Jesse Singal on “cancel culture”

The two noteworthy incidents in Cancel Culture this week—a term that the woke hate but seems pretty accurate to me—were the attempted demonization of Steve Pinker, involving a letter demanding that the Linguistics Society of America rescind two of its honors to Steve, and a letter in Harper’s and four other international magazines calling out attempts of both Right and Left to prevent free speech and discussion by deploying or inciting Internet mobs. (There’s a good half-hour video of Pinker discussing both issues.)

As the controversy winds down, with, I think, the woke getting pretty badly pummeled despite their loudness on Twitter, we have one more item to read: a piece by Jesse Singal, former editor at New York Magazine and signer of the Harper’s letter, at Reason.com.  There’s some new stuff in Singal’s piece about the ridiculous pushback against a letter simply calling for an end of social-justice bullying and for the promulgation of open discussion on contentious issues. It also has a few bits of sarcasm that are lovely.

Click the screenshot to read.

I’ve lumped the stuff that interested me into a few topics. Singal’s words are indented.

1.) The general reaction. I didn’t predict the pushback, but then I constantly underestimate the capabilities of the Easily Offended. Some of the loudest criticisms—and the most ludicrous—were that the letter didn’t go into detail about specific examples of “canceling” rather than its tactic of describing in a general way what happens to the ideologically impure.

Singal:

I kept thinking about this expression as I watched a sizable subset of the online progressive intelligentsia respond with intense fury, disbelief, and indignation to an open letter published online yesterday by Harper’s magazine. The letter, which will also appear in the magazine’s October issue, was simply a stout defense of liberal values from people primarily on the left at a time it feels like these values are under threat

. . .The letter was crafted with sufficient care that it attracted a large number of signatories who one might not usually associate with concerns about “cancel culture” and the like—and it also bridged certain ideological lines. Both J.K. Rowling and New York Times writer and English professor Jennifer Boylan (who is transgender and recently wrote a column critical of Rowling’s views on trans issues), for example, added their names to the list, as did famous figures like Noam Chomsky, Margaret Atwood, Steven Pinker, Salman Rushdie, and Garry Kasparov, and some less famous ones—like me.

Because the American left is basically a war zone at the moment—or online it is, at least—what happened next shouldn’t surprise anyone: A group of us posted the letter and celebrated it, while another much angrier group denounced it and held it up as proof of…well, whatever it is they hate about us and want to get us fired over (this crowd likes calling the manager). Now, it shouldn’t have surprised me—I have been through multiple rounds of this stuff—but I have to admit it did.

2.) Specific beefs by The Offended:

Singal:

One such reaction came from Parker Molloy, a staffer at the left-leaning Media Matters, who insisted, of a letter that includes Rushdie and Kasparov, “not a single one of them have been censored anytime in recent history.” In the subsequent tweetstorm, she said of the signatories:

“They want you to sit down.
They want you to shut up.
They want you to do as you’re told.
By them. Specifically.”

“They are totalitarians in the waiting,” she wrote. “They are bad people.”

Umm. . . well, if “recent history” includes 30 years, Rushdie has been censored. In fact, the fatwa against him is still in place! And only six years ago Kasparov’s internet site was blocked by the Russian government because of his criticisms of Putin.

But wait! There’s more!

Another example of the hit-dog-hollering principle in action yesterday: “i really wonder if some of the people who signed this thought long and hard about whose names they’d appear next to,” tweeted Matt Gabriele, who teaches medieval studies and chairs the Department of Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech.

Again, the amount of stuff being revealed, right in the open, if you only care to look, is surprising: Gabriele, who holds an important, gatekeeping position at a major American university, wants people to think “long and hard” before putting their names on an unobjectionable expression of liberal values, lest someone come along and wrongly judge through the lens of some ridiculous guilt-by-association standard. The writer Oliver Traldi calls this style of discourse “rhextortion“: It would be a shame if someone unfairly judged you as a result of the names on this letter rather than the content of its text itself.

And yet many people have objected to the letter because, while they might like some of the signers, others (most often J. K. Rowling) are beyond the pale. That, to me, is ridiculous. If you’re trying to make a general point, and a good one, and you’re in there with a number of signers, surely some of them will have been deemed “impure”. If you agree with what the letter says, it’s dumb to refuse to sign or remove your name after the pushback comes (see below), and blame some of the signers.

