Satire is not provocative, except in the way that it is supposed to be.

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53 Responses

  1. Avatar Owen says:

    When did stating an opinion become “anointing himself some sort of expert”? Yglesias isn’t THE arbiter but he is AN arbiter, just like the rest of us.Report

  2. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Matt Yglesias does his mealy-mouthed best in offering this half-throated defense of a sensibly qualified, kind of-sort of support for the right of free expression.

    So did you like the piece or not?Report

  3. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Muhammed is not like a cheeseburger. A cheeseburger is entirely ours to eat, despite their injunction that they (and maybe we) not. Muhammed is theirs, and is certainly of deeper significance to them than to us. It’s much more reasonable that they’d like us not to mock him (and I’m not saying we should comply) than it is that they ask us not to eat a cheeseburger. So much so, that doing so in an unconsidered enough way, without enough due purpose, might indeed be an act lacking in judgement. Which I believe is what questions about Charlie Hebdo’s judgment so doing were about – not a blanket call for it never to happen. This is a figure of deep veneration for them. We shouldn’t necessarily mock him. Choosing to mock such a figure is an act of some weight, and should be undertaken with, paradoxically if you must, some gravity and sobriety and reflection. Maybe we should mock him, at certain times, in certain ways, for certain reasons. Figuring out what those are requires judgement. Therefore it’s possible to do it without the requisite judgment.

    And yeah, when people give their opinion about the propriety of a given action, they “set themselves us as the arbiter of” that thing. That’s just what that is. We all do that. Insignificant.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Muhammed is not like a cheeseburger.

      Except chemically.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Muhammed is theirs

      In one way, this is true; in another, more accurate way, it makes no sense at all. Mohammed was a historical figure who has now become an idea, intangible. He no more “belongs” to anyone, than does a ghost, or the concept of the number three. George Washington and Jesus “belong” to Americans in much the same way; which is to say, they don’t, not really, even if they happen to venerate them.

      As an idea or a symbol, “Mohammed” is just as subject to inquiry and interrogation as any other.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Glyph says:

        Bottom line reality, you’re absolutely right. I feel that civility and cultural respect provides a strong reason to allow certain symbols to be symbolically owned by those by whom they are most revered, however. Sometimes, indeed, we do indeed mock other people’s possessions. But it requires judgement to know when to mock their most cherished possessions. And that is what I am arguing.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Michael Drew says:

      To say “Muhammed is theirs” is to relinquish any right to comment or criticize Muhammed without their OK.

      Muhammed is a symbol, and symbols belong to every creature with the intelligence to grok them.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        No, it’s not to say that. Your guns are yours; doesn’t mean i relinquish my right to criticize you for what you do with them.

        Strictly speaking, though, as I said, you are right about whom symbols belong to. But, as I also said, I think there is a normative case to be made that certain symbols should be treated in a limited way as though they are owned by a set of people who highly revere them. Which is not to say that we never criticize them, or only do so as they allow, but it does mean, like with other examples of people’s prize possessions, that we show judgement about when and how and why to.

        It sucks that I had to write all that out twice.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        …Three times, really. Twice in response to challenges that didn’t grok my argument.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        @michael-drew

        Well, the obvious retort is, are you referring to my actual firearms, or the concept of firearms as a symbol? Because these are different things, and I would strenuously object to you telling me what I can & can not do with my firearms (in as much as I am not causing harm to others), but I lay no claim to the symbol firearms represent, other than to explain what they mean to me.

        To me they are a symbol of protection, independence, self-reliance. To others they are symbols of fear, violence, & death. As a gun owner, I claim guns as my symbol & no one is allowed to express negative representations of them except in the most respectful way.

        Which makes about as much sense as banning flag burning.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        @michael-drew

        That all said, I do agree that one should be respectful of symbols that have deep meaning to others in the general sense.

        Except when you are making a critical point about that symbol. Then you might very well need to be very disrespectful.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        But, in fact, I can critique what you do with your firearms even though you own them – I can critique the fact that you choose to own them. But I choose not to out of respect for the kind of strong preference you have just expressed that I not do so.

