J.K. Rowling – the British author who created the stunningly successful Harry Potter series – is a political liberal.
In 2008, she donated £1 million to the U.K. Labour Party. In 2016, she campaigned for Remain in the Brexit referendum. She’s a professed admirer of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And so on.
Despite these impeccable credentials, Rowling is one of cancel culture’s prime targets.
Her sin is that she believes there are some differences between biological women and transgendered women. These differences are especially relevant when the latter’s transition hasn’t been accompanied by hormone treatment or surgery but is simply a matter of expressed identity.
Rowling has no issue with transgendered women living their lives as they see fit. But where their professed rights collide with those of biological women, she has a problem. The idea that biological women should be assigned to a subcategory called “menstruators” is a particular bugbear.
Left-wing in orientation, cancel culture takes aim at those deemed to have the wrong attitudes, to have expressed the wrong views or to be insufficiently deferential to the cause of the moment. Such people are to be condemned, ostracized and fired from their jobs.
It’s the 21st century equivalent of Hollywood’s infamous blacklist.
Cancel culture’s targets will often grovel, apologize profusely and announce that they’re going to step away for a period in order to reflect on their failings. Unseemly and squirm-inducing though that may be, it’s an understandable reaction. They are, after all, desperately trying to save their careers.
But not Rowling.
With the courage of her convictions and the capital to back them up, she’s vigorously fighting her corner. Being told to sit down and shut up doesn’t intimidate her.
As part of the fightback, Rowling is one of the signatories to an open letter decrying how the “free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.”
To further quote: “Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a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 heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes.”
Unsurprisingly, the letter has generated substantial controversy. Pushing back against emboldened righteousness isn’t a task for the timid.
One of the more obtuse criticisms is that many of the letter’s signatories are sufficiently powerful that they’re not personally in danger of being cancelled. This misses the point by a mile.
To the extent that it’s true, the fact of not being personally endangered makes the letter more, not less, praiseworthy. Speaking up when your back’s to the wall is self-preservation. Pushed to the limit, most of us would probably do it.
But speaking up when you’ve no immediate interest entails a degree of public spiritedness. Or if not public spiritedness, at least a belief in something bigger than yourself.
Cancel culture proponents also argue that they’re not depriving anyone of the right to free speech because they’ve no legal power to do so. Instead, in seeking to de-platform their targets by having them fired, they’re merely exercising their right to free speech.
This, of course, is precisely how the notorious Hollywood blacklist operated. Although various politicians stirred the pot, the U.S. government didn’t instruct the studios on who could and couldn’t be hired.
Instead, the studios responded to what they perceived as public pressure. And mindful of the bottom line, they discontinued the employment of those deemed to have communist sympathies.
Some of the affected individuals were actually unrepentant communists – Stalinists even. Others had vaguer leftist leanings.
Then, as now, various business entities went along. There’s a lesson here.
Never rely on ‘corporate man’ as a source of backbone. He doesn’t have any.
In resigning from the New York Times this week, journalist Bari Weiss pulled no punches .
The paper, she says, has become the purveyor of an ideological narrative rather than a vehicle for “a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions.” It’s a place where speaking your mind is something you do at your own peril.
Twitter, Weiss avers, is now editing the New York Times.
That’s a chilling thought.