From Freddie deBoer: Ending the Charade


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to

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118 Responses

  1. Oscar Gordon says:

    The whole response to that letter takes me back to the days of the Moral Majority.Report

    • North in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Yeah, I’m concerned myself. My only consolation is that the phenomenon of this kind of Social Justic Calvinism still is mostly contained within the internet and especially within twitter. Still, it is disquieting to see it creeping out beyond the bounds of acadamia.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to North says:

        Reason has an anecdote of a Vox writer taking exception to the fact that Matt Y signed it, so that writer wrote to Matt’s boss, and posted the letter they wrote to Matt’s boss on Twitter, and then said, “I don’t want to get Matt in trouble with his boss…”.

        I suppose I should be thankful that social media and Twitter wasn’t a thing back in the 80’s, or Billy Graham and Pat Robertson would have had a field day (but hey, Oral Roberts could have just had a GoFundMe instead of telling everyone God was going to kill him).Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          One of the takes I’ve seen said that when it’s you and me disagreeing, it’s no problem.

          The problem comes in when one of us escalates.

          We see this with “Karen” calling the cops. We see this when we see someone screenshot a tweet and say “Twitter do your thing”.

          (Now, when it comes to someone filming a “Karen” calling the cops and posting the video and saying “Twitter do your thing”, I find myself somewhat conflicted. There’s a lot of crap that needs to be disincentivized here and I don’t have anywhere near a good solution or even how to think about it.)

          But the open letter argued for a handful of points that would have been completely uncontroversial in my youth.

          And now I find myself in a place where the uncontroversial has become controversial.

          A very good response to the piece was put out there by Popehat. Effectively saying that he thought that the original letter had a problem with privileging the first speaker… but then, a few hours later, he tweeted:


        • North in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          But this time, this time, those passionate post-liberal progressive leftists will take up the one ring and they will use it for good Oscar. For GOOD! What could go wrong?Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to North says:

        Here is the problem, a lot of the people who signed the letter have said questionable things on twitter or elsewhere and then gotten heat for them. J.K. Rowling is clearly in a diminished light because of her repeated anti-trans tweets.

        A lot of this letter to quote Ken White tweets thread feels like special of pleading of “how dare you criticize your betters!!!” If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen is the cliche. And many of the writers in this post have received heat for hurtful things they have said or written. Often bigoted things as well.

        No one has called for a mass ban on Harry Potter books or movies or to take away every cent J.K. Rowling has earned. They have criticized her for her anti-trans stance and she decided to stand with people who have also called for reopening libel laws.Report

  2. The world needs more Freddie.Report

  3. North says:

    It was such a delight to find some blog posts from him. Freddie still can write like lightning in a bottle. It is a cosmic trajedy that his personal burdens and demons make this kind of writing and interaction so fraught for him.Report

  4. I tired to leave a comment on Freddie’s blog, but he has canceled all commenters by refusing to host their content. Which is weird, given his alleged horror at cancelation. It’s almost like the letter’s critics – who rightly observed that many of the letter’s signatories, who had gotten used to enjoying safe spaces designed to shield them from criticism, are withering in the social media age when commoners can tell them to pound sand – were exactly right about how utterly disingenuous it really was.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

      So the problem wasn’t what the letter said, it’s that they didn’t believe what the letter said?

      As someone who believes (more or less) with what the letter says, am I allowed to agree with what the letter says or does the fact that we banned someone back in the day mean that I’m not allowed to agree with what the letter says?

      Am I allowed to say that the principle espoused by the letter is a good one worth pursuing, even if the people pursuing it aren’t good at it themselves?Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jaybird says:

        Those signatories have long records. We can look at those careers, or we can take them at their word. We can believe the used-car seller who has a reputation for selling lemons, or we can take him at his word when he swears that this one is good.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

          Well, can *I* agree with the letter?

          Could you give me the list of hoops I have to jump through for you for me to be okay with the ideals espoused in the letter?

          I could dig up threads in which we discussed Salman Rushdie, who also signed the letter. Is that good enough for me to support the letter or do I have to have a struggle session over when we banned one of the commenters in the past?

          How about the PMRC? (Remember the PMRC?) Are we now arguing that they had a point (they just made the mistake of going after 2 Live Crew for being raunchy and not going after them for being misogynists)?

          Are we allowed to support flag burning, now? Or is that something that we should oppose in the same way that we oppose the burning of a Koran or the dunking of a crucifix in urine and taking a picture of it?

          I gotta admit, when I was a kid and people were trying to prevent Last Temptation from being shown in theaters, I saw the offended people as the bad guys. It never occurred to me that I could have just shouted down the people who made the film as being hypocrites.

          Even today, I look at stuff like that and think “man, there’s a big marketplace” rather than “hey, maybe making things dangerous enough to get people to engage in a little prior restraint is a good idea”.

          And so… yeah. I look at the letter and think that it has ideas worth striving for even if we fail while striving for them rather than gatekeeping who is allowed, and who is not allowed, to agree with it based on a standard as loosey-goosey as “hypocrisy”.Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

            Jaybird, why are you cancelling him by continuing to harass him like this? Clearly you don’t actually believe in free speech, otherwise you’d shut up!Report

    • North in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

      Freddie has a lot of personal mental health issues that have mostly driven him from being able to productively engage in opinion writing, exchanges and non-academic writing in general. That he’s posting anything at all is remarkable, that he’s not allowing comments is, if you are aware of that background, utterly unsurprising and quite appropriate.Report

      • Kristin Devine in reply to North says:

        Oh no, didn’t you get the memo? We all have to care passionately and tiptoe around anyone’s mental health issues except for when it’s someone we don’t like, and then it’s game on. Just like it’s ok to call people ugly, fat, racist, homophobic, and slut-shaming names etc when we don’t agree with their politics.

