Updated: Jul 24
The Harper’s Letter has brought free speech into the discourse. What interests me about the Harper’s letter is not who signed it, or if the people who signed it are hypocrites. The letter was a milquetoast defense of free speech. What interests me more is the rabid response to the letter, and this response in particular, A more specific letter on Justice and Open Debate.
I’m not interested in the virtues of any parties at play. I don’t care who has “bad takes,” I don’t care about people’s “problematic history.” I am not the judge of who gets to speak on what. I have appointed myself the judge of ideology, and the more specific letter on justice and open debate is an excellent example of pure ideology.
If there is a lesson to be taken from the uproar over the Harper’s letter, it will be in the examination of the ideology that prompts such a backlash, which is the ideology of woke progressive liberalism, which is itself a class ideology of what is commonly called the PMC.
As I have argued elsewhere, the PMC (the upper-middle class, the new petty bourgeoisie, or what we’ll call for simplicity’s sake, the professional class) is a discrete social class who engages in non-productive labor (separating them cleanly from workers). The professional class’ non-productive labor manages and directs production, reproduction, and legitimation of elite class rule.
When not legitimating the rule by elites, the professional class is engaged in a class war against the elites to secure for itself more funding for more professional jobs. This class war manifests as a culture war, whose presence blocks out the working class and redirects all sentiments of injustice through the “voice of the marginalized” a marginalized which can only be spoken for through their mouthpiece, the progressive professional class.
What is called ‘cancel culture’ is the product of professional class interest and of their ideology. ‘A more specific letter on justice and debate’ demonstrates the professional class ideology magnificently. From it, we can draw out 7 rules to the professional class ideology.
These 7 rules will make arguments without actually making an argument. Following the 8 rules, you can be like the professional and smear, lie, cherry-pick the present and the past, and dress up your selfish class interests as justice for marginalized groups.
Rule #1 Never admit your own class position.
The professional class is a section of the petty bourgeoisie, hence, professional interests are intensely antagonistic to the working class. A good portion of professionals lies to themselves and others, that PMC stands for the professional middle class, that the PMCs are allied with workers and therefore are “good socialists.”
Never mind the fact that the professional class has actively undermined the left and labor movements worldwide for upwards of five decades. That does not stop PMCs from signaling their progressive, socialist bonafide.
The letter opens with: “They write, in the pages of a prominent magazine that’s infamous for being anti-union, not paying its interns, and firing editors over editorial disagreements with the publisher: “The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.”
This is both the beginning and the end of the professional’s discussion of labor politics. The rest of their argument in favor of the restriction of speech has nothing to do with ending at-will employment, the countless working people who have lost their jobs because of new PC rules like the ‘ok’ sign is white supremacist.
Rule #2- Object to alternative formulations. Quibble over details. Be a grammar nazi.
“But they miss the point: the irony of the piece is that nowhere in it do the signatories mention how marginalized voices have been silenced for generations in journalism, academia, and publishing.”
Except the original letter actually did mention marginalized voices. The authors just didn’t say it in the approved jargon of the professional class: “The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation.”
‘Those who lack power’ is functionally the same phrase as ‘marginalized voices,’ but it's not in the correct professional jargon, so there’s a red flag on the play. Why the quibble? The professional is the manager of the informational economy, of norms, rules etiquette and manners in online spaces, and in online left-liberal spaces in particular. So the powerless and the exploited must always be framed as marginalized ‘folks bodies in spaces with voices’
The professional says “Actually you can’t be for free speech for the powerless, you should be for free speech for the marginalized, and especially black and trans people to critique elites publicly.” It's this kind of quibbling that the professional engages in. They cannot argue the main points, they cannot put together actual arguments, they are only able to smear individuals and misrepresent the views of others.
Rule #3: Represent people who you have no right to represent. Argue with a motte and bailey.
This rule combines the previous two rules. The motte, that everyone can agree with, is the concern for at-will employment, workers protections, a concern that is signaled once and never brought up again.
