After almost being burned alive for saying that “trans women” are biologically male, JK Rowling has doubled down on her belief that being a woman is more than just claiming to be a woman, and has now joined 150 celebrated authors in an attempt to defend whatever free speech is left on the internet.
These people should have publicly defended the right of the Daily Stormer to say mean things online when this “cancel culture” thing started. Now the censorship machinery is well oiled and it will be totally impossible to stop.
But at least they’re trying.
150 celebrated authors, academics and journalists including Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and Noam Chomsky have signed a letter slamming ‘cancel culture’ after JK Rowling was attacked for speaking out about trans women.
Ms Rowling has also backed the movement spearheaded by Pulitzer-prize winning writer Anne Applebaum who warned that ‘Twitter mobs’ including Donald Trump were placing ‘very important restraints on freedom of speech’.
She told the BBC today: ‘There are a lot of writers, artists and journalists who are afraid of approaching certain subjects, afraid of crossing lines or even lacking sufficient zeal for particular subjects because they’re afraid of their peers.’
Margaret Atwood, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, has also added her name despite publicly disagreeing with the Harry Potter author and the letter is signed by household names from the left and right-wings of the political spectrum who have united around the cause.
The letter, published in Harper’s calls for: ‘The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted’ and demands that they want to ‘uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter speech from all quarters.’ It later adds: ‘It is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.’
Anne Applebaum has also signed the letter, she told BBC Radio Four today: ‘We’re worried about pressures that come at the moment from both the right and the left.
‘In the United States we have a President who denounces by names the owners of newspapers and seeks to restrain them and seeks to actually use tools of government to stop them.
‘At the same time we have the phenomenon of social media panics and Twitter mobs that seek to silence people who veer from one orthodoxy or another. These are both very important restraints on freedoms of speech and also on people’s sense of risk aversion’.
The journalist says the letter’s purpose is to ‘put some spine’ into universities and other institutions who ‘have become afraid of Twitter mobs’.
She added: ‘It wouldn’t hurt younger people to go back and listen to arguments that were made 20 and 30 years ago in order to understand some of the context and some of the discomfort that people feel now.’
That may be the grossest alternate reality statement not about coronavirus or Black Lives Matter that I’ve read, so far, this year.
The idea that Trump is somehow a threat to free speech, when virtually all of his supporters are banned from social media and companies like Twitter openly censor him, is really beyond preposterous.
Margaret Atwood voiced her support for the trans community on Monday, tweeting: ‘Biology doesn’t deal in sealed Either/Or compartments. We’re all part of a flowing Bell curve. Respect that! Rejoice in Nature’s infinite variety!‘
Both authors, joined by the likes of Salman Rushdie, who was accused of blasphemy by the some members of the Muslim faith when his book The Satanic Verses was published in 1988, have supported an open letter published in Harper’s Magazine.
The letter opens by praising a ‘moment of trial’ cultural institutions face trial’ in the midst of mass protests for racial and social justice, but warns open debate risks being weakened.
It reads: ‘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.’
It goes on to say: ‘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.
‘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.’
These authors are obviously just trying to save their own skin now that the jig is up and the mob is out for them, but it may be too late for that. This censorship thing has been ramping up for years, and people have come to think it natural for these internet platforms to ban people for expressing thoughts that could offend what’s perceived as a minority or protected group.
People didn’t do anything when all of their rights were taken away because of the flu, and they won’t do anything when the internet ban hammer shatters, right before their eyes, whatever freedom they thought they had — and they certainly won’t do anything to defend people whose net worth was, at some point, a billion dollars.