        “the rules for thee, and not for me”Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to North says:

        So, you’re saying there are good reasons not to allow content on platforms, and perhaps we ought to let those platform owners make those decisions without questioning their reasoning for doing so?Report

        • North in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

          Sure there’s good reason for for not allowing content on platforms and we can ague about what they are. I don’t see the salience of that point to the letter in question.
          The response from the lefter flank of our cohorts that I’m seeing to the Harper Letter seems to boil down either yelling that the letter is offensive or scrambling furiously into the motte. Freddie’s right to observe it, whether he allows comments or not.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

          “So, you’re saying”

          Look out for this.

          Whenever you open a comment with “So, you’re saying”, you should see a red flag.

          I don’t know that I have ever written a comment that has opened with “So you’re saying” and successfully summarized my opponent. I don’t know that I have ever seen a comment that opened with that phrase and has successfully summarized the oppositional view.

          I have seen successful summaries, mind… just never one that has opened with “So you’re saying”.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


          “it was an entirely private decision to fire Emmanuel Cafferty, there is no reason to imagine that any criticism or threats against us as his employer resulted from any speech he may have made or that such criticism led to any particular action by us.”Report

    • Oh please. No one owes people comments on their blog any more than a chick has to give a dude her phone number. The principle at play here is not “someone isn’t letting me say whatever I want on their blog, wahhhh.” People have a right to turn off their comments or even pick and choose what comments to allow on their personal blog, just as they have a right to walk away from a conversation or edit a piece before they publish it. That is not suppression of free speech in any way, shape or form.

      The principle at play, and I think you know this, but like to overlook it whenever it is convenient, is this gross and sinister trend in which zealots get people fired from their jobs and blacklisted from their careers permanently over perfectly innocuous statements/projects that happen to politically/morally disagree with the dominant culture, and/or less perfectly innocuous content that serves as a Schelling fence to protect perfectly innocuous statements. This suppression of dissent is happening in fields that NEED to nourish political and moral dissent such as the arts, journalism, science, literature, philosophy, etc and anyone who purports to values those things should stand behind the folks who signed that letter even if we disagree with them personally on any number of things.Report

        • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Michael Siegel says:

          Yes, I am aware of the standard being argued here: that some speech should be allowed, and that other speech shouldn’t be. That is the nature of the debate. Those claiming otherwise though should be honest about that.Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            amazing seeing the Know-Nothing arguments come out when they’re needed

            “you have to understand the CONTEXT, there are OTHER THINGS that OTHER PEOPLE SAID, that’s why we’re CRITICIZING the people who signed the letter”
            “like, what about the context of there being Bury Brigades for the entire internet now”
            “no no no no no no this is ONLY ABOUT SPEECH there’s NOTHING ELSE GOING ON you need to STOP bringing EXTERNAL ISSUES INTO THIS”Report

      • George Turner in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        Powerline: Princeton faculty letter demands end to academic freedom

        Thus, as Zaid Jilani tweeted, the faculty letter “calls for eliminating academic freedom via a committee that would review all publications for racist thought (racist defined by the committee).”

        The current group think is that there must be group think, and only group think, and all who don’t think like the group must be purged. And so ends the age of enlightenment.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

      “I tired to leave a comment on Freddie’s blog, but he has canceled all commenters by refusing to host their content.”

      it’s amazing watching you people get extremely angry and accuse people of Engaging In Bad Faith and then you fucking act like this


      this is yet another one of those liberal things where you insist that thus-and-so behavior needs to be go-to-jail illegal, and it turns out that’s because that’s the only way you can stop yourself doing itReport

    • I tired to leave a comment on Freddie’s blog, but he has canceled all commenters by refusing to host their content. Which is weird, given his alleged horror at cancelation.

      You’re….using two different meanings of “cancel” and are suggesting, by implication, that they’re not different meanings.Report

  5. Chip Daniels says:

    Except…there WAS a specific claim being made in the Harper’s letter.

    Here it is:
    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.

    These are a series of very specific claims being made, not “completely generic endorsement of free speech and open debate”.

    Notice how the claims are not examples of unique one-off incidents; They are being claimed as ongoing, pervasive and typical.
    The letter makes a spectacular claim of a climate of fear and censorship which isn’t supported by much of anything.

    So yeah, it should be completely understandable why it is diagnosed as anti-progressive and anti-left. Were we supposed to interpret the accusations as anything else?Report

  6. DoctorJay says:

    I like Freddie’s piece. This whole fracas makes me wonder if we don’t need to get a lot more sophisticated in our understanding of free speech, though.

    For instance, “free speech” as a slogan has been used to justify doxing and death threats against female videogame critics and writers. (Remember Gamergate?).

    It has been used to “take a dump in General”, which is the phrase used in EVE Online to pollute the general chat channel so badly that nobody, particularly your enemies, can’t use it. You can’t stop us, it’s free speech baby.

    It was used to force the shutdown of my favorite online community, which was the Golden Horde of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog. It wasn’t just about Coates, though. So many of the people there were great people to have a conversation with, without the screaming. They were real people, and we remembered who they were, whether they had kids or a partner, or they were sick or whatever. And then Coates became famous and the jerks came in and smeared feces on the wall so much that they shut the blog down entirely.

    This is the sort of thing that makes people think “free speech doesn’t work”. But free speech never worked that way. You couldn’t go into a Methodist Church and start playing heavy metal while there was a service ongoing, but that’s equivalent to what people do.

