Harper Magazine published a letter signed by approximately 150 writers and academics that denounced “cancel culture”. The letter included prominent names like Margaret Atwood, J.K. Rowling, Martin Amis, Noam Chomsky, Salman Rushdie, and Fareed Zakaria among many others. Jasmine Razeghi writes about what the letter reveals about “cancel culture”.
The beginning of the letter penned by the mass of prominent names in academia and writing reads as follows, “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.” It argues that the growing intolerance of flawed figures neglects a once normalized environment for discussion.
The letter slammed the President, stating “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.” The writers argue the plea for denouncing “cancel culture” is necessary in order to defeat Trump this November.
When celebrities or prominent figures are “canceled”, arguably that is a tool used in order to support the Trump presidency. It presents no opportunity for correction. The consequences of being “canceled” are not easily reversible.
A list of examples of instances where people have been “canceled” were included in the letter, “Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a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 many individuals who signed the letter aimed to maintain an accepting environment for flawed behavior. Rather than calling these instances of wrongfulness excusable, they have labeled the consequences that follow these mistakes as “disproportionate punishments.” Those who signed the letter have not dismissed these mistakes, but instead, ask for appropriate reform rather than punitive damages to their careers.
“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” the letter stated. This statement could be a nudge to censorship and the stripping of freedom to believe in something other than the status quo.
Without the ability to correct themselves or converse with others, public figures that make mistakes or inch away from popular belief have no room for growth or redemption. The letter states, “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.” It presents a plea for the opportunity to engage in self-improvement, as the absence of such an opportunity is actively harmful.
The writers propose a solution to those who do have “bad ideas”. They write, “the way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.” However, how far can an argument go? What solution do they propose for someone who refuses to correct their mistakes?
The writers and academics that signed this letter in addition to other celebrities that agree with the denouncement of “cancel culture” argued for the right to be flawed beings, but forgivable. However, forgiveness is not a demand, but it is something people can earn. These individuals the letter refers to should own up to their mistakes and learn in addition to this plea for “open debate”.
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