        Likewise – and again, I don’t argue that religious symbols are actually owned like you own your guns, but just in a limited, analogical way – I think we should choose to treat symbols of religions to a limited extent as though they are owned in a limited way by their respective religionists, such that we don’t mock them or give offense over them without at least some good reason, and not needlessly provocatively. (And I’m not saying that Charlie Hebdo did or didn’t do that/fail to do that.)Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        …That latter comment, in a nutshell, is really all I’m saying. Roughly.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        …To be clear, I certainly wasn’t initially clear that I meant “Muhammed is theirs” in this limited way that draws some norms from but is far short of ownership like we actually own possessions in the West. I thought that would kind of be implied by context. But I understand it wasn’t.

        But beyond that, I don’t know why we would think that granting/observing ownership or possession would somehow put various relations between humans and objects beyond criticism. Someone owns the New York Times in the full-stop, no-doubt-about-it Western sense of material ownership. We still criticize it, and them, for how they use it (short of harming people). It;s even someone’s prize possession.

        It’s not even clear to me when we would, absent other reason, choose to respect symbols (or possessions) that have deep meaning for people, and when we wouldn’t. The New York Times is someone’s prize possession – and a symbol – that has deep meaning for them. But I don’t think we give it much in the way of presumptive respect. It has to earn it from us day in and day out.

        Other symbols/possessions – religious ones come to mind – it seems like we accord respect to up until there is reason not to out of recognition for some even deeper-felt meaning than The New York Times even has for its owners. It’s about figuring out what kinds of valuing and significance that people give to objects (whether physical or ideal) to give something of a wide berth to (i.e. respect more than others up to a point) just because they’re that deeply felt to people.

        It requires judgement. And it’s very legitimately different from person to person.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        …I think there is a normative case to be made that certain symbols should be treated in a limited way as though they are owned by a set of people who highly revere them.
        I would like to hear that case.

        Muslims revere the person of the prophet Muhammad. Hindus revere the cow. You have said that Muhammad is not like a cheeseburger. So, what is the normative argument for treating them differently?Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        @michael-drew

        I think we have an understanding. But recognize that there is a massive difference between you critiquing my ownership of firearms, and you insisting the state come to relieve me of them, or you doing that yourself.

        Although I agree with j-r that I’d like to hear your argument about limited ownership.Report

      • “Muhammad” doesn’t transmute its meaning when brought across a cultural frontier nearly as much as “cow” does. To a large extent, Muhammed remains theirs because our only use for it is to treat it as the symbol they take it to be; “cow” (well, really just cow, as here “cow” is something like “the significance of cow in Hindu culture”) has other meanings here that we can in very good faith say don’t treat the symbol that “cow” is there.

        IN essence, largely everywhere mUhammed = “Muhammed”, where as outside of a specifically Hindu context cow itself doesn’t even invoke the Hindu symbol of “cow.”

        To put it more simply, when we invoke Muhammed we necessarily invoke the Muslim religious context in which “Muhammed” is sacred; when we invoke a cheeseburger, we don’t invoke the Hindu context in which “cow” is sacred (unless we
        re really putting our minds to it).

        (And if we are really putting our minds to it in that way, then yeah, the argument holds. It is in fact disrespectful of Hindus to eat a cheeseburger in order deliberately to transgress what is sacred in Hinduism, and we should accord that aspect of cowness – the holiness in Hinduism of the cow as apprehended in Hindu thought – the same respect we accord Muhammed. It’s just that, in a Western context the symbol doesn’t attach as uniquely to the object of cow as it does to the object of Muhammed.)Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Michael Drew says:

      @michael-drew

      @glyph and @mad-rocket-scientist responded pretty much exactly as you would have. That said, I agree that certain groups have a greater claim to certain symbols and ideas. This, however, is about more than just symbols and ideas. It is about control of the public sphere. You have the right to weigh in on the symbols and ideas that define your identity, but you don’t get to dictate what happens to those ideas in the wider world.

      If Stephane Charbonnier had donned a sandwich board with those cartoons and gone walking through the Muslim quarters of France looking to provoke people face to face and some group of men beat him to within an inch of his life, I would be one of those people saying, ‘obviously assault is not OK, but dude showed some questionable judgment.” Again, there is a difference between being directly provocative and be merely offensive. If you cannot print questionable things on the pages of a satirical magazine, then where can you?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

        @j-r

        @glyphand@mad-rocket-scientist responded pretty much exactly as you would have.

        I’m taking “you” there as you (not me).

        Substantively, you are broadly confused. Expressing a strong opinion about what you’d like to (not) have said about the symbols you worship is not dictating what is said about them. It’s not even attempting to dictate it. The people who are attempting to dictate it are the violent jihadists and people trying to get laws passed enfiorcing these desires – only them – not just anyone who will say they’d strongly rather you not miock their exalted symbols.

