A Letter on Justice and Open Debate

PG included this as part of a very long post earlier this month, but decided it deserved a repeat on its own for any who missed the first one or gave up partway through the earlier post.

From Harper’s Magazine:

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 Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a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.

Elliot Ackerman
Saladin Ambar, Rutgers University
Martin Amis
Anne Applebaum
Marie Arana, author
Margaret Atwood
John Banville
Mia Bay, historian
Louis Begley, writer
Roger Berkowitz, Bard College
Paul Berman, writer
Sheri Berman, Barnard College
Reginald Dwayne Betts, poet
Neil Blair, agent
David W. Blight, Yale University
Jennifer Finney Boylan, author
David Bromwich
David Brooks, columnist
Ian Buruma, Bard College
Lea Carpenter
Noam Chomsky, MIT (emeritus)
Nicholas A. Christakis, Yale University
Roger Cohen, writer
Ambassador Frances D. Cook, ret.
Drucilla Cornell, Founder, uBuntu Project
Kamel Daoud
Meghan Daum, writer
Gerald Early, Washington University-St. Louis
Jeffrey Eugenides, writer
Dexter Filkins
Federico Finchelstein, The New School
Caitlin Flanagan
Richard T. Ford, Stanford Law School
Kmele Foster
David Frum, journalist
Francis Fukuyama, Stanford University
Atul Gawande, Harvard University
Todd Gitlin, Columbia University
Kim Ghattas
Malcolm Gladwell
Michelle Goldberg, columnist
Rebecca Goldstein, writer
Anthony Grafton, Princeton University
David Greenberg, Rutgers University
Linda Greenhouse
Rinne B. Groff, playwright
Sarah Haider, activist
Jonathan Haidt, NYU-Stern
Roya Hakakian, writer
Shadi Hamid, Brookings Institution
Jeet Heer, The Nation
Katie Herzog, podcast host
Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College
Adam Hochschild, author
Arlie Russell Hochschild, author
Eva Hoffman, writer
Coleman Hughes, writer/Manhattan Institute
Hussein Ibish, Arab Gulf States Institute
Michael Ignatieff
Zaid Jilani, journalist
Bill T. Jones, New York Live Arts
Wendy Kaminer, writer
Matthew Karp, Princeton University
Garry Kasparov, Renew Democracy Initiative
Daniel Kehlmann, writer
Randall Kennedy
Khaled Khalifa, writer
Parag Khanna, author
Laura Kipnis, Northwestern University
Frances Kissling, Center for Health, Ethics, Social Policy
Enrique Krauze, historian
Anthony Kronman, Yale University
Joy Ladin, Yeshiva University
Nicholas Lemann, Columbia University
Mark Lilla, Columbia University
Susie Linfield, New York University
Damon Linker, writer
Dahlia Lithwick, Slate
Steven Lukes, New York University
John R. MacArthur, publisher, writer
Susan Madrak, writer
Phoebe Maltz Bovy
, writer
Greil Marcus
Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center
Kati Marton, author
Debra Mashek, scholar
Deirdre McCloskey, University of Illinois at Chicago
John McWhorter, Columbia University
Uday Mehta, City University of New York
Andrew Moravcsik, Princeton University
Yascha Mounk, Persuasion
Samuel Moyn, Yale University
Meera Nanda, writer and teacher
Cary Nelson, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Olivia Nuzzi, New York Magazine
Mark Oppenheimer, Yale University
Dael Orlandersmith, writer/performer
George Packer
Nell Irvin Painter, Princeton University (emerita)
Greg Pardlo, Rutgers University – Camden
Orlando Patterson, Harvard University
Steven Pinker, Harvard University
Letty Cottin Pogrebin
Katha Pollitt
, writer
Claire Bond Potter, The New School
Taufiq Rahim
Zia Haider Rahman, writer
Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, University of Wisconsin
Jonathan Rauch, Brookings Institution/The Atlantic
Neil Roberts, political theorist
Melvin Rogers, Brown University
Kat Rosenfield, writer
Loretta J. Ross, Smith College
J.K. Rowling
Salman Rushdie, New York University
Karim Sadjadpour, Carnegie Endowment
Daryl Michael Scott, Howard University
Diana Senechal, teacher and writer
Jennifer Senior, columnist
Judith Shulevitz, writer
Jesse Singal, journalist
Anne-Marie Slaughter
Andrew Solomon, writer
Deborah Solomon, critic and biographer
Allison Stanger, Middlebury College
Paul Starr, American Prospect/Princeton University
Wendell Steavenson, writer
Gloria Steinem, writer and activist
Nadine Strossen, New York Law School
Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., Harvard Law School
Kian Tajbakhsh, Columbia University
Zephyr Teachout, Fordham University
Cynthia Tucker, University of South Alabama
Adaner Usmani, Harvard University
Chloe Valdary
Helen Vendler, Harvard University
Judy B. Walzer
Michael Walzer
Eric K. Washington, historian
Caroline Weber, historian
Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers
Bari Weiss
Sean Wilentz, Princeton University
Garry Wills
Thomas Chatterton Williams, writer
Robert F. Worth, journalist and author
Molly Worthen, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Matthew Yglesias
Emily Yoffe, journalist
Cathy Young, journalist
Fareed Zakaria

