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Chris

Chris lives in Austin, TX, where he once shook Willie Nelson's hand.

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  1. Avatar j r says:

    I think the Schoen piece makes some good point, but here is where my fundamental disagreement is:

    But even granting the premise, for the sake of argument, that only Islamists kill for speech, if there’s something brilliantly tactical in the defense of Western Civilization behind the imperative to do the very thing an enemy despises, I am at a loss to see it. Publishing in spite of a violent reaction may be one thing, But to publish because of the inevitability of a violent reaction–what’s so “free” about that?

    For one thing, almost no one is saying that “only Islamists kill for speech.” Here is what Chait says:
    Given the fact that violent extremists threaten to kill any journalist who violates their interpretation of Islam, establishing the freedom (I argue) requires committing the blasphemy.
    Pointing out that Islamic extremists do threaten to kill for speech is not the same thing as saying that only Islamic extremists threaten to kill for speech. If we are talking about Islamists right now, it’s because it was Islamists who carried out this attack.

    On the further point, certainly no one is obligated to blaspheme, but Chait is just speaking the literal truth. If extremists attempt to impose a prohibition against blasphemy, they succeed to the degree that people honor that prohibition. As I said in my post on this topic, to call speech provocative is to automatically cede ground in the conversation about free speech. There are lots of things in this world that might provoke me to violent action, if I let them. I am, however, not an extremist, so I do not take violent action.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

      The extremists succeed to the extent that people don’t blaspheme because the extremists demand (on threat of violence) that they not blaspheme. If the extremists threatened anyone who blasphemed, and no one blasphemed because no on felt like blaspheming was something they wanted to do, the extremists wouldn’t have won, because they wouldn’t have changed anything in any way. They wouldn’t even have created the status quo, they’d merely be arguing for it, at the point of the sword, against no one.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        Yes. Which is why the “post the images!” “don’t back down!” stuff makes utterly no sense.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris says:

        Says other-Chris:

        [I]f there’s something brilliantly tactical in the defense of Western Civilization behind the imperative to do the very thing an enemy despises, I am at a loss to see it. Publishing in spite of a violent reaction may be one thing, But to publish because of the inevitability of a violent reaction–what’s so “free” about that?

        I liked other-Chris’s post a lot less than @chris did. It had much in common with others I’ve seen coming from a segment of the left and fringes, though at least it didn’t simply presume the truth of a case against Charlie Hebdo on familiar multiculturalist dogmatic grounds.

        I don’t believe that anyone using a #JeSuisCharlie hashtag is seeking a “brilliantly tactical” response, nor that Chait is seeking one in his article. Chait is trying to put into words a rationale that non-intellectuals grasp more easily, and the argument against it is highly reminiscent to me of similarly fatuous observations regarding IS: that in fighting IS the US or coalition is giving IS what it wants. What IS or radical Islamist murderers want or don’t want is decidedly secondary to those standing against IS or radical Islamist murderers – not irrelevant, secondary. Also secondary, at best, is an abstract argument on the problem for concepts of absolute freedom in the inherent limitation of positive action: Whether or not God can make a rock He can’t pick up does not seem to matter when there’s blood in the streets and brutal individuals threatening to hurt you if you cross them. You do have the option of giving in. There many words other than “brilliant” that will spring to mind for the preference for giving in to threats of violence.

        Ross Douthat offered a version of Chait’s argument that I think improved on it, by the way. He received numerous “sign-ons” from his usual adversaries on the left: http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/07/the-blasphemy-we-need/?_r=0 Both he and Chait are not, in my view, trying very hard to be “brilliant” here, but are trying to put into words an impulse to action in solidarity that many experience and grasp intuitively, as a matter of identity, in further relation to what Professor Hanley calls a “timing” issue, which here is a word for a brutally pragmatic and particular situation.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        CK, I agree with that Douhat post almost entirely, which I gather is something I wouldn’t ordinarily do (I never read Douhat, really; this is the first time in a few years, in fact). But Douhat does precisely what has caused a lot of people to take umbrage: he’s noted that this speech was likely to lead to violence.

        Once we admit that, then looking at the “absolutist” criticism of publications for not publishing the cartoons, we see the “brilliant tactical response” that Chris is getting at in his post.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to j r says:

      “Publishing in spite of a violent reaction may be one thing, But to publish because of the inevitability of a violent reaction–what’s so “free” about that?”

      In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence

      Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kolohe says:

        He’s not doing that, though. He’s not condemning, he’s just suggesting that if we do it just because they do something, or they will do something, then we’re not really acting freely.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kolohe says:

        Which, by the way, gets at what I, and I think Schoen, are trying to push back on: just because one doesn’t laud a certain type of speech, one is accused of condemning it. This is part of what I mean by a cartoonish version of free speech: it recognizes only big speech, and cannot even recognize big speech’s critics. In fact, it can’t even distinguish between types of criticism of big speech.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

        Again, good comment Chris.

        I’ve been trying to figure out a certain strand of logic in all this. trizzlor got closest to revealing it when he brought up the scenario in which Fred Phelps being killed for the content of his speech shouldn’t incline – let alone require – free speech defenders to promulgate “God hates fags” posters and images as an act of either solidarity or defense of free speech. (If that wasn’t his example it was something closely related.) But there is a strain of thinking that sorta requires folks to defend the content of an expression as entailed by defense of free expression. Those two things – the content of an expression and the right to convey it – strike as two entirely different things.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kolohe says:

        What’s more, two different things that in a few weeks, we’ll all agree are, in fact, different things. It’s only right now, when we refuse to operate on the plane of reality, but must stand proudly on the Olympus of Liberalism, that we must not admit the difference. The very admitting of the difference, at this moment, a denial of it, looked upon from the rarefied air of the great gods of the West.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kolohe says:

        Oh, that’s what folks are doing?

        Do you think they think that’s what they’re doing?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

        James,

        I agree it’s inappropriate to attribute, but it is weird enough that a guess might be warranted. My own? Free speech absolutists viewed the Hebdo incident as a wedge for people to impose laws restricting speech and got waaaaaaay out fromnt of that discussion, effectively shitting it down before it began. Weird thing is it never began. At least as far as I’m aware.

        My own complaint would be that comments I’ve made, which have struck me as being very clearly about A were consistently viewed as expressing B. I don’t think that’s anyone’s fault, strictly speaking (least of all mine 🙂 ) but it did create a situation where people were talking past each other quite a bit.

        I still don’t understand a whole f***ton of the argument the absolutists have been offering, to be honest. Or even how they’re relevant to the debate. Well, except as a form of pre-emption for an argument no one ever made. So I guess it worked!.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kolohe says:

        I don’t think it’s so much that they think it’s a wedge for passing hate speech laws they think talking, at this particular time, about how offensive CH is–and I will argue that did begin–works, intentionally or not, to justify, to some extent, the killings. Saying “but CH is racist” is a far cry from saying “no speech deserves a death penalty,” even if the speaker in fact agrees (reasonably) with both statements.

        One might object, “but that’s just optics,” and I’ll reply, “who among us truly believes the actual linguistic meaning of words trumps optics in public discourse?” And it’s not so much that we absolutists fear the optics leading to laws against speech, but that we fear the optics leading to a social suppression of speech, a tyranny of majority opinion. Thus does not, of course, mean anyone must share in or approve the opinion or its expression–no person has a duty to buy or read CH. And if the free speech absolutists cannot clearly define a line within that apparent contradiction, where we cross from legitimate individual disapproval to a social suppression of speech very nearly as powerful as the law, neither can their critics clearly demonstrate that their is no distinction at all, no matter how well they substitute sneers for arguments (not meaning you).

        Someone on another thread compared this to critics of critics of American foreign policy after 9/11, but I find the comparison fatally flawed. American foreign policy is reasonably viewed by many Muslims as a physical invasion of their territory, an active physical war against them. And a physically violent response to a physically violent act is only poorly analogized to a physically violent response to a verbal act.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

        Yeah, that’s a good take on it since it clarifies the ways we’ve been talking past each other. Tho I have to say that the initial comments from FSAs I read about Hebdo didn’t have anything to do responses to accusations of racism or framing or anything like that. Could be I just didn’t see it that way, of course, but it struck me as more about pushing a preferred narrative in advance of competing narratives being presented. Which, if you take out the arrows of causality from the equation (which is silly to debate at this point), amounts to basically the same thing as you said above.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to j r says:

      If the extremists threatened anyone who blasphemed, and no one blasphemed because no on felt like blaspheming was something they wanted to do, the extremists wouldn’t have won, because they wouldn’t have changed anything in any way.

      Sure. And if no one wanted to drink alcohol and no woman wanted to go out without hijab and no gay people wanted to walk the streets unashamed, extremists wouldn’t have won either. And if no Muslim ever wanted to erect a place of worship anywhere in the United States, then no Islamophones would change anything in any way. This is the reason why I said that Chait is speaking the “literal” truth.

      Hypothetically, if there is no conflict, there is no need for freedom and there is no real definition of extremism. In the real world, however, what people want to do conflict what other people want to stop them from doing all the time. And the suggestion that people ought to self-censor out of respect for other people’s sensibilities is, in the real world, an implicit support for those sensibilities.

