To the Editor:
Re “Will the Left Survive Millennials?,” by Lionel Shriver (Op-Ed, Sept. 23):
My initial response to Ms. Shriver’s keynote address at the Brisbane Writers Festival last month — walking out and writing about why — seemed to be largely misunderstood. Many took the reaction to be a call for censorship and responded with fury. They took as a given the right to say and write what they want, without critique, consequence or interrogation of intent.
The debate is not about censorship: People can write in the voices they please. The real question is whether they should. It is about the structures that define the world in which we live and work.
Fiction does not exist in a vacuum: It becomes people’s realities, because so often the only exposure we have to those with very different lived experiences to our own is through stories. But this discussion is larger than the world of fiction.
Ms. Shriver claimed that those who now fight for equality have become the oppressor. Her words betrayed a disappointment that the times are changing, and lamented that people are so terrified of being caught saying the wrong thing that they instead choose not to say anything at all.
This must be the same censorship that sees her books published, her keynote addresses delivered and her Op-Ed article published in The New York Times. Her perspective betrayed a deep fragility, born out of the fear of change. To those with privilege, equality may feel like oppression. But equality need not be a zero-sum game. Framing it so seeks to divide and ultimately to halt progress.
Yes, the times are changing. Millennials, like me, are agitating for us all to be better, and that should come with the acceptance that nobody is beyond reproach. Difficult conversations will make us all uncomfortable. Good. That discomfort is how we improve, how we render the best characters, best stories, how we create the most equitable societies.
So rather than making broad, sweeping generational assessments, how do we move forward? We can start with intent. Is the intent to preserve the status quo, or to demand more?