Glenn Greenwald was cancelled from the Harper's Letter warning about "cancel culture"

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/07/19/glenn-greenwald-was-cancelled.html

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It’s not cancel culture, it’s anti-asshole culture.

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Well, unfortunately there is both. For example, as absurd as it sounds, there actually were folks on twitter attempting to disparage Chomsky as a fraud because his name was on the letter. I imagine if those people had some way to try and hurt him personally (via boycott of his books or whatever), some of them would avail themselves. That’s not being anti-asshole.

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More evidence that this letter was really about a powerful in-group protecting their own privilege.

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There are arseholes, edgelords and provocateurs in nearly every group, but it’s the anti-consequence people who seemed to be the ones with the power to protect their own. That may finally be ending.

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Honest question: how is the group of people who signed the letter an in-group? The only connection between many of them that I can see is they are people with a more or less prominent voice in cultural discourse.

What common power structure do Margaret Atwood, Wynton Marsalis, and Greil Marcus have to defend?

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I want a t-shirt: STOP CANCELLING ME, BRO!

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They are not an in-group. What they have in common is sufficient cultural clout or job stability to survive being called names on blogs.

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I had never heard of this Tom Williams fellow until right before The Letter came out…never read anything of his. I wonder how many of those folks are starting to figure out that they got played by a guy who wants to be a triple-barreled household name? He wants to hear “I wonder what Thomas Chatterton Williams thinks?” about the issues of the day…

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I don’t even know who to begin to answer this. It’s like someone asked what common interests a shark, an octopus, and coral have in defending being wet.

Everyone who signed the letter was someone whose name increased the likelihood that the editors of Harpers would publish an open letter signed by them. They don’t want to be people whose names would make the editors of Harper less likely to publish an open letter signed by them.

It seems they thought that Glenn Greenwald was such a person. What they have in common is precisely the power to do what they did, and what they fear losing is that power.

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Some example of the too hasty and ill-targeted variety:

BTW, Chomsky says:

Link found in the discussion at

https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2020/07/11/blog-about-a-column-about-the-harpers-letter-heres-some-discourse-about-a-discourse-about-what-happens-when-the-discourse-takes-precedence-over-reality/

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One of the best discourses that I’ve heard on the topic lately was on a recent episode of The Gist podcast. The host pointed out that most of the debate over the Harper’s letter has come in the form of competing opinion pieces (such as the ones mentioned above!) but not many actual back-and-forth debates, so he arranged to have one on his blog between one of the signatories of the letter and a prominent writer who disagreed. I thought it was helpful to understand the issues at hand.

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Unfortunately Chomsky is only seeing half of it too, and the other half don’t have voices that can be heard individually.

That other half is my lived experience, transphobia, homophobia, death threats, gaslighting, victim blaming, DARVO. I didn’t get a letter in Harpers though.

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Agreed, I just don’t see any evidence of a common ulterior motive for signing the letter among all the signatories. I think some, like Chomsky, signed without a whole lot of context on the issues surrounding some of the other signatories (e.g. JKR).

Some probably were genuinely responding (albeit from a golden throne of privilege) to the honest observation that public discourse has become ugly, fueled by a culture of personal grievance and at times mob mentality.

Whatever else it is, I just don’t see an organized cabal of elites here trying to maintain a stranglehold on some uniform hegemonic power. Some of the signees, yes for sure.

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They’re all part of the American cultural establishment. You don’t get to sign a letter like that unless you’re a member of the club. Don’t believe me? Write Harper’s asking to be added to the list of signatories on the original on-line post, in alphabetical order with the others.

The privilege that they and others in their group can be arseholes in public without losing their platforms or facing real consequences, even if they’re calling for second-class citizenship or repudiating the existence of certain groups or espousing fascist and bigoted doctrine. As we’ve seen, a lot of people outside the cultural establishment are getting tired of that garbage, so the signatories are worried.

I can go into more detail, but these quotes from two of my comments in the earlier topic will do the job:

America’s cultural elite, at least as represented by the names still on this list, needs to get over its privilege and realise that 99% of Americans have never had a chance to participate in open debate in reputable public forums – frequently because they’ve been barred from them by gatekeepers like the signatories. They might also want to re-acquaint themselves with Popper’s Paradox.

The clubby attitude expressed by the piece not only preserves the “glass floor” for the serial screw-ups and liars they’ve invested themselves in (as prelude to welcoming into the elite), but also enables the presence and tolerance of “missing stairs” in elite circles. I really have to wonder how many of the signatories – including those I admire – at one time or another socialised with the likes of Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein, knowing full well about the open secrets of their “quirks” or “pecadilloes” but choosing to laugh it off as “Harvey being Harvey” or “Jeffrey being Jeffrey”. There is deep, deep dysfunction represented by this open letter.

I’d expect better of him and anyone else who signed a brief (2-minute read) but provocative letter without considering context or inquiring as to exactly who else is signing this letter.

Well, you know how it is, when someone is saying that you have no right to exist or you don’t deserve equal rights or that you’re less intelligent due to an immutable characteristic, you tend to take it personally.

Or perhaps you don’t know how it is.

Which the signatories see as members of the out-group using new media platforms to critique them. Critiques of their peers, you see, are only the province of the in-group.

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Middle of Nowhere, France. One of the last places you can self-eject in a stranger’s home, or even enlist that stranger to talk you through your self-expelling, without being cancelled.

You answered your own question.

Public discourse and has always been ugly. Discourse is a nice-sounding word we use to disguise the fact that people make odious, dishonest arguments all of the time and, historically nearly without much public criticism. The difference now (and one of the unifying threads of these signatories) is that now that nearly everyone has access to a (mostly) equal voice, the people that acted as gatekeepers no longer hold that privileged position exclusively.

In other words:

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Ok, I’ve heard this argument before and I have to say that, while there are plenty of valid reasons to criticize the arguments in the letter, saying that it should be dismissed because of some of the individuals making the arguments are bad people is the weakest form of criticism. Good arguments can come from bad people, and vice versa. And I’ll wager that some of the more liberal writers and thinkers who signed onto it knew exactly what they were doing, whether you agree with it or not.

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Sure, but to sign your name to a document that will live in history is to align yourself with those others’ beliefs. It is quite literally the same as not-actually-nazis marching in formation with actually-explicit-nazis in Charlottesville and claiming that they aren’t in alignment. You are welcome to believe that, but the flag you are marching under thinks otherwise.

Another way to look at it; if your beliefs and statements require clarification that you don’t believe the opposite of what you profess to believe, it’s time to re-examine how you present them.

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Absolutely, never said I didn’t, or that anybody shouldn’t, expect better from him or anybody who signed.

I absolutely agree and sympathize, even if I haven’t experienced the same oppressions or degree thereof. I apologize that my wording didn’t clarify better what I meant by culture of personal grievance. I definitely do not mean it as a way of dismissing the voices of people who are advocating for their civil rights.

And I am in no way defending somebody like JKR, whose views are abhorrent, nor saying she shouldn’t face consequences. Only that there are other signees who I respect and who I don’t believe are engaging in a cynical exercise to consolidate some kind of sociocultural power over others. Are they oblivious of their position, how they come across by signing it, and not suspicious enough of the motives of other signees? Yes, absolutely.

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