      Part of the problem, I think, is that we are talking past each other a bit. Personally, I don’t condemn anyone for not supporting Charlie Hebdo and I do not read Chait as doing that either. What I condemn is the people condemning Charlie Hebdo for not being deferential to Muslim belief. It’s not the job of a satirical magazine to self-censor because of people’s sensibilities. I’m not sure what makes this a cartoon version of free speech.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

        Chait is speaking a self-contradictory truth: in order to have freedom of speech, I must say. Or at least in order for there to be freedom of speech, for all of us, someone must say.

        No one must say it for there to be freedom of speech. Blasphemy will still be there tomorrow if I choose not to do it today. And that is in large part because the freedom of speech is protected more broadly, so it is protected here, even in the face of real threats. If, of course, none of us say anything because someone might hurt us, someone is in fact very likely to hurt us, then our speech is not free. If we say what we say because someone might hurt us, we are no more free. We’re still speaking because we must, not because we can.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

        To put it differently: if no one were ever a jackass again, and I consider gratuitous blasphemy to be jackassery, because people decided that being a jerk sucked, their speech would be freer than if they decide they have to be a jackass because some other jackasses have guns and are willing to use them.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

        Which, again, because I feel like I need to say this (not for you, J R, but for certain other commenters): just because I wish fewer people were jackasses doesn’t mean I wish there were no jackasses, much less that we should outlaw jackassery. Death is the mother of beauty, and all that.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to j r says:

        Chait is speaking a self-contradictory truth: in order to have freedom of speech, I must say. Or at least in order for there to be freedom of speech, for all of us, someone must say…

        To put it differently: if no one were ever a jackass again, and I consider gratuitous blasphemy to be jackassery…

        I guess that this is where we have our fundamental disagreement. I see it from a different angle. I see blasphemy as the self-contradictory truth. In order for there to be blasphemy, there has to be someone who wants to universalize their own ideas of the sacred.

        Really all I’m saying is that no one should stone anyone until I blow this whistle. Even, and I want to make this absolutely clear, even if they do draw Muhammad.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

        Well, we agree no one should be stoning anyone, so at least there is some common ground.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to j r says:

        Obviously I was being facetious there, but it leads to a question: Do you consider that Life of Brian scene to be an example of jackassery by gratuitous blasphemy?

        If not, what’s the difference?

        Not an attempt at a gotcha, just trying to understand your parameters of what is and what is not jackassery.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

        Do you consider that Life of Brian scene to be an example of jackassery by gratuitous blasphemy?

        No, but that’s a complex issue having to do with art, structure, humor, and such.

        As a paradigmatic example of what I do consider just plain jackassery, consider “The Great Desecration.”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to j r says:

        How’s about The Satanic Verses? It’s not just a comic novel, of course… but if you wanted to read it as one without really getting into more than that, it’d be possible to do so.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

        Yeah, I don’t consider it to be gratuitous, evil. Now, it’s possible to create great art and be an asshole at the same time, of course, but my problem isn’t so much with assholery than with pointless assholery or assholery for assholery’s sake. That is, being an ass just to be an ass, or just to hurt people.

        As I said on the mockery thread, I think the vast majority of mockery is just bad. Good mockery is really, really hard to do, in part because it’s so easy to just do the bad kind.

        I’m going to try to write a post on mockery (I started to write it and schedule it for 6 months from now, but I think things have calmed down a bit now, so maybe I don’t need to put it off that long) and I’ll try to flesh some of this out.Report

  2. Avatar Jim Heffman says:

    It is kind of funny to see the people who sniffed at Miley Cyrus twerking post Charlie Hebdo cartoons in their Facebook feed. It’s like, do you not realize that those are basically the same thing?Report

  3. Avatar James Hanley says:

    the conversation has been “stopped in the name of the conversation itself,” as we saw almost immediately on this blog, and all over the internet,

    First there were those who criticized offensive speech. Second there were those who criticized the critics of offensive speech.

    If I read you right–and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether either of us will ever read the other right again–the second were stopping conversation, but not the first.

    It seems a bit self-serving, given that you’re in the second group.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

      I’m in the second group? Then one of us is definitely not understanding the other.

      I’d recommend just reading the other Chris. Perhaps that will shed some light on what I mean, since here I’m largely just endorsing his take.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

        Oops, that was a typo. I meant to say the first group, or if not in it, apparently more sympathetic to it than to the second group.* I’m in, or at least more sympathetic to, the second group. Meaning to say, you’re accusing the group you’re not sympathetic to, but not the group you are sympathetic to, and I’m not seeing the difference on which your criticism seems to depend.

        _________
        * How ironic that when you finally read me right again, it’s in a case where I’ve written wrongly.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

      James, I have to disagree. In The Beginning, there were folks who reflexively interpreted the Hebdo massacre as an attack on a principle – free speech – even before recognizing that 12 human beings were murdered, what that means, what problems murders like that reveal about social structures, what might be done to curtail or eliminate it. So the conversation was already, at that very moment, effectively stopped, it seems to me.

      But there are other conversations to have. Surely. Ones that aren’t myopically trying to tease out the proper rhetoric by which convey a robust commitment to free speech.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        In fact, I’d say it was even worse than that. Every attempt anyone made to talk about other issues was countered as being expressing “appeasement” (in an active Holy War!) or as expressing “apologetics for the killers” or “victim blaming”. And so on .Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Stillwater says:

        But there are other conversations to have. Surely. Ones that aren’t myopically trying to tease out the proper rhetoric by which convey a robust commitment to free speech.

        Well put. It’s difficult to take free speech seriously when everyone’s rushing to affirm their devotion to its unquestionable righteousness in mocking others for their unquestioning devotion to other things, all trampling over so many other thoughts on the way.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

        So the conversation was already, at that very moment, effectively stopped, it seems to me

        There’s been a hell of a lot of talk for a conversation that’s supposedly been stopped, it seems to me.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Yeah. I think I’ve made some pretty damn fine comments since the massacre, myself. I think you’ve been on your game too, actually. (I’m serious.) Lots of other people as well.

        I do think that the overly narrow focus from most of the free speech absolutists has created a real communication breakdown, tho, since I’ve mostly been talking about conflict resolution in light of the Hebdo attack, yet I’m consistently accused of doing something else (everything short of being UnAmerican). Even when I specifically say “OK, speech rights absolutist, let’s do it your way and promulgate images that we know lots of Muslims find offensive. Where does that take us? How does that resolve this conflict?” I’m somehow misinterpreted as arguing for passing a law protecting Muslims from mockery or something. Or something. I really don’t know, actually.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Lacking “robustity” it seems to me. My clauses aren’t ordered properly.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

        I haven’t entered much into your discussions on this topic because, frankly, I’ve been confused about what was being argued about. I guess it’s nice to know I wasn’t alone.

        Not that I don’t think you’re an apologist for violent religious fundamentalists, of course. I mean, it’s self-evident, right!Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Stillwater says:

        …I’ve mostly been talking about conflict resolution in light of the Hebdo attack, yet I’m consistently accused of doing something else (everything short of being UnAmerican).

        In the vernacular of the internet: screenshots or it didn’t happen.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        What do you think I’ve been arguing j r?Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Stillwater says:

        Nice dodge. Do you want to walk back that prior claim now?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        So, now I’m a liar?

        Dude, for what purpose do you think I’ve been countering your claims that a defense of free speech requires us to refrain from promoting the view that we should treat people with respect? (Apart from pointing out the incoherence of the view.)

        Cuz I wanna pass a law?Report

      • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Stillwater says:

        What ideas for conflict resolution have you advanced? Other than what happened to the killers, what resolutions are there?

        Besides “People stop saying things that make them mad, and so they don’t kill people for saying them.”Report

      • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Stillwater says:

        I don’t think you want to pass a law.

        I do wonder if you don’t want the solution to the violence is that people stop saying things that result in violence. Or maybe not, which is why I asked.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Mr. Blue,

        I knew how to answer your first question, but not your second.

        One thing that seems to entail more violence to me is to deliberately promulgate as some sorta campaign images that we know Muslims find offensive. Another, clearly, it seems to me, is to cast the underlying tension as “they hate us for our freedoms”.

        During most of the discussion, I admit, I wasn’t directly talking about solutions. I was mostly countering views regarding what this conflict is actually about (descriptive stuff) or what it means to be a “defender of free speech”.Report

      • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Stillwater says:

        Suggesting that we alter what we say for fear of violence doesn’t seem appreciably different to me than passing a law. If we shouldn’t say something for fear of violence, it’s not clear to me how different that is than if we shouldn’t say something for fear of being arrested. One enforced by the law, the other by vigilantes. Either way, it seems to be putting the onus primarily on the speaker.

        Which makes this a “free speech issue” to anyone who doesn’t think it’s the speaker’s responsibility to avert violence (by the state or independent actors).

        What am I missing?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        I’ll say it this way, Mr. Blue: between the act of violence and the act which gives rise to it is an offense. We have no duty or obligation or anything else to not offend others, but a general sense of respect for others often suffices for an individual to refrain from doing so.

        Will that be enough? How the hell should I know? But it seems like a pretty good general rule, one which we all adopt in just about every context other than on the internet defending freedom of speech from observable facts of life.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Stillwater says:

        I’m quite certain that no position on cartoons or free speech, and no decision to publish cartoons or not, will stop violence. It’s almost as though we forget the killings didn’t end at a magazine office.

        So my opinion of the cartoons, and my thought on the ethics of blasphemy, are irrelevant to the question of violence. It will continue despite my protests, as will jack assery.Report

      • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Stillwater says:

        Are we watching what we say out of decency? Or are we doing it to avoid violence? The latter is giving an awful lot of authority to the violent. If it’s the former, then I don’t really see what Hebdo Charlie has to say about how we should treat blasphemy.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Mr. Blue,

        Fair enough.Report

      • Avatar Owen in reply to Stillwater says:

        “Are we watching what we say out of decency? Or are we doing it to avoid violence?”