But the most ridiculous pushback came from Emily VanDerWerff, a writer at Vox, who criticized one of the signers who was a work colleague. Singal’s sarcasm is delicious:

Then, finally, there’s Emily VanDerWerff, a critic at large for Vox who happens to be trans. One of her colleagues, Matt Yglesias, signed the letter, and VanDerWerff didn’t like the letter, so she did the only reasonable, adult thing: She sent him a quick DM asking if they could talk the matter over.

Kidding! She publicly announced that she had reported Yglesias to his editors for signing the letter. She posted a version of the note on Twitter, and in it she claims the letter was “signed by prominent anti-trans voices” and contains “many dog whistles toward anti-trans positions.” “Dog whistles” used to mean something like coded, racist appeals of the sort Richard Nixon employed but has more recently, on Twitter at least, taken a definition closer to referring to an accusation I don’t want to provide evidence for. That Yglesias signed a document with such signatories and dog whistles “makes me feel less safe at Vox,” she wrote.

 

The note contains some boilerplate closing language about not wanting to get Yglesias in trouble, suggesting an interesting strategy that makes perfect sense: After all, when I don’t want to get a colleague in trouble, the first thing I do is send their bosses an email about how something they have done has made me feel less safe, and the second thing I do is post that note publicly to Twitter. It’s just a classic example of not wanting to get a colleague in trouble, if I ever saw one.

Meow!  This reminds me of the disingenuous statement by those who tried to cancel Pinker at the LSA: “We want to note here that we have no desire to judge Dr. Pinker’s actions in moral terms, or claim to know what his aims are.” Both statements are lies; they clearly were judging Pinker as immoral—as a bigot and racist, and said he used “dog whistles” against blacks, which is clearly an attribution of aims.

3.) Signers think twice and apologize. I believe several of them did, and for reasons that aren’t clear to me except that they might not have been able to face any social-media pushback. Singal mentions one:

And so on. It was an exhausting day on Twitter. Near the end of it, Boylan, one of the signatories whose name helped show how widely concerns over the climate of free speech span, publicly apologized for having signed a document that also has the names of people with which she disagrees. “I did not know who else had signed that letter,” she tweeted. “I thought I was endorsing a well meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming. I did know Chomsky, Steinem, and Atwood were in, and I thought, good company. The consequences are mine to bear. I am so sorry.”

I am so sorry. That sums it up nicely. There’s no real problem with any of this stuff in the left-of-center universe: It’s just that if anyone expresses unvarnished pro-liberal sentiments, they will be cast as a bigot trying to shut up marginalized people, and if you sign such a letter, you may be hearing from HR because your colleagues are watching you. To quote a certain internet-famous dog: This is fine.

Boylan is identified as “New York Times writer and English professor Jennifer Boylan (who is transgender and recently wrote a column critical of Rowling’s views on trans issues).”  So she looked at the letter, liked its contents and felt good about a few signers, but presumably missed those deemed “transphobes,” like J. K. Rowling. For that Boylan got slammed, but her behavior of being ashamed (where’s the paper dunce hat and sign around her neck?) is reprehensible.

4.) Overall take.  From Singal, who’s right about free speech. The mantra of Cancel Culture is “Free speech for me but not for thee—and you’d better shut up.”

The reason people are so mad at the pro-free-speech letter is that they aren’t really in favor of free speech. Not when it comes to anyone who isn’t their ally, at least. They can make up other reasons to be mad, of course; they can complain that people they view as transphobic signed it (Rowling, to take the most obvious example, though a subset of people have also lobbed that accusation at both myself and my podcast co-host, Katie Herzog, who is also a signatory), or that it’s unfair Harper’s published a letter about free and open speech while not paying its interns (a separate issue)—but at root, their beef is ideological.

. . and from Freddie de Boer, who explains why the article omitted discussion of specific instances of “canceling”:

The leftist writer Freddie de Boer’s take nicely clarifies the obvious: The people furious at this letter largely have genuine ideological problems with liberal norms and laws regarding free speech. “Please, think for a minute and consider: what does it say when a completely generic endorsement of free speech and open debate is in and of itself immediately diagnosed as anti-progressive, as anti-left?” he wrote. (Emphasis his.) “There is literally no specific instance discussed in that open letter, no real-world incident about which there might be specific and tangible controversy.” He goes on to explain, accurately: “Of course Yelling Woke Twitter hates free speech! Of course social justice liberals would prevent expression they disagree with if they could! How could any honest person observe our political discourse for any length of time and come to any other conclusion?”

