desire to name things helps or hinders our ability to discuss issues and develop as a society. Labels give us a shorthand to dismiss arguments. I can call you a SJW and ignore what you have to say, my declaration “wins” the argument. But it’s easier to discuss social media outrage and all that surrounds it if we have a label that we can refer to, as long as we remember it’s a label and not the thing itself.

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  66. Gustopher says:

    @Grewgills:

    He’s not evil, he’s just decided to transition from thoughtful commentary to trolling because… I don’t know, maybe he’s bored in quarantine.

    Also, the vast majority of us have a few topics on which we don’t think. We thought in the past, and that was enough, and anyone who hasn’t some to the same conclusion is an idiot.

    Is he trolling to troll, or is he doing an “I told you so” dance when James Joyner posts something agreeing with him, something that must be incontrovertible since it agrees with him?

    I give him the benefit of the doubt, assume it is the latter, and just ignore him. He’s wrong, and he’s not open to ideas, so why bother with him?

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  67. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08:

    Bret Stephens are given prestige spots at major outlets out of some felt need to present conservative views

    FWIW, I think it is a good thing that major news outlets present a wide range of views. I think it is good that they have gay views and people of color and trans views and yes, conservative views. They are news organizations, not booster clubs.

    True, Brooks hasn’t written anything impressive in years. Originally hired to be the Reality Based Republican it seemed that he came to despise his own party long before Trump although he never said so out loud – I’m reading between the lines. So he remade himself into the values and decency columnist. But I don’t think he brings any special insight to that type of pontificating. Stephens remains true to his job charter, but also doesn’t have much meaningful to say, mostly just sniping. The fact that neither of them can put out a stellar column says something about their movements.

    And I’m glad they are there. They represent a point of view that has traction and power in this country. They represent multiple contingents, the “both sides” contingent and “Congress can’t get anything done and they need to sit down and talk” crew, and “maybe it’s time for a third party” gallery. I think we are so far away from that due to Republican Party decay that it’s essentially meaningless. But I still want to know what that crew is thinking and telling businessmen and billionaires.

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  68. Gustopher says:

    Still, I don’t think she should be “canceled” over having a very mainstream view that probably 99 percent of people held five, certainly ten, years ago.

    Has Ms. Rowling been cancelled? She’s still spouting her hateful nonsense, so I don’t think so…

    There is no cancel culture. There is a call-out culture. Hateful speech will now follow people. That’s all.

    And, yes, being associated with your hateful speech has consequences. It always has.

    You’re not likely to hire David Duke to be your interior decorator unless you want everything to be white.

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  69. Sleeping Dog says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Brooks has become the Nick Kristoff of the right, which isn’t a bad thing. If the center of the Repug party was closer to Brooks, we could go far in addressing the issues that this country faces.

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  70. SKI says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I would suggest that this over-the-top reaction to @HL92 is rather making the point that the Left can’t engage without shaming and name-calling. He did not transition to evil just because of a snarky remark. Jesus, people, everything doesn’t have to be dialed up to 11.

    To be clear, I did not state, and do not think, HL is “evil”.

    I am wondering why he is suddenly back with a different persona – one that is using stereotypes and labels instead of facts and reason? Why his response to any push-back or criticism is to claim to be the poor persecuted victim of mob mentality? Why he went away? And why he returned with what seems like a consistent agenda to describe the community as having a unified worldview (which it clearly doesn’t) that is far-left and intolerant?

    I really enjoyed his prior posts and don’t understand the current ones. So I’m wondering what happened. Don’t think that equates to calling him evil…

    @HarvardLaw92:

    You missed the actual intent – that it required no more than five words to provoke exactly the sort of reaction and tactics described by this piece – entirely. Drove right over it at highway speeds, no less.

    So your intent was to try to provoke a negative reaction? Isn’t that the very definition of trolling?

    Why do you think that is a positive thing to do?

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  71. jess says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Totally off topic but I am super curious about this:

    A few years ago I was in the middle of running battles with the far Left in kidlit

    I collect children’s books, read children’s and YA literature, and generally love it. So I am curious about what this was all about.

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  72. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @SKI:

    So your intent was to try to provoke a negative reaction? Isn’t that the very definition of trolling?

    No. The definition of trolling involves the intent to push things in a digressive, off-topic direction in order to derail topical discussion.

    I provoked a reaction that was 100% illustrative of the tactics discussed in the topic itself. A real world example, if you will. I mean, hell man – read the title … What could possibly be more relevant?