        How do we tell the difference? That seems to be the whole issue here.Report

      • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Stillwater says:

        That’s certainly a question for the newspapers that are declining to share the comics they are discussing.

        But I ask more because, if you’re making the argument that we should be more respectful of Islam, why do you think we should? Decency, violence, or both?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

        How do we tell the difference? That seems to be the whole issue here.

        Are there any groups that are *NOT* violent that yell about how their religion needs to be respected? Are they treated differently?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

        And if the answer is “No, there aren’t any groups out there that aren’t violent”, then we need to see who the groups are that don’t get treated with decency and try to sort them and find out what they have in common.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Btw, jr, I just went back and read Saul’s first post on the Hebdo attacks. The first comment I made regarded not viewing the massacre as an attack on free speech, and rather as an attack on individuals for the content conveyed. I was soundly pounced on by, amongst others, yourself and a few other FSAs. In the next six, I think, comments I made, I used the phrase “resolution to these problems” twice. The conversation never got off the ground, instead dominated by an analysis of the types of grammatical constructions used uniquely by people who are serious about freedom.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Ooops. I better @j-r about that. Just so he sees it and all.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

        The first comment I made regarded not viewing the massacre as an attack on free speech, and rather as an attack on individuals for the content conveyed.

        This seems to me to be a distinction without a difference.

        It seems to be rephrasable as “I’m not attacking your *RIGHT* to blaspheme, I’m attacking your blasphemy!”

        How am I not understanding?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Jaybird, what you’re asking about is the very first comment I made on this topic, 6 days ago. Why didn’t you ask me then? If you haven’t figured out what I’m saying at this point, then I don’t think you will. If you disagree – which is obvious – then no further discussion is required since it’s all been said. But there is something ironic about you asking me, after all your reflexive rejection of what I have said since that time, to clarify what I was getting at in the very first comment I made.

        Of course, I don’t think you’re really asking that.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

        Well, then. At least we’ve hammered out why I didn’t understand and we’ve explored some of the reasons why I will continue to not understand.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

      First there were those who criticized offensive speech. Second there were those who criticized the critics of offensive speech.

      Yes, but only the latter criticized others in the name of free speech. Meaning that for them, the notion that freedom to speak comes inextricably bound up with exposing oneself to criticism for what one says shouldn’t apply when they say it shouldn’t apply, because of the dictates of free speech. If it were because they thought that the content of the original speech was not objectionable, that would be one thing, but it was because for some reason the requirements of free speech at that time should have meant that that group of speakers should not have come in for criticism for what they said (even if it was objectionable). Whereas the speech that criticized speech it saw as objectionable was okay to criticize because the susceptibility to criticism that normally comes with free speech applied as normal there for some reason.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

        You know how Chris thinks I totally misconstrue what the critics of offensive speech mean? I suddenly have much greater sympathy for his argument.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Should the critics of speech the critics saw as offensive in this instance have refrained from making that criticism or not? And why?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

        To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.

        The corollary is that everything is sometimes not in season.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Meaning that for them, the notion that freedom to speak comes inextricably bound up with exposing oneself to criticism for what one says shouldn’t apply when they say it shouldn’t apply, because of the dictates of free speech. If it were because they thought that the content of the original speech was not objectionable, that would be one thing

        Do you have an example of what you mean? I don’t recall seeing anyone arguing that no one ought to criticize speech otherwise the terrorists win. What I’ve been saying and what Chait says is exactly that blasphemy is only objectionable if you first buy into the logic of religious fundamentalism; therefore blasphemy in the public sphere is not objectionable if you believe in freedom of expression.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        “Meaning that for them, the notion that freedom to speak comes inextricably bound up with exposing oneself to criticism for what one says shouldn’t apply when they say it shouldn’t apply, because of the dictates of free speech.”

        Delineating “seasons” – or moments – when that’s the case falls under that description.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Kistallnacht wasn’t an ideal time to point out that some Jews actually were crooks. YMMV.Report

      • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Michael Drew says:

        @j-r I don’t get why you’re so intent on making this about blasphemy, rather than simply about speech that is disagreeable to some listener for some reason or another. Does it really make sense for there to be one way of thinking about Charlie Hebdo, but another for political dissidents or pornographers or hate groups that are murdered for what they have to say?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        So, it doesn’t sound like you’re denying this is how the argument works anymore, but maybe I’m mistaken (as always).

        Kistallnacht wasn’t an ideal time to point out that some Jews actually were crooks.

        Or really ever absent quite good reason to do it at a particular time, given the prevailing stereotype. Knowing when it might be a good idea to do it requires judgement (even good judgement).

        Call me crazy but that sounds a lot like the point people have been making about offensive speech the whole time. Because the point that Kistallnacht wasn’t an ideal time to point out that some Jews actually were crooks isn’t a point (you’re saying) follows from the need to protect free speech. It’s a point about the substantive (or perceptual) problems with that statement. Support for free speech doesn’t ride on not saying that then; just trying to be wise about what to say when does.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

        You’re trying to make the analogy fit too perfectly. It was only about timing in general. And there’s the problem with your argumentative style. You attack an analogy at a point it wasn’t designed to make, and think you’re attacking the main argument.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Okay, professor.

        If you want to limit the point of the analogy just to timing, the point is that it doesn’t dispute the point I made.

        It seems significant to me, though, that the analogy you draw makes a point that is so close to what people were saying about offensive speech to begin with. Right times/wrong times, have a good reason, requires judgement, etc. And that it abandons the notion that free speech requires people not to say X, Y, or Z, going to the apparently now common view that it’s not always the best idea to say certain things because of the emotions they stir in people, or because they are harmful in other ways (perpetuate stereotypes, etc.)

        The main point, though, is that indeed the upshot of the argument is that, sometimes, if you don’t hew to this injunction, because of the dictates of free speech – i.e. you are endangering free speech itself rather then just saying something that on balance wasn’t in the best judgement to say at that time, the notion that freedom to speak comes inextricably bound up with exposing oneself to criticism for what one says shouldn’t apply. And we’ll be informed of when that is, because it is timeliness-based. There is a season for everything, and so everything is sometimes out of season (including the value of free speech not dictating that you refrain from saying something).

        There are two groups of critics we are comparing in my mind. One of them says that something offensive someone has said maybe wasn’t the best thing to say, that it lacked good judgement, or taste, or that they simply question the judgement of choosing to use free speech to say X. The other group says that the first group endanger free speech itself by saying that (at that time). Sure, these are both kinds of criticism. But they’re not the same. Group A, it seems to me, are accepting of the thing they are criticize. They question the judgement. Group B, on the other hand, is essentially saying that the result of what Group A says is a Very Bad Thing, or at least a pretty Damn Bad Thing. They seem to pretty clearly be suggesting that what Group A is saying Should Not Be Said (at a particular time). After all, you’d get unanimous agreement from Group A that they don’t want to endanger free speech, and are seeking not to.

        And yet one of these groups claims to be speaking in the name of free speech. It’s not the one saying “I support your right to say that. I also question the judgement of choosing to say that.”; it’s the one saying “Saying that right now endangers free speech. We shouldn’t do that. Don’t say that.”Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Drew says:

        MD,

        I think James already explained that free speech absolutists were more interested in pushing a narrative than anything specific about the issues in play. Personally speaking, that’s good enough for me, and in fact is consistent with an earlier conclusion (tentative) conclusion I came when we were deep in the comma-but clause-ordering discussion: free speech absolutism is mostly concerned with signalling a psychological state. (And divining intent in others as revealed by their grammatical construction…)

        It actually explains why I didn’t understand but about a quarter of the (what appeared to me to be) ridiculous arguments offered to defend positions no one was challenging or respond to arguments no one was making. I’d say it was a terrific waste of time except for one thing: I learned that the purpose was indeed to push a narrative. Now I just wonder to what extent that general narrative pushing view extends to other topics. And I don’t think I’ll be surprised to find out it’s quite a few.Report

  4. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I think it’s extremely useful, once you’ve found someone’s weak spot, to use it to provoke him as severely and as often as possible. You might, if you keep at it, reveal the violent streak he had been hiding, a reprehensible piece of dishonesty. A few broken bones and a prison sentence (respectively) is a small price to pay for exercising your freedom of speech in the service of exposing the truth.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      So now we are calling satirical cartoons a severe provocation?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

        Given the response to them, how can you call them anything else?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to j r says:

        Mike,
        I get your point, but what that means is we define provocation by the standards of the most easily provoked.

        That’s why our legal system generally uses the “reasonable man”* standard. It’s a fiction, but a useful one, as it keeps us from all being controlled by the demands of the most easily offended.
        _______________
        *That is, in fact sexist, and sometimes the term now used is the reasonable person standard. But some recent research has suggested that a reasonable woman standard in fact tends to land in a different place than a reasonable man standard, so it’s unclear what reasonable “person” would actually mean.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to j r says:

        Yeah, Mike called me a knucklehead so I killed him and his entire family.

        It’s clear that calling someone a knucklehead is a severe provocation.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to j r says:

        Less snarkily, “severe” modifies “provocation” – that is, the (arguable) action of the victim – inappropriately.

