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< Back to question The Harper's Letter: How are people split? Show more Show less

On 7 July 2020, Harper's Magazine published a letter signed by 153 prominent artists, writers and intellectuals including J.K.Rowling, Noam Chomsky and Margaret Atwood. Titled "A Letter on Justice and Open Debate" the signatories warned against the "intolerant climate" crushing free speech. They alleged that the rise of "cancel culture" whereby public figures are called out and boycotted for controversial views, was an assault on free speech. Others see their complaints as ironic, pointing to their elite status and use of a global platform to complain about being silenced. So, what do the two camps believe?

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The Harper's Letter has been described as everything from entitled to tone-deaf.
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We cannot excuse those - even celebrities - who defend prejudice

It is easy to forget the debates at the heart of these signatories' pleas. Those are around racism, transphobia, white supremacy, the agency a woman should have over her own body, and more. This is not a question of making mistakes. It is one of whether we can overlook morally insidious ideas that deny the right of people to exist, or to live equally amongst others. There can only be one answer: no. It is a troubling sign of just how long the road to dismantle systemic privilege is when an elite few choose to see these problems as open to debate. Proponents include Guardian journalist Nesrine Malik.
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Proponents


Context

Prejudice is defined as having a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. The amount of “things” that one can be prejudiced about is endless, from race, gender, and education to physical appearance. To name some stats; in New York City, 88% of police stops in 2018 involved Black and Latinx people while 10% involved white people.[1] Criminals who were considered more “unattractive” got longer sentences and increased fines of up to 304.88%.[2]

The Argument

Celebrities or anyone else can be excused for prejudice, at the end of the day, celebrities are just normal people and should not be treated any differently. They are entitled to freedom of speech. The voices of celebrities have influence; they can raise important issues amongst more people as well as be a voice for the general population. As the Harper’s Letter mentions, unusual or unorthodox ideas in the form of prejudice or otherwise should not be stifled and silenced, rather, they should be voiced, enforced, and out in the open to stimulate debate, opinions, freedom of speech, argued against and for and be proven to be wrong, incorrect or otherwise. Celebrities especially are good advocates for voicing ideas and should be encouraged to do such to really get attention and start debates and thoughts about important topics.

Counter arguments

No one, including celebrities, can be excused for prejudice. Kinh goes onto call prejudice as “social pollution… just as we breathe polluted air, we absorb biased attitudes and society suffers. We need to learn how to identify this pollution and reduce it.”[3] Celebrities especially have platforms that are far-reaching and any prejudice voicing will cause huge amounts of "social pollution" and studies have even shown that increased levels of are associated with poorer measures of mental, social, and physical health[3].

Premises

Rejecting the premises


References

  1. https://www.nyclu.org/en/stop-and-frisk-data
  2. https://www.thelawproject.com.au/insights/attractiveness-bias-in-the-legal-system
  3. https://www.uml.edu/news/stories/2010-11/prejudice_affects_health.aspx

This page was last edited on Wednesday, 9 Sep 2020 at 04:05 UTC

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