        And heeding such peaceful requests is not being dictated to. It’s choosing to respect someone’s wisheds and values (as much as you can/think is warranted).Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    At the risk of repeating myself, the main thing that I find surprising is the difference between the arguments over Immersion (Piss Christ) and The Satanic Verses.

    There was a thread talking about the importance of respect in the latter debate that did not occur in the former.Report

  5. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I’m not used to saying this, but of all the pieces I’ve read on Hebdo Charlie, I think Yglesias comes the closest to reflecting my own views on the matter. What differences there are, are mostly a matter of emphasis.

    What’s sensible and fair is not a “settled matter”… but a large part of the debate over blasphemy generally is trying to settle it, as best we can (in a world of seven billion, or a country of over 300 million). That it is likely to be perpetually unsettled is a large part of why we allow freedom of speech in principle. It’s also why I am inclined to rally around speech – even speech I disagree with – when that freedom is threatened (whether by government, mob action, or terroristic acts).

    As they say, though, criticism of free speech is free speech. As is criticism of the criticism. And on and on. I am myself rather uncomfortale with blasphemy for its own sake. The Hebdo Charlie cartoons may have had the right target, from what Mark Thompson is saying, though did so in ways that (I gather) offended Muslims of all stripes. And (at least arguably) needlessly so. Such was (or should have been) Hebdo Charlie’s right. Whatever disagreements I had with them, though, remain a matter of opinion (and have been overtaken by events).Report

    • Avatar LWA in reply to Will Truman says:

      And this will not be “settled” until we have negotiated it with the rising non-western cultures.

      The tension between liberal democracy and conservatism has been in negotiation for centuries; We are just now entering into a global village where we’re drawn into close contact with people who have never heard of Voltaire or give a rip about the freedom of the press, and who don’t necessarily even agree with our conception of what “rights” are.Report

  6. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    Whenever something like this happens, I usually like to point out that some people are just assholes.Report

  7. Avatar Don Zeko says:

    I feel quite comfortable stating that, by all evidence available to me, it seems plain that Mohammed did not, in fact, hear the word of God, and thus was either lying, mentally ill, or in some other way confused about the nature of what he was hearing and saying. This statement is blasphemy to the Charlie Hebdo murderers, and to a great many others as well. It is also not at all the same thing as running a cartoon of Mohammad engaging in various sex acts in order to get a rise out of people. Beyond that, the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are part of a larger discourse that includes the Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s and Bill Maher’s of the world that don’t simply mock: they make all sorts of blanket statements about a religion with hundreds of millions of adherents. You want this conversation to just be about blasphemy, but I don’t see how to separate it from other types of speech that people find offensive.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Don Zeko says:

      When Mohammed returned to Medina in triumph, only two people were put to death.

      They were both satirists.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Don Zeko says:

      This statement is blasphemy to the Charlie Hebdo murderers, and to a great many others as well. It is also not at all the same thing as running a cartoon of Mohammad engaging in various sex acts in order to get a rise out of people.

      And yet, those men and men like them would murder you just the same.

      the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are part of a larger discourse that includes the Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s and Bill Maher’s of the world that don’t simply mock: they make all sorts of blanket statements about a religion with hundreds of millions of adherents. You want this conversation to just be about blasphemy, but I don’t see how to separate it from other types of speech that people find offensive.

      And yet, like I said in the piece, those men did not attack the National Front or Ali or Maher or whoever the French equivalent of Ali and Maher are. In a country in which there are any number of people making actual Islamaphobic statements and an organized political movement that is quite open in its opposition to Muslim immigration, those men chose to attack the offices of a satirical magazine. You can gloss over that fact by bringing up all that larger discourse, but the fact remains.Report

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    “Most of all what Vox is about is being sensible and being respectable. And that is fine. The world may need its Voxes, but the world needs its Charlie Hebdos as well.”

    Yes, I support the existence of Maggie Gyllenhaal. Oh wait you said Voxes, not Foxes.

    The on-line liberals and left have been engaged in an issue of freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism for the past few years. I have been part of this as well. This usually happens when a conservative or right-winger gets shocked, shocked that a liberal is telling him or her that they are unfunny and wrong. The right-wing response is usually to bring up a shield of free speech for reasons that are inexplicable to the left.

