J.K. Rowling, under fire in frequent weeks for airing her transphobic views on social media, has joined dozens of other mostly writers and academics in an open letter denouncing (without naming it as such) “cancel culture.”
Margaret Atwood, Wynton Marsalis, Salman Rushdie, Jennifer Finney Boylan, Malcolm Gladwell, and Jeffrey Eugenides are among those who signed.
The “Letter on Justice and Open Debate” was published in Harpers magazine, and reads in part:
“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 Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a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.”
“This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time,” it continues. “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.”