    And is the result an overreaction? Yeah, it probably is. Of course, it’s the most natural thing in the world when you think your message is being drowned out to speak more loudly and with more intensity.

    I think we need to recognize virtual space, such as this space, as being more like private property. I think the legal requirements are mostly there, but the social understanding has lagged behind it.

    We need to ask ourselves, “would you say this in someone else’s house? How would you expect them to react if they did?” Virtual spaces need curators, if not moderators. Curation is a human thing, it requires human judgement about what’s important and what isn’t. Which means that Facebook’s (for one) attempt to be “one size fits all” is doomed to failure.

    One size doesn’t fit all. It never has.Report

    • North in reply to DoctorJay says:

      Yeah, but the internet permits anonymity and trolling, so even if we treated online spaces as more private there’s not an easy way to enforce it.Report

    • James K in reply to DoctorJay says:

      I agree, while most of our public discourse is on social media, we won’t be able to fix the problems we have with that discourse.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to DoctorJay says:

      I agree about curation, and in that vein, there is an obligation for people to curate their own spaces.

      I see people complain about FB and Twitter and people attacking them on those platforms, and I have to ask, “Why are you letting people do that?” No one attacks me on FB, because my profile is locked down such that if you are not a friend of mine, you won’t see my posts, and you sure as hell can’t comment on them.

      I think you can do something similar on Twitter, etc. Locking things down so random trolls can’t shit all over your space.

      I expect, if I say something in my own house, that only the people I invite into my house can hear it, and respond to me. Random guy walking down the street can not/will not. But if I say something publicly, outside of my private space…

      I do agree that the anonymity and physical distancing make things worse. Heinlein was not wrong when he said that people are a lot more polite when they might have to back up their words with their lives. His quote is a bit extreme, but there is a truth to it.Report

  7. greginak says:

    There is a nugget of correct rebuttal in Freddie’s post. There is a censorious segment in part of the left. It’s not new; always been there. There is so much left out of the “OMG cancel culture” stuff that makes me wonder.

    A lot of the issues with the Harpers letter and the conservative freak out (myopia) are laid out here by yet another former OT’er, Elizabeth.

    It’s a really good piece and fine companion to Freddie’s.

    I’ll add that while people are going on about CC, a sitting congressman Devin Nunes, has been engaged in a long series of harassing litigation about big companies and anon Twitter’s peeps for mocking him. Nary a peep from the people afraid of cancel culture, yet it is a direct attack on free speech. Not to mention, though i am, the presidents attempt to squash two books about him, which seems anti free speechy.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

      If I say that I am also opposed to Nunes and Trump’s censorship attempts and call them “vile” or whatever, is that sufficient?

      Or is there a list of things that I have to demonstrate opposition to, one by one by one by one, before I’m allowed to point out other bad things too?

      (Can I merely resort to yelling “BOTH SIDES DO IT!” in response to your comment without addressing any of the points you raised, as if yelling “BOTH SIDES DO IT” is an argument in and of itself?)Report

      • Greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

        It would be a more productive talk about speech if it wasn’t aimed only at the people you don’t like. That is what provokes some of the bad reaction to this letter. It ignores lots of things and makes free speech a partisan hammer. E’s article goes through a lot that. There are all sorts of free speech issues that seem to be ignored. So what is it that you care about: free speech or a bad faith hammer.

        Did you see Hat’s tweet today about being For social punishment of a guy making death/rape threats. If all you want is a hammer then have fun. There is a lot more going on though.Report

    • North in reply to greginak says:

      I mean, if we’re talking about Nunes, aren’t we talking about a politician who both had his case summarily tossed out of court and then suffered the Streisand effect which greatly increased the reach of the satire he was trying to court? So he’s effectively a right wing Homer Simpson stepping on a rake. There’s not much there for anyone to peep about except maybe to say “Ha-ha, serves ya right ya fisher!”Report

      • Greginak in reply to North says:

        It cost small people real money to fight it. That seems like a problem.Report

        • North in reply to Greginak says:

          Wasn’t he suing twitter to reveal the identity of the satirist? Who else was involved? Like, did his cow have to show up in court?Report

          • greginak in reply to North says:

            Yeah. The suit was going on for months which is a serious issue for a lone person. He was trying to force the people to divulge their identities for having two mocking accounts. I think he was also suing google or twitter or some other giant corps which was just helping with the down payment on some lawyers third houses. Any free speecher worth their salt should have been pissed about it.

            He looked the fool. But i doubt 10% of the people freaking about cancel culture have heard of him or know what the deal with him is.

            It’s not that “cancel culture” critics are wrong. But the myopia is stunning and plenty of it is just bad faith partisanship.Report

            • North in reply to greginak says:

              That’s bad and I’d agree regulations should be updated to address that but it’s rather independent of the subject the Harper Letters drafters were discussing. We know the right has decayed pretty much through to the roots- the hope is to stop something similar on the left.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to greginak says:

              Personally, I am pissed about it, but the correct remedy for Nunes is federal Anti-SLAPP.Report

              • greginak in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                That would be a good idea. Nunes lawsuit is still a direct attack on people mocking pols. I’m not surprised you are pissed about it. That the “OMG cancel culture” people haven’t made more of an uproar, sadly, doesn’t surprise me.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to greginak says:

                I recall their being an uproar at the time, but attention has shifted, and his lawsuits, while still active, are not in the news cycle.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to North says:

            The cow has hired a lawyer to help defend its right to anonymity. Or so it says, and I have no reason to disbelieve it. So, yes, real expense, real worry about being sued under its own identity. Real chilling effect on further criticism

            Nunes, who lives in California and works in D.C. sued in Virginia, because it doesn’t have the sort of anti-SLAPP suit statutes that would get the case tossed, as it deserves to be.Report

      • Greginak in reply to North says:

        Obtw it was Sideshow Bob stepping on a rake. Just saying.Report

        • North in reply to Greginak says:

          You are 100% correct. I sit corrected. The only defense I can offer is that modern conservatives are considerably more Homer like than Bob like (albeit more malevolent than either).Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to greginak says:

      2nding Greg that Liz’s piece is a great companion to Freddie‘s. That’s coming from someone who sees it more like Freddie does.

