Weekend reads: freedom of expression
Where have all our writers been? Will they now take a stand for open debate?
With Salman Rushdie in hospital after a shocking stabbing at an event in western New York on Friday, many among the illiberal left are reconsidering the value of liberalism, and freedom of expression in particular — something that the courageous novelist has, of course, dedicated much of his life to fighting for. And, one hopes, will recover fully to do so once again.
I find myself feeling stunned. And, reading Tweets like the below, disoriented — for obvious reasons.
While it is heartening to see the global outpouring of support for Rushdie, and a relief to see so many of the words-are-violence Twitterati do an abrupt about-face, and suddenly concede that, well, yes, the whole point of a culture of open debate is to avoid exactly this kind of horrific violence — one has to wonder where these people were when liberalism was losing significant ground in recent years.
Where have our writers been?
What happens to freedom of speech when our literary figures are so caught up in the social media status game that they can’t summon the spirit, or the spine, to stand up and defend it?
When the Current Thing on Twitter continually trumps this fundamental societal value — without which, we have nothing. When all manner of artistic and cultural institutions are cowed by woke online mobs. When a tiny minority of ideological enforcers are allowed to dominate the public conversation, for years on end, with little objection. And when those who reject this ethos are summarily denounced and banished to social Siberia.
Where have all our intellectuals been?
Will our writers and thinkers now take a stand?
I keep returning to something that the wonderful author, essayist and cultural critic William Deresiewicz said recently on the podcast:
…what was the point of all of this? Just to live in a nice house?
Be a university president? Just to think well of yourself? Be an editor of The New Yorker, The New York Times or whatever? You know, now is the time that history is calling you. I know that sounds grandiose, but I think it’s true.
On that note, Substack CEO Chris Best spoke about the company’s laudable stance on freedom of expression on Joe Rogan this week. Proud, as always, to publish here.
Some housekeeping: I will be on vacation for a couple of weeks starting next Friday, so Lean Out will be on hiatus. Lean Out returns after Labour Day with an action-packed fall lineup. Stay tuned.
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