JK Rowling among 150 public figures to sign open letter criticising 'cancel culture'

Marie Claire Dorking
·4-min read

JK Rowling and Margaret Atwood are among 150 signatories who have signed an open letter objecting to “cancel culture”.

The letter, published in Harper’s Magazine, warns of an “intolerant climate” for free speech and comes amid a debate over “cancel culture”, the idea that public figures face criticism and shaming for what some perceive as offensive opinions.

“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” the letter says.

“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.”

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JK Rowling has joined 150 signatories of an open letter detailing the threat of 'cancel culture', pictured in April 2018. (Getty Images)
JK Rowling has joined 150 signatories of an open letter detailing the threat of 'cancel culture'. (Getty Images)

Another part of the letter reads: “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.”

The publication of the letter comes after Rowling was recently criticised for a series of social media posts and an essay that some described as “transphobic”.

The Harry Potter author has also faced a recent backlash for comparing transgender hormone replacement to gay conversion therapy.

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The letter goes on to condemn what it describes as “disproportionate punishments” dished out by institutional leaders conducting something the signatories refer to as “panicked damage control".

It continues: “Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a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 organisations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes.”

The open letter adds: “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.”

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The release of the letter has since lit up social media with many heading to Twitter to express their views.

While many suggested the signatories were merely shying away from people criticising their views, others pointed out that the right to free speech doesn’t include using that right to spread hate.

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