Around a week ago I linked to Harper’s Magazine’s Letter On Justice and Open Debate. At the time I thought of it as an almost overtly non-controversial attempt to highlight our growing inability to talk openly and fairly with each other. The letter is carefully peppered with references to the dangers fo right-wing ideology and the demagoguery of Donald Trump in order to signal which side of the debate the writers were on so I presumed there would be little controversy.
Clearly it was naive of me to be so optimistic. Within hours a fierce backlash had erupted on Twitter, not so much because of the content of the letter, but because of some of the people who had signed it. The focus was, and apparently continues to be, on the fact that disagreeing with someone on trans issues say, means that it’s wrong to agree with them on free speech (obviously we should only consider the opinions of those who have never been wrong).
It’s as if those who object to the Harper’s letter simply can’t wrap their heads around the idea that the wealthy and prestigious signatories, who indeed are in no danger of being fired or de-platformed, signed this letter precisely because their status allows them to speak up on behalf of those whose jobs are less secure and whose platforms are less established.
Those who have chosen to stand behind a message of free speech have not, as the counter letter claims, “reinforced the actions and beliefs of its most prominent signatories.” Whatever flaws it may have, the Harper’s letter seems to be a sincere plea for people to be able to express their views without having to fear for their livelihoods. The fact that a number of the signatories of this counter letter chose not to do so anonymously, suggests that they may have a point.