      Not that too many important people are tracking how we handle this, but I think just because of the opportunity for a pleasing symmetry (two prominent former OT/League mainstays weighing in with almost perfect balance on a topic du hour), I think it would be good to get a sidebar post like this up featuring Liz’s piece.

      Can I get some 2nds on that?Report

  8. Marchmaine says:

    I’m kinda interested in someone liberalsplaining to me the Ezra Klein/MattY tweet/subtweet/tweet meet?

    I want to believe in nuance, but I’m afraid I lack the liberal social vocabulary to understand it.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Marchmaine says:

      Okay. Here’s my take on it:

      Emily tweeted this:

      Then a bunch of people pointed out that she sure was using a lot of HR terms in there and so she clarified:

      Okay. So there was that argument going on all freakin’ day between the people who saw the letter as something that would have been uninteresting in the academic world in which they were raised and those who saw the hidden claws of HbD, Transphobia, and other bad (harmful! dangerous!) opinions hiding in, if not the paragraphs, in the co-signers.

      Ezra, the guy who created Vox in the first place, tweeted out this:

      Some see a mild rebuke in there. Some do not. (Personally, I agree with the take that there are many kinds of power and the power that comes from espousing a principle is a different kind of power than one that comes from ownership of property… Nietzsche talks about this I’m pretty sure… anyway.)

      MattY tweeted back (in a tweet now deleted) that said “should I reply to this with a concrete example or should I stick to my commitments to you?”

      Kinda passive aggressive but he was in college (at Harvard, even!) before 9/11. Philosophy grads who got the lion’s share of their college in prior to 9/11 spent a lot of time on stuff like “The Enlightenment” and that stuff is like extra-fine glitter and they were swimming in Olympic-sized pools of the stuff. (And then 9/11 happened and blogs were a thing before Twitter was a thing and the importance of being able to write stuff and Speak Truth To Power in the face of the censorious bullies like Dumbya and Bill O’Reilly just reinforced the whole Voltairian thing.)

      Anyway, a handful of people saw MattY’s deleted passive-aggressive tweet and used it as evidence that everything in the letter just had its point proven. So Ezra tweeted back:

      All that to say… my take is that Ezra told everybody to quit airing their dirty laundry. EVERYBODY. Don’t air your dirty laundry! Quit bringing in outsiders to look at our dirty laundry! We will take care of this stuff in-house and we will not act like Karens calling the Cultural Cops to kneel on the necks of our co-workers! QUIT AIRING DIRTY LAUNDRY.

      And everybody is unhappy about that because it looks identically to management picking the other side of the argument.Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:


        “The idea that I would try to get Matt, literally my co-founder and oldest friend in journalism, fired over this letter is risible.”

        Does that make the complaint writer risible by the transitive property of risibility?

        Or, what happens when Power uses its authority to keep things Internal so that the dirty laundry of the Powerful is kept hidden while the less powerful have theirs scattered on the pavement?

        Doesn’t it seem like just a plea to pick better targets?

        I guess that’s where bus seems stuck in the roundabout for me.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Marchmaine says:

          “The bad guys are over there, not over here” is a position that has a long tradition.

          “We agree about 80% of the stuff… that doesn’t make us 20% enemies!” is another.

          But… Calvinism…

          (And on top of everything, there’s a pandemic and all of these conversations are taking place over text and that’s not really good if you’re writing fewer than 4000-5000 words.)Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Brent F says:

          That’s a good tweet from the EIC.

          I don’t know how to read it, though. (I think I can get from “I’m the boss, they’re not” to “QUIT AIRING DIRTY LAUNDRY” without stretching *TOO* much.)Report

          • Brent F in reply to Jaybird says:

            Well, here’s another thing. Emily Van Der Werff is the one who gets the rape and death threats spammed at her when the shitgibbon Eye of Sauron gets put on her for speaking her mind. So maybe different positions are due to different circumstances?Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Brent F says:

              Jesse Singal wasn’t wrong. Emily is fine having a personal, or even a professional issue with MattY for signing that letter. But posting the letter she sent to their boss where she appears to be trying to get MattY in trouble using the common appeal of not feeling safe*.

              I mean, that is shitgibbon catnip (shitgibbon-nip?) right there.

              *There is an strange symmetry in people who are critical of others for justifying acts based upon questionable claims of “not feeling safe”. So much so that IMHO it’s becoming an empty claim.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                A lovely article from the New Yorker talking about the Cops pulling the “I was in fear for my life!” trick.

                Cops use that language deliberately, it seems.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:

                I know they do, and trust me, they were firmly in my mind as the right hand side of that equality.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Singal is awful to trans people. He’s deeply preoccupied with trans women, in kind of unsavory ways. However, he is also very good at playing to the liberal crowd. He comes out looking shiny while his targets come out looking unhinged.

                But note they come across as unhinged because they’re really upset and hurt. That’s just a fact of life. Being a hated minority does involve a certain amount of trauma. It’s easy to exploit that trauma and get people to overreact. It’s easy to play innocent.

                It’s a masterful play. He is so good at it.

                It’s also pretty terrifying.

