Hello, Yes, I’d Like To Cancel My Subscription To Harper’s


‘Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts.

But this needed reckoning 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.

As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second. The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy.

But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.

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.

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Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a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.

Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.

This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation.

The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes.

We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.’

An open letter signed by Noam Chomsky, JK Rowling and Malcolm Gladwell and others.

A Letter on Justice and Open Debate (Harper’s)



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103 thoughts on “Hello, Yes, I’d Like To Cancel My Subscription To Harper’s

  1. Rob_G

    I disagree with Harper’s editorial stance so, according to some posters on this site, I should turn up with a load of mates and pull the building down.

    1. Nigel

      Yes all these people were desperately worried about police brutality and structual inequality and the real human pain and suffering caused by those things until someone was mean to a racist statue, that’s just not on!

      1. Rob_G

        (harper’s aside) – you see, up until this point, you were in agreement with the people pulling down the statues, so it wasn’t a problem. Now people who you disagree with it have started doing it, and now it is a problem. The principle is the same: a group of people, accountable to no-one, have taken it upon themselves to be the arbitrators of what is acceptable and what is not, and are taking action accordingly.

        It was wrong when it was people burning down Orange lodges, it was wrong when people were throwing paint at synagogues, and it’s wrong now.

        1. Nigel

          I don’t regard it as particularly useful or virtuous to decontextualise actions to the point of difference-free amorality. If you think that painting a swastika on a synagogue and spray-painting ‘racist’ on a statue of Churchill are equivalent, you have lost any sort of moral compass. No number of toppled statues deserve a fraction of the outrage that should be directed at heavily armed police pushing over and old man and giving him brain damage, and that was just one act of brutality by the police. Multiply it by hundreds, thousands if you assume most go unrecorded.

          The only threat JK Rowling faces is loss of reputation. Trans people face real, physical, often offically sanctioned threats to their lives, well-being, physical and health health all the time, but she demands that her reputation deserves to be preserved no mater what she says? Utter priveleged and entitled arrogance.

          1. Nigel

            Did the old people in the video sustain permanent brain damage from the incident? If so, while ugly, hardly comparable, you child.

          2. Nigel

            Fair point, Ghost, but it’d need to be pretty bad PTSD to approach actual physical brain damage, PLUS the PTSD inflicted on evryone brutalised or intimidated and bullied by violent police.

          3. Junkface

            That’s a horrible clip. Who shouts in the faces of old people like that? During a pandemic too! The old couple have no masks on, they should have. Really, what we are dealing with here is a cult, with a doctrine. If you disagree you must be abused and banished

      2. Clampers Outside

        What’s that supposed to even mean as a response to the prior comment, eh?
        It’s nonsense as usual.

        1. Nigel

          It’s not that hard. In the US you have more to fear from the police and white nationalists, and white nationalists in the police, than antifa. The risk from antifa is pretty much insignificant by comparison.

          1. OftenReadButSeldomIfEverPost

            I normally derive great pleasure & mirth reading the bants on here; they’re as entertaining, if not more entertaining, than the posts themselves.

            However, I feel pushed to point out to you that you’re in real danger of disappearing up your own back passage Nigel. Tbh, I jumped down past your contributions after reading that above.

            How you can – in any way – downplay the disgusting attitiude displayed by that wan Antifa; ([ir]regardless of the illegal behaviour of the police) is beyond me?!

            IMHO, you’re just the opposite side of the same coin (or certainly tending towards it). Do us a favour and please moderate your views.

            Thanks in advance, etc…

          2. Nigel

            Antifa, no matter what you think of their actions, are statistically insignificant, and don’t even properly exist as a coherent centralised organisation. Yelling nasty abuse at old people is probably the most indefensible thing people calling themselves antifa have done, but the president of the US wants to brand them a terrorist organisation. SOME sense of proportion has to prevail.

          3. Nigel

            I would, in fact, argue that, but, like antifa, they are being inflated into dangerous bogeypeople coming for your spaces and your children. At least antifa are actual activists who willingly put themselves out there, they’re answerable for their own actions, whereas all trans people do is just exist.