Link to the rest at Harper’s Magazine

13 thoughts on “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate”

  1. The WSJ Opinion pages has released their own response to Cancel Culture. It’s paywalled. You might still get through.


    In case not:
    A Note to Readers
    These pages won’t wilt under cancel-culture pressure.

    We’ve been gratified this week by the outpouring of support from readers after some 280 of our Wall Street Journal colleagues signed (and someone leaked) a letter to our publisher criticizing the opinion pages. But the support has often been mixed with concern that perhaps the letter will cause us to change our principles and content. On that point, reassurance is in order.

    In the spirit of collegiality, we won’t respond in kind to the letter signers. Their anxieties aren’t our responsibility in any case. The signers report to the News editors or other parts of the business, and the News and Opinion departments operate with separate staffs and editors. Both report to Publisher Almar Latour. This separation allows us to pursue stories and inform readers with independent judgment.

    It was probably inevitable that the wave of progressive cancel culture would arrive at the Journal, as it has at nearly every other cultural, business, academic and journalistic institution. But we are not the New York Times. Most Journal reporters attempt to cover the news fairly and down the middle, and our opinion pages offer an alternative to the uniform progressive views that dominate nearly all of today’s media.

    As long as our proprietors allow us the privilege to do so, the opinion pages will continue to publish contributors who speak their minds within the tradition of vigorous, reasoned discourse. And these columns will continue to promote the principles of free people and free markets, which are more important than ever in what is a culture of growing progressive conformity and intolerance.

    The WSJ opinion pages may not be wilting but the rest of the staff apparently has.

  2. Oh, I had a profound insight about this WOKE nonsense, and how to vaccinate yourself from falling into guilt when the WOKE try to shame you for being part of the White Power elite.

    – The vast insight I had was the need to embrace “ethnic slurs” as a vaccine against “wokeness”.

    List of ethnic slurs

    Think about it:

    – Right-Wing nuts may not say the ethnic slurs out loud anymore in public, but they know all of them, and they are thus safe from this nonsense.

    – Where the guilt ridden Liberals condemn themselves constantly if they even think an ethnic slur, thus they are prime candidates for being brainwashed and manipulated into spewing the WOKE nonsense.

    – You don’t need to be a bigot or racist to know and understand the ethnic slurs.

    – Being able to see that not everything breaks down into Black or White helps to disrupt the WOKE reprogramming nonsense.

    About White Fragility:

    Look at this video by Robin DiAngelo. She wrote the book White Fragility. She also makes a good living as a consultant who is paid to show up and insult people.

    Coming Together Speaker Series: Dr. Robin DiAngelo

    – This was the lecture that she did at Evergreen College leading up to the melt down. This will give you an idea of the WOKE garbage that she spews.

    She calls herself “White”. She is not. She’s of Italian descent, which makes her a Dago, a Greaser, a Guinea, a Wop. Which makes her a con artist when she self-identifies as “White”.

    Robin DiAngelo

    She is a “Troll”. She is paid to disrupt society, tear down society, simply to make money. The old term would be “Con-man”, “Flim Flam artist”. “Snake-oil salesman”. There is a long tradition in Western society of Trolls like her. I look at that as a self-destruct mechanism built into Western society.

    – Just as a cancer cell fools the immune system to let itself grow uncontrollably.

    Where “polite” society exist, you have Trolls like her manipulating that politeness to gain power and money.

    This is “for” the issue of:

    ‘White Fragility’ Is Everywhere. But Does Antiracism Training Work?