    It might be more useful to say you dislike the provocation of chaos. That’s fair. Not everybody does, and it’s an accurate depiction of the tactics. Calling it trolling, however, is willfully missing the point.

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  73. SKI says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I provoked a reaction that was 100% illustrative of the tactics discussed in the topic itself. A real world example, if you will. I mean, hell man – read the title … What could possibly be more relevant?

    I don’t see it. I’m certainly not trying to “cancel you” or get you to stop talking. I’m trying to have a dialogue. To understand why you said what you said.

    It strikes me that you are forcing your conception of who the community is in complete disregard of what is actually being said. You appear, to me, to be ignoring the reality of the comments and replacing it with what you hoped they would be to justify your preconception.

    It might be more useful to say you dislike the provocation of chaos. That’s fair. Not everybody does, and it’s an accurate depiction of the tactics.

    It is true I’ve never liked schticks that involve intentionally acting like an jackass to cause unnecessary pain. I’ve got no problem calling out bad behavior even if it causes pain but pain for pain’s sake as performative art? I’ll pass.

    Calling it trolling, however, is willfully missing the point.

    Nope, it is literally trolling – even using your definition. You deliberately made it about you picking a fight with the community and your new schtick that the community is a monolith of far-left group think.

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  74. Northerner says:

    @SKI:

    I thought the answer to free speech was more free speech?

    Exactly. And then the letter is a free speech response to that free speech. And criticism of the letter is a further free speech response. And criticism of the criticism is also free speech response. And so on, response in speech triggers response in speech, which is the ideal situation. The key point for me is that its all speaking instead of shooting or passing laws outlawing speech, so this is all good, however deep the responses to responses get nested.

    It’d be nice if everything was handled this way — didn’t Churchill say something like jaw, jaw, jaw is better than war, war, war?

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  75. mister Bluster says:

    @Michael Reynolds:..(They may have had a point about the bell bottoms.)

    Bell Bottom Blues

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  76. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @SKI:

    You’re entitled to your opinion. *shrug*

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  77. @HarvardLaw92:

    No. The definition of trolling involves the intent to push things in a digressive, off-topic direction in order to derail discussion.

    The problem is: you have derailed the thread. It has become about you and not the topic. I suppose that is technically Grewgills’ fault to a point, but your original comment wasn’t an argument and really had a distinct drive-by characteristic to you (although props for staying in the conversation).

    Beyond that, your current approach comes across as trolling insofar as when a commenter comes repeatedly to threads to act like they are the outside arbiter come in to tell everyone else, in sort of universalist tones, how wrong they are it creates these kinds of digressions and conversations. It was what Guarani tried to do with his drive-by comments. It is what the guy whose name I forget did when he stated he was an “ombudsman” come simply to correct errors.

    None of that is constructive. It is, in my opinion, a form of trolling. It isn’t engagement of ideas or arguments, it is “hey, look at me, I am here to set you all straight!” Who reacts well to that/who expects to be well-received doing that?

    And to @Grewgills‘s original point, I actually checked the comment logs over the weekend to see if someone had taken over your moniker. I was satisfied that this was not the case, but I was also sufficiently struck by your tonal shift to take notice and wonder what the deal was. You do sound like Guarani/Drew in terms of tone of late.

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  78. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Crusty Dem:

    There’s something about “A signed group letter from a pile of privileged-as-fuck people complaining about a cultural shift that has caused discomfort to a few of the privileged” that doesn’t exactly move me…

    THIS!!! I’m reduced on this thread to following it for the same reason people watch NASCAR, for the crashes.

    They are entertaining, though.

    ETA: @Kurtz: For whatever my opinion is worth, your comment was one of the more insightful ones on the thread. Good job.

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  79. In regards to the letter itself, I have no generic problem with it, but the vagueness of these claims (as noted above) strike me as problematic:

    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.

    The specific actually matter, as do the number, frequency, and intensity thereof. That is not clear from the letter.

    Also: a bunch of elites published this letter in a prestige publication and have had it widely discussed. This undercuts, to me, the notion that these folks, in particular, are suffering from some mighty attack (or even that free speech is under assault from the broader culture).

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  80. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: But do they say it or something similar and a touch less snarky to their kids now? That’s the real test of whether they eventually “got it.” 😉

    @Gustopher: Because “if you only repeat yourself one more time in an even more insulting manner, I bet your brother/sister HL92 will finally agree with you.”

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  81. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I notice that Dr. Taylor has already noted this, but I can’t resist. 😛 Soooo…

    No. The definition of trolling involves the intent to push things in a digressive, off-topic direction in order to derail topical discussion.

