Tuesday, July 07, 2020


Your right-wing relatives believe that if we get our way -- and by "we" they mean everyone from the most moderate Democrat to the angriest Autonomous Zone dweller -- we will brutally suppress all speech and thought that doesn't fit into our ever-narrowing definition of the correct and the tolerable. They think this reign of terror will truly begin the night Joe Biden is declared the presidential winner, because he's either a secret radical or a useful idiot of us liberal fascists. Or maybe they think he's terrified of us because of the mercilessness with which we enforce unanimity of thought.

Meanwhile, in the real world, here are the great public thinkers on our side:
J.K. Rowling, Fareed Zakaria, Wynton Marsalis, Gloria Steinem and Margaret Atwood are some of the 150 intellectuals who have signed a public letter decrying the rising “intolerance of opposing views.”

Published in Harper’s on Tuesday, the signees collectively wrote that the “needed reckoning” regarding racial and social justice “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.”

“More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms,” the letter continued. “Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a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.”
Noam Chomsky! Dahlia Lithwick! Michelle Goldberg! Matthew Yglesias! Zaid Jilani! Randall Kennedy! Paul Berman! Making common cause with the likes of Bari Weiss! David Brooks! David Frum! Caitlin Flanagan! What's going on here?

What's going on is that despite what Tucker Carlson may have told your relatives about the enforced unanimity of thought on the left, we're really not very good at thought policing. It happens up to a certain point, then we start bickering among ourselves, because bickering among ourselves is just what people to the left of center do. Your right-wing relatives think there's no ideological difference between moderates and Marxists, or anarchists and New York Times op-ed columnists. But many people along that continuum never agree with others along it, and the rest of us struggle to unite even temporarily. (Among other things, thatt's why we lost elections in 2016, 2000, and 1968.)

Whatever you think of this letter, you can use it to assure the Fox fans in your family that we'll never send them to gulags, because even if we thought about doing that, we'd probably be too busy fighting one another to get around to it.

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