The reaction to the Harper’s letter is a touchstone of where one stands in the culture wars on the Left (and there is a culture war, as Steve notes in his video). If you grouse about the letter, you aren’t really in favor of free speech.

 

57 Comments

  1. DrBrydon
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    A good review of woke reactions to the piece. It point out, rightly, that the people who object to the Harper’s letter reject the idea of a pluralistic democracy, which should be enough to damn them. Another point is that the diversity of names on the letter, rather than appealing to the woke, merely made it easier to reject the letter because of the people they object to. Again, because they don’t believe in pluralism.

  2. Mark Reaume
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    sub

  3. eric
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    “They want you to sit down.
    They want you to shut up.
    They want you to do as you’re told.
    By them. Specifically.”

    That’s some serious projection. Old school liberals don’t want the woke to sit down and shut up. What we don’t want is the woke forcing conservatives to sit down and shut up.

    Ms. VanDerWerff’s letter is a classic example. Saying you “feel less safe at Vox” because a co-worker signed a letter is an attempt to get Vox to tell him as their employee, to shut up.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      The safe comment really bothers me and people use it all the time. It’s a way to make you feel like you are violent. It’s really just a synonym for “uncomfortable”. Good grief, I’ve often felt uncomfortable in meetings and I’ve probably made others feel that way as well as we discuss and debate ideas. If someone cried “you make me feel unsafe” I think I’d answer “so?” Do you think all 5’3″ of my middle aged self is going to kick your ass and wound you psychologically? Better call 911 and whaaaambulance.

      And then I’d clear out my desk and go to HR for my dismissal. 😀

      • BJ
        Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        It’s very indicative of a larger trend in social justice circles: the subversion of language to silence enemies. By telling her employer that she “feels unsafe” because of the entirely legitimate and non-threatening views expressed by a colleague, what she’s really saying to Yglesis and others is, “I’m the one who has the power to make you unsafe if you express these views.” This whole “I don’t feel safe” bullshit is being used in workplaces and college campuses as a way to exercise power over the people who, if the statement is taken literally, are the ones who ostensibly have the power (the power to make others feel “unsafe” and, by extension, cause “violence”). But it’s the people crying “aahhh I’m being threatened” who have the power to hurt others by playing the role of victim. Their position in the Progressive Stack makes their feelings more important than the job or social security of some white guy or conservative who said something with which they disagree.

        • Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:59 am | Permalink

          BJ, your response here is making me feel unsafe. Ok, not really. I was just trying it out. 😉

          • BJ
            Posted July 9, 2020 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

            Thankfully, PCC(E) would never be cowed by such claims 😉

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 9, 2020 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          There was a time when someone making “unsafe” claims would be told that is their problem and they should get help coping. But I’ve seen bad managers instead placate people even ones not evoking the woke language and for the most part it ruins a dept/company. Good people leave and the organization never moves forward because no one can make a change the offended doesn’t like so status quo it is.

          • BJ
            Posted July 9, 2020 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

            Haha, you just preempted my second reply to you!

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted July 9, 2020 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

              😀

        • JP415
          Posted July 9, 2020 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

          It’s like that guy in the Florida Costco who began yelling “I feel threatened! I feel threatened!” when an elderly lady asked him to put on a mask — a hysterical overreaction that looks silly to everybody not involved.

          https://news.yahoo.com/feel-threatened-unmasked-florida-mans-165515391.html

          • Posted July 9, 2020 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

            That was funny. He was assuming that those telling him to wear a mask were Wokies that would respond in his favor to his claim of being threatened. I suspect he was not reading his audience well. He’s probably been primed by right-wing talk radio to expect liberals to cower in response to “I feel threatened.”

            • JP415
              Posted July 9, 2020 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

              That’s woke culture in a nutshell: “I feel threatened!” or “I feel threatened on someone’s behalf!”

    • Keith
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      VanDerWerff’s behavior is appalling, disingenuous, and unprofessional. That she acknowledges her relationship to date with Yglesias has been professional and supportive, and yet manages to twist a difference in perspective into an issue of personal safety, reveals her dubious agenda. She is clearly seeking the power that comes from cancelling a colleague. Shame on her.

