An open letter in a major US current affairs magazine has provoked a storm of debate about so-called ‘cancel culture’. The letter’s general thrust is that today’s public sphere has been severely damaged by a decline in open discourse due to a culture of political correctness. According to its proponents, this in turn poses a huge threat to ‘free speech’, or perhaps even to the foundations of open discourse itself.
There’s certainly something superficially attractive about this argument. After all, who could possibly be against free speech and open discourse? But in reality, the letter has a gaping blind spot. Because though it doesn’t name ‘the left’ or ‘left-wingers’ specifically, the message clearly implies that there is some kind equivalence between our conduct and that of the Trumpian faux-populist right. Ironically, this insinuation is not just completely outrageous but also is far more dangerous to public discourse than any of the letter’s own ominous and misplaced apprehensions.