The bailey is the swapping of the motte something more controversial, in this case, the swapping of linguistic styles, from a class-centered labor politics to an identity-centered professional class politics, which is first signaled with the rejection of the term “powerless” for “marginalized.”
The strong argument, the motte, is mentioned once, that workers need protection. The weak argument, the bailey, is peppered throughout, that workers need protection from harm, including verbal harm, particularly black and trans people, and that's why free speech must be curtailed.
Most people disagree with the latter, the bailey, but they like the former argument, the motte. So the motte is advertised as the main thrust of the argument- don’t be fooled, the weak bailey argument is the only argument the professionals are actually backing.
“In truth, Black, brown, and LGBTQ+ people — particularly Black and trans people — can now critique elites publicly and hold them accountable socially; this seems to be the letter’s greatest concern. What’s perhaps even more grating to many of the signatories is that a critique of their long-held views is persuasive.”
The professional hides their selfish demands, the identitarian bailey, behind the motte of socialist labor politics. The professional has no real political position besides obfuscation. Challenge the more controversial bailey, and the professional claims it was only supporting the motte of worker’s protection. Once the motte is defended, the professional claims the bailey, curtailing free speech had gone unscathed, and actually people need to lose their jobs for disobeying the professional’s inane etiquette because “black and trans people.”
The idea that wokeness is a pure manifestation of “marginalized voices representing folks that have been left out” is a complete joke. If you’re skeptical of this, just ask yourself- do you really think the vast majority of African-Americans and trans people want to limit speech because certain no-no words cause literal harm? Of course not.
But the “representatives” of those groups, ie. the handful of black and trans people in media and academia, well they’re certainly on board with curtailing speech, and so are their white allies in their industries. Cancel culture is an elite class project, not an identitarian project. The phrase “marginalized groups” is a Trojan Horse that masks the selfish designs of the professional class interest.
Rule #4- Always say the quiet part out loud.
Professionals also have a personal hatred of certain black people who signed the letter because they are not “politically black” and do not share the woke progressive view of black identity. “The letter was spearheaded by Thomas Chatterton Williams, a Black writer who believes “that racism at once persists and is also capable of being transcended—especially at the interpersonal level.”
This is presented as something morally objectionable, as a stain upon Thomas Chatterton Williams’s conscience. Here the pernicious influence of the professional’s college education is on full display, Professional do not believe racism can be transcended on an interpersonal level. The idea that racial differences cannot be overcome is a profoundly pessimistic, nihilistic and to be perfectly honest, a racist view of humanity. I am completely disgusted by the abhorrent and pernicious beliefs that will come out of professionals when they say the quiet part out loud.
This is exactly what happens when someone is designated as “not politically black,” (that is, being like most African-Americans and disagreeing vehemently with the woke consensus on Black people). If an African-America is not politically black, then they are “unpersoned” in the minds of wokes- all of their reasonable ideas are treated as internalized white supremacist notions. Meanwhile, professionals dress up dangerous ideas like “racism cannot be transcended on an interpersonal level” and present that as reasonable.
I’ve never read anything that Thomas Chatterton Williams has written, but the fact that they think this opinion reflects poorly on Mr. Williams tells you everything you need to know about the professional’s petty and vindictive ideology.
At the heart of this objection is the preemptive protection of professional careers. If racism can be transcended on a personal level, as Mr. Williams says, then nobody has to pay professional diversity officers like Robin Di’Angelo or Ibram X. Kendi. Professionals want to keep the races and the genders and the sexualities separate so they can wield them like pawns in their opportunist, careerist game. Don’t believe their crocodile tears.
Rule #5- Never think systematically. The personal is political. See politics through the lens of a personal persecution complex.
This rule is pervasive throughout all the other rules. First, the systemic critique of class is dropped in favor of the amorphous marginalized. Then Thomas Chatterton Williams is not objected to on a political level, but instead is rejected on a personal level and by conflating his personal with the political, deems Mr. Williams to be not “politically black.”