      • Mark Reaume
        Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        Imagine how unsafe Yglesias feels right now having coworkers like her.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 9, 2020 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

          Good point.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        It’s very immature. She hasn’t learned yet that relationships help & she just really hurt this one.

    • prinzler
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      “You want me to shut me up when you defend free speech for all!”

      There needs to be a new word for this level of projection.

  4. BJ
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    It’s incredible to see someone who signed a letter standing up for free speech and against cancel culture bend the knee in desperate penitence to those who would cancel them for it just a day or two later. Talk about being spineless! There are few things more pathetic and reprobate than someone standing up for a principle and then renouncing that stance as soon as someone violates it in a way that threatens the signatory. It’s even more disrespectful and unscrupulous than never standing for the principle at all. It’s a signal that, yes, I actually do accept cancel culture, to the point where I will disassociate myself from a statement against it as soon as I’m criticized by those who support it.

    If someone signs a letter supporting free speech and opposing cancel culture, and then caves the moment they’re criticized for it, what does that say about them? And what does it say about the power of cancel culture? And what does it say about the ever-narrowing Overton Window when literally anything J.K. Rowling agrees with is now automatically verboten?

    And if the reaction by academics and journalists to a letter this benign is so vociferous, those institutions seem doomed (though it’s not as if I thought that academia and most of journalism wasn’t already captured by these totalitarian boobs).

    Tangential note: I’ve noticed most people call these idiots who support the cancelling of wrong-thinkers “authoritarian.” I would suggest we call them “totalitarian,” which is something far worse. As we’ve seen and heard many times in the last few weeks, they believe “silence is violence.” Authoritarian suggests that the authorities just want anyone who doesn’t agree to keep to themselves, but these people want your ideological conformity. Not speaking up against them isn’t enough; they want you to kneel before them and beg for them to accept your agreement with their views. They want to force you to sit through reeducation seminars where you’re taught the proper way to think and speak. They require not your mere acquiescence, but your full-throated endorsement of everything they say and do.

  5. JP415
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Sub

  6. jezgrove
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    The open letter was so dangerous – no wonder VanDerWerff feels unsafe!

  7. Dean Reimer
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Boylan’s apology for signing the letter — when she found out it was also signed by people with whom she disagrees — is a perfect example of why the letter is necessary. She dared sign a letter that was also signed by the trans community’s current number one enemy, and therefor her credibility as a voice for her community has been dashed upon the rocks. She’s practically alt-right now! She’s erasing trans people.

    Sheesh. It’s beyond ridiculous, and the letter is absolutely correct that this helps the right. If well-meaning centrists and left-centrists get beaten up for the slightest wrongthink, it *will* drive them away.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Sheesh, was exactly my sentiment.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      So much for the content of one’s character, right? But of course this is in keeping with the woke ideology that scans everyone for purity based mostly on identity.

    • Filippo
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

      “Boylan’s apology for signing the letter — when she found out it was also signed by people with whom she disagrees . . . .”

      I wonder if Boylan would have taken offense had another signer retracted their endorsement because Boylan signed. (“What? How can anyone possibly disagree with ME?!” [with the requisite eye-roll and other diva gestures thrown in])

      • Filippo
        Posted July 10, 2020 at 7:07 am | Permalink

        Also, surely Boylan doesn’t agree with everything every other NY Times op-ed writer has ever said. Therefore, perhaps she should decline to write anymore NYT op-eds.

  8. AlTazim
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I have an opposing view: the letter was met mostly with agreement and praise outside of Twitter, but on Twitter the letter was met more with criticism and the typical “cancel culture isn’t real”, “there’s no censorship”, etc. The video game-like nature of Twitter forces people to adopt increasingly extreme positions, and the “woke” are rapidly increasing the rate at which they dominate the platform. People like Jesse Singal will eventually just give up on Twitter; what’s the point in having several thousand followers if you have to block thousands upon thousands, even tens of thousands, more of woke people just to get your word out? At that point just make a blog. In the long run, though, this will kill Twitter within the next couple years, as the company has no long-term business model if its current model is one that caters to increasingly extreme woke folk.