        It is far more correct to say the response to that provocation was severe, like if I call Mike Tyson a knucklehead and he eats me, or like if a police officer shoots an unarmed teen who smarted off to him.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

        Are your ears so small that they wouldn’t sate Tyson and he’d have to eat the rest of you?

        (Also, I think “severe” modifying the response to rather than the provocation, which of course was deliberate but in no way severe, makes more sense.)Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to j r says:

        Mike Tyson once threatened to eat an opponent’s children, so I don’t think he’d be satisfied with just my ear.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

        Can we agree it’s a provocation even? (I.e. is the argument even over “severe” at all?)

        My sense in that the thrust of @j-r ‘s arguments on the particular question of blasphemy as provocation (important to remember that is in fact a particular case, not the only paradigm for potentially provocative speech) would suggest maybe we can’t. It seems to me his argument has been that the concept of blasphemy, to the extent it has any force outside of religious adherents to the doctrine in question, has that force via an illegitimate claim on the propriety of saying various things in public discourse.

        If we’re saying that whether something is a severe provocation shouldn’t depend on the reaction of the person who is provoked, are we sure we even want to grant that whether it’s a provocation at all should depend on same? In the case of blasphemy, it seems that that would suggest that to avoid engaging in provocation, speakers have to observe the dictates of various religions wrt to blasphemous speech. It seems like the thrust of J.R.’s argument has been that speakers shouldn’t have to be concerned about those dictates in order to satisfy judgements about the propriety/judgement/etc. of their speech, because sectarian dictates can’t be accepted to bind speech in the secular public square. So to the extent we take “this speech is a provocation” as a negative judgement about the propriety of speech, by J.R.’s argument, I don’t think we can even judge whether something is a mere provocation, to say nothing of a severe provocation, by the reaction of the provoked.

        Now, maybe we would take “severe provocation” as a negative judgement about the propriety/judgement/etc. of speech, but not just “provocation.” I would certainly think we wouldn’t take it as a negative judgement as an adjective: “provocative.” “Provocation,” OTOH, to me suggests a more negative evaluation of the net value of the speech comparing its analytical/critical value to the degree to which it s likely to provoke. I.e., it suggests it’s mainly just an attempt to provoke, unlike a “provocative __________ (eg. article),” which to me more suggests that the person using that description sees the thing first as an article with a value like the value of other articles, that happens to have to potential to provoke some folks.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

        For better or worse, I am not the sole determiner of the meaning of signs for everyone. For better, I’m quite certain, it is possible for me to have at least some sense of the meaning of signs for others, even if I disagree on those meanings. It is, therefore, possible for me to predict the effects of my using a sign on those people. If someone known to be violent says, “I will kill you if you use this sign,” then if asked whether I was being provocative in using the sign, I say, “I did not know it would have that effect, because it does not have such a meaning for me.”

        What’s more, and I do not understand why this needs to be said, I’m pretty sure we all know that Charlie Hebdo was knowingly and deliberately being provocative. They knew what they were doing because they were well aware of what the signs they used would mean for some others. Naturally, they didn’t know that it would lead to this, but they knew violence was a possible, perhaps likely reaction (they’d been firebombed, after all). This does not mean they are to blame, or they were asking for violence; it is just a statement of fact, on which, again, I’m pretty sure we all agree. If there are some people who do not agree, that’s because they are not paying attention or want to deny facts in order for their preferred narrative to fit.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to j r says:

        In that vein, “France Arrests Comedian Dieudonné for Condoning Acts of Terrorism on Facebook” it seems that Dieudonné wrote, on his Facebook, “I feel like Charlie Coulibaly”.

        He was arrested on the charges of condoning acts of terrorism.

        Is the general consensus that this is a good step for the government to be taking to help minimize people saying provocative things?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

        Is the general consensus that this is a good step for the government to be taking to help minimize people saying provocative things?

        Ugh.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to j r says:

        Who causes something to be provocative, the actor or the reactor?

        Let’s agree CH (the actor) were trying to provoke. If the fundamenalist Muslims (reactor) do not in fact react, is there in practice a provocation? Is the existence of a provocation actually caused by the person who reacts? Or at least is a joint production of both parties?

        Because surely the words themselves, the images themselves, are not inherent provocations. They are not provocations simply as a function of having been said or drawn, or even solely because they were intended to be provocations, but are provocations at least in part because the respondents interpret them that way. Perhaps–although I will not commit to this–they are provocations wholly because the respondents interpret them that way. In the absence of such an interpretation, nothing said or drawn would be capable of provoking, could not become a provocation.

        This matters because there is a question of where we lay the responsibility. When we say, “you know they’re going to react violently,” have we put the responsibility on the provocateur, on the provoked, or is it a shared responsibility?

        Our language suggests the responsibility for the existence of a provocation is on the provocateur, and not on the provoked. Call Charlie Hebdo party 1 and the killers party 2. “To provoke,” makes party 1 the acting party, the one that is responsible for the provocation. To call party 1 a provocateur does the same. “To be provoked”–party 2’s position–suggests the provocation exists independently of party 2, they merely react to it, and are not active participants in bringing the thing into existence as a provocation.

        Is our language reflecting what is really happening, or at least what we really think is going on here? That bare language suggests more responsibility for party 1. They brought into existence a provocation, of which party 2 is innocent. Party 2 only reacts, and of course they react, because they “were provoked.”

        Our law doesn’t fully reflect our language here, because we don’t treat party 2 as fully innocent, at least not for their reaction. But still we treat them as innocent of bringing a provocation into existence, and tend to focus the blame for a provocation’s very existence on party 1.

        Think of it this way. How often on this blog does someone say “if you don’t like what I write (or what John Doe writes), you don’t have to get mad, you can just ignore it.” Aren’t we then placing responsibility on party 2 to not be provoked, in effect to not participate in bringing a provocation into existence?

        I think in practice most of us tend to apportion some blame to each side, but not with any clarity, and perhaps not with any consistency. And I suspect much of the conflict in the Charlie Hebdo case is really a consequence of some people implicitly putting more weight on party 1, and others putting more weight on party 2, as the one actually transforming the drawings from mere pictures to provocations, for having actually brought a provocation into existence.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

        It is possible to say that Charlie Hebdo is not the reason why what they did was provocative, while still saying that they knew what they were doing was provocative, and in fact that is why they did it. In fact, all three of those are obviously true facts about this case. Once we’ve admitted that, we’re just quibbling over when we can admit the truth and in what context, it seems.

        Oh, and because it has to be said lest someone compare me to a jihadist again: I’m not blaming them for their deaths, I’m not saying they deserved their deaths, and I’m not even saying they were “asking for violence.”

        Oh, and while someone here might have said they shouldn’t have published the cartoons because violence might result (I don’t know who, but it’s possible; I haven’t read every comment on these multiple threads), my reasons for disagreeing with their publishing them are different, and already documented on this thread. I don’t know why I feel like I need to say that, other than that every position different from the absolutist one seems to be lumped into one over and over again.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to j r says:

        You bring up an interesting framework, @james-hanley that, since it puts in question what “provocation” really is, or seems to suggest, counterintuitively, that it’s entirely up to the “reactor” to define what’s provocative after the fact, points to a different set of underlying assumptions: People arguing, like Douthat and Chait, for “the blasphemy we need” are specifically arguing, I think, that the real provocateurs in this case are those who put the Muhammad chip on their shoulder. If I dare you to knock the chip off my shoulder, “or else,” then I’m the one being provocative (“or else” is the provocation). Much of the criticism from those attacking the media as “wimps” and Hebdo critics as terror apologizing victim blamers are responding within this framework, which I do not mean at all to minimize by comparing it to bullying. If we all stand up against the bully, goes the theory, the bully will back down. If we surrender, then the bully will be encouraged and get worse: The bully will reign. We’ve spent so much time making facile jokes about “then the terrorists will have won,” we forget this logic which is not a bad logic just because in its sloganeering reductions it lacks obvious limits. (And to touch parenthetically on Chris’s comparison, those rejecting curbs on female free sexual expression, if you will, seem to be saying that anything else will mean letting the sexists win.)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to j r says:

        Once we’ve admitted that, we’re just quibbling over when we can admit the truth and in what context, it seems.

        No, because the truth does not tell us how much weight to put on each party. That remains a judgement call, and we can agree on the truth and still argue about the weight. And I think that’s what we’re actually doing. If you think the argument stops at admitting that truth, I argue that admitting that truth only points us in a general direction either for policy or for public response, while the assignment of weight narrows down the direction of that policy or public response. So it matters very very much.

        , my reasons for disagreeing with their publishing them are different, and already documented on this thread. I don’t know why I feel like I need to say that, other than that every position different from the absolutist one seems to be lumped into one over and over again.

        Curiously, you’re lumping some different positions all in as “the” absolutist one* and then condemning them/it as ridiculous (in arguments I’ve not found persuasive myself), and then complaining about others lumping all non-absolutist positions together (do you think I’ve done that in my comment here? if so, how, and if not, why bring it up so defensively in this particular response?) and about how their nonsense is making you lose it.

        Projection is the word for it, I believe? Or is it just hypocrisy?
        _________________
        *The distinctions have already been made on these threads, and I don’t plan to draw them out for you again.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

        I don’t think that “to be provoked” implies total innocence or lack of control on the part of the provoked, whatever the reaction to the provocation. You can allow yourself to be provoked by something when you could have prevented it, or at least you can allow yourself to be provoked into a more extreme reaction than was the least extreme you could have managed – and still be provoked. I don’t think the language implies otherwise.