When challenged to even the slightest degree, the professional will resort to hysteria, paranoia, and panic. The professional, whose ‘personal is political’ mantra is already pathological, has with it a politically-motivated personal persecution complex. This persecution complex has little relation to any discrimination or history of the individual- any objections or opposition is understood as the threatening swagger of an Evil Other.
“The letter reads as a caustic reaction to a diversifying industry — one that’s starting to challenge institutional norms that have protected bigotry. The writers of the letter use seductive but nebulous concepts and coded language to obscure the actual meaning behind their words, in what seems like an attempt to control and derail the ongoing debate about who gets to have a platform.”
“Nebulous concepts and coded language”? Professionals will read coded threats, dog whistles, and gaslighting into any arguments relayed against them. Having only deflections, motte-and-baileys, personal smears, and a warped worldview, the professional is forced to fit their interlocutor into a personal persecution complex and claim that perfectly normal prose is actually” seductive but nebulous concepts and coded language” aimed at persecuting me.
One twitter user applied the professional’s personal persecution complex “nebulous concepts and coded language” to Harper’s letter.
Every advocacy of free speech is read through the professional’s persecution complex, as either TERF behavior (as objected to above) or an African American person not being “politically black” and exhibiting anti-black racism (as with Mr. WIlliams).
Rule #6- Deny the reality of canceled culture, but insist that if it were real, it'd be good.
“Some of the problems they bring up are real and concerning — for example, they seem to be referencing a researcher being fired for sharing a study on Twitter. But they are not trends — at least not in the way that the signatories suggest. In reality, their argument alludes to but does not clearly lay out specific examples, and undermines the very cause they have appointed themselves to uphold.”
First of all, Cancel culture doesn’t have to be totally pandemic proportions for it to be effective. All you have to do is cancel one person and everyone around them will start to self-censor. This is an anarcho-orthodoxy imposed from the bottom up, not an omnipotent Cheka.
Cancel culture’s targeting of scapegoats to demoralize and opposition plays into the broader professional class strategy to divide people. They divide people by identities, and they divide people by who is the in-group and who gets canceled into the out-group. Instead of paying people to be a part of the Cheka, they volunteer to purge their own communities of the unclean, to fall in line with the professional elitist, pro-marginalized messaging.
There are so many documented instances of it affecting working people, the powerless, and people who go against the status quo. Here are a few:
Gaming studio manager said that he thinks people should have the right to be bigoted in the privacy of their homes without being punished. He was fired.
During the BLM protests, a literary agent tweeted about a gas station near her house being looted and that she was going to call the police. People objected, she pushed back, and the argument destroyed her business.
A Chinese author wrote a fantasy novel about a fictional world where “oppression is blind to skin color,” then withdrew and rewrote her book amidst allegations of “internalized racism and anti-blackness.”
A progressive writer told a story sympathetic to immigrants and Muslims faced massive backlash because the story centered a white character who didn’t overcome her racism fast enough.
A NASCAR driver lost sponsorship for something his father said 30 years ago before the NASCAR driver was even born. It’s actually woke for the sins of the father to bear consequences on the son.
A magazine editor defended the idea of authors writing about cultures and experiences different from their own. He was forced to resign.
A white conductor made a joke to his black friend with a southern accent. A woman overheard the joke, reported it, and got the conductor fired. The black friend insisted that the joke was not racist at all, but that didn’t matter. I suppose the black friend wasn’t “politically black” enough to make the call.
At Oberlin, a student, who happened to be black, was caught shoplifting at a family-owned business. Oberlin took the side of the students and tried to destroy a family business.
A Muslim student wrote a satirical piece making fun of wokeness. He was told he created a hostile work environment, staffers were “threatened” by his column. He was fired and his apartment was vandalized.
Who would have predicted that the same scapegoating tactics used against Islam and “Islamofascism,” which warped into scapegoating of deplorable, flyover country, and literal nazis would finally bend back to its source and wokes would eagerly join in islamophobic scapegoating?