    Which is what happened, save the fact that I’m not sure how much topical discussion is available to have on this topic–see Crusty Dem from uplink.

    At least it’s been (marginally) entertaining… I guess…

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  82. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The thing that has changed, the thing that has validated some of the Left’s concern with free speech absolutism, is that the power balance between truth and lies has shifted dramatically in favor of lies. The idea has always been that the dialectic would lead us to some consensus. Two things have changed: far more people are involved in the political/philosophical/sociological debate because of social media. And far more malign forces are more invested in lying to that public, and lying in ways intended to destroy consensus, destroy lives and indeed destroy this country.

    Many thumbs up.

    James, I also think that you need to recognize that “the free exchange of ideas” + “open debate” =/= “free speech” as currently interpreted. “Free speech” includes many utterances that are not part of a discourse of ideas, nor an argument in a debate. It includes everything from inarticulate howls to threats of reprisal, and the nonverbal physical analogues of those things. It is possible to be 100% in favor of the free exchange of ideas and open debate, and yet want significant limitations on freedom of speech.

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  83. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT:

    “Free speech” includes many utterances that are not part of a discourse of ideas, nor an argument in a debate. It includes everything from inarticulate howls to threats of reprisal, and the nonverbal physical analogues of those things. It is possible to be 100% in favor of the free exchange of ideas and open debate, and yet want significant limitations on freedom of speech.

    Like the letter in question, this is somewhat vague. But threats of violence aren’t part of any liberal conception of “free speech.” Doxxing isn’t free speech.

    And, while it can sometimes just take the form of a high volume of speech, there are aspects of “cancel culture” that are essentially in the same camp. Attempts to get people fired for their ideas are mostly illiberal. (And, yes, I took that point of view a decade-plus ago when it was mostly the Right trying to get lefty professors fired.)

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  84. EddieInCA says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Honestly we should all try to be more chill, very much including me. I think during Covid everyone gets a 10% grace for anything they say, because most days we’re all on the verge of going on a killing spree.

    This. I visit this site multiple times per day. Over the past week, I’ve written at LEAST 15 posts – angry, spittle-flecked rants about whatever – and deleted every one of them because of I realized I was just looking for a fight out of frustration; frustration at Trump, Covid, stupid people, one of my dogs, EBay, Amazon, Total Wine, and so on. Bottom line is I was fortunate to realize I was not going to add ANYTHING of value to the conversation.

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  85. Crusty Dem says:

    @gVOR08:

    The NYT doesn’t allow fact checking of opinion pieces and they don’t allow editorial writers to address each other in direct arguments. When you have created a parlor in which the rules are more important than the facts, you have become an absurdity.

    The signatories of this letter wouldn’t dare to criticize these trivialities, because they are in the parlor or would very much like to become a part of it.

    Privilege uber alles.

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  86. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    But threats of violence aren’t part of any liberal conception of “free speech.” Doxxing isn’t free speech.

    Liberal conceptions of “free speech”, or your preferences about how the phrase should be used, are not relevant here. We don’t get to choose what words and phrases mean; the language evolves how it will. To many (perhaps a majority) in the current debate, “free speech” certainly does include these things that “aren’t part of any liberal conception of free speech”.

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  87. wr says:

    @HarvardLaw92: ‘Projection isn’t healthy. You should work on that.”

    Hey, I like most of the people here, to the extent that one can form attachments to mostly pseudonymous posters on a forum. It’s why I’m active in this comments section and not on other sites, even ones whose politics are closer to mine. And it annoys me greatly when somebody decides it’s time to prove how far superior he is to everyone else posting here.

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  88. wr says:

    @mister Bluster: Bell Bottom Blues makes the whole style worth it.

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  89. Kurtz says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    tl;dr: Michael is correct, everyone should calm down a bit. As I said to Eddie one time before having it rightfully thrown back in my face R-E-L-A-X. You’re partially correct, but your approach was counter-productive. You don’t seem to understand the priors of many posters here.

    None taken. I actually don’t talk much. I do tend to write words on words on words though. But let’s be honest about things here, a complex world dictates complex arguments. The current issues surrounding free speech require some words. The dominant media of discourse-Twitter and TV–have reduced arguments to slogans, memes, cheap shots, and talking points.

    Decrying snark by deploying snark is disengenuous. But I get why you chose that route, it’s easier. To think that works better than laying an argument out is strange, doubly so given the topic at hand.