                Anyway, that is social power. That is how it works.

                You know the cliche about the popular mean girl who stabs everyone in the back, but stays popular because everyone is afraid to cross her. She smiles and masks her malice. That’s Singal when it comes to trans stuff.

                Have you ever read any of his trans articles? There is a reasonable chance that some of you have. He gets published in the Atlantic.

                How many of you have read the rebuttals? I have, of course, but anyone else?

                People who criticize Singal don’t get published in the Atlantic, nor do their articles seem to generate the same level of clicks. Thus the average reader will hear his words, not ours. They won’t understand how dishonest he is. He reports selectively. The selections he makes are unmistakably motivated. Anyone well informed on trans issues can see this clear as day.

                The editors at the Atlantic should do a better job at this. They should be able to see that this is manipulated data designed to hurt. But they don’t see that, or else they do see it but they don’t care. Which is it? Why? Who has power? How does power work?


                Anyway, should any of you want to dig into Singal’s issue with trans women, this is a good place to start:

                From the conclusion of the article:

                Finally, some of you who read this may be disinterested in all the transgender-related issues that permeate this story (i.e., issues that personally impact my life, but not yours nor Singal’s). And you may be inclined to put yourself into Singal’s shoes and say, “Dear lord, this transgender woman is making accusations that could ruin his reputation and livelihood as a writer!” If this is the case for you, I would remind you that I am a writer and this is my livelihood too. I also have a reputation, one which Singal has tried to smear on multiple occasions (via slut-shaming, spreading lies about me, and siccing online mobs upon me). If, after reading all this, your immediate knee-jerk reaction is to believe Singal, and discount me (and Burns, and any other trans woman who reacts to this piece and/or steps forward), then I have a few social psychology books about how prejudice works that I’d be happy to lend you . . .


              • Oscar Gordon in reply to veronica d says:

                1) I will have to take your word that Singal has a bias against trans folk (I don’t understand that bias, TBH, be it Singal or JKR or whoever). I don’t read him enough at Reason or the Atlantic to know one way or another.

                2) How does his bias against trans persons impact his point about a person writing a letter about a co-worker to their boss, using language that suggests they want the boss to take action, and then posting said letter in a public forum and making the claim that they don’t want to get the co-worker in trouble?

                I mean, I can see how his bias will make him more likely to put a trans person on blast, but it doesn’t alter what that person did.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                He’s gotten at least one trans women fired from her job.

                It just grind my gears to see him play there role of the reasonable media guy. He’s not, but he’ll keep that image up. It’s just a personal thing.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to veronica d says:

                Then I appreciate you letting me know to be wary of his bias.Report

  9. LeeEsq says:

    On another blog, another poster noted that the reason Cancel Culture and the Social Twitter Left are treated as big deals in academia and elite journalism is that those are two areas where people on twitter can effect. If you are in medicine, law, business, or something similar than chances are your employers are not going to care that much about voicing certain opinions. As long as you make enough money for them, you are good. Academia and elite journalism might be areas where you can get fired.Report

    • North in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Also we have read this story before. We are, mostly, old enough to remember when the right wing was whirling these exact same thought processes and mentalities around (albeit without the internet to heighten and accelerate it) and we saw what it ended up doing to their ideologies and ideals. Why would any liberal or left winger want to pick up the one ring and let it do the same thing to our ideologies and ideals?
      I am a cis gay man myself so I have a little skin in the game; obviously not as much as some, but I can remember before it was legal to marry my husband. The idea that some performative mobs on the internet could be laying the seeds for gay rights to go down the same path of decay as Christian social strictures have careened is genuinely alarming. I’m middle age now; it’s conceivable that the worm could turn fast enough for me to live to see it all undone.Report

      • InMD in reply to North says:

        At some point I think the old school liberals of the world need to get better at fighting. The vector of the enlightenment has done actual good for the world and humanity. Never fast enough and rarely comprehensively enough, but it racks up real, sustained victory after real, sustained victory over the centuries. The woke/critical theory/whatever people have accomplished nothing and the baileys they want everyone to wander into risk undoing all manner of progress.

        I long for the day I can be part of a winning coalition that doesn’t cater to these simpletons and their aggressive nihilism.Report

        • North in reply to InMD says:

          I…hmm… I don’t think it’s possible to have a political coalition that doesn’t include radicals and with radicals come some bad ideas, like really bad ideas, and being radicals they are, of course, really for them.

          I used to kind of have a beef with radicals- I’ve always been more moderate by inclination so radicals and I have always rubbed each other the wrong way.
          But in addition to, and in some cases in far greater proportion than, the radially bad ideas radicals also sometimes are espousing ideas that are really good and simply ahead of their time. And radicals believe and they push and they struggle like crazy. Any moderate, like me, that says that radicalism had no place in the advancement of, say, gay rights -or any rights- is being ludicrously dishonest or massively historically ignorant. The moderates weren’t most of the ones getting their asses beat on the streets over *insert any cause* rights early on, it was the radicals. Credit where it is due.

          But, credit where it’s due, any radicals who think any given civil rights advancement was accomplished solely on the basis of radical action is just as deluded or dishonest. You need the moderates to bridge the gap to the masses of the populace and, frankly, to weed out the batshit or stupid ideas. Radicals made it possible to be gay, for example, but moderates made it possible to be gay and thrive.

          So, radicalism has to be given its due. But holy agnostic hell when they are going the wrong way, they really can go the wrong way.