    • JP415
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      Twitter is the most overrated invention of the 21st century. It simply replicates what blogs or other social media platforms already do, except with a Procrustean character limit that makes nuanced debate impossible. Instead of well-written paragraphs, Twitter gives us snappy one-liners and memes. Political discourse in America has really gone down the toilet, and I think Twitter bears some of the blame.

      • revelator60
        Posted July 9, 2020 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        I think you are absolutely right about American political discourse having gone down the toilet thanks to Twitter—a medium completely unsuitable for political discourse and the discussion of sensitive issues that require nuance. The era when everyone had a blog now seems like a golden age in comparison!

        • JP415
          Posted July 9, 2020 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

          A friend of mine follows many people on Twitter, and he tried to sell me on its benefits several months ago.

          Friend: “I like getting new content everyday from journalists, academics, and musicians that I like.”
          Me: “Most public intellectuals and artists have personal websites of some kind and you can usually get updates sent via email.”

          Friend: “Yes, but Twitter consolidates everything for you in one place.”
          Me: “I get all my updates in a single place—my inbox.”

          Friend: “On Twitter you can interact with other users.”
          Me: “Most blogs have a comments section. Also, you can write in complete paragraphs without the 280-characters limit.”

          Friend: “Yes, but you can link a series of Tweets together.”
          Me: “Why? Why not just write a blog post with well-defined paragraphs?”

          Friend: “Jibber jabber mumbo jumbo gobbledygook. I like Twitter.”

          • Posted July 9, 2020 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

            I like the fact that one can follow someone who’s opinion I value and see what they think is important about the world. Sean Carroll’s response to the Harper’s Magazine letter was posted to Twitter and I was able to read people’s responses to it and, to some extent, his replies. I could have even posted my own comment and he might have replied. This kind of interaction is hard to find anywhere but Twitter.

            I also like to see The Lincoln Project’s latest anti-Trump video as soon as they are released which they notify via Twitter.

            I can follow commercial space flight accounts and get all the latest scoop on SpaceX, Electron, and all the rest. I find out what has blown up and why as soon as their engineers or CEOs choose to share it.

            There’s an intimacy and immediacy that is just not present elsewhere. I’m not a member of the paparazzi but anyone who wants to follow their heroes closely, will probably do it via Twitter.

            Of course, Twitter is often not the only place such information can be found but it’s much more direct and timely than pretty much all the other sources.

            I really don’t get what people find so objectionable. Frankly, I think it is fashionable to thumb one’s nose at it though I can’t imagine why that is. Actually, my theory is that they read it thinking about all the a-holes that are on there and they identify Twitter with them. There’s no law against doing that, of course, but it makes no sense to me.

            • JP415
              Posted July 9, 2020 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

              I think it is fashionable to thumb one’s nose at it . . .

              I don’t really get that impression, at least among my age group (I’m in my early forties). If anything, I’m considered a bit of a lone crank because I don’t like Twitter. While does have some value (e.g. quick updates or satire accounts like Titania McGrath), I just don’t think it’s good for any kind of in-depth discussion. Plus, I find the abbreviations and argot difficult to follow. For a really good discussion, I prefer the blog or magazine format where authors have room to stretch out and put their ideas in an orderly sequence (like WEIT!). But, I can tell I’m out of the mainstream in my demographic.

              • Posted July 9, 2020 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

                You are right, Twitter is not the place for an in-depth discussion. It is interesting that a new form has emerged of stringing many tweets together to make a longer statement. AFAIK, this has been around as long as Twitter but has recently evolved into a reasonable way to express oneself. As has been noted, Sean Carroll made use of this form to express his opinion on the Harper’s letter even though he has his own blog so could have easily posted there. (Perhaps he will still.) The audience is different between blog and Twitter. The blog audience seems narrower than the Twitter audience. I’m sure there’s more to it than that but that’s all that comes to mind. Even though the 240-character limit seems a bit cumbersome, it does allow people to comment on bits of the story. It probably also influences how one writes.

                I also agree about the jargon but that’s shared by all social media now, including email. Some people even use it in blog posts, though not our host of course, unless he’s making a particular rhetorical flourish. I don’t think we’ll be able to fight this. Just have to keep Google handy, which I do for lots of reasons. I have installed the ability to right-click on selected text and do a Google search and use it many times a day.

    • Steve Gerrard
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      This line from Singal explains the problem:

      “It was an exhausting day on Twitter.”