After writing an op-ed critiquing the ideological homogeneity on college campuses, a professor was subjected to a campaign of harassment, vandalism, intimidation, and calls for his firing. And the college president said that, "he brought it on himself."
These are just the widely publicized cancellations. All of them took place in the professional class dominated industries: arts, media, academia, corporations, NGOs bureaucracies. Now imagine all the firings that took place outside of the culture industry, where ordinary non-college-educated Americans desperately try to conform to an elitist, dogmatic, and punitive code of conduct.
Actually you don’t have to imagine what happens to ordinary people- because it's already happening to them.
A Canadian School fired an ex-Muslim, Iranian born educator after he wrote a condemnation of Islam in response to a Muslim honor killing of young women in his birth country.
A Chipotle employee was branded a racist and fired for refusing to serve dine-and-dash scammers.
A black security guard at a high school was repeatedly called the n-word by a student disrespecting him. He told the student, “Stop calling me a n—-r. That’s an offensive slur.” As a result, the security guard was fired.
Cancel culture is most definitely a trend, and it is the result of the professional’s crusades of identity politics and revolutionary action” to Human Resource departments.
Rule #7- Have perpetual, historical amnesia.
The professional class has no concept of history, even though it's constantly citing history. The professionals cherry-pick history to invoke the legacies of certain oppression for certain identities, always viewing history on an interpersonal basis and projecting it onto the present.
The chopping up of history into personal narratives of particular oppressions only contributes to the general historical amnesia of the American people, and the selective historical amnesia of the professional class. History asks us to think systemically, and the professional is unable to do so- they must chop up history into personal, ahistorical narratives of the marginalized.
This historical amnesia is made readily apparent in the final paragraph: “The intellectual freedom of cis white intellectuals has never been under threat en masse, especially when compared to how writers from marginalized groups have been treated for generations. In fact, they have never faced serious consequences — only momentary discomfort.”
One word refutes this entire argument. Anti-communism.
The anti-communist crusades of the first Red Scare in the 1920s and the Second Red Scare in the 1950s directly robbed the intellectual freedom of many cis white intellectuals, but not only cis white men but anyone who had or was suspected of pro-communist sympathies. Not because they were marginalized. Not because they were black. Not because they were queer. Because they were communists. Because of their beliefs. Because they were “Russian spies.”
Why do the professionals not mention anti-communism? Because professionals today serve the same function that anti-communism did in the 1950s. They exist to fear monger, shove ahistorical slop into people’s ears, obscure class conditions, terrorize free thinkers, scare people until they stay in line, all of this to hide the fact that the professional class’s “left politics'' is anti-union, anti-worker, anti-socialist and anti-social. The professional class project is built at the expense of the working class- what we have today is a faux left that hides the rot within its woke petticoats. The sad truth of the matter is that the wokeness does for the 21st-century elites what anti-communism did for the 20th-century ruling class.
The pernicious of wokeness ideology would be acceptable if the professionals could use “the marginalized” and actually attain progress. Wokeness will never achieve progress because it is, at its core, a reactionary, hateful and spiteful doctrine. Diversifying corporate boards does nothing to improve the well-being of the vast majority of people.
The professional class would be fine if wealth inequality as it is now if 1 percent of elites were 12 percent African American, 5 percent LGBTQ, 20 percent Hispanic, and so on. All the professional class wants is new faces and new phrases, they are fine with the same old boot. Professionals are willfully ignorant stooges of the elites, and anti-racism is the moral laundromat of anti-union corporatism. That is their politics and they aptly demonstrated it in their response to the Harper's letter.
To sum up the rules of Professional class ideology:
Rule #1 Never admit your own class position.
Rule #2 Object to alternative theories. Quibble over details. Be a grammar nazi.
Rule #3 Never have a real argument. Always put forward a motte and bailey.
Rule #4 Always say the quiet part out loud.
Rule #5 Never think systematically. The personal is political. View politics through the lens of a personal persecution complex.