          4. Clampers Outside

            They are not answerable, they hide behind masks, and similarly do so online.

          5. OftenReadButSeldomIfEverPost

            Indefensible: agreed
            I’m glad (and re-assured that) you clarified your position Nigel.

            As regards Trump (and his actions/tweets…): the human gene pool could do without him and his ilk.

            However, if one has to attack property, physical symbols, property or even people (verbally, physically, emotionally) then you are no better than those you wish to change and/or stop * .. again imho.

            * of course, this doesn’t apply in those cases where one find themselves (or their circle) in immediate danger .. but that’s another thread for a different day?

            The only real way to effect positive change is through education and persuasion using a carrot instead of a stick.

            PS: I’ll be disappointed if nobody is able to make a joke of this …

            Keep the bants going; it makes work that little bit better!

          6. OftenReadButSeldomIfEverPost

            Thanks. Love this site and have done for many years …

            I’m a moderate (I suspect) like many here … flipping left or right (up or down) as and when reqd (and even sometimes by choice).

            I normally come along for the craic and the witty one-liners.

            I’ll do my best to provide some eloquant contributions but may be challanged to match some of the verbose and loquacious insights … oh wait what’s happening to the tenor of this post …

    2. scottser

      the word ‘irregardless’ has made it into the dictionary.
      mob rules.
      no-one gives a monkeys any more.

      1. Nigel

        I love that word, but putting it into the dictionary might take the joy out of it. Ah, well, irregardless…

  2. Nigel

    ‘It’s illiberal to criticise MY illiberal views!’

    Public shaming and ostracism isn’t quite the same as, say, violently clearing protestors out of a park for a photo shoot, but ok.

    1. SOQ

      This from a man who feels it is acceptable to hound someone out of their job because they dare to have a differing opinion.

          1. Nigel

            What’s weird is that the obverse is that you must thereby think that there are no opinions that could or should cause someone to lose their job.

          2. Clampers Outside

            That’s not the obverse of his particular point, it’s simply your opinion of what you think his position is by way of your disingenuous reading of what he said.
            Or to put it simply, you’ve used “so what you’re saying…”

          3. Nigel

            Oh, so what you’re saying he is he DOES think there are opinons that should lose people their jobs?

    2. Rob_G

      I’m not sure what this comment has to do with Harper’s taking a particular editorial stance, and then a number of people taking issue with said stance, and writing a polite letter.

      Harper’s is a privately-owned publication, they can take any position they like. Chomsky, Gladwell, et al. are free to agree or disagree with this position, and write a letter disagreeing with it, or even start their own rival publication, etc. What neither side is entitled to do is to decide that their position is the only correct one, and smash up stuff that does not accord with their own position.

      1. Nigel

        They want to be the arbiters of what counts as criticism and who should be allowed to criticise what. Nothing’s getting smashed except the right who are getting totally smashed on minority power and wealth.

        1. Clampers Outside

          That first line is total claptrap and the complete opposite of what is called for when they call for full engagement in all topics without ‘cancel culture’.

          To even suggest that ‘cancel culture’ is legitimate or honest criticism is moronic.

          Then again, you have stated that you believe making an accusation regardless of proof is a legitimate form of debate so I wouldn’t be surprised with you believing cancel culture passes for legitimate criticism.

          1. Nigel

            ‘you have stated that you believe making an accusation regardless of proof is a legitimate form of debate ‘

            I think at this point over the years you have had to apologise two or three times for erroneously claiming I called you a Nazi. Just to put this erroneous statement into proper context.

            Cancel culture is the antifa of criticising people. The hysteria it generates from Clamps and co is inversely proportionate to its actual reality.

          2. Clampers Outside

            I’ve never apologised for that, as it is true.
            And I’ve posted the link to the proof plenty of times.

            Get your head out of the sand.