      I don’t care who you are or what you do, Twitter is exhausting only if you make it so for yourself. You can always step away from it.

    • Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Nonsense! I saw many, many more Twitter comments supporting the Harper’s letter. It probably depends on where you look so neither my take nor yours is probably reliable. I don’t know how one would do it scientifically. My point is that what you are suggesting may not be true and isn’t true from where I stand.

      Even Sean Carroll’s take on the letter was challenged thoughtfully by one commenter and Carroll thanked them for it. I didn’t see any reaction from Carroll beyond that, though, so perhaps no minds were changed.

      BTW, the suggestion that Twitter is going away any time soon is also ridiculous. In fact, their stock has gone up a lot in the last day or two because an analyst revealed that they are working on some new “subscription platform”. I see no way that Twitter is going away any time soon.

      I really don’t get all these tirades against Twitter. It all depends on who you listen to, just like the phone, TV, books, etc. If your objection is that bad things are said on Twitter, I really believe you haven’t taken free speech to heart.

      • EdwardM
        Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        Yeah we’re stuck with it and you’re right that, like the intertubes itself, there is some good in it. One has to wade though oceans of shit to find it, but there is some good, if perfunctory commentary. The whining goes both ways – those who are offended by some twitter twat, whether they are the kind of moronic wokette like VsnDerWerff or one of those who hate the twitterati ignoramuses for their bumpersticker way of thinking, there is an easy solution. Turn it off or better, delete the app. No one -anywhere- is forcing anyone to read that crap.

        • JP415
          Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:20 am | Permalink

          I deleted my account a couple of years ago and don’t regret it. Sometimes I make the mistake of looking on Twitter, see a comment that annoys me, and get the urge to respond. But I resist the urge. It’s better not to get sucked back into the Twitter vortex.

        • Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:28 am | Permalink

          I often read some thoughtful Twitter opinion and feel the desire to comment. Then I read the comments that have already been made and decide not to enter the ugly fray. Reading such comments can ruin one’s opinion of their fellow man or woman but I guess mine wasn’t that high to start with. On social media, as in real life, one seeks to communicate with people one respects and turn one’s back to all the others. (This may cut out reasonable opinion with which one simply disagrees but that’s a separate issue.) There’s definitely no reason to let those yahoos ruin your day. Just seek out the good stuff and ignore all the rest.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted July 9, 2020 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

            I always ask myself, “do you really feel like getting into a bit argument with a bunch of people you don’t know online today?” The answer is usually no & I go do something else.

            • BJ
              Posted July 9, 2020 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

              But, Diana, what could you possibly rather be doing than having a pointless, rage-inducing argument with some idiot on Twitter? What, I ask? I DEMAND TO KNOW WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE MORE IMPORTANT AND ALL YOUR POLITICS IS VERY BAD AND I THINK WE SHOULD ARGUE ABOUT IT

              #MAKEDEBATGREATAGAIN 😛

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted July 9, 2020 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

                Washing my hair. 🤪

      • John Dmytrenko
        Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        I agree. With the folks I follow a very high percentage agreed with the letter. I did think Sean Carroll has some good points though.

      • AlTazim
        Posted July 9, 2020 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        “If your objection is that bad things are said on Twitter, I really believe you haven’t taken free speech to heart.”

        I don’t object that bad things are said on Twitter, much as I didn’t object to AOL IM, message boards, and chat rooms because 15 years ago pedophiles used them to go after minors, but that, as a medium, it offers incentives which are not healthy for debate. I don’t think it should be “banned”. I don’t think that makes me opposed to free speech anymore than Marshall McLuhan or any other media critic/analyst describing how different means of communication produce different pros and cons in regards to what we communicate, how we communicate, and what the purpose of communication is.

        And stock prices are ephemeral, don’t read too much into them as a matter of long term trends. Where is MySpace now? Where is AIM? Or more recently, where is Tumblr? Twitter obviously has its positives (I’ve personally found some great commentators and artists on there), but it has its limitations too. It’s not like the people on it who I do like will cease to exist once the Twitter ship crashes.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      I think modern society might, somehow, manage to survive le morte de Twitter.