        Nor do I think that if something is a “provocation,” it means that the reaction to that provocation by the provoked is fully the responsibility of the creator of the provocation, nor that the language (“provocation”) implies it.

        Nor do I think anyone need in fact be provoked into any kind of action, nor even provoked at all for something to be a provocation. As I think about the word, an action that is intended to provoke, though perhaps/probably only if its primary aim os to provoke rather than that being an aim that’s secondary to some other aim, is a provocation, even if it fails to provoke anybody (even just mentally). An action with the primary aim of provoking.

        I am not convinced, however, that it is sufficiently charitable to the overall aims of the Charlie Hebdo publication to say that their cartoons are provocations, or perhaps “merely” provocations, because, while i think it’s possible that their primary aim is to provoke, surely on their account their primary aim is to satirize, and I don’t have enough evidence (and I’m not looking for it nor want to find it) to conclude that provocation rather than satire is their primary aim in their publishing the cartoons they do.

        But I definitely do think that any action whose primary aim is to provoke is aprovocation even if it fails to provoke. But, if it succeeds at provoking, just because it is a provocation and the provoked were provoked, doesn’t mean the provoked’s actions in reaction to the provocation are 100% the responsibility of the provocateurs, nor do I think that any of that language implies that they are. Surely there can be a provocation (an action taken with the primary purpose of provoking) that provokes an active response, where the extremeness of that reaction is not 100% out of the control of the provoked – where the reaction could have been more restrained, and the lack of that restraint is the responsibility of the provoked. But that responsibility doesn’t mean that they weren’t provoked, or that the actions of the person who provoked were not a provocation. And I don’t think any of that language inherently implies otherwise.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

        Michael, there are two sets of cartoons to consider. The first is the Dutch cartoons, which C.H. published in ’06 or whenever. Then there are there own cartoons. The former, and to a large extent the latter, were most definitely published because they were provocative. That doesn’t mean provocation was their only aim, or motivation, but it I think we can be quite certain that if they weren’t provocative the Dutch cartoons wouldn’t have been published by C.H., and their own cartoons would likely have gone after their targets (extremists) in different ways (ways that were provocative).Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Chris says:

          @chris (if you’re addressing me):

          For me, whether something is “a provocation” has a very different threshold than just whether it is provocative. Many things are provocative that are not provocations in the way I think of the term. For something to be “a provocation,” in my mind at least a, if not the, primary aim of the action has to be provocation. OTOH, many things are provocative that perhaps no one meant to be provocative. Just the fact that they provoke makes them provocative.

          I do realize now that another sense of the term provocation, that I use in the previous paragraph intentionally to contrast, relates to this last fact of something accomplishing to provoke, whatever the intent. Where something succeeds to provoke, there provocation occurs. But I also believe what I say above, there is a sense in which sometimes someone takes an action with the primary intent being to provoke, in “a provocation,” which might succeed or fail at provoking. So we could say that “provocation” occurs either where an action is taken whose primary aim is to provoke, of where any action succeeds to provoke someone. But I think that conflates two ideas – two terms that use the same word, even. I’d rather say that there are two terms: “a provocation,” which is an action is whose primary aim is to provoke, and “provocation,” which is the fact of someone being provoked by something. (A third term using the same word would be “provocation” referring to the general class of actions taken whose intent is primarily to provoke, any one of which is “a provocation.”)Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

        That’s probably a useful distinction: provocation as a mass noun, and a provocation (or a second sense of provocation) as a count noun.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to j r says:

        Maybe it will be helpful to understand that, in a political culture of freedom of expression, which is itself a quasi-religious or actually religious culture, under the civic religion of liberal democracy or liberalism broadly, the category of blasphemy is itself blasphemous and, ideally, the only blasphemy. Denying the right of Charlie Hebdo to engage in what under the older regime or the conventionally or nominally religious regime would have been called blasphemy is, under the regime of freedom, blasphemous or the equivalent of blasphemy: So a provocation to the French and to all aspiring to a position of responsibility under the terms of an in fact transnational, though highly variegated, liberal democratic regime form that, to repeat, is also the subject of a devotion actually or effectively religious or “religious” for the modern if under a different name.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to j r says:

        Put simply: The notion of blasphemy is the only authentic blasphemy for us.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

        @ck-macleod

        Perhaps, but to call a speech act provocative, provoking, a provocation, etc. is not to deny the right to undertake said speech act. Trying to deny that right can be done pursuant to concerns about said provocation, but it needn’t be done at all even once such concerns are expressed, and expressing them isn’t ipso facto trying to deny the right to do the provocations (or to blaspheme or to engage in satire, or etc., whatever your preferred characterization of the initial speech act).Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

        Well said.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

        I know from the timing that that “Well said” was not directed at my comment, but I like where it appeared none the less for such knowledge. 😉Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

        It was meant for CK, true, but what you’ve been saying in this subthread has also been well said. It’s all got me thinking.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to j r says:

        @michael-drew (don’t know why you’re not coming up tagwise, maybe it’ll work anyway): it would not be too much to say that, under the peculiarly (consistently yet in the same motion and infinitely recursively contradictorily) self-contradictory regime of free self-expression, quite observably within the culture, there is something approaching a requirement to be provocative. We are “devoted” to being “interesting,” and a statement or other expression is treated as interesting in direct variation with its degree of provocativeness, if under the standing danger of being too “interesting” (hateful, negatively consequential). (As I’ve argued previously, the cult of freedom isn’t and cannot operate as a regime of no regime: Just can’t be done.) The offices of Charlie Hebdo are shrines of this cult(ure) of freedom, or of its Parisian diocese.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

        Mike,
        I get your point, but what that means is we define provocation by the standards of the most easily provoked.

        I’d say we define it empirically. If A has reliably caused an extreme reaction in the past, we know it’s a severe provocation. That doesn’t mean we agree that the reaction is in any way justified.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

        @ck-macleod

        If under our free speech regime we are required to be provocative, then it should hardly be the case that calling some speech provocative or a provocation should be seen as akin to or a particularly predictive precursor to attempts to deny the right to engage in said speech.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to j r says:

        @michael-drew

        Not sure I get what you’re saying. There are many flavors of “provocative,” and the real existing rather than ideal and absolute regime seems to go about seeking to define and specify the acceptable vs the unacceptable, according to context, in some detail – so I don’t think it will to put too much pressure on the term in the abstract. Maybe you can give a concrete example.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

        @ck-macleod

        Likewise, I’m not sure we’ve connected on the question we’re each addressing. I’ll try to review to see where the disconnect may be.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

        @ck-macleod

        …So, the contention of yours I’m addressing is

        Denying the right of Charlie Hebdo to engage in what under the older regime or the conventionally or nominally religious regime would have been called blasphemy is, under the regime of freedom, blasphemous or the equivalent of blasphemy: So a provocation to the French and to all aspiring to a position of responsibility under the terms of an in fact transnational, though highly variegated, liberal democratic regime form that, to repeat, is also the subject of a devotion actually or effectively religious or “religious” for the modern if under a different name.

        So you’re saying that denying the right to blasphemy is itself a provocation to the liberal order. But we were discussing whether something like blasphemy (i.e. something like Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons) is itself provocation, and if it is, what that might mean. To that point, and in response to your raising the notion of, “[d]enying the right of Charlie Hebdo to engage in what under the older regime or the conventionally or nominally religious regime would have been called blasphemy,” what I was saying is that to say that that is a provocation is not to deny the right to do it. And denying the right to do it is the issue you raised. But what we were discussing in the subthread was calling something like blasphemy or Charlie Hebdo provocations. So we were not discussing denying the right to blaspheme or to publish cartoons like Charlie Hebdo’s.

        Hope that helps.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to j r says:

        @michael-drew

        Feel free to restart this discussion at the bottom in you think it’s worth extending. (These scroll-to-the-top sub-thread exchanges are unnecessarily cumbersome, could/should be fixed.)

        I have to stop you with your first line, since certain confusions or imprecisions at what I consider to be the center of the whole question (including the question of why we are continuing to comment here), regarding the consequentiality of ideas, informs the rest of the statement. Forgive me for going a bit long here, though I suspect you’ll agree that the discussion could go much, much longer (though I’m not sure to what consequences).

        So you’re saying that denying the right to blasphemy is itself a provocation to the liberal order.

        “Blasphemy” as understood under the illiberal order wouldn’t exist for the liberal order at all. From the point of view of the absolute liberal, the word has no meaning except as a reference to a defunct concept. There is not strictly speaking a “right to blaspheme”: There is a right to engage in free expression that others, from an illiberal and defunct perspective, may still call blasphemy, or that is blasphemy for them.

        It may be worth pausing for a moment to consider the word “blasphemy.” It is a compound made up of two elements, of which the second, “pheme” is well-understood: pheme or “utterance,” as in “euphemism,” (good utterance), or, more distantly, “fame” (the condition of being spoken of). Interestingly, the origins of the first element are somewhat unclear: It may be a contraction of a word for “hurtful,” or it may derive from a word for “stupid” or “slack in body or mind.” http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=blasphemy What it clearly reduces to is “bad” or “wrong.” Blasphemy is bad or (morally) wrong utterance, utterance that is itself wrong or sets a bad example or real predicate for wrong, soul-imperiling belief or behavior, just as a religious creed will be defined by a series of morally right utterances: The Ten Commandments, the Four Noble Truths, the Nicene Creed, and so on.Though at different times and places all of these utterances, willingness to commit to or pronounce them, and so on, might have been matters of life and death, Islam perhaps more than any other religion turns on an absolutely consequential act of utterance – of the text of the Qur’an as authored by God via the Prophet. To deny the potential absolute and intrinsic consequentiality of the utterance might in this sense be to deny Islam, and in my view may reveal a core of truth in the vulgar “clash of civilizations” argument, though that points to a another part of this discussion of a type – simultaneously practical-political and comparative theological – that we mostly (by no means completely) stopped having in the US of A around the time of the Civil War.

