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....
To read the entire letter, click HERE.
What follow are relevant excerpt from Jennifer Schuessler and Elizabeth A. Harris' 7-7-20 NEW YORK TIMES article entitled "Artists and Writers Warn of an ‘Intolerant Climate.’ Reaction Is Swift.":
The letter, which was published by Harper’s Magazine and will also appear in several leading international publications, surfaces a debate that has been going on privately in newsrooms, universities and publishing houses that have been navigating demands for diversity and inclusion, while also asking which demands — and the social media dynamics that propel them — go too far [...].
The debate over diversity, free expression and the limits of acceptable opinion is a long-burning one. But the letter, which was spearheaded by the writer Thomas Chatterton Williams, began taking shape about a month ago, as part of a long-running conversation about these issues with a small group of writers including the historian David Greenberg, the writer Mark Lilla and the journalists Robert Worth and George Packer.
Mr. Williams, a columnist for Harper’s and contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, said that initially, there was concern over timing.
“We didn’t want to be seen as reacting to the protests we believe are in response to egregious abuses by the police,” he said. “But for some time, there’s been a mood all of us have been quite concerned with.”
He said there wasn’t one particular incident that provoked the letter. But he did cite several recent ones, including the resignation of more than half the board of the National Book Critics Circle over its statement supporting Black Lives Matter, a similar blowup at the Poetry Foundation, and the case of David Shor, a data analyst at a consulting firm who was fired after he tweeted about academic research linking looting and vandalism by protesters to Richard Nixon’s 1968 electoral victory.
Such incidents, Mr. Williams said, both fueled and echoed what he called the far greater and more dangerous “illiberalism” of President Trump.
“Donald Trump is the Canceler in Chief,” he said. “But the correction of Trump’s abuses cannot become an overcorrection that stifles the principles we believe in.”
Mr. Williams said the letter was very much a crowdsourced effort, with about 20 people contributing language. Then it was circulated more broadly for signatures, in what he describes as a process that was both “organic” and aimed at getting a group that was maximally diverse politically, racially and otherwise.
“We’re not just a bunch of old white guys sitting around writing this letter,” Mr. Williams, who is African-American, said. “It includes plenty of Black thinkers, Muslim thinkers, Jewish thinkers, people who are trans and gay, old and young, right wing and left wing.”
“We believe these are values that are widespread and shared, and we wanted the list to reflect that,” he said.
Signatories include the leftist Noam Chomsky and the neoconservative Francis Fukuyama. There are also figures associated with the traditional defense of free speech, including Nadine Strossen, former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as some outspoken critics of political correctness on campuses, including the linguist Steven Pinker and the psychologist Jonathan Haidt.
The signers also include some figures who have lost positions amid controversies, including Ian Buruma, the former editor of the New York Review of Books, and Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., a Harvard Law School professor who left his position as faculty dean of an undergraduate residence amid protests over his legal defense of Harvey Weinstein.
There are also some leading Black intellectuals, including the historian Nell Irvin Painter, the poets Reginald Dwayne Betts and Gregory Pardlo, and the linguist John McWhorter. And there are a number of journalists, including several opinion columnists for The New York Times [...].
[...] Mr. Betts, the director of the Million Books Project, a new effort aimed at getting book collections to more than 1,000 prisons, was unfazed by the variety of signers.
“I’m rolling with people I wouldn’t normally be in a room with,” he said. “But you need to concede that what’s in the letter is worthy of some thought.”
He said that as someone who had spent more than eight years in prison for a carjacking committed when he was a teenager, he was given pause by what he called the unforgiving nature of the current moment. “It’s antithetical to my notion of how we need to deal with problems in society,” he said.
He cited in particular the case of James Bennet, who resigned as the editorial page editor of The New York Times following an outcry over an Op-Ed by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, and cases of authors of young adult literature withdrawing books in the face of criticism over cultural appropriation.
“You can criticize what people say, you can argue about platforms,” Mr. Betts said. “But it seems like some of the excesses of the moment are leading people to be silenced in a new way.”
To read the entire article, click HERE.