Conversation and Debate is Better than Dehumanization and Suppression of Speech
As a lifelong Democrat who has been fighting on what I thought was the right side I have never been so disappointed with how things have evolved than the reaction to this letter. While the critics of it do not represent “the Democrats” or “The Left,” they represent the loudest voices, which in turn seem to be setting the tone of how people should be reacting to what amounts to a plea for more compassion, less judgment, open hearts and open minds.
It was met with resistance for two reasons. The first, in our ongoing crippling partisanship we can cede nothing to Trump. Since Trump has already targeted the “radical left” and “cancel culture” it would seem that any opposition to it coming from our side is somehow an admission that Trump was right. That is an odd position to take but if you’re someone who has not been ruminating on the ongoing disaster on the left, you might be inclined to revert to “all things Trump are bad.” But this has nothing to do with Trump. It has nothing to do with the right, in fact. It is based on what many are noticing but not saying. It is born out of fear of totalitarian conformity of thought growing on the left as we head into an election year. It is driven by the key factors of a fascist state: dehumanization of those who disagree with you and the shutting up and shutting down of dissent. With journalism, science, films and books all up for the smack down, we have to at some point ask ourselves what we’re losing.
One thing we’re losing is the chance to have open debate and as such, many seeking any kind of confrontation of issues that are controversial, might be inclined to turn to the right because it only seems to exist there. There is a reason why both Joe Rogan and Ben Shapiro’s podcasts stay in the top five highest rated. When I asked this question on Twitter someone said to me, “because they’re transphobic racists.” So people are listening to them because they’re all transphobic and racist? I don’t think so. I think it’s because after too long being told what to think, say, do, watch, read and believe one’s brains begins to crave something more.
The adherence to this strict doctrine has bled out into other areas where marginalized people exist and one of those is the conversation about biological women vs. trans women. We are now in an age where even if there are young people confused or lost or in a state of anxiety, panic and despair over their sexual and gender identity they are not to question anything because the doctrine tells them that they are what they say they are. This is not a subject I know anything about or have researched or particularly have an opinion on one way or the other. I accept trans women as women and I accept that there has to be a difference in terms of medical terms and biology. You can’t tell people to accept something that is obviously not true. Perhaps you can split the difference and say “woman with male sexual organs.” But if you are going to study anything medically you have to distinguish in terms of biology. That isn’t to say trans women aren’t WOMEN. I personally have no problem accepting that they have a right to refer to themselves any way they choose. It doesn’t infringe on my rights so there is no problem with it.
But for the fundamentalist religion of the newly woke left you are not to even bring this up because it makes you transphobic, as happened to two journalists Jesse Singal and Katie Herzog who wrote stories about the subject with regard to young people. Here is Jesse’s story and here is Katie’s piece. Both of them are journalists doing good journalism, hunting down a story that IS A STORY, whether you agree with its conclusions or not. Both of them were harassed, bullied, lost their employment and treated like pariahs. Why don’t you know about them or the story? Because NO ONE IN JOURNALISM HAS THE BALLS TO WRITE ABOUT IT for fear of being fired or shunned or dehumanized on Twitter.
Both Singal and Herzog signed the Harper’s letter, which would have been enough for Twitter to mount an all out assault of it, but then JK Rowling also signed it. Rowling is staunchly in the, what the trans community would call, TERF category — that is, feminists who exclude trans women. It is a bit like white feminism where only white women in the 70s were thought of as feminists and not the specific concerns of women of color. Rowling tweeted out that something regarding women being WOMEN, separate from trans women, and all hell broke loose. She then doubled down on it with her own piece, which you can read here.
What happened with the Harper’s letter was very similar to the New York Times Tom Cotton debacle in that mobilized forces on Twitter did not want the Times to publish a piece from Trump’s side of things and it bobbed around various justifiable reasons why until it landed on “it puts black lives in danger.” That was enough to cause a full blown freak out at the Times itself as they had just been accused of being racists and of potentially causing harm to black people. Of course, that one didn’t quite pan out because once that story got out, that it was the new guard of young woke journalists driving it, it then flipped over to James Bennett not having read the story (relegated it to a different editor who has been “reassigned”). No one using this justification, though, has said what it was about Cotton’s piece that was so egregious an error it would warrant the firing of Bennett? Or that Bennett would have not published it had he read it?
Anyone watching on TV the nights the protests began — whether they were black, brown or white — were not only SCARED but wanting it all to stop. So when asked whether they thought there should be military intervention, 58% of Americans agreed that yes, please, bring in the troops if we can’t control the protests. That story was not covered by the Times, or any left leaning major publication because it was verboten to talk about. It got so bad that a research analyst who tweeted out a study that said non-violent protests were more effective himself got fired. The troops were never called because bigger voices than Cotton’s overrode his opinion and the protests became peaceful.
The Harper’s Letter followed a similar track. The loudest voices were angry it was published at all so they went looking for why they were angry that people were calling out cancel culture. Even now, you see a variety of arguments against it, from people saying it’s white billionaires being afraid of consequences for their racism, or white people uncomfortable that black voices are suddenly rising up to challenge the status quo — and all of that falls under the category, for the most part, reasonable debate. But it took a sharp turn when the critics finally landed on the right reason, it was transphobic because Rowling, Singal and Herzog’s names were on it. Anyone who signed the letter was now accused of supporting Rowling’s side of the argument, when in fact, they were not. No one asked them what they thought about it. They didn’t have to because now they were GUILTY AS CHARGED! Transphobes all.
JK Rowling has has been LGBQ ally — and calls herself a trans ally. They do not see it that way. But regardless, she deserves, at the very least, compassion and kindness, even if you do not agree with her.
As this story on ArcDigital lays out:
This is the element that those of us who agree with the Harper’s letter find most frustrating. We think the debate over where the discourse’s parameters should be (which is what the Harper’s letter is fundamentally about), and, more specifically, the debate over sex and gender identity that J. K. Rowling and her critics have been engaging in, are and should continue to be intellectually in bounds.
The one point in Rowling’s essay I do agree with was how women are at such a low rung across the board — women of color are marginalized throughout American history and even now, they face hardships white women never will. White women are the catch-all for abuse and accusations online, because they’re all Karens waiting to be exposed. Of late, the hatred for white (biological) women online is off the charts. Needless to say, that doesn’t include trans women, at least not on the left. They surely gets pelted with abuse and worse from the right. But women are worthy of respect, trans women or biological women — if you are fighting for respect for one, you should be fighting for respect for both. Respect means listening and debating and persuading.
The Harper’s letter has its origins in a new movement started by Yascha Mounk, who started a website called persuasion.community — wherein he is asking for free and open debate about tough and controversial topics. Mounk has spent a good deal of time in the last three years writing about and tracking the rise of fascism in other countries, as we saw in the lead up to the Second World War. He, no doubt, recognized elements of fascism in the doctrine of the left — where everything you say, watch, read and listen to must be strictly policed for conformity of thought and message.
While it used to only be a Twitter phenom, it has bled out into higher institutions like journalism and science. Americans are not going to want that in their government, of this I am certain. If Democrats do not stand up to it, as Obama did, and if this threatens to become actual policy? You can bet many will jump ship in November and choose what they consider the lesser of two evils.
And before you launch into a long lecture about how the Harper’s letter condemns the rise of black and power and voices, take a look around. You might find yourself surprised by some of those who signed the letter, like these two:
I still have faith that we can get a grip on the left and find our sanity again. Many of us will not continue to align ourselves with what amounts to religious fundamentalism. Dehumanizing is wrong. It never ends well for humans when it is overlooked and allowed, no matter who is on the end of it.