Oh, for goodness’ sake, they’re going to make us defend Matthew @#$%&!ing Yglesias.
We can think of a dozen reasons to criticize Yglesias, but the Vox writer currently is under fire for signing a letter critical of “cancel culture.” For criticizing cancel culture, Yglesias might very well end up being canceled.
It begins, as these things do, with a tiny little voice squeaking about being made unsafe by the expression of contrary opinions. Emily (formerly Todd) VanDerWerff, a critic at Vox, is incensed that Yglesias would sign his name alongside that of such great monsters of our time as Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling and other “prominent anti-trans voices,” a letter that allegedly contains “many dog whistles towards anti-trans positions.” Such an outrage, VanDerWerff wrote, “makes me feel less safe at Vox.” What else? “I don’t want Matt to be reprimanded or fired” — Mr. Chekhov gently lays down his revolver — but “I do want to make clear that those beliefs cost him nothing.”
This is, of course, dishonest drivel. VanDerWerff no more felt threatened by Yglesias’s name on a letter than Amy Cooper felt threatened by that Ivy League bird-watcher in Central Park. This is simply the weaponization of victim status by vindictive, sophomoric busybodies who cannot bear the fact that someone else sees the world in a different way.
“Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial,” the letter begins. “Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.” It is very difficult to credit the honesty of someone who claims to be threatened by such sentiments.
Among the signatories are a few people who have seen the very pointy end of moralistic illiberalism: Salman Rushdie, who wrote a novel that won him a death sentence from Tehran; Khaled Khalifa, whose novels are banned in his native Syria; Garry Kasparov, a survivor of Soviet repression and target of Vladimir Putin’s gestapo.
Also Matt Yglesias.
The predictable backlash is having the predictable effect. Historian Kerri Greenidge of Tufts denied endorsing the letter in spite of her signature being on it. Others have gone into intellectual hiding. From the New York Times: “Another person who signed, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in an effort to stay out of the growing storm, said she did not know who all the other signatories were when she agreed to participate, and if she had, she may not have signed.” The terror of being seen alongside J. K. Rowling is now up there with being the first one to stop applauding after Stalin’s speech.
These are dark times. More important, these are stupid times, and Matt Yglesias has contributed more than his share to that. But to treat his signature on a letter endorsing an open culture as a threat is, incredibly enough, more absurd than anything we can remember Yglesias himself having written.
Some trick, that.