Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. 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. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second.
One might be inclined to ask, if these reforms are overdue, and if we've been enjoying a set of moral attitudes and political commitments that espouse strong norms of open debate and tolerance of differences, to what extent the "needed reckoning" and the "moral attitudes" it has intensified are separable. If the extant politics of liberalism are truly good, why have they been incapable of bringing such a reckoning against our political systems?
More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms.
This is a really good point: hasty damage control is not what the protesters are calling for and will not satisfy them. What they're calling for is for institutional leaders to examine their own power and the contribution of their institution to the current state of things, and many of them do not expect those leaders to deliver those considered reforms voluntarily.
We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other.
And yet, as people are vocally demonstrating injustice and oppression, rather than picking up a hammer and trying to build something better, the signers use this moment to hand-wring about debate.