          3. Clampers Outside

            Nothing erroneous about it, you literally said accusation is a legitimate form of debate. And not only that, you went further and said the onus is on the person you accuse without proof to evidence their innocence.

            There was nothing erroneous about that days’ discussion. It was an eye opener tinti your modus operandi :)

          4. Nigel

            Haha, yes you have and no you haven’t.

            Remember the other time you apologised for saying I doxed you?

          5. Clampers Outside

            Yes, of course I apologised for that incident where my name was published and then moderated away (thanks BS).

            But, nah, never apologised for you calling me a Nazi, never will either. Facts be facts, end of.

          6. Nigel

            ‘you literally said accusation is a legitimate form of debate. And not only that, you went further and said the onus is on the person you accuse without proof to evidence their innocence.’

            Clampers – links or it didn’t happen. And it better be literal.

    3. Junkface

      Intolerance of other grown ups opinions (mainly based on correct Science) and forced firings are not liberal Nigel. You have sleepwalked into left wing cult like behaviour.

      1. Nigel

        I don’t support anyone being fired without cause.
        Anyone fired without cause should have the right to appeal through independant arbitration.
        In short: unionise.
        Not all opinions are tolerable.

        1. Junkface

          Who decides which opinions are tolerable? Some (scientifically and linguistically) clueless, ignorant 20 year olds who think they are all grown up because they know how to blacklist and get people fired?

          They have no idea about what a free, democratic society looks like. Maybe they should move to China? Join the neo Maoists?

          1. Junkface

            Free open debate used to be where society could talk through new ideas, old ideas, whatever they wanted. This was usually hosted in Colleges and Universities or other public forums. The debates were usually civilized and everyone in the room knew that they had to behave like adults and be fair to each other, not screaming children with loudspeakers.

          2. Nigel

            So at any point during the free open debate are people allowed to conclude that an idea is intolerable?

          3. Junkface

            You should check out free debates on youtube. There are many to choose from going back to the 60’s and 70’s. There was also a good doc on Netflix about Gore Vidal versus one of his most hated political foes. Can’t remember his name, but a fascinating look into the debate culture of the 60’s.

    1. Gay Fawkes

      This sort of comment is unhelpful. Liberalism and conservativism are both needed. You seem to revel in stoking the flames and polarisation.

      And this is not me being a in intolerant liberal.

      Things are not black and white. The humanity lies in the grey and in listening and being compassionate to the person expressing an opposing opinion to yours.

      1. Nigel

        It seems to e that there are certainly illiberal elements in liberalism, and while the threat of cancel culture is overstated wildly, social media gang-ups are a poor tool to respond to bad ideas, BUT the right is feckin out of control, devoid of good faith, determined to wreck the planet and the people to concentrate wealth and power in a smaller and smaller group of individuals who already have immense wealth and power. It’s like worrying excessivley about antifa when the police are beating the crap out of protestors and arresting critics on trumped-up charges.

        1. Clampers Outside

          “illiberal elements in liberalism”

          Well, duh… Look in the bleedin’ mirror Nigel.

          1. Nigel

            You think it’s illiberal to call Trump racist, so your judgement what is liberal or illiberal is hilariously bad.

          2. Clampers Outside

            There you go again, “you think….”.
            And noone even suggested such.
            That’s just more of your “so what you are saying is…” nonsense.

            You’re some fool, in fairness.

    2. Toby

      Sorry Gay, the extreme liberal agenda has morphed into a witch-hunt and this is common knowledge. Cancelling, no-platforming and hate pile ons are par for the course now. Its gone well beyond a joke and has become dangerous for minorities to have differing thoughts.

      These authors are right to stand up and say they won’t stand for this intolerance anymore. Its high time the intelligentsia, who have been rightly scared to say anything, wrestle with this and call out the bullying orchestrated in the name of justice or goodness.

    1. Bertie Theodore Alphege Blenkinsop

      Did you know Billy and I were born in the same parish….

      Between the wars?

  3. Junkface

    I’m a little surprised that Billy Bragg is so dumb for his age.

