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.