    This is “against” the issue of:

    On “White Fragility”

    How did I personally come to this insight?

    – You see, I’m not White, I’m Welsh.

    We are the native people of the English Isles, the aborigines, the indigenous people.

    Twenty thousand years ago when the ice pulled back from the last ice age, my people were there. Soon after that the White Tribes started invading. The White Tribes that have bedeviled Blacks, etc…, over the past few hundred years, have bedeviled my people for twenty thousand years, so I am always confused when some obvious WOKE racists calls me “White”.

    My grandfather came to America from Wales in 1888, when he was 12 years old. He was in his 40s when my dad was born. Dad was 35 when I was born, so our generations are spread out more than most.

    When I fill out forms and they ask my “race” I always check “other” and put “Welsh” in the blank space. (That has created some interesting looks from the judge and lawyers when I show up for jury duty. HA!)

    I have an old dictionary from a century ago. The word “Welshman” means, “The Stranger”.

    Think about it:

    – The White Tribes invaded “our” land, and called us, “The Stranger.”

    The White Tribes use the ethnic slur of “taffy” for my people. There’s even a derogatory nursery rhyme about us.

    Taffy was a Welshman

    Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief;
    Taffy came to my house and stole a piece of beef;
    I went to Taffy’s house, Taffy wasn’t in;
    I jumped upon his Sunday hat and poked it with a pin.

    Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a sham;
    Taffy came to my house and stole a piece of lamb;
    I went to Taffy’s house, Taffy was away,
    I stuffed his socks with sawdust and filled his shoes with clay.

    Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a cheat,
    Taffy came to my house, and stole a piece of meat;
    I went to Taffy’s house, Taffy was not there,
    I hung his coat and trousers to roast before a fire.

    – All I have to do is mention the word “taffy” and a White person will instantly say the entire nursery rhyme.

    – If you know this nursery rhyme, then the odds are great that you are probably “White”.

    What’s interesting is “taffy” is simply the way you say the name “Dafydd”(David), just as you call a Russian “Ivan” which is simply the name “John”.

    Twenty thousand years is a long history of brutal oppression by the White Tribes toward my people. They started with us first and goose stepped their way across the planet ever since. The White Tribes have always used the tactic of “divide and conquer”. They do not want the various ethic groups to join together and push the White Tribes into the sea.

    I have a dear friend who is White. I don’t hold it against him. But when he gets upitty, and starts trying to goose step, I slam him down and remind him that their day is done, and it is now our time to thrive.

    This is an interesting hagiography about Wales.

    The Story of Wales: The Makings of Wales (1 of 5)

    • Every tribe has it’s tales of woe.
      Every tribe starts history when tbey were wronged and conveniently forget when they were the goose steppers.

      Bin Ladin used to pine over the loss of Al Andaluz in the 15th century, carefully ignoring when his tribal hordes swept over the christian realms of the levant, North Africa, and especially the Goth kingdoms of Iberia. Of course, the Goths trekked from the Asian steppes, through the Roman Empire, and took over the Roman provinces that had been taken from tbe celt-iberians.

      Tribe displaces tribe, as ever, since the cro-magnons displaced the Neanderthals, Denisovans, and the lost breed of homo so gone only echoes of their genome remain. Barbarians move in and subsume or erase what came before, rework their world to their comfort, until the next wave of barbarians pour in. An endless dance.

      Only one tribe has grown to prominence by purposefully defining themselves by ideas rather than land or genes. By aspiring to be defined by more than dirt of blood. And now the barbarians of the new age bring back the old game.

      They would be well advised to remember that the land of the free isn’t just about ideas and sensitivity but sacrosanct amendments, the first and second foremost.

      Nothing good is coming; from Russian, China, or wokeness.

      Are you familiar with this, dated but still relevant book?


      Never mind the predictions; the book isn’t about predictions but about a way to look at the world, about strategic imperatives and how they drive the tribes of humanity. The Woke have their strategic imperatives but so do the melanin-deprived.

      And actions breed reactions.

      Ponder that.

      • That’s in my to-be-read pile. It looks like I bought it in 2011. Yikes! I need to read that.

        I’ve got a box of books that I’ve been building up to provide background for my stuff when I’m ready to do my The Passing Sequence. It’s astonishing how far back in time that the same series of conflicts that started in England continued on in America, and still drives the nonsense today.