    Yes the rules of generations of polite debate in universities and public events should be thrown out of the window!

    Harry Potter fans know a better way, blacklist your way to Utopia!

    1. SOQ

      I’m a little surprised that Billy Bragg………..

      I’m not- somewhere along the way the Left flipped into authoritarianism which is the exact opposite of where it was even thirty years ago.

  4. jockey

    I think there’s about 10% of people on both sides of an argument who will go to extraordinary lengths to push their views on others. The 80% middle just want a decent job, a home, and a family/Netflix to go home to without to much hassle along the way. We saw it with the The Troubles in the North, the abortion referendum, the divorice referendum (first time around), along with countless other examples. I think most people are good. When you turn off technology and look out your window you’ll see that.

    1. Janet, dreams of big guns

      nicely said, although this forum is better than most it would wear you out sometimes,
      back from heading up a mountain in the rain myself, good for the soul

  5. Daisy Chainsaw

    Next month there’ll be letters from 149 of them distancing themselves from association with Rowling.

  6. Jim

    Trump and his ilk are loving this. Liberals are fighting among themselves, with the younger generation vilifying the older for not being woke enough. We’re on the same side people, wake up. The new/alt right – who just want to normalize arrogance, dickishness and perma-trolling – are lapping this up.

  7. broadbag

    Bragg failing to comprehend the difference between ‘reproach’ and the complete demolition of a career, aka cancel culture (simliar to some in the comments likening it to ‘criticism’) this may come back to bite him if a deep trawl of everything he’s ever said is carried out…

  8. Clampers Outside

    Whatever happens.

    It doesn’t matter…

    … what double standard they promote.

    … what twisting of others words they make.

    … what pseudo-science they promote.

    … what false accusations they consider legitimate argument.

    … what false equivalence they present.

    … what name calling they engage in.
    Nigel should never be cancelled.

      1. Bertie Theodore Alphege Blenkinsop

        If Moonlighting has taught us anything, it’s that one day you too will ride each other and it’ll be awful afterwards.

        1. Brother Barnabas

          i suspect clampers and nigel are actually a married couple, playing out their marital tension on the pages of broadsheet and us their unknowing stooges

        2. Junkface

          I used to love that show! Moonlighting, I have to find where I can watch that again.

          I could watch Cybil Shepard all day.

  9. BS

    Transwomen are male
    Transmen are female
    Humans cannot change Sex
    Gender and sex are different
    The word woman means adult human female, as female is a sex category and it protected under the equality acts of many countries the meaning of words matter.
    Women are murdered, emotionally, physically and sexually assaulted every minute of every day because of their sex. They earn less than men for the same roles because of their sex.
    Only women can get pregnant
    Women’s rights should be protected
    Trans rights are not human rights
    Trans people have the same rights as everyone else

    All facts. But enough to have people fired from jobs, told to go on “equality training” and hounded off online platforms and in real life. Enough to have the police call to their door to “check their thinking” and enough to have people sued and harassed using the courts.

    TRA’s are mainly men with deep rooted misogyny. The majority of trans identifying males are autogynophiles who have a sexual fetish attached to identifying as a woman. TRA’s rarely mention trans identifying females as they do not hold the same sway in the community as the men who want to identify as women.

    Women have been fighting back against this for years now, and now that high profile women are supporting it the majority of the public is waking up to the insanity and misogyny of the TRA movement.

    I just hope here in Ireland we can get the same momentum going

  10. Matt Pilates

    “Resistance” – They havent a clue about resistance. Try having your country invaded by Brits for example of an effective resistance.

  11. Art Vandelay

    Jesus Bodger just bring back Leather Jacket Guy, all is forgiven!
    The nonsense and fighting on here is gone to the dogs. I left twitter because i wouldnt have to listen to these shouty matches that not 1 of these people would have if they were to speak to each other in real life and then its infiltrating my favourite website to look at poop-y parkers, cute animals and things that look like Ireland. It really is the end times. Sniff.

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