    I typically post to work through ideas and get criticism of them. Sometimes, it allows me to make my view stronger. Sometimes, I have to change it. So, it’s not just masturbatory. I get you don’t, and that’s fine. But understand your method isn’t inherently superior.

    Most of all, I have fought with Michael about his tone before. Was it pleasant? No. But does there seem to be lasting animus between us? No. Do I wish @Andy was still around? Yes.

    Do you and I have some limited agreement on this issue? Yes. Does Rowling have a legitimate beef with the cancel brigade? Yes. Why do you think I told you I gave the post a thumbs up?

    There is way more to it than just saying “free speech good! The only solution to bad speech is more speech!”

    But if you’re looking for acquiescence, at least take a gander at the mirror offered then we can talk it out. I take great pains to be conciliatory and understanding. When I fail, I apologize sincerely.

    But, no… I didn’t miss the point. I didn’t pile on you. Nor did I call you a troll. You may not have seen it, but I deleted a response to you on the Columbus statue thread specifically because it was rude.

    However, you don’t seem to be making any effort at the moment to understand why there may be objections to the letter from the crowd here. I understand them, and can honestly say I understand both sides. But throwing a punch and then calling the other person aggressive is hardly good faith.

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  90. Kurtz says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Ah, you show up right when I mentioned you in a post! Hope you’re well!

    Leave the dog out of it though. If dog could speak, he would say he’s sorry. The last five years have been… trying. 😉

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  91. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Honestly we should all try to be more chill, very much including me. I think during Covid everyone gets a 10% grace for anything they say, because most days we’re all on the verge of going on a killing spree.

    My weekly meditation group migrated online due to covid, and it is exactly as ridiculous as at seems — a bunch of people, on Zoom, silently breathing.

    One day, the silence was broken by someone who said, with complete surprise, “Why am I crying?” They hadn’t realized how much they were holding in, and apparently sitting quietly let it begin coming out around the edges of every block they had put up to try to hold onto a semblance of normal without them even realizing it.

    Good times, good times.

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  92. Michael Reynolds says:

    @jess:
    There was a period of time when kidlit, desperate to not be racist, started to veer into racism. People were seriously proposing rules that – unintentionally – would have drastically reduced diversity and re-segregated kidlit, leaving us with ‘black books’ and ‘white books.’ It was an internally inconsistent notion. At the point where I’m the one deploying math, things have gone off the rails.

    You realize a lot of people only discovered the existence of racism a couple years ago, had no grounding in history or logic. They were shocked, shocked! But I spent some years in Jim Crow Florida panhandle, so I was not shocked, shocked. I won the point and ended up being hated by many, many people. Fun!

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  93. Michael Reynolds says:

    @EddieInCA: @Kurtz:

    I was more concerned about Total Wine.

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  94. MarkedMan says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: No kids of their own yet. And when they do and come to complain to me about how their kids to behave, I’m just going to smile (inwardly)…

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  95. @EddieInCA:

    Total Wine,

    Can I rant at you for having a Total Wine? Those kinds of stores aren’t allowed in Alabama.

    Curses!

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  96. EddieInCA says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Can I rant at you for having a Total Wine? Those kinds of stores aren’t allowed in Alabama.

    Most people call it “Total Wine”. I call it “Ed’s Happy Place”. I spend more time in there than my wife does at Nordstroms. And I spend more there than she does at Nordstroms. Just last week, they actually had Weller Reserve in stock. Usually it’s a special order for which you have to wait for them to get in stock. But I had a bottle at home, so had stopped looking.

    Now I have four bottles at home. 🙂

    Anybody coming to LA should let me know. We’ll meet and have our own Bourbon tasting party. I’m slowly building up quite the fo0-f00, bougie Bourbon collection. Except for you, Reynolds. You’d clean me out. I’ve seen how you drink. I kid! I kid!

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  97. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: @EddieInCA: I’m in-between here in Virginia. We have Total Wine and they have extremely cheap same-day delivery of wine and beer. Alas, the state has granted it self a monopoly on spirits so no Weller Reserve for me. (Weller Antique was one on my go-tos for years but the ABC quit carrying it a couple years back so I’m SOL unless I want to drive to Maryland.)

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  98. Michael Reynolds says:

    @EddieInCA:

    I kid! I kid!

    Excuse me while I check for hidden cameras. Happy Hour is 4 PM, and cocktail prep may begin as early as ten to. I’ll fight anyone who disagrees.

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  99. CSK says:

    There’s a Total Wine not too far from me, and it’s an impressive operation, but living as I do a hop, skip, and a jump from several New Hampshire state liquor stores, I find myself drawn lemming-like to them. Th selection of single malts and bourbons has gotten more and more extensive over time. And you can’t beat the prices, as Jen and Sleeping Dog can confirm.