          And, now that I think about it, real radicals are probably not who we really are suffering from on the left at this moment in history. The real problem is the five-minute radicals: The keyboard warriors and the bored (or desperately underemployed) academic loons. They’re the ones who’re behind the more idiotic too clever by half shit and especially behind the utterly mindless find-a-witch-and-burn-them dog piles. With an assist from the decaying journalistic institutions the utterly complicit academic admins, the opportunistic cooperation and capitulation of private corporations and, of course, the cynical profit farming megaphone work of the right-wing media boosting them.Report

          • InMD in reply to North says:

            It’s not really radicalism I have a problem with. Someone needs to push the envelope, say the truth even when it’s provocative,
            think outside the box, etc. My beef is with the casual destruction of the tools of advancement and the lack of historical perspective on where these things came from.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to North says:

        “Why would any liberal or left winger want to pick up the one ring and let it do the same thing to our ideologies and ideals?”

        Because they know that they’re too bad at debate to argue down someone saying “trans people are actually mentally-ill pedophiles”, that they don’t have the chops to convince onlookers that a Literal Nazi is a bad guy. So they turn instead to Shutting Them Up, which is something you can do more easily.Report

  10. George Turner says:

    I think the Internet/Twitter angle is a red-herring. The problem is the larger conceptual framework where there are oppressors and victims, collective guilt, and where control of speech is that one ring to rule them all. The other day Legal Insurrection had an interesting post and video about a Zoom meeting of a New York school advisory council. It was vicious, chaotic, and completely dysfunctional.

    The woke left model of human interactions is an abysmal failure because it renders groups of believers unable do anything. If they were riding in a car and it got a flat tire, they couldn’t change the tire because they’d stand around for two hours screaming at each other about social justice and power relations.Report

  11. Chip Daniels says:

    No one, anywhere, is for “free speech”. Never, at any time has anyone ever supported completely unlimited speech.

    What changes is the boundaries; Sometimes its defamation, other times emotional harm, other times fighting words.

    And what changes is what is considered “suppression of speech”; it ranges from being physically beaten or shot (as Elizabeth Picciuto describes) to being fired to simply having to suffer the slings and arrows of caustic Tweets.Report

  12. Jaybird says:

    Erstwhile sister Elizabeth Picciuto has written an essay for Arc Digital:


  13. Brandon Berg says:

    The fallacy here is that she’s equating rioting with speech. The right to freedom of speech and assembly does not entail the right to block an interstate highway, or to break into stores and loot them, or in general to interfere with others’ exercise of their right to use public infrastructure.

    There’s long been a recognition that reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on demonstrations are different from, and more permissible than, content-based speech restrictions. The Harper’s letter is an objection to the latter, while Elizabeth is talking about the former.

    Also, she’s making some claims that aren’t supported by the evidence. For example, she claims that a protestor was shot by a counterprotestor, but the story she links to support this does not say that a suspect or motive has been identified. The recent case of a protestor being killed by a car on I-5 in Seattle seems to have been a simple case of reckless driving, not an ideologically motivated hit, as are insinuates (the driver was black). Other cases involve rioters mobbing the car, and then the driver gassing it to get away before getting Reginald Dennied.

    TL;DR: Rioting is not speech.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I just realized that I mistook an ad break for the end actually hadn’t read the whole thing. The rest is better, though I do have more subtle disagreements.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Here’s a tweet I tweeted back in April:

      (If you want to read the article itself, it’s here.)

      The protesters stopping the train? Not interfering, apparently.
      The people pulling the protesters off of the train? Interfering.

      That’s one heck of a magic trick.

      The problem is that I see how the trick was done but the author of the piece is apparently fooled by the illusion.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      But we have plenty of cases where people who were protesting peacefully were attacked upon by police, don’t we?
      Which is the point that these such cases are far more damaging to speech than an editor being fired, because it was government violence.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        Yes, we do have plenty of cases where people who were protesting peacefully who were attacked by police.

        This is what makes a criticism of “why did you use a bad example instead of a good example?” an especially good criticism.

        But it’s a criticism of the *PIECE*, not a criticism of the *POINT*.

        That said, if I wanted to argue that there were a lot of bad things going on, getting counter-arguments that said “why are you talking about those bad things instead of these bad things?” would be an opportunity to show that there were, in fact, a lot of bad things going on.

        We’ve evolved from “Freedom of Speech” being a principle upheld by the First Amendment to it being something the First Amendment protects citizens from (but, apparently, only from the government).

        And a lot follows from that. Most of it isn’t good.Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

          “We have evolved from “Freedom of Speech” being a principle upheld by the First Amendment…”


          When was this period, exactly?

          When was there a period in which people were free to voice unpopular opinions and not be shamed or shunned or even fired?

          Was it in the 60s when the Smothers Brothers were cancelled, (literally cancelled) for being too political?

          The 00’s when Bill Maher was cancelled (again, literally) for his remarks about 9-11?Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            My environment was a big fan of the whole “Enlightenment” thing growing up. “Censorship” was bad and people like the PMRC were mocked as being censorious “church ladies” (“Karen” had not yet evolved as a term).

            It wasn’t a principle that everybody lived up to, of course. Christians did stuff like argue against Last Temptation and squishy liberals argued that maybe Salman Rushdie didn’t have to write Satanic Verses but, generally, the idea was that Free Speech was an Enlightenment Ideal worth striving for.

            A Voltairian “I May Not Agree With What You Say But I Will Fight To The Death For Your Right To Say It!” was seen as the gold standard that far too few lived up to. I mean, this even extended to stuff like pornography, if you can believe that.

            We even had court cases about the principle. Cohen v. California talked about the right of a guy to wear a jacket that said “Eff The Draft” (no censorship in original!) and Free Speech was the principle that people appealed to in defense of his right to wear it. Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins was a case that established that people could ask for signatures for a petition at the mall even if they weren’t there shopping. Some thought that the question of whether you could appeal to Free Speech on another’s private property was decided by Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner (finding for the private property) but Pruneyard found for the people.