        – The same people are fighting the same wars over the millennia.

        You kept mentioning the HonorVerse series and I remembered that I bought At All Costs in 2005 — in hardback with the CD containing all of his books — and didn’t read them because in 2005 there were no valid ereaders. Using Calibre I was able to make epub files for my iPad. I just read through the HonorVerse and now opened At All Costs, and they are astonishing. The way he shows each side of the conflict, without “judging”, letting the Reader see how each side genuinely “believes” what they believe. That opens up The Passing Sequence for me, because I could not see how to write the nonsense in a way that made sense.

        – I now have solid examples of how the “villains” can be so brain dead, so wrong in what they think, without having it sound gratuitous or fake.

        The monsters that I see finally make sense to me. Billions dead, and I understand why they think their acts were justified, in their own minds.

        Now that I can “embrace nonsense” I actually see how to do the Sequence.


        • Life is complicated. It takes a really good writer to replicate that kind of complexity. Prime Weber can be very good (infodumps aside) and subtle. I’m still hoping on a story about Admiral Truman of the blond coterie. The hints are tantalizing.
          What I most appreciate is he writes of conflicting agendas, not heroes or villains. How the characters respond to their situations is what sorts them out as either. In that, he and Friedman deal with similar themes; one in fiction, one with reality.

          The other book I refer to from time to time, THE SHIELD OF ACHILLES looks at the big picture of nations and their evolution. And it too intersects with the HONORVERSE and its Epochal War.

          Weber is a historian and it shows.
          (Just be…careful… of his books outside BAEN. They’re readable but the pacing… Not his best.)

          Have fun.
          (And good luck with your Sequence. I’ll make a note to watch for it in a couple of…weeks? 😉 )

          • I miss Prime Weber. Lately he’s constantly slewing into the weeds and getting bogged down there. He’s one of the *only* SF/F writers who’s ever believably portrayed religion, but it’s getting harder to recommend his books because they’re turning into horribly paced quasi-wikipedia dumps with weird and abrupt/unsatisfying endings. -_-

            • He’s gotten “too big to edit”, alas.
              (And somebody needs to sit him down and tell him to trust his readers. Not every single development in one book needs to be revisited in the next.)

              Still, while the latest Honorverse books are mostly examples of trying to do too much at once, the SAFEHOLD books are just slogs. (I gave up on those even before the conspiracy led me to ignore everything from the BPHs.) Sometimes I think he’s forgotten why SAFEHOLD exists in the first place.

              The Hoborverse, he really should’ve followed his original, generation saga blueprint. Even if it meant killing Honor instead of McKeon. Let others go on the death rides. Ignore the fans (expected) howling and stick to his guns.

              He himself recognized he need to scale down when he started the SAGANAMI saga…and then those got sucked in to the monster of the bigger conspiracy. (sigh)

              Hopefully now that he’s plateaued the Onion Saga he can get back to the smaller side stories in Silesia and the other fringe territories. And he’s primed so many different characters for leading roles that deserve better than the odd chapter here and there.

              One can only hope.

          • What I most appreciate is he writes of conflicting agendas, not heroes or villains. How the characters respond to their situations is what sorts them out as either.

            In most stories there would only be one “villain”. In Weber there are many different groups of “villains”, each one acting in what they believe reality to be. It took reading the first ten books before I started seeing the point you made:

            – “conflicting agendas, not heroes or villains”

            In the latest Predator movie, and in Marvel’s Venom, the motivating reason the “villain” had was that the Earth would be “uninhabitable in a generation.” That to me of course is “nonsense” so I simply glossed over what they were saying, because they were the “villain” of the piece.

            – That was my mistake.

            It’s like when people get all rhapsodic about the Mad Max movies, I would call the movies “Romantic Notions” to gently chide people away from believing that “nonsense”. I can take apart Mad Max so easily, because it’s filled with so much “nonsense”.

            The point I was missing, until lately, was:

            – That people actually believe that “nonsense” and are acting on what they believe.

            It’s easy to write a simple story of Heroes and Villains, good guys and bad guys.

            Weber has pushed the limit on how many incommensurable viewpoints that you can put into a novel without confusion.

            These are the kind of problems(stories) that exist:

            – Simple, complex, wicked, and super wicked

            Wicked problem

            “Intellectually” I could see other people’s viewpoint, no matter how much “nonsense” that it was. It’s only lately that I saw that my use of the word “nonsense” was crippling my ability to go that next step farther and do something like what Weber has. I need to “embrace nonsense” if I want to write wicked or even super wicked stories.