        The problem as a problem of language or logic for the liberal order is that to say that there is no morally wrong utterance – a statement of the liberal creed in relation to speech – is itself an utterance that seems to say that to say there is morally wrong utterance would be morally wrong utterance. But the liberal regime does not quite say that. The liberal regime has no problem permitting the morally wrong utterance that there is morally wrong utterance. It has problems when the morally wrong utterance of morally wrong utterance is applied, when the word becomes flesh. Obviously, if there is no morally wrong utterance, then we should all be free to say that there is morally wrong utterance, which presents no immediate problem for anyone as long as it remains a concept of complete freedom of everyone to say anything. It becomes a problem as soon as the alternative, deemed wrong but permissible statement produces actions.

        So, when we say “denial of the right to blaspheme,” and similarly when we use the word “provocative,” we easily get confused, since the same key terms can be used in both contexts, the context of statements and the context of actions, and since the underlying question of the entire inquiry is, as above, the consequentiality of ideas or of statements, or the point at which words become deeds. “To deny,” for example, can refer to an intellectual exercise or position. I deny that yellow is a pretty color. I deny that GOLDENEYE was one of the better Bond films. I deny that I ever commented at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen. It can also be a very real exercise. I deny use of the hilltop for the enemy mortar positions. I deny you access to my little black book of hot phone numbers. “Blasphemy” can refer to statements that contradict or impugn religious belief – so be descriptive on the level of ideas – but blasphemy can also be understood as utterance that is directly consequential or evil. It is also possible to believe that a statement is evil to utter, but not intolerable. Liberals who decry hate speech but do not wish to see it outlawed would fall into this category.

        To return to the original phrase, “denial of the right to blaspheme” can mean “statement of the idea that blasphemy is morally wrong and must be punished,” or it can mean “consequential threats or actions preventing, deterring, pre-empting, of terminating, etc., the utterance of (so-called) blasphemies.” “Provocative,” as you and several others have been discussing from different vantage points, can mean different things depending on how and to what extent people are actually “provoked” (moved by utterance). It can mean “gives a little thrill” or it can mean “leads to homicidal violence.” Furthermore, “the right to blaspheme” could mean the right to give free expression to ideas in ways that some people consider intrinsically morally wrong, or it could mean the right to give free expression in ways that are actually intrinsically morally wrong, consequential in themselves for the person or persons uttering them, and requiring further consequential action from those hearing them.

        The last would be “blasphemy” understood under the old or alternative regime: “classic blasphemy,” you might say. I don’t have time today to sort these ideas out in relation to the prior discussion, or to my summary statements regarding “liberal blasphemy.” Instead, I’ll leave you with a passage from Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise that illustrates the difference, and proposes a “hard and fast line” between criminalization of “deeds” and criminalization of “words.”

        Wholly repugnant to the general freedom are such devices as enthralling men’s minds with prejudices, forcing their judgment, or employing any of the weapons of quasi-religious sedition; indeed, such seditions only spring up, when law enters the domain of speculative thought, and opinions are put on trial and condemned on the same footing as crimes, while those who defend and follow them are sacrificed, not to public safety, but to their opponents’ hatred and cruelty. … If deeds only could be made the grounds of criminal charges, and words were always allowed to pass free, such seditions would be divested of every semblance of justification, and would be separated from mere controversies by a hard and fast line.

        We can let “words” stand for expression in general, but should be aware that every degree of slippage carries with it new implications, thus my previous attempt to distinguish conscience, inquiry, and expression, since Spinoza is here standing up for conscience and inquiry absolutely, but expression relatively: He is not demanding a pulpit from which to expound on his new critique of sacred scripture (which would be taken as blasphemous by some, punishable by extreme measures in some places for being expressed at all). He is asking that government or laws not be applied against free inquiry (“when law enters the domain of speculative thought”), and in so doing begins to separate church and state conceptually. Classic blasphemy implies effective non-separation of church and state, but, as I’ve noted, the notional separation cannot entirely solve the problem, since the notional separation itself becomes an article of a new faith.

        In short, it’s easier to keep the line of separation hard and fast when we are disallowing (actually rather than merely ideally “denying”) the right or interest of government (practical action) to squelch free exchange of “words.” A right or interest of government to squelch consequential words or expressions – obscenity, military intelligence, fraud, etc. – will immediately begin to soften and blur or erase the line. Application of social pressure or respect for people’s feelings, in reference to expression but not necessarily to thought or inquiry, will also present complications. An attempt to impose censorship through voluntaristic violence – terrorism as vigilantism – is easy to reject peremptorily, but in the range of possible reactions to it begins to evoke borderline or blurred-line situations.Report

  5. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    More of a meta comment: As a side observer to most of these types of conversations here, I’m always interested to see how people who are either on exactly the same page or very nearly so can paint their own reality where others are so far away from them as to be Other. (And for those conversations where I’m not a side observer, how often I do the same.)

    I am sitting here wondering to what degree this is hard-wried, to what degree it is inherent in discussions of politics, and to what degree our own attempts to grapple with what we believe rely greatly upon finding (or creating) an Other with which to define those beliefs.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      There is actually a fair amount of research on this sort of thing. It’s a pretty basic part of our social makeup, I think, so you’re right to suspect that it might be hard-wired.

      What struck me about this particular conversation in the early going is that almost everyone involved agrees on the basics, but it was a timing and emphasis issue that allowed us to create great gulfs between ourselves.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

        It’s one of the things I always noticed when Jason used to regularly post:

        You could make a spreadsheet of all of a lot of people’s hot-button issues and Jason’s positions on those issues would probably match up exactly. And yet that wasn’t enough; the mere fact that he travelled from A to B along a different path was enough to make him Other.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I’ve noticed that “Libertarian” has that effect on people pretty much all over the web. “Cato” probably makes it worse.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        I don’t think that’s right in the case of Jason, myself. I do agree that the “path traveled” is unfortunately a really big sticking point in these types of discussions.

        For my part, I think the reflexive resistance to Jason wasn’t that his path was different so much as that his views were so different from folks normal way of looking at the world that they didn’t understand him. One reason I think that is because once upon a time I was one of those people. Lots of his views, the most contentious ones, in my memory of it, were both very subtle and very elevated. Hard to get. So….. because folks didn’t understand him they went with what they thought he was saying (based on a bunch of stuff they carried along with them) and strenuously objected to views he wasn’t expressing.

        To the larger topic, I tend to think that emotional attachment plays a really big role in the stuff you’re getting at up there. Specifically, people get very emotionally attached to their own views at the first order level but also at each succeeding level as you move up the chain. So the attachment to certain meta beliefs – second order, third order, etc – drives dialogues or discussion just as much as or even more than first order stuff.

        Remember when I said that ideologues view themselves as the holding commonsensical truths and view others as being ideologically driven because otherwise how could those folks hold such false and irrational views? (I was pointing at a circle of sorts there, yeah?) I think that’s the problem. Sortamaybe.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Chris says:

        Tod,
        That might just be a Jason thing.
        His writing is like a shot of vodka in a crystal glass.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I think one issue with Jason, specifically, is that he’s come to expect (from this blog and elsewhere — I saw some of this as far back as the PL days) attacks coming not from what he says but from the fact that he’s a libertarian and works at Cato, and so he interprets most or all responses as such. My childhood bully example in his post was not meant as an insult, but as the first of a series of Socratic questions aimed at sorting out the contours of the issue, and he immediately took me to be insulting him and his intelligence. He’s done that to me before when I try to start with simple, straightforward examples and work from there. I don’t take it personally anymore, because I realize he’s not responding to me, but to the idea that I am treating him with disrespect because of his political views and where he’s employed.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Chris says:

        Chris,
        Being a libertarian is honestly a laudable thing — certainly a better political ideology than many.
        But when you work for truly despicable people, you shouldn’t be surprised when some folks think you might not actually be a libertarian but a “libertarian”… if you know what I mean.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

        @kimmi “His writing is like a shot of vodka in a crystal glass.”

        I love this line so much.

        @stillwater All of the meta stuff you say sounds right to me. I think I worry about it because I notice that the longer I am here, the more (and the more quickly) I am falling into this trap.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Chris says:

        …if you know what I mean.

        In all honesty @kimmi, I almost never do.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Chris says:

        jr,
        No one who believes in slavery (or blackmail rather than pay) ought to dare call themselves a libertarian.
        Oh, I might note that it is fucking hilarious that Jason wrote a damn post on mockery. Damn, damn, double damn. I didn’t get the joke. Let me just say certain people can’t take a joke, and don’t mind ruining people to make their point.Report

      • Avatar kenB in reply to Chris says:

        FWIW I agree with Chris re Jason’s post — people were bringing up what I thought were some reasonable points and he was quite dismissive, which struck me as not atypical for him. I generally enjoy his writing but he’s probably better off posting at a site that’s not as commenter-oriented as this one is.Report

  6. Avatar LWA says:

    @j-r
    “blasphemy in the public sphere is not objectionable if you believe in freedom of expression.”

