Some thoughts on the Harper’s Letter, a thread:
In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the willingness of a raft of actors left, centre and right, both in governments and civil society, to engage in censorship and to abandon due process and presumption of innocence.
But to limit this discussion to the acts of the extremely online mob, to, say, Jon Ronson’s concerns about Twitter public shaming or to the ill-defined term ‘cancel culture’—however troubling they are—entirely misses the wider atmosphere of an aggressive threat to civil liberties
And to restrict our concern to censorship imposed by the state or to believe that it is only possible for the state or for elites to engage in censorship and to deny other actors regularly censor too, is to be blind to the ways censorship operates at multiple levels in society
Religious groups or defenders of governments engaged in human rights violations to are now doing just the same as the liberal-left, via for example campus bans on BDS activists or other critics of the current Israeli government.
In some cases, the religious right’s efforts to de-platform is actively defended by the left, such as when socialist Iranian feminist Maryam Namazie was shouted down by Islamic conservatives at Goldsmiths University and the university’s feminist society defended the latter.
But it is also hypocritical of those Palestinian solidarity activists to (rightly) cry censorship when it happens to them, and then to try to get their conservative opponents shut down.
UK municipalities, police and private security firms restrict leafleting, busking, homeless people begging, ball games, ‘inappropriate dress’, and other ‘annoyances’ under such vehicles as Public Space Protection Orders and anti-social behaviour laws
This is not occasional any more, but standard operating procedure.
And whenever there are major international meetings, whatever country, protest is now restricted to “designated protest zones”
In the last week, what remained of free speech in Hong Kong has been entirely extinguished.
We've supported so much censorship elsewhere, so by what right can we criticize China?
(Note, contra the arguments that only the state can censor, that as some of these are independent universities, this cannot be the action of a state, yet it quite clearly censorship.)
Some environmental activists have themselves engaged in destruction of scientific experiments they disapprove of, destroying GM crops, sabotaging geoengineering research, and even assault, arson and bombings of biotech and nanotech labs.
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