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  100. Neil Hudelson says:

    @James Joyner: 9@EddieInCA:

    If hiking, camping, and drinking is your type of vacation, i highly recommend The Bourbon Trail. The Buffalo Trace distillery is the highlight–one of very few that remained operational through prohibition. They distill many of the hardest to find bourbons, including the Weller and Van Winkle lines.

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  101. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “Can I rant at you for having a Total Wine? Those kinds of stores aren’t allowed in Alabama.”

    Nor in Pennsylvania. Proving James Carville’s quip, that there’s Philadelphia on one side, Pittsburgh on the other, and Alabama in between. At least it’s only about a 45 minute drive from here to the Total Wine store just across the Delaware state line (which is actually an arc of a circle, but that’s another story).

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  102. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    In regards to the letter itself, I have no generic problem with it, but the vagueness of these claims (as noted above) strike me as problematic:

    The specific actually matter, as do the number, frequency, and intensity thereof. That is not clear from the letter.

    For those that don’t know them, I can point to specific cases in some of the list

    Editors are fired for running controversial pieces

    The NY Times editorial by the congressman.

    books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity

    Quite a number of YA novels. One instance is A Place for Wolves by Kosoko Jackson. I’m sure Michael Reynolds can provide plenty more examples.

    journalists are barred from writing on certain topics

    I don’t have any specific references on this one.

    professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class

    UCLA lecturer W. Ajax Peris was “under investigation” for reading MLK Jr’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

    a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study

    Not sure about the specifics of this, but there have been a few instances when race has been part of the study.

    and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes

    David Shor, an analyst at Democratic polling firm Civis Analytics, was fired for tweeting a study that concluded, “race riots reduced Democratic vote share.”

    The letter was right to not name specific instances–that would just devolve into arguments about those specific instances rather than open a discussion about the topic of social censorship. The letter would have done better if they hadn’t made any references to specific instances and kept it to the general topic. Specifics can be approached in later debates.

    On the other hand, anyone who’s been following the news knows what they’re talking about. There are plenty of examples just a google away. The problem is that too many people are adamant about staying in their bubble and don’t want to hear anything that comes from someone “on the other side”.

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  103. James Joyner says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Did an abbreviated tour 3 or 4 years back and hit Wild Turkey, Four Roses, and Buffalo Trace. I enjoy products from all three but, of late, damn near everything from BT has been hard to find. I used to be able to get their namesake, most of the Weller line, EH Taylor, Blanton’s and others whenever I wanted. They’ve all but disappeared the last couple years, at least in these parts.

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  104. Kurtz says:

    @James Joyner:

    And, while it can sometimes just take the form of a high volume of speech, there are aspects of “cancel culture” that are essentially in the same camp. Attempts to get people fired for their ideas are mostly illiberal. (And, yes, I took that point of view a decade-plus ago when it was mostly the Right trying to get lefty professors fired.)

    I’ve been uncomfortable with this as well. There are careers for which termination is the proper course. Others not so much.

    @KM articulated an excellent point about cancel culture on the June 15th open thread a few weeks ago.

    “Cancel culture” is what those on the right call the marketplace of ideas shutting them down. This is capitalism in action: a business owner does something they find objectionable and customers & fellow businesses decide not to do business with them anymore.

    I would extend it further to argue this highlights the internal tension in unfettered market ideology. Market relations are coercive. The small government=freedom argument is nothing more than a slogan.

    I have no illusions that you will see it this way. That’s fine. As I tried to get HL to understand above, we have much different assumptions about many things. By the time we discuss policy or take a position on a statue or how to view cancel culture, neither of us can fully grasp how the other could possibly disagree.

    For me, it’s valuable to interact here for that reason. The puzzle intrigues me.

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  105. Kurtz says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Oh yeah, you’re stuck with ABC, no? Not much of a drinker these days, but man the nutso regulations on liquor in AL were annoying. Troy is too far from the GA border too. Ouch.

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  106. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Crusty Dem:

    The NYT doesn’t allow fact checking of opinion pieces and they don’t allow editorial writers to address each other in direct arguments. When you have created a parlor in which the rules are more important than the facts, you have become an absurdity.