    I don’t agree.
    This portrays free speech as something that can float detached from how we engage with each other, how we do business, form communities, and work together on the project of building society.

    We’ve seen for example how difficult it is to have a credible justice system where police and judges in their off hours, participate in Klan rallies.
    It isn’t a matter of whether they have such a “right”- they probably do; its more that their viewpoints make it nearly impossible for them as public servants to carry out their jobs.

    There is a distance in between “I don’t believe in your religion and have some criticism of it” and “I refuse to see your humanity and offer you nothing but disrespect and contempt”.

    This blog is a pretty good example- we are all free to express ourselves, and we often disagree; but there are limits on how strongly we can express ourselves, and there are ground rules of respect and civility.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to LWA says:

      This portrays free speech as something that can float detached from how we engage with each other, how we do business, form communities, and work together on the project of building society.

      No it does not. It does not at all.

      What it does is shift the burden from the person making the speech to the person objecting to the speech. There is nothing antithetical to the forming of communities or doing business or working together inherent in that.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to j r says:

        What does that even mean, “shifting the burden”?

        The burden of what? Like this is some sort of debate club, or court of law with a verdict to be obtained. If a black man is offended by a minstrel show, or a Jew by a Passion play, that isn’t an argument; they are telling us that they are withdrawing from our engagement, shrinking back in pain and revulsion. We don’t get to debate that point.

        I’m saying that blasphemy is a form of disrespect, a showing of contempt for an entire group, and that this creates friction, sometimes sufficient to cause a total breakdown of society.

        Rights arguments tend to produce absolutist rhetoric; rights tend to be metaphorical “no go” circles we draw around certain things, making them untouchable and sacrosanct.

        But the organs of a society- business relationships, civic groups, churches, all those things Toqueville and Burke and conservatives like to talk about- rely on human relationships to function, a more fluid and negotiated interaction.Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to LWA says:

      “blasphemy in the public sphere is not objectionable if you believe in freedom of expression.”

      This assumes “objectionable” is a Boolean. It is clearly a continuum, and a context-dependent continuum at that.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Another issue, I suspect, is that this isn’t the first time many of us have witnessed this particular discussion. This is an iterated discussion, going back through and across many different events with many different perpetrators against many different victims.

    “The Left” is, of course, no more monolithic than “The Right” but there are blurry lines that can be drawn and patterns do appear to show up.

    As someone who grew up as an evangelical in the 80’s, I remember a great deal about the big deals made over The Last Temptation of Christ, Immersion (Piss Christ), Mapplethorpe, The Satanic Verses, and so on. These debates roiled into the 90’s and the sides lined up pretty much like you’d have expected and we played this game again with Chris Ofili’s “The Holy Virgin Mary”. (Interestingly, while there are always people who don’t line up where you’d have expected them to given past actions, it seems like there were the most people who didn’t line up where they could have been expected to when it came to The Satanic Verses.)

    After 9/11, though, it seems like the attitude taken towards such things as The Last Temptation of Christ, Immersion (Piss Christ), and Mapplethorpe evolved. There was a very different attitude towards blasphemy, The First Amendment, the principles espoused by The First Amendment, and so on.

    When it comes to arguments over such things as blasphemy against Islam, the sides seem to line up differently than when we had arguments over blasphemy against Christianity.

    And that’s very interesting indeed.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

      Well, you have to bear in mind that by any of the available means of objectively measuring such things, our tribe is much, much better than their tribe.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jaybird says:

      Not interesting at all, I fear.
      Vile and hateful, and oh, so damn human.

      Like jr’s talking about Modesty Patrols — we have them too, in this country — though bikinis are easier to be seen in. I’d wager most people are okay with having laws against public nudity…Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

      If it makes any difference, the straw that broke the camels back and led me to stop blogging long ago was the confrontations I got into when I objected to gratuitous, pointless mocking of Christians (in the form of an asshole doing stupid stuff to a communion host to prove that it’s just bread).Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        And that dude was made into a Gawwd for doing it.

        I’m glad you were out front on publicly pushing back against that sorta thing. I just complained to my wife.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Oh man, don’t get me started on that dude. Though his public distancing of himself from the other dude who was also made a God at the height of that obnoxious movement (because the bigger God has been defending a rapist and saying all sorts of obnoxiously sexist things) has made him a little more palatable.

        It’s worth noting that my reasons for being against gratuitous mocking are similar in both cases. In the case of a rusty nail through a communion wafer, what I saw (and what came to pass) was a strengthening of the association between atheism and science among precisely the sorts of people scientists need to convince that science is not against them. That is, the rank and file Christians who support creationism in schools. As long as they saw science as an atheist enterprise, and said asshole, who had the biggest voice among science bloggers at the time, promoted it as such, communication was difficult, and the battle lines would at best stay the same.

        In the case of Islam, people on both sides promote a conflict between the Christian, or worse, secular West and the Muslim Middle East, and gratuitous mocking of Islam doesn’t help to change the perception among rank and file Muslims that the those who are promoting that conflict are right.

        Again, this doesn’t mean we have to outlaw anything, it just means that these acts of speech take place in a larger cultural context, and we’d do well to think about that context when evaluating the speech.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        And that’s basically the post I was going to write. Done!Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        That’s an interesting example. If you asked me about the desecration of the Host, I’d probably have said “Yeah, what a horse’s ass. He shouldn’t have done that.” In response to the question “What about his *RIGHT* to desecrate the Host?”, I’d have probably pointed out that I didn’t know that we were discussing Rights, talk for a paragraph or two about how it’s important to allow for all kinds of dissent from orthodoxy, and then, again, say “What a horse’s ass. He shouldn’t have done that.”

        So, you might ask, well, what in the hell is the difference between that and the Charlie Hebdo massacre???

        The pile of bodies changes everything. Violence changes everything.

        If the response to the magazine was a bunch of people writing strongly-worded letters to the editor and the occasional nutters standing in the park chanting “Ho Ho, Hey Hey, Charlie Hebdo est passe!”, I’d probably not even find that worth commenting upon past saying “God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world.”

        But the pile of bodies changes everything. Violence changes everything.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

        @chris I have not heard of this, and can only assume it was before I ever went on the inter tubes. Do you mind sharing the guy’s name, so that I can see what happened?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I don’t think violence changes everything. In fact, I think violence is the baseline, and dialogue changes everything. When violence happens, it is almost always a breakdown of dialogue. Perhaps it is inevitable, perhaps it is a breakdown before dialogue begins, perhaps it had been building for some time, perhaps it was completely unexpected, but I see it as a call for more dialogue, not less.

        Now, again, note that the main criticism off of this blog, including from people like Chait, was that in the aftermath of violence, some people weren’t publishing the cartoons, and therefore weren’t truly standing up for free speech. This is not a call for more dialogue, it’s a call for everyone saying the same thing, which is by definition less dialogue. That’s how violence wins: by causing us to accept it and stop talking.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Tod, I really am writing a post about it, because I was actually involved in the hubbub so I remember it all-too-vividly, but I’ll go ahead and link it here.

        The prologue:

        http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/08/its-a-goddamned-cracker/

        And the epilogue:

        http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/24/the-great-desecration/

        The body of the story is in all of the nonsense that went down in the two weeks between the prologue and the epilogue, which is more difficult to link to, though a Google search will undoubtedly provide you with much of it.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

        @chris First, that sort of thing does help. A lot. There is an undercurrent in my mind (sometimes unfair, I will admit) of wondering how this person would respond if we were talking about Christians objecting to the blasphemy of theirs. When it comes to people around here, of course, I have a track record to work off of. Some have explicitly said that making fun of Christians is okay and making fun of Muslims is not because Punching Up/Down, which I don’t think is a really workable position.

        Second, oh dear gawd yes on the Science Alliance. On my Facebook feed, IFLS and the like are essentially banners for atheists to mock the religious. Free speech, free country, but I do think they are doing a disservice to science itself. This is where I part ways with a lot of people, as I think NDT is in for some criticism on this front. I haven’t the energy to post on it, either the Science Alliance or Tyson, but all I can say to you is… errr… amen?Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

        As to the larger conversation you and JB are having, though… can’t both positions be true at the same time? Isn’t it possible that a cathartic rallying around in inhumane massacre *and* continuing to ask oneself whether saying something is truly justified can both be true, and that it isn’t necessary for one to win out over the other?

        The thing I notice about this whole debate here this past week is that both sides seem to be insisting that the other position demands absurd levels of censorship, and yet I do not for the life of me see any of that actually happening.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

        In other words, it’s hard to shake the feeling that in the face of an impossibly terrible event that we cannot as individuals do anything about, we are all choosing to find someone closer to call the enemy — someone that we can confront and make a mini-monster — to make ourselves feel better about being so powerless.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Chris says:

        Oh great pasta gods….I had forgotten about the Great Cracker Wars. I used to read PZM regularly but that entire fustercluck was just ugly and stupid. It didn’t do him any credit and i stopped reading him since he stopped having interesting things to say.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Tod, that is essentially what I’ve been saying all along: We agree, we’re on the same side, why are you accusing us of basically saying the same thing that rape apologists and jihadists say? Because if you look at those first couple threads, rape apologists and jihadists we were the comparisons used.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        Tod,

        I’d ask the question a different way: is it possible to talk about the Desecration of the Host or the Hebdo massacre without mentioning “Free Speech”? Seems to me, just as a matter of pure description, that there is. To me it’s obvious.