            If you want to say that this principle has not always been successfully upheld, I guess I agree.

            Same for being against Racism, I guess.

            But we don’t pull the “but your parents were racist, you don’t get to not be racist!” crap when it comes to someone who thinks we should be less racist.

            I don’t see why it’s a good argument for why we should abandon the principle of Free Speech.Report

            • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

              The letter in Harper’s asserted two main claims;
              1. There is a rising tide of censoriousness and ;
              2. It is coming mostly from the left;

              Given their vague examples, I disagree that we are in a more censorious age;
              And given the second claim, I argue that what has changed, is who is doing the censoring.

              Your examples are still intact; No Twitter mob is clamoring to overturn Pruneyard. And what is most pertinent, “Speech on another person’s property” is, quite literally, what a Twitter is.

              The worst example they can mention of “cancelling” is the couple of high profile firings. Except even here, this is nothing new or novel. Public figures like magazine editors have always been fired for taking the wrong stance or pissing off the wrong powerful people.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                No one is clamoring to overturn Pruneyard. They *ARE*, however, clamoring to get Pruneyard to apply to Twitter.

                If I find you some examples of lower-level folks being cancelled by the mob, would that accomplish anything? I don’t want to spend some time researching this if you have no problem pivoting to “okay, it happens, but it’s *RARE*” without changing anything else.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

                The problem is, “cancelling” is a meaningless term.

                It covers everything from a sternly worded tweet to physical violence.

                When you use the word, what do you mean by it?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “Physical violence” is a meaningless term.

                It covers everything from a punch to the upper arm to homicide!

                To answer your question, I use the term “cancelling” to cover a general category of things.

                In a nutshell, I’d say that the broadest way to describe “cancellation” it contains two different things. The first is an escalation. To move the discussion from “you and me” to “getting everybody involved”. The second is some form of social sanction. “You should be shunned” is one form of social sanction (see, for example, how cancellations happen in high school circles). “You should be fired!” is another form of social sanction (see, for example, adults).

                I’d say that the second, the part with consequences external to the thing said/act taken, is the more important of the two… but “cancellation”, as I’m using the term, relies on both.

                (I mean, you know when “Karens” call the cops on a group of black people eating in the park? That’s not “cancellation”, but cancellation-adjacent. Taking video of Karen calling the cops and posting it to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? That *IS* cancellation.)

                So if you want precision, when I’m talking about cancellation, I’m talking about a deliberate attempt to both Escalate to bring others into the situation *AND* Sanction the other person (which can cover everything from “we should shun this person!” to “this person should fear for their physical safety!”).Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’d say that the second, the part with consequences external to the thing said/act taken, is the more important of the two… but “cancellation”, as I’m using the term, relies on both.


              • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Cheerfully amended.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

                I think a big part of it is “going after targets who aren’t the person who did something Bad”.

                Like, you yell at Joe, fine, he’s a jerk, everybody knows that.

                Cancel Culture says “Joe’s friends should be confronted, forcefully, in public, and made to answer for why they keep hanging out with Joe. Joe’s employer should be declared Racist for hiring him, and his coworkers should be declared Racist-Accepting for continuing to work there. Joe’s favorite restaurants should have protestors outside them whether he’s there or not, because he likes them so there’s obviously something Racist about them. If Joe has this-or-that philosophical belief, well, clearly that’s something that Racists favor, so anyone else who holds that belief should be mocked and criticized for being Racist. And this should keep going, no matter what Joe says, no matter what these people or places say, until they accept that the only way this will stop is if they cut all ties with Joe, for those who follow those philosophies to repudiate all support for them. Because Racism is Evil, and Total War is the only acceptable response to Evil, and the first thing about Total War is that there’s no innocent bystanders, there’s only Allies and Targets.”Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Oh, one funny thing. You know when cops post youtubes of them getting a coffee cup at Starbucks with “Screw Cops” on it? That’s them trying to do the “cancel” thing.

                Same for the cop complaining about having to wait for an egg sandwich at the local fast food joint. “They made me wait! They were messing with my food! I AM BEING ATTACKED!”

                That’s an attempt to cancel.

                (And I see the potential counter-argument that says “But the two examples you’re giving me were both fake! The cops made that up!” and my answer to that would be something to the effect of “Yeah… that’s true… But it has nothing to do with my definition of cancellation and how I use the term.”)Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

                OK, so now that we’ve got a definition, what evidence is there that this censoriousness is more prevalent today than in previous eras?

                I’m thinking of the pre-Internet era when people chatted in meatspace, and shunning was literal as in “You can’t sit at our table!” or “You will never be invited to our party!”

                Isn’t this a common feature in novels and stories throughout our history?Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:


                Pre-internet, if my local town was unjustly shunning me, I could move to another town and the shunning would likely not follow me.

                These days, there is no escape.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                That’s a very good point.

                Also too, back in the day if a Rock Hudson wanted to keep his personal life and professional life separate, there existed a whole structure of norms and understandings between the studios and the tabloids about what could or couldn’t be printed. They acted as the mediators between the individual and the wider public.

                Today the internet brings a latter day Rock Hudson face to face with his fans without a mediator, but as we see, that intimate relationship can spin out of control very fast.

                Maybe in the end, it isn’t that we are in a more censorious age, but that we don’t have media and cultural gatekeepers to mediate and arbitrate the boundaries of taboo.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                OK, so now that we’ve got a definition, what evidence is there that this censoriousness is more prevalent today than in previous eras?