    The fact that the NYT doesn’t allow for fact checking of opinion pieces is not as significant as the fact of not allowing direct argument between writers. We probably shouldn’t expect opinion pieces to be fact checked by third parties–that’s what we (at least some of us in this community) have intellect for. And I do understand why direct argument between writers is frowned upon–look at this very comment thread, for example. Having allowed for understanding of both factors, I have to come to the conclusion that a forum requires at least limited versions of either one or the other, or preferably both. It’s probably the absence of both, combined with the observation that it’s become so bleeping obvious that makes the absurdity.

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  107. grumpy realist says:

    @Mu Yixiao: I’m especially annoyed at what happened with David Shor. Here’s a report on the meltdown.

    This is about as stupid as the radical feminists insisting that math and science is a masculinist plot. Indulging far left Radical Justice types with this “I don’t like to see this data because it makes my fee-fees hurt” is just going to lead to total inefficiency in any strategy and collapse of whatever policy they are trying to build. At some point reality really does grab hold.

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  108. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Forgot to note in passing that it might be useful for the NYT to remind readers that they are reading opinions at least occasionally because we (or at least I) sometimes forget that opinions can be–frequently are (??)–fact free.

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  109. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “Those kinds of stores aren’t allowed in Alabama”

    Or in New York, which in some very odd ways — including voting and buying liquor — chooses to believe this is Birmingham in 1958.

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  110. EddieInCA says:

    @Kurtz:

    Thank you, Sir. I am well, so far…..

    I have four dogs, who get treated better than most children. My wife spoils them. I spoil them worse.

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  111. gVOR08 says:

    Paul Campos at LGM has a post that seems appropriate here. He starts out with Trump tweeting that the WH doesn’t like the CDC’s school opening guidelines, so they’ll write their own. How did the CDC write guidelines without consulting with the WH? How did the WH not know the CDC was doing it? This whole thing arose because Trump won’t do his job. This reminds Campos of l’affaire Bennet.

    James Bennet — the man then responsible for deciding, ultimately, what does and doesn’t get published on the nation’s most prominent op-ed page — didn’t read Cotton’s little fascistic effusion before the Times ran it!

    Think about this: Cotton — a well-known reactionary bomb thrower, and aspiring GOP presidential candidate, was asked by Bennet to share his thoughts on the protests inspired by George Floyd’s murder. Let me repeat that: Bennet solicited Cotton’s piece, even though Cotton’s views turned out to be, predictably, that the violence of the state should be used to crush dissent and restore “law and order,” and, just as predictably, a lot of people thought it was outrageous that Bennet decided to run such a piece.

    Bennet then didn’t read what Cotton submitted. Doing so would have taken approximately three minutes of James Bennet’s apparently incalculably valuable time.

    All this raises a question that troubles me more and more in these confused and challenging era. To put it as delicately as possible: What exactly do people like Bennet think is their fucking job? And what exactly do these people do all day? (Do not ask this question if you look at the pay scale of the upper administrators at a university and wish to retain your sanity). How is this not like the radiologist just not looking at the film before signing off on the diagnosis? How is this not the partner running the case not even glancing at the brief before signing it? Again, what exactly is your job?

    I mean Donald Trump — I get it. He’s a complete joke of human being, and expecting him to do his job is like expecting him to tell a funny joke or display empathy or broad jump the English Channel.

    But it’s not just Donald Trump. It’s a lot of people in the highest status positions in our society, who apparently can’t be bothered to do the most basic aspects of their jobs — and then are treated like martyrs by other people in high status positions, because they got fired for failing to do the most basic aspects of their jobs, in a country in which every single goddamned day of the year a single mother gets fired from her minimum wage job for showing up seven minutes late for work because the bus got stuck in traffic.

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  112. Teve says:

    @MarkedMan:

    True, Brooks hasn’t written anything impressive in years. Originally hired to be the Reality Based Republican it seemed that he came to despise his own party long before Trump although he never said so out loud – I’m reading between the lines. So he remade himself into the values and decency columnist. But I don’t think he brings any special insight to that type of pontificating. Stephens remains true to his job charter, but also doesn’t have much meaningful to say, mostly just sniping. The fact that neither of them can put out a stellar column says something about their movements.

    “Interesting Opinion on Demand” is a flawed concept. If I were appointed New York Times dictator, I would very rapidly fire all the dedicated opinion columnists. Yes, even the few I like, such as K-Thug. We’d still have an opinion section, some days, but it would be one page or less, usually, and you’d have to submit pieces and they’d only get in if they were actually interesting.

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  113. An Interested Party says:

    I think the signatories would argue the hard left attacking the moderate left is helping Trump.

