Jennifer Williams’ Three Questions

Harpers’ “anti-cancel culture” letter, discussed here was instructive, but not in the manner that its sponsors intended. It excluded most conservatives (except Stockholm Syndrome types like David Brooks) and all of those who had been damaged by progressive cancel-mobs, making the exercise suspect as Left-wing grandstanding. Worse, an alarming number of progressives who didn’t sign the letter expressed disappointment that others did, because they fervently believe that expressing opinions that vary from woke cant should be punished, and that (though they won’t come right out and say it) free expression is undesirable. Hate speech, you know—makes people feel “unsafe” to have to associate with the unenlightened.

For some reason the criticism centered on Vox, the website begun by Washington Post reporter Ezra Klein when pretending to be anything but a partisan shill became  too much for him. Vox is as biased leftward as Breitbart is biased in the other direction, which is why I seldom use, and never trust, either. Several Vox employees publicly objected to the fact that their colleague Matt Yglesias signed the letter, apparently forgetting that Yglesias, “by any means necessary” fan that he is, once admitted.

In response to the uproar, senior foreign editor Jennifer Williams tweeted,

What a fascinating set of ethics questions!

Let’s examine them, shall we?

Question #2, the one Williams answers, is apparently not as obvious as she seems to think it is. Tufts University history lecturer Kerri Greenidge demanded  to have her name  removed from the list of signers, claiming that her name  was used without her knowledge or consent. “I do not endorse this @ Harpers letter,” Prof. Greenidge tweeted. “I am in contact with Harper’s about a retraction.” The Tufts historian’s sisters, novelist and New York Times opinion writer Kaitlyn Greenidge and playwright Kirsten Greenidge also asserted  that Kerri was included among the signatories without her consent or knowledge.

Prof. Greenidge was lying—to the public, and to her family. Harper’s quickly produced an email exchange from late June in which Greenidge agreed to sign. “Yes, I will add my signature. It reads well,” Greenidge wrote from her Tufts email address. “Let me know what more you need from me.”

“Oh, just a promise that you won’t cave like a wet cardboard box and start blaming us if some of your progressive pals and family members complain, I guess,” is what Harper’s should have responded.

Question #1 ( Do we judge opinions/arguments on their merits or on who makes them?) should be easy, but it’s not. Discounting someone’s opinion because of their reputation, history or character is what makes ad hominem arguments fallacious, and  embracing an argument because its source is admirable is an “appeal to authority.” A good argument is just as good regardless of whether the advocate is a genius, a knave  or a fool.

However, there is the matter of trust to consider. Looking back, I have written here several times that after some egregious demonstration of bad faith from a scholar, politician (Elizabeth Warren comes to mind) or pundit, “I don’t care what they say” about anything from that point on. That’s my attitude because I no longer trust that what such people argue isn’t based on an agenda, or using contrived reasoning, or misrepresented facts that I am not able to check, or simply lying about what his or her opinion really is.

There are examples right in this post. Matt Yglesias has publicly endorsed lying: I don’t trust him, and I never assume his opinions are honestly presented. Who in their right minds would trust Kerri Greenidge’s opinion  when she tries a stunt like claiming that she didn’t sign a statement she agreed to sign,  and lies about whether she signed it?

That brings us to the third question asked by Jennifer Williams: “Does [signing a letter] it mean you also endorse the opinions of those who also choose to sign it?”

What a hilarious question to ask so close to the Fourth of July! The Declaration of Independence was a letter to the world,  the most famous and important open letter  in history.  Those members of the Continental Congress hardly agreed on anything; we’d be like Canada and in the British Commonwealth today if the delegates thought signing that document meant anything but agreement on the specifics on the paper before them. In Harper’s letter, the whole point was that the signers were diverse in their viewpoints, admittedly a virtue severely undercut by the hypocrisy of excluding conservatives.

Tweeted  “The Tipping Point” author Malcolm Gladwell, no idiot he,

It was, allegedly.

3 thoughts on “Jennifer Williams’ Three Questions

  1. Poor Jennifer mentions Noam Chomsky. It is worthwhile to pay attention to some of his recent appearances because he is sort of the Father Influence of those on the Progressive Left.

    [Interviewed by: Ghida Fakhry is a Lebanese broadcast journalist, and current affairs program presenter with TRT World, and a moderator for Doha Debates based in Washington, DC, as well as a contributor to the Huffington Post. She was a lead anchor for the global news channel Al Jazeera English at its launch in Washington DC, and was later one of the primary anchors at the network’s headquarters in Doha. She was also the host of Witness, an award-winning documentary program.]

  2. Questions in order:

    1. Just as you say, Jack, trust matters. Obviously, if the person who makes an argument has proven him/herself untrustworthy, it makes the argument harder to evaluate objectively. I think most of us would presume such a person would make only an untrustworthy argument, which makes it difficult to evaluate dispassionately, whatever its objective merit.

    2. I think she’s right about this, and I think it’s clear that every one of the people intended to signify their general agreement with the letter. I’ll stipulate that maybe some of them didn’t agree with every jot and tittle, but on balance, they agreed enough to attach their name to it. To me, that is an endorsement of the overall message of the letter, if not every single word.

    I think it’s clear from Harper’s responses that they have assent to the letter by every individual who was purported to sign it. Whether that assent was fully informed or slipshod is certainly not clear, but what appears to be clear is that Harpers gave every person who purportedly signed the letter the opportunity to offer either informed consent, or to demure. Whether their consent actually was informed is actually pretty much irrelevant.

    3. I don’t think that signing the letter is reflective of your opinion of cosigner’s opinions at all, or shouldn’t be. After all, Harpers asked people to read the letter and assent to representing themselves as sufficiently in agreement to attach their name to it. What troubles me is that some people appeared to agree to the letter mainly to be in the company of others who have already done so, rather than to actually endorse the message it conveys from their own intellectual position.

    How sheep-like that is, and how typical of the left. They are like pod people (thanks for that post the other day offering that analogy), incapable of independent thought without some other intelligence or group approving either by their presence or statement that it’s okay and safe to speak.

    This whole affair has been an embarrassment for all involved. I’m ashamed for them, as well as of them.

  3. The thing I find most disgraceful is the notion that because you are someone I don’t like, I cannot and will not agree with you on anything.

    It basically says that there can NEVER EVER be any sort of unity or common ground with the disliked party, even on the most basic of issues. It says that political polarization and demonization is GOOD.

    No, I won’t be putting MY name on THAT document….


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