“Harry Potter” author JK Rowling has signed a letter published in Harper’s magazine warning of “restriction of debate” in today’s “woke” culture. Rowling has faced intense backlash on social media for some of her comments that offended LGBTQ and trans communities.
Other high profile signers of the letter include scholars, activists, journalists and writers including Noam Chomsky and Fareed Zakaria.
Rowling tweeted “I was very proud to sign this letter in defence of a foundational principle of a liberal society: open debate and freedom of thought and speech.”
I was very proud to sign this letter in defence of a foundational principle of a liberal society: open debate and freedom of thought and speech.https://t.co/noh8VRHMyN
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) July 7, 2020
From the letter:
The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.
We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.
More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes.
Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.
This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation.
The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes.
We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.
Many of Rowling’s critics lashed out at her.
You are a disappointment for all the lgbTq+ fans around the world. Use your platform wisely to spread awareness about the fragile situation that thousands of trans women live and not to address hateful and segregation ideas. Acknowledge your influence, goddamit!
— Stefano Braga (@Stefano_Braga) July 7, 2020
Free speech also means freedom to criticize said speech. You hold deeply ignorant views & insist on using your large platform to pummel a defenseless minority. It's hard enough to be a minority w/out folks creating more misconceptions that others have to fight just to exist.
— Blank Slate (@blankslate2017) July 7, 2020
If you’re such an advocate for “open debate”, and you recognise the frustrations of being “talked over”, why do you keep going on these harmful tirades and speaking over actual experts? Why are you only replying to the people that agree with you, in order to thank them?
— kennedy (@kennedy_mp3) July 7, 2020