    But there is also a long-standing fight on the left about whether free speech is a liberal goal or whether inclusiveness should be a liberal goal. I’ve seen a lot of people confuse the idea of a hate crime and think that hate speech is also illegal. Most non-Americans I’ve met have thought that the first Amendment is absurd in its radical levels of free speech protections and are kind of shocked about our vigorous defenses for libel and defamation charges.

    But I generally concur with what you are saying but I’ve never been Matt Y’s biggest fan on the left.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      free speech is a liberal goal or whether inclusiveness should be a liberal goal

      I can not understand why the left seems to think these are conflicting goals.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Maybe not contradictory, but frequently in tension.

        How does liberal inclusiveness accommodate those whose idea of free speech differs from ours?Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        How does liberal inclusiveness accommodate those whose idea of what is acceptable dress for a woman differs from ours?Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Free speech feeds inclusiveness. If a person/group feels excluded by the presence of free speech, then I think they need to re-evaluate their commitment to inclusiveness.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        MRS, the obvious rub is that some exercising free speech can be saying ” we don’t want any ( insert racial epithet here). Keep the F out. You people are a bunch of ( insert nasty stereotype here). That is free speeching but it does not encourage inclusiveness.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        I’m thinking more along the lines that liberal democracy by design is intended to be sort of “open source”- without any fixed truths, except what is determined by majority vote.

        A lot of the commentary here and elsewhere sort of assumes the framework of a westernized liberal democracy tolerating and absorbing illiberal immigrants who are then inculcated into the moral norms of the majority. Which is the story of America, and what we are familiar with. More importantly, we assume that our moral norms about rights are universal and self evidently true, when they are in fact particular to a minority of the world’s population.

        But it isn’t necessarily going to remain that way. The French are dealing with majority-immigrant populations in places like Marseilles, and the Germans are as well. I live in a majority-minority city, work in a majority-minority office, and my client works out of her office in Shanghai.

        This is not a scaremongering comment; its more to emphasize that the interaction between liberalism and traditional norms requires negotiation and mutual assent, not unilateral imposition.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist, free speech can be used to exclude marginalized groups from society. In the United States, there used to be a big market for what can basically be called racist knick-knacks of African-Americans. Europe used to have a similar market for anti-Semitic knick-knacks. Producing and owning these racist knick-knacks were ostensibly free speech and free expression but they did a lot to exclude and marginalize African-Americans from American society for many reasons.

        The average French Muslim is much more religious and adheres to a stricter disciplinary culture than most other French people, which stereotypically is an irreligious, irreverent, and libertine place. Making fun of religious people might be free speech but if the majority of the body politics mocks religion than the devote minority is going to have a hard time integrating into the body politic.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        @lwa has it right. The basis of philosophical liberalism is that there is no such things as a good life. Rather, every adult should be allowed to live life as he or she sees fit and quietly discuss their version of the good life with other people. Problem is that many forms of the good life not only claim to be the one true form of the good life but are inconsistent with other forms in material ways. A good life that preaches strict discipline is not going to get along with a more libertine version. We see that tension between conservative Christians and the more liberal people in the United States. In Europe, you get a racial component added to the mix because the stricter disciplinary people are more likely to come from immigrant backgrounds.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        The tension is pretty simple.

        If you say something stupid, people will think you’re an idiot. If you say something racist, people will think you’re a racist.

        You’re free to speak whatever you wish, but not free from people judging you on it. Not like “in a court of law” but in the “I’m forming an opinion of you” way.

        So, you know, people can and do say dumb stuff or racist stuff or insulting stuff and it can drive people away from a community. I mean, if everyone around you is spouting KKK slogans, most folks won’t stick around.

        The place this is actually tricky is stuff like workplaces — places that are NOT the public square or not fully the public square. Go be as racist as you want on the steps of the Capitol, but if you spout that in your company’s breakroom you’re probably gonna be fired.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        The basis of philosophical liberalism is that there is no such things as a good life.

        I suspect you mean “the” good life?Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        I think @morat20 is getting at my concern more than LWA or LeeEsq is.

        My concern is, as always, the use of organizational authority to silence speech. Hate speech laws or campus speech codes do not, despite the best intentions of their proponents, create inclusive environments (mainly because it is hard to have an objective standard). They tend instead to create echo chambers.