    • Roo
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think that Twitter as a business will fold, but I do think what is becoming increasingly apparent is that everyone – from journalists to public figures to politicians – are in thrall to a bunch of gossipy middle schoolers (or those with that mindset) now that Twitter culture is in place. I think this is becoming apparent already and will become even more apparent after a few more rounds of measurable public opinion (when it comes to things like elections, sales, etc.) not lining up with the Twitterati. Twitter will probably still be there, but what needs to change is the adults in the room taking advice on everything from who loses their job to what politics should look like from a bunch of clueless kids.

  9. Jon Gallant
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    What is most striking about today’s wokiest of the woke is narcissism, at once loud and pathetic: Oooh, you are marginalizing me, I feel so marginalized. This development was all foretold in Christopher Lasch’s “The Culture of Narcissism” (1979).

    Lasch was without question on to something.
    We now have the Rightwing version visible every day in the White House, while its Left version has been tweeting and cancelling and protesting like a bag of cats going back 50 years. The “revolutionary” pose (a la John Jacobs in SDS of the 60s) is an obvious self-dramatizing symptom on the Left for patients presenting Narcissistic and Histrionic Personality Disorders, as defined in the DSM.

    The only new, 21st century symptom is the appeal to the HR manager: Oooh, I don’t feel safe because of something written by other people who signed the same letter as such and such co-worker. Younger patients may have learned this trick as a result, Jon Haidt speculates, of the childhood experience of “helicopter” parenting. So, the current set of symptoms has already been categorized fully by the DSM, Lasch, and Haidt.

  10. EdwardM
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    If there is any silver lining in all of this, I get the distinct impression that a very large and annoying shark has just been jumped. A letter like this is like the zoom feature on the camera filming the jump.

  11. kyuss
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    P.P. Liar’s and the Woke brigade at “Freethought Blogs” hated the letter and since they are the arbiters of TRUE ATHEISM they must be correct…

    https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2020/07/08/weaponized-ambiguity/

    https://freethoughtblogs.com/gas/2020/07/07/prestigious-list-of-fragile-assholes/

    • Posted July 9, 2020 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      I had recently remembered that about a year ago I was triggered to post a comment on Pharyngula around this matter. I keep promising to myself I won’t comment there, and #$%$* it I sometimes break that.
      It was about the use of the N-word (see? Can’t even write it), and where PZ claimed that if a teacher is to read some literature to a class which uses the term, that all they have to do is warn the students and all would be fine.
      I commented that no, it does not work that way. There are several cases where university instructors who have been suspended or even fired over reading passages with that word, and at least one case which stated the prof had carefully warned the class that a paragraph used the term. A student complained, and the prof was yanked from the class. So no, it does not work that way. I cited links. I was polite.
      I expected to be flamed in the comments, of course, and to see that I checked back an hour later. My comment was gone.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 9, 2020 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        Ugh. I had that happen on a friend’s FB page. It was in response to something somewhat woke. I forget now because I swear I’m losing my mind. I carefully replied, expected some sort of fight but instead she deleted my comment.

        • Posted July 9, 2020 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

          You can delete someone else’s comment on Facebook? That doesn’t seem right though I suppose it is reasonable to have control over replies to one’s own original post. I dislike FB but mostly due to how it is designed rather than anything to do with what is said there. It also bothers me that Zuckerberg refuses to mark fake content.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted July 9, 2020 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

            Yes, you can delete your own posts and anyone’s response to your post.

      • BJ
        Posted July 9, 2020 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

        Haha, I tried to reply to a post on Pharyngula four or five years ago. It was completely reasonable, as civil as a comment could possibly be, but I forgot to factor in one thing: I disagreed. It was gone in less than ten minutes. PZ and his crew are like the perfect distillation of the social justice crowd in this regard: all disagreement must be silenced immediately because, for goodness’ sake, someone might see it and change their mind!

  12. Charles A Sawicki
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    This whole sort of stupid controversy is a clear indication that a significant fraction of humanity are herd animals continually glancing around to make sure they stay in step with their mob. tRump followers are mostly another good example.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      Oh yes, the human urge to conform is strong. That’s why dangerous movements get going and stay that way. I suppose part of our tribalism that helped us survive and is biting us in the ass now.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 9, 2020 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        And I should add – people desperately want to be led. It’s shocking how they often don’t even really want autonomy. The anti-maskers especially crave conformity and rules even as the rail against them they parrot the talking points of those they follow.

  13. dd
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    A tad late but worth 4 minutes…


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