    Funny you should mention that…some of the attacks on Biden from the hard left do seem to make him look reasonable and far more electable than he otherwise might be…

    I was toying with the idea of guillotines…..

    That could apply to a lot of problems these days and it would be historically appropriate during our current troubles…

    Also: a bunch of elites published this letter in a prestige publication and have had it widely discussed. This undercuts, to me, the notion that these folks, in particular, are suffering from some mighty attack (or even that free speech is under assault from the broader culture).

    That reminds me of how many white people and many Christians complain about how they are being “persecuted” these days…

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  114. An Interested Party says:

    I think the signatories would argue the hard left attacking the moderate left is helping Trump.

    Funny you should mention that…some of the attacks on Biden from the hard left do seem to make him look reasonable by comparison and far more electable than he otherwise might be…

    I was toying with the idea of guillotines…..

    That could apply to a lot of problems these days and it would be historically appropriate during our current troubles…

    Also: a bunch of elites published this letter in a prestige publication and have had it widely discussed. This undercuts, to me, the notion that these folks, in particular, are suffering from some mighty attack (or even that free speech is under assault from the broader culture).

    That reminds me of how many white people and many Christians complain about how they are being “persecuted” these days…

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  115. Kurtz says:

    @Teve:

    “Interesting Opinion on Demand” is a flawed concept.

    Yup.

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  116. Tony says:

    It was okay when the voices getting shut down and canceled on campus and online were expressing conservative opinions not aligned with liberal perspectives; nobody in the virtue-signaling left defended the freedom to think and express thoughts that offended the sensibilities of the left. But a generation indoctrinated in the idea of constant outrage, the need for safe places and trigger warnings, and the complete rejection of alternate opinions, how really can anyone be surprised that this is what happens next. The language of this letter shows such a complete lack of respect for half of this country while trying to appeal through virtual signaling to those who certainly don’t care about, let alone respect, the authors’ lamentations.

    You only started to speak out when they came after you.

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  117. DrDaveT says:

    @gVOR08:

    How did the CDC write guidelines without consulting with the WH? How did the WH not know the CDC was doing it?

    I have to push back on this. This is the wingnut fallacy of thinking that “the Government” is a thing. It isn’t.

    It is perfectly normal for the CDC, or any other agency, to publish guidelines, or promulgate regulations, or otherwise do their job without anyone in the White House being aware it was happening. That’s the whole point of bureaucracy — to do the day-to-day job of governance without the politicians being involved. It is weird — and scary — when the White House does monitor what all of the agencies are doing day by day, and coerces them to ignore the actual law in order to conform to The Temps’ preferences.

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  118. @Mu Yixiao: Thanks for the rundown. I was able to fill in some of the blanks, especially the NYT opinion editor.

    My point being that I am not convinced by their evidence of the acute nature of the situation as described. I am not saying there aren’t examples worthy of discussion, I am just not extremely swayed by this specific letter (or, for the matter, in the backlash against it, which also seems overwrought).

    Fundamentally I wonder as to whether a letter such as this doesn’t have to be specific, lest it become a Rorschach test wherein everyone tries to read in why different people signed it.

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  119. Jon says:

    Interesting/informative twitter thread about it here.

    And as an aside, for some reason I’ve been getting email notifications when *anybody* comments on this thread at all, which has been a fun ride. Over 100 emails so far 🙂

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  120. Catherine says:

    @Crusty Dem:
    I understand that it appears that way but in every sphere I interact with there is the “behind closed doors” conversation that people feel they can no longer have in the public domain. Artists are self censoring like I’ve never experienced in my lifetime and everyone is overthinking the “right way” to say everything that they silence themselves before they try. The damage this is having can not be seen. But it will be seen in an artless world-except for art that toes the line-years down the line. We only see the highly elite that’s been “canceled” BECAUSE they are high profile. And it will take their voices and their high profiles to create the push back needed so creativity can thrive again. We often think this is a case here and there and is it really so bad? Who cares about twitter trolls right? But I’m telling you-the damage is far deeper than that and we should protect our beautiful world for all of its expressions to come through.

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  121. ptfe says:

    I can’t stop thinking about how self-serving this letter is for about half the signers. The examples of “cancelling” are people getting called out (which is to say, online pushback, which is…uh…rather not censorious) for questionable or objectionable behavior.

    It turns out – shock and horror! – that some people might think you’re an asshole. And it turns out that when you’re That D-Bag Who Ripped Trans People, Then Ripped Them Again, Then Doubled Down And Just Kept Going Even Though She Was Given Every Opportunity To STFU, a enough people will think you’re an asshole that it’s hard not to be called an asshole anymore. That’s not “censorship”, it’s g-d life in a society. Are you 6? Have you never interacted with other human beings, been told you’re wrong, and had to face up to that wrongness about…well, anything? Because apparently spelling it out for you isn’t working.

