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    GRG55's Avatar
    GRG55 is online now iTulip High Commissioner, Select Premium Member, Canada and Persian Gulf
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    May 2007

    Default The Harper's Letters

    No doubt most of you have heard about the letter published in Harper's Magazine, signed by about 150 prominent writers, artists, academics and other luminaries. Among them Salman Rushdie, Noam Chomsky, musician Wynton Marsalis, Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, journalist Anne Applebaum and the ever (un?)popular J. K. Rowling.

    As with most of our monoculture intellectual class, one would be hard pressed to find any on the list that might in any way consider themselves "right wing", "conservative" or "Republican". In fact the letter denounces President Trump, specifically:

    "...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 letter goes on to decry the weakening of

    "...our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological 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 Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a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..."

    A link to the original letter, an interesting read, here:

    A file copy of the letter attached.

    It is what happened next that I find interesting. The most spirited response to the original letter has come not from the right wingers "threatening democracy", but those others on the intellectual left that make the case they remain marginalized.

    A link to the response letter, also an interesting read, here:

    A file copy of the response letter is also attached.

    If I have a criticism of the response letter, it is that it perhaps spends a bit too much effort concerning itself with the signatories of the original letter. One of the signatories to the original letter, Kerri Greenidge, signed the rebuttal, but only after she withdrew her name from the first letter as she objected to being associated with J. K. Rowling. But the response does attempt to provide some point-by-point counter to the contents.

    It concludes thus:

    "...Under the guise of free speech and free exchange of ideas, the letter appears to be asking for unrestricted freedom to espouse their points of view free from consequence or criticism. There are only so many outlets, and while these individuals have the ability to write in them, they have no intention of sharing that space or acknowledging their role in perpetuating a culture of fear and silence among writers who, for the most part, do not look like the majority of the signatories. When they demand debates, it is on their terms, on their turf.

    The signatories call for a refusal of “any false choice between justice and freedom.” It seems at best obtuse and inappropriate, and at worst actively racist, to mention the ongoing protests calling for policing reform and abolition and then proceed to argue that it is the signatories who are “paying the price in greater risk aversion.” It’s particularly insulting that they’ve chosen now, a time marked by, as they describe, “powerful protests for racial and social justice,” to detract from the public conversation about who gets to have a platform.

    It is impossible to see how these signatories are contributing to “the most vital causes of our time” during this moment of widespread reckoning with oppressive social systems. Their letter seeks to uphold a “stifling atmosphere” and prioritizes signal-blasting their discomfort in the face of valid criticism. The intellectual freedom of cis white intellectuals has never been under threat en masse, especially when compared to how writers from marginalized groups have been treated for generations. In fact, they have never faced serious consequences — only momentary discomfort."

    Trying to understand what is going on in a world that seems increasingly chaotic is challenging. At least this was an attempt at a conversation.
    Food for thought.
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    Last edited by GRG55; 07-13-20 at 12:24 AM.

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