                Not sure I have the brain power to understand how cops writing stuff on a Starbuck’s coffee cup is a form of canceling, but …

                if canceling is an expression of power to silence folks from expressing unwanted (not even necessarily uncomfortable) ideas, then it probably happens less today than in previous eras when women and blacks were silenced before they even spoke, shamed/scolded/shunned after.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                It was them trying to invoke the cancellation Eye of Sauron.

                But they’re ham-handed and obvious and, wouldn’t you know it, the cameras were on.

                I wouldn’t call it an attempt to silence. It’s an attempt to sanction.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:

                Cops making up offensive writing on coffee cups (or telling tales about getting poisoned by Shake Shack employees) isn’t about silencing or sanction, it’s about sympathy for team blue.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

          This ^ (JB’s point)Report

  14. Jaybird says:

    In an unfortunate development, Emily VanDerWerff has tweeted a long thread in which she talks about how her life has become hell since her open letter explaining that Matt shouldn’t have signed the letter.

    Read the whole thing, but here are the first two tweets:

    An awful situation all around.Report

    • InMD in reply to Jaybird says:

      There’s free speech and then there’s the toxic hellscape that is twitter. Sometimes I think these conversations get screwed up by a conflation of the principle with the medium. What’s unfortunate and IMO has little to do with free speech is an environment that has made participation in awful social media forums a professional requirement in certain industries.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to InMD says:

        This is a very good point.

        A lot of this is really just a tempest in a Twitterpot.

        Even for Ms. Vasn DerWerff, how much of her abuse is serious such as credible threats of physical violence, and how much is just a cascade of mean spirited tweets?

        And how much can we expect public figures to be shielded from, or endure, caustic public comments?

        One of the wonderful things about social media is that it allows fans to feel intimately connected to public figures, but that also means it brings those same figures into intimate contact with people who are hurtful or ugly.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          I had to fight off the urge to tweet that I felt she should reproduce a lot of what she was getting, partly to call them out, bring Twitter’s attention to them, and partly so people get a sense of what people apparently have to live with day in and day out on Twitter.

          But also partly to show us the goods on it. Because she frankly has not been coming off as entirely trustworthy through all of this to me.

          But I managed to get myself simply to say that it’s awful, and no one who signed the letter or is broadly supportive of the concept of the letter wanted her to experience any of that. (Which I am quite confident is true, including of Jesse Singal.)Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

      Two of the signatories of the letter have tweeted criticizing the people engaging in this behavior (though, granted, after Emily tweeted the above):


      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:

        Her complaint about people not coming to her defense kinda requires that people recognize that she is being attacked. It assumes that those people are actually paying attention to her, which assumes a whole helluva lot.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          I mean, it seems so trivially true of me to say that Emily should be able to say what she wants without being attacked for it.

          Of course Emily should be able to say what she wants without being attacked for it.

          It’s why I agree with the letter.

          It’s why I don’t want to trade “Free Speech (even if hypocritical)” for “Accountability Culture”.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:

            She’s totally free to say whatever she wants without being attacked, but yeah, that goes all ways.

            But my point was that if she feels people should come to her defense, the first requirement is for those people to recognize that she is under attack. If you don’t explicitly call for help, you can’t complain that people who have no real obligation to pay attention to you, are not actually paying attention to you.Report

  15. Saul Degraw says:

    There is something strong and worthwhile in the idea of agreeing to disagree with courtesy is very important for democracy and social cohesion. There are times when maybe something like “cancel culture” overreacts to something because it is largely led by young people who are still developing rhetorical skills and end up being more like a sledgehammer than a ball point pen when making a point.

    That being said, this is just a kernel in a letter that seems to be filled with special pleading. The letter is signed by people who are at the top of the writing game. This is a field where even successful and known people can spend years being published again and again and make very little money. The signers are or were very successful both critically and/or financially. There is also Bari Weiss whose entire career seems to be failing upwards and getting rewarded despite phoning it in with cliches and things that would get fact-checked out if she were anything but a New York Times op-ed columnist. As I noted to North above, J.K. Rowling is currently on the outs because of repeated anti-trans tweets and statements. These have caused a blemish to her reputation in the eyes of many people who grew up loving her books. But she kept digging her ditch.

    There is a feeling of special pleading I get when reading this letter. A taste in my mouth that the subtext is “How dare you criticize your betters, you upstart crows!” If the remedy for speech is speech, why did Jesse Signal tried to get Emily VanDerWerff fired for gently calling out Matt Y for signing on to this letter. Why does J.K. Rowling not know how to react to her heatbroken fans except to call them the real fascists and double down?

    I believe in free speech. I have unpopular opinions of my own. I have voiced these opinions and been called out on them here and on LGM. Does it sting? Yeah. Do I react badly? Sometimes. Maybe more often than I should but there is also a paradox to tolerance. You can’t always debate bigots in the dulcet tones of an upper-class British tea party. Some people need to be met with being called out at full force for their bigotry, bad faith tactics, and other issues.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I love the Catch-22 style of argument that’s developing around this.

      If you’re famous and you signed, well, of course you signed, you’re a well-known shit who wants to keep being shitty!
      If you’re not famous and you signed, well, why should we care what you think, nobody knows who you are, and if you keep your head down and don’t act shitty then you won’t get cancelled.
      If you got dragged by a mob and you still have a job, well, why are you complaining? Obviously it didn’t hurt you that much.
      If you didn’t get dragged by a mob, well, why are you complaining? Nothing’s happened to you, right?
      If you got dragged by a mob and it fucked up your life, well, that kind of thing only happens to people who deserve it, so, you’ve got no grounds to complain; you got what you asked for.Report