Rule #6 Deny the reality of canceled culture, but insist that if it were real, it'd be good.
Rule #7 Have perpetual, historical amnesia.
By following these rules, you will never have to advance an argument on the merits of the argument. Instead, whatever stupid opinion you have will be justified because it’s for some marginalized group. Public Sex? It’s for queer liberation. Encouraging self-censorship and adherence to an elitist ideology? That's actually for black people. Getting people fired for their job? Sure they are nice to trans people but they have heterodox opinions on gender so they’re basically nazis.
Let me finish by articulating why I support the Harper Letter. I’m for Free Speech because it's a protection for the powerless because it's essential to a democratic society. Free speech is essential to progress, as it allows dissidents to challenge parochial reactionary views, such as capitalism, or capitalist ideologies, such as wokeness.
I am for free speech because it allows idiotic conceptions of social progress to be challenged, such as those put forward by the professional class, and alternatives can be offered that benefit the vast majority, especially the working class.
Free speech is essential not only to challenge the powerful but also to challenge elites and elite aspirants who opportunistically claim to speak for a reified marginalized community, like the professional class. One member of the professional class, Osita Nwanevu advances this specious and dishonest argument over and over. "The debate over canceling culture, in Nwanevu’s view, is more about power. One person’s online mob is another person’s vehicle to hold someone accountable.
“What we’re seeing described as cancel culture isn’t so much a new kind of behavior but a new set of actors in our political discourse who get to say what isn’t ok — young people, African Americans, transgender people,” he said. “They now have the power to have their voices heard. Everyone thinks there are lines. The question is where are those lines and who gets to draw them.”
The vast majority of African-Americans and trans people do not want speech censored on their behalf. The professional class simply use marginalized people as a human meat shield to protect themselves from criticism and the need to put forward an actual argument.
The response to the Harper's letter was nothing but moral blackmail, and citations of harm. This is not a form of accountability or saying “what isn’t ok,” as Mr. Nwanevu asserts, what cancel culture does is erode worker protections, bolster at-will employment as it provides cause to fire someone for anything they say, and in the process cancel culture encourages self-censorship to avoid violating the professional ideological code of conduct.
This “accountability” silences dissent, and anyone who refuses to self-censor, even if they are from the marginalized community that the professional ideology is supposed to be protecting, those individuals are termed politically other, not politically black, TERF, class reductionist, and any other number of ‘literal nazi’ ad hominems. Mr. Nwanevu is right- this is a new set of actors in our political discourse, but they aren’t marginalized communities- it is always, at the bottom, the ideology of the professional class.
The following must be made abundantly clear- the way the professional class claims to represent these marginalized groups is actively detrimental to those same marginalized groups. The vast majority of African-Americans are poor and working-class, and a disproportionate number of trans people are poor.
By focusing on made-up concerns and demands, like the existence of African-Americans or trans people necessitates an anti-free speech politics, professionals suck oxygen away from issues of wealth inequality that immiserates everyone; African-Americans and trans people disproportionately, but also whites, Hispanics and every one unfortunately enough is holding the shit end of the economic stick in America. Elites mop up what the professionals have already divided and conquered.
The wave cancellations that have come in the wake of the George Floyd Protests will not abate. Floyd himself is being used opportunistically by the professional class to denounce coworkers and secure their jobs before the oncoming economic depression sinks in. Every time there is a spontaneous social movement, it will be co-opted by the professional class, just as the BLM protests were co-opted. Professional class advancement will be everywhere. Social progress will be nowhere.
It doesn’t matter what the next event is. The professionals with their woke ideology are well-positioned in academia, media, the arts NGOs and nonprofits to spin through their Rolodex of marginalized identities to take advantage of whatever injustice for selfish gain.
There will always be another excuse. There will always be another group that's “literally dying,” another protest that needs maximum support, another movement on a road to nowhere that needs plenty of people, another just cause, another oppressed group that needs to be spoken for by the professional class.