        Now Lee does have a valid point that a society can, through the use of speech, be massive dicks toward a minority. And yes, this does concern me because it does cause some measure of harm to a minority & that runs counter to my beliefs (tyranny of the majority, and all that). Still, overall, free speech is far & away better & more inclusive than speech codes/laws, since it lets everyone air their opinions & allows for discourse, and hopefully, understanding. Speech codes/laws don’t stop objectionable speech, they just drive it underground, where it can fester and allow those who agree with it to feel oppressed & marginalized.

        So, I can see LWA’s tension (which is probably a good thing), but not the contradiction implied by Saul.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Now Lee does have a valid point that a society can, through the use of speech, be massive dicks toward a minority. And yes, this does concern me because it does cause some measure of harm to a minority & that runs counter to my beliefs (tyranny of the majority, and all that)

        What exactly is the concern? I cannot think of a single instance in which freedom of speech is the primary means by which any majority group harms any minority group.

        Take the case of white supremacy in the United States. The KKK used to be a powerful, tyrannical organization, but not because they had the right to assemble and burn crosses and speak against blacks. The KKK was a threat because, if you stepped out of line, they might show up at your house in the middle of the night, drag you in the woods and kill you. And if they did that, you or your family would have no legal or political recourse to stop them or bring them to justice. None of that has much to do with freedom of speech.

        Fast forward to 2014, the KKK still has the right to assemble and burn crosses and speak against blacks, but because all that other stuff has changed, the KKK has faded from a major terror organization to a bunch of marginalized outcasts. I know that people get riled up whenever the Klan wants to march, but allowing the Klan to march at this point in time does more to expose them as a fringe organization with very little power than would restricting their rights to march.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        @j-r

        The concern is not the speech itself, it’s the fact that when a majority uses speech to degrade a minority, there are commonly two associated effects. The majority can gain either official power to oppress the minority, or power can unofficially turn a blind eye toward the oppression.

        Yesterday I was listening to NPR & they were talking to the NYPD commissioner about how police treat black people. The NYPD commissioner agreed that blacks get unfair treatment, but he excused it by saying everyone treats black people unfairly & he wasn’t going to be the whipping boy for it. I think they ran out of time, because Mike Segal didn’t counter that further. It is, however, a sign of unofficial oppression. The NYPD should, as agents of the state, work to treat everyone equally, despite what the rest of society does (even if it is pushing a boulder up a hill). Because if they take the lazy way, then society sees the state treating blacks unfairly and takes it as license to do the same (viscous circle & all that).

        None of this means we should use the power of the state to limit speech in order to protect a minority, but rather we should encourage more speech to encourage less dickish behavior.Report

      • Avatar DMM in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        The KKK only became marginalized insofar as they became redundant. If you look closely at the GOP, you see what the KKK became.

        If we actually had taken a stand against them and their “right” to assemble to strip others of their rights (oh, right, those “rights” don’t count) then things would be a lot different. The GOP would still be the party of Eisenhower, and the fascists would be in prison where they belong.Report

  9. This

    If you want to take Charlie Hebdo to task for being unkind to Muslims or for drawing racist caricatures, that’s fine. It is also a separate issue.

    ,
    and to a limited extent the rest of the paragraph that follows it, seems to go against what the rest of the OP is arguing for. It seems that the critics you cite are actually calling Charlie Hebdo to task for being unkind to Muslims and/or for drawing racist caricatures.* I agree it’s a separate issue from, say, freedom of speech, but if that’s what they’re doing, it’s the issue.

    *I’m not sure I’d call them racist, either. But that appears to be Matt Y’s diagnosis, although I did not read the actual article.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      Yes and no. My point is that there may be something in the Charlie Hebdo’s body of publication that some might consider racist. Much of that is subjective. What is not subjective is that those men attacked Charlie Hebdo, not for being racist, but for being blasphemous. My problem with the Yglesias point of view is that it tries to equate being insufficiently respectful of someone’s religion with being racist when they are two separate things.

      I could have expressed that better.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to j r says:

        @j-r

        Actually, I think you expressed it just fine, I was the one who could’ve expressed it better. I was agreeing with you on that particular point (about whether the magazine was “racist” and whether the writers were attacked for “being racist” as opposed to “being blasphemous”).

        Also, I think I was being a bit unfair in my comment. I was jumping on a point where you were actually conceding something close to my own view. I think I would be at least a little annoyed if someone had done the same thing to me.Report