            – Someone like Modesitt would break the problem up and keep each part “simple”, showing the viewpoint of one “Hero” and one “Villain”. He would do that across many books, so that the Reader would assemble the concepts across many books rather in the same book.

            – John Barnes in his Daybreak Series was almost as complex as Weber. The story only fell apart when it turns out that a Berserker installation on the Moon was the one destabilizing society on Earth so that they would wipe themselves out.

            – Suzanne Collins in the Hunger Games Trilogy told one story, now with the fourth book she is taking the Reader into how things started. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes takes the story where the Reader does not want to go. Humanizing Snow, and justifying the games.

            This all comes back to what I saw the other day about “Plato’s Cave”. I realized that there are many “caves” and the conflict comes in when each of those incommensurable viewpoints goes to war with the other — each one sure that they are in the “right”.

            For my The Passing Sequence, I will need to spill the story across many books, each showing one event as the world devours itself, and let the Reader put the whole story together.

            (And somebody needs to sit him down and tell him to trust his readers. Not every single development in one book needs to be revisited in the next.)

            I need to do what you mention above, instead of building a single Jenga tower that is always going to collapse, I need to lay the same pieces out horizontally in interesting patterns, thus making the whole story “super wicked” to the Reader.

            – Same number of pieces, without the stress of avoiding the inevitable collapse.

            Movies mentioned:

            The Predator | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX

            VENOM – Official Trailer (HD)

            Mad Max: Fury Road – Official Main Trailer [HD]

    • But when he gets upitty, and starts trying to goose step, I slam him down and remind him that their day is done, and it is now our time to thrive.

      Make an appointment.

  3. DarkHorse 33rd, a story insight and a soup recipe.

    Things are getting real for the DarkHorse channel. They are clearly frazzled. The concept they saw of all this being a Ponzi scheme is dead on.

    Bret and Heather 33rd DarkHorse Podcast Livestream: Ponzi Memes & Tyranny of the Minority

    These are the two articles they mentioned.

    The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority

    To unite the country, we need honesty and courage

    This all ties in to my latest WIP. I’m writing about Neverwas, and how the Entity draws in the attention of people so that they can feed the Entity. Think Narnia, Neverland, Silent Hill, etc…. Entities like this feed on our “attention”, the more intense the better. The intent is to have the intensity rise until a singularity consumes the people. This is a classic theme that goes back centuries.

    – The process that is going on in Portland, is the same process that is going on in my WIP, and is the same as when I cook soups.

    I’m in the process of making the first of four batches of soup to freeze, so I just finished browning the meat in the big four quart slow cooker, added all the veggies and stuff. It will take about an hour for it to come to a simmer, then I will let it simmer an hour. Then take it off the heat, Let it cool, then put it in the refrigerator all night to chill down, then break it up into one cup containers to then keep in the freezer.

    – Each soup is cooked with as little water as needed so I can freeze it. Think Campbells condensed soup. No point in freezing water when I can add more when I cook the meal.

    – Each cup is a serving that I can either have as soup or build on to make pasta/potato/rice as needed. It is the flavor ingredient for the pasta/potato/rice dish.

    Using a four quart slow cooker.
    It is a rectangular covered pan, sitting on an electric cooking element like a griddle.

    Recipe for 3-Bean soup:

    1 pound ground hot Italian sausage
    (Brown in the cooker, then crumble, before adding the other stuff.)
    1 can(15 oz) three-bean salad, pickle juice and all
    The pickle juice from a 16oz jar of pickled beets
    (I love pickled beets, and I save the pickle juice for cooking. Do not discard the juice, it is great for cooking.)
    1 can(10 oz) Ro-Tel
    1 8oz container of sour cream
    (I find that sour cream is an easy way to make a “cream” soup.)
    1 bell pepper
    salt, ground pepper, diced dried onion

    (Use only enough water to rinse out the containers, maybe 10 oz.)

    When the soup has chilled overnight, you will see that the fats from the meat have made a layer on top of the soup. Do not remove that fat! Yikes! That is where all the flavor is. Just break up the fat into chunks and mix it in. There should be chunks of fat in each container that you freeze.

    This will make 8 to 10 one cup containers.
    Don’t overfill the container or it may burst when it freezes.

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