    “It’s unjust!” say the authors. “I can’t believe they would fire an editor just for…(checks notes)… not reading an editorial on his page!” YOUR JOB WAS TO READ IT, YOU ADMITTED YOU DIDN’T READ IT, AND IT CALLED FOR A MILITARY ASSAULT ON PROTESTORS! Christ, if I crapped the bed so hard in my job, I wouldn’t be surprised that someone decided to do a thorough review of all my work – and I’d already be looking for a new position in anticipation.

    The entire thing is elitist trash, the moaning of a class wants to be bowed to by the masses and collect their paychecks, all without consideration that they may have to answer to those very same masses. “As an author I can moralize to you on slavery,” you can almost hear JKR saying, “But you cannot moralize to me on the dignity of a person with a dress and testicles.”

    I legitimately understand when people read this that, on the surface, they think it’s fine. Just, you know, words on a page expressing a vague belief that speech is good and we shouldn’t set out to stifle speech. But, hey whaddya know, speech absolutism very quickly devolves to people yelling the N word out their window at the one black guy on the street. Technically speech? Yeah! But what would any of these authors say about it? Would they accept it because it’s speech? Or would they read the underlying social principle as more telling than the word itself, see it as a non-specific threat, have that stomach-in-throat feeling that comes from seeing something vile? And would they, more importantly, sit down to a quiet tea with that same person and never so much as consider the incident? Equally importantly, were they to enter a discussion with that person, would they stand in solidarity opposing the eroding of free expression, or would they recognize the intent for what it is?

    I’m actually surprised that MR is ok with it. For a guy who went through the whole Trump era where “speech” has become syonymous with “lying like a shitbag for violent supremacy and/or profit”, I would assume he would recognize the context of this letter is rancid. And he would recognize that platforming neo-Nazis (and enabling such by electing a neo-Nazi embracer as president) has emboldened them a lot more than shaming them into hiding ever did.

    The letter is almost content-free, a mush of flavorless goo intended to appear nutritious. But oh god that context makes the whole bowl reek once you get a whiff of the signatories: We are used to being treated better, so we want to be paid, not questioned. Sure, some of the people probably signed thinking “this goo looks fine.” There are many innocuous names (and, perhaps, some who did not actively sign it – which is a whole problem on its own). But a good number put their name to it as a way to pass off workplace harassment as comedy, or defend vile responses to rebuffed DMs, or declare it open for debate whether Brown People Are Just Like That, or justify doxxing a Twitter irritant. It’s insulting in context.

    Whatever the arguments around each particular incident…

    Such bold words, so analytical and precise. Guess they rejected the phrasing “Don’t look into them, just believe that they’re bad.” I’d be more convinced they were on the up-and-up if they could point to actual examples, rather than waving a hand vaguely in the direction of the world and saying, “See, it backs us up!”

    As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes.

    Is someone giving you grief for doing experimental forms, or are you just dabbling in a bit of racism on the side? Is that trifle of transphobia just what you needed to get the old creative juices flowing? Give me a break. You’re not socially ruined by one public mistake, or usually even two or three, but when you’re persistently wrong, derisive, and bigoted, don’t come crawling back with this BS and think you can do the same thing again. The phrase is “live and learn” – maybe you forgot that second part.

    James, by the absolute surface reading, the letter might be a pile of pretty words chucked into an inoffensive package. But by any careful analysis it’s a load of trash heaped into exactly that shape so it would specifically elicit the reaction you’ve provided. The context is about 1000x more relevant than the text in this case, and you’ve missed the mark, professor.

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  122. de stijl says:

    The writers and signers of the letter were trying to assert authority.

    Any who question or challenge them are against “free speech”.

    I reject that entirely.

    Criticism is free speech. A call to boycott is free speech. Trump by his behavior is the cancelliest guy who ever tried to cancel.

    The unstated argument was that the anointed are the arbiters. It is a call to appropriateness when the powerful think they have the power to define what is appropriate and saying so makes it so. This is an on-going negotiation.

    Defining free speech so that it inoculates the powerful from consequence and shames the powerless for the act of speaking up.

    I reject that whole mess.

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  123. David Lorell says:

    Great letter, but it’s weakened by the “Orange Man Bad” appendage, a lazy attempt to inoculate from criticism.

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