It is dangerous to speak your mind today.
Not because you might be a racist, or a sexist or a homophobe or transphobic, or indeed, all those things and more but because you might appear to be one.
No matter if you have worked all your life as a social justice warrior, if you step out of line and fail to repeat the approved narrative, nothing but the approved narrative and all the parts of the approved narrative, you too could end up cancelled.
The end of Free Speech as we know it is terrifying. We’ve seen it shouted down at Universities around the western world. People’s reputations ruined and fired from their positions because they “liked” the wrong Tweet.
Let’s take a look at a column by Nick Cohen of the Observer, a Sunday title which is the stable mate to the Guardian. Both are renowned Left leaning titles, much more to the Left, than say, the Daily Mail, which is assuredly to the Right, for example.
Cohen is a British journalist, author and political commentator. He is a columnist for The Observer, a blogger for The Spectator and a writer for Standpoint magazine so I was quite surprise to find his take lined up with mine on this issue of the Totalitarian Left vs the Authoritarian Right.
That’s because The Guardian publishes columns by writers who think Climate Change is the most pressing issue in the world and that to tame it we must stop eating meat, convert to a 100% plant diet because Climate Change is inextricably linked to the Covid19 virus and Climae Change. In fact, says one of their writers, Covid19 is caused by Climate Change. Another demands we stop 90% of commercial, shut down all fossil fuel consumption, close retail stores and switched to a central warehouse model with delivery, much like Amazon on steroids because driving to the shops is killing our planet.
So, again,it was with some surprise that I stumbled on Nick Cohen’s most sensible column which you can read here in The Observer.
Here’s an except because I want to bring in some other writers’ thoughts on this issue, which as a writer myself, I find truly terrifying, in fact, it’s damn right Orwellian.
Panic at the fear of denunciation and bad faith posing as rectitude can be found across the west. A comparison with the right shows how deep the decay has reached. Conservatives know there are thoughts they cannot whisper – Brexit is a mistake comparable to Munich and Suez, anti-black and anti-Muslim racism are tangible evils, poverty makes a nonsense of equality of opportunity. Likewise on the liberal left, the canny careerist takes care to avoid being caught on the “wrong side” of arguments about trans and women’s rights, leftwing antisemitism, and bigotry in ethnic minorities. The canniest decide the best course is to say nothing at all.“
This came out in a week where New York Times editor Bari Weiss quit in disgust at the ongoing harassment by her “woke” colleagues.
““What rules that remain at The Times are applied with extreme selectivity If a person’s ideology is in keeping with the new orthodoxy, they and their work remain unscrutinized. Everyone else lives in fear of the digital thunderdome. Online venom is excused so long as it is directed at the proper targets.”
You can read her stunning letter of resignation here.
“But the truth is that intellectual curiosity—let alone risk-taking—is now a liability at The Times. Why edit something challenging to our readers, or write something bold only to go through the numbing process of making it ideologically kosher, when we can assure ourselves of job security (and clicks) by publishing our 4000th op-ed arguing that Donald Trump is a unique danger to the country and the world? And so self-censorship has become the norm.”
When a newspaper – especially the Opinion Pages – become subject to review by Twitter, all is lost, she says.
“All this bodes ill, especially for independent-minded young writers and editors paying close attention to what they’ll have to do to advance in their careers. Rule One: Speak your mind at your own peril. Rule Two: Never risk commissioning a story that goes against the narrative. Rule Three: Never believe an editor or publisher who urges you to go against the grain. Eventually, the publisher will cave to the mob, the editor will get fired or reassigned, and you’ll be hung out to dry.”
Even Ricky Gervais, the brilliant entertainer, no hard core right winger himself, is profoundly disappointed with the Newspeak restrictions.
“I’ve always said, just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re right. Some people are offended by equality, we’ve seen that more and more in the past few years,” he said. “I say you have to know what the target of the joke is, what the subject is. You can make jokes about race without being racist. You can make jokes about the sexes without being sexist.”
In context of all these, there was the letter from JK Rowling, Margret Atwood and 150 other high profile writers condemning the loss of free speech and the cancel culture which is inextricably tied to it.
“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” the Letter to Harper’s Magazine stated. “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.”
They were, of course, immediately set upon by the Social Justice Warror Twitter mob and roundly decried as “white privileged” and out of touch and tone deaf.
JK Rowling, of course, became the centre of a Twitter storm simply because she asserted transgender women aren’t “real women” because they aren’t biological women, and that only biological women menstruate.
It sparked a revolt at Hachette which was preparing her latest book for publication where staff threatened to walk out if the book wasn’t cancelled.
Hachette stood its ground, which is more than they did when the same staff rebelled over plans to publish Woody Allen’s book. Can’t win them all I guess.
All this, of course, proved the need and the value of the letter.
Critics miss the point: It is not the rich, etablished writers who need protection from cancel culture. It is the unpublished, the unheard, the struggling writers who are being turned away unless they conform to the narrative.
As Bari Weiss noted: “Self-censorship has become the norm.”
And to some extent self-censorship is part of civil society. We rarely say what we think of someone’s new dress or hair cut.
We smile and offer platitudes.
They say men insult each other and don’t mean it and women compliment each other and don’t mean it.
Such are the deceits of civilized society.
Is this what we want for all discussion, all debate? To retreat into mouthing platitudes and repeating the approved narrative, no matter how extremist or repugnant it is?
Surely there’s some middle ground here? The Totalitarian Left is as repugnant and dangerous as the Authoritarian Right.