        And notice that when the public pushed back against Myers dickish behavior no one (NO ONE!) got on their hindlegs and shouted “defend the practice!”, “don’t back down!”. The entire conversation was about dickishness or public service messaging or making atheists feel better about themselves. Whatever.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        And notice that when the public pushed back against Myers dickish behavior no one (NO ONE!) got on their hindlegs and shouted “defend the practice!”, “don’t back down!”. The entire conversation was about dickishness or public service messaging or making atheists feel better about themselves.

        I’d argue that, had there been a massacre, this would have changed.

        But of course I would.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        To see how consistent I have been, here is my post on Myers at the time (which he wrote a post about, though I can’t find it). I even talk about the Danish cartoons, so you can judge pretty well whether I’m being consistent:

        http://scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory/2008/07/26/frackin-ass/

        I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.

        That was one of my last posts as a blogger for many years, in large part because I was just over it, particularly given some of the emails I got in response to that post.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I believe Myers did receive some threats of violence, though I’m not sure how serious they were or how seriously he took them.

        If he had been attacked, I’d have been horrified, I’d have, as Glyph said the other day, seen red, and I wouldn’t have thought for a moment that his behavior meant he was to blame for his own death. I would still have thought what I thought when I wrote the post below, though. That wouldn’t have changed, because I’m not going to let violence change my mind about anything but the people who use it.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        Interesting puzzle: If your conception of reality is determined by the truth of counterfactuals are you actually perceiving reality?Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

        And my answer to that question would be, obviously so.

        Which makes me tack back to my sense that part of the reaction to this has to do with the feeling of helplessness in the face of horror we have with C. Hebdo that we clearly don’t have with whoever the cracker guy is.

        It’s also another distinction between The Interview and this — I don’t know that we feel helpless against Kim Jong-Un. We know where he is, we can see him coming, we’re pretty sure we could kick his ass if it came to that, and he’s pretty damn silly. Even if we weren’t in control of the events surrounding The Interview, we *felt* in control. With the CH massacre, like Sandy Hook or the Olso AUF incident, we feel utterly powerless.

        The more I think about it, the more I think that that’s the real key, not violence or (as Douthat put it) “the gun.” I think it’s the violence in conjunction with feeling so utterly helpless to do anything about it.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I got on a bus last Wednesday at 6:30 AM, not knowing that anything had happened in France. A few minutes after I’d gotten on the bus, a friend of mine IM’d me with a link to a video, that I clicked on unthinkingly (this is pre-coffee Chris we’re talking about), and it was the full video of the two shooters executing the cop. I almost dropped my phone, I said “Jesus Christ!” audibly, so that the people sitting around me turned to look at me, and in that moment I felt a white hot anger and wanted nothing more than to hurt those people. My inability to hurt them, or to do anything to them, overwhelmed me.

        I knew about Charlie Hebdo from the Danish cartoon controversy, so I knew why they’d been targeted as soon as I found out it was they who’d been targeted, but I refuse to let terrorists dictate my opinion about them or their work or the general category into which their work falls. That is the only thing I can do.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        is it possible to talk about the Desecration of the Host or the Hebdo massacre without mentioning “Free Speech”? Seems to me, just as a matter of pure description, that there is. To me it’s obvious.

        And, from here, the answer is that, once we finish discussing pure description, we’re stuck saying “so what’s the difference?”

        I mean, the question “is it possible to talk about Desecration of the Host or the Charlie Hebdo cartoons without mentioning ‘Free Speech’?” becomes either “obviously, yes” or “obviously, no” because both of those things are fish swimming in the ocean that is Free Speech. Is it possible to talk about fish without talking about water? Obviously, yes. Obviously, no.

        But when we start noodling around in the issues involved in blasphemy or shooting someone in the head for blasphemy without mentioning “Free Speech”, we should expect to find ourselves doing so because we are deliberately avoiding talking about “Free Speech” in short order.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        JB,

        Free speech is one of many issues relevant to the Hebdo massacre. It’s not necessary for a first order description of what happened in either case. It’s not even necessarily!!! the most important second order consideration. The claim that it is requires argument, which takes us to the third-order level.

        Yet, the entire discussion on these threads has been exclusively (I can’t think of a single exception, but I haven’t read all the comments) about viewing the massacre thru the lens of free speech, and as an attack on Free Speech, and on defending Speech! from – in many cases – obviously true descriptions of reality.

        Interesting, no?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        Probably because of the fact that this is an iterated discussion rather than a discussion fresh and new, taken from whole cloth.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        It’s not necessary for a first order description of what happened in either case. It’s not even necessarily!!! the most important second order consideration. The claim that it is requires argument, which takes us to the third-order level.

        If we’re describing what happened, and leaving it at that, we’re discussing the shooting. Sure. I’m not certain that this will be a particularly long discussion.

        If we’re describing why the shooters were inspired to shoot, we’re discussing the blasphemy the newspaper was engaging in. This might be a somewhat longer discussion, but not by a huge amount.

        The third order effect gets us to such issues as “how can we prevent this from happening again” and, at that point, we’re discussing culture. Which, if you ask me, is where the discussion really starts to get really interesting.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        Which, if you ask me, is where the discussion really starts to get really interesting.

        Oh man! I wish you didn’t shout me down 6 days ago cuz that exactly what I wanted to talk about too!Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        How should being shouted down be responded to, do you think?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        Well, once it’s been pointed out an apology from the shouter usually suffices.

        But in your case, I’d say Don’t Back Down! Defend The Practice! It’s worked so well for you up to now and all.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        What about when you’re working primarily with text?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        @will-truman I was one of the original “Chamberlain Atheists” back when New Atheists were so obnoxious that they regularly analogized Christianity to Hitler. Perhaps they still do, though I’ve done a very good job of ignoring them almost completely for the last 5 or 6 years.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

      @jaybird This is an aside that is not meant to challenge your point, but I find it depressing that LTOC gets casually thrown in with Piss Christ and Mapplethorpe.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        From what I understand, if I had done a better job of understanding what Serrano and Mapplethorpe were doing, I wouldn’t have been offended by them but would have instead heard the message they were intending to send.

        (Which, I suppose, puts them in a very different category than Charlie Hebdo given that Charlie Hebdo is, essentially, little more than a thumb to the eye.)Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Which, I suppose, puts them in a very different category than Charlie Hebdo given that Charlie Hebdo is, essentially, little more than a thumb to the eye.

        I assume you are being wry/ironic here and really mean to say they may not be different at all, since I don’t know that such is “given”.

        My “thumb to the eye” might be your “right on, preach it, brother” or his “the truth is over there thataway”.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Well, with slapstick, I understand that it’s usually a lot funnier to see someone else get hit in the face with a frying pan than it is to the person getting hit.

        Part of the comedy of slapstick is the response of the guy getting hit.

        I mean, if you hit a guy in the face with a frying pan and he just crumpled into a pool of blood, it ceases to be funny.

        It’s the difference between the Unabomber and Jokey Smurf.

        The analogy fails the second you acknowledge that words remain words, though.Report

    • Avatar LWA in reply to Jaybird says:

      @jaybird
      What is an interesting question which gets asked a lot (rhetorically) on the Right, is “why does no one fear violent Christians objecting to blasphemy?”, with its variation, “Why do only black people riot after a bad verdict?”
      Their answer is usually some variation of “Christians=civilized, Muslims= Barbaric, White Folks=Good, Black Folks Dangerous”.

      But my version of the question would be, why is there very little abortion clinic violence in Mississippi?

      Because violence is done by those who are fearing defeat, not those who are anticipating victory.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LWA says:

        What does “defeat” mean in this context, for Islam (or for Radical Islam) with regards to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons?Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to LWA says:

        Muslims in Europe, like white Christians in America, are afraid of being crushed beneath the tide of secularism.

        Whether its true or not is irrelevant; they feel that way, they believe it to be true, and it provokes and angers them beyond all rationality.

        This is why stuff like “Happy Holidays” or “Press 1 for English” take on such a large dimension- it is a proxy for the larger battle that can’t really be discussed openly.

        There is this sensibility in our educated secular blogs, a “why are they so crazy enraged?” bewilderment that misses this point.

        Its as if, had Charlie Hebdo never existed, these three Muslim men would have been just another bunch of hardworking, happy, peaceful French citizens.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LWA says:

        How do we treat people who argue against “Happy Holidays” or the “Press 1 For English” people here in the US?

        Should we take a significantly different attitude toward the people in Europe who are similarly provoked and angered beyond all rationality?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to LWA says:

        Recognizing similar cultural phenomena does not entail similar judgements, particularly of violent vs non-violent people.

        In the aftermath of 9/11, those who tried to understand why people had done it were often criticized as being sympathetic to that they were trying to understand. I see that same attitude here.

        Seems to me that if we want to stop the violence without killing everyone everywhere, knowing why it’s happening would be good, and recognizing similarities between different groups might help to highlight important differences as well.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to LWA says:

        @chris

        At the risk of making a shitty analogy (WHEN DO I NOT RISK MAKING SHITTY ANALOGIES, RIGHT VIKRAM???), I see a similar mindset among parents when I try to talk with them about incidents in which their child were harmed by another child.

        “I just can’t understand why Jimmy got hit.”
        “Well, from a developmental perspective, that sort of behavior is very typical.”
        “Are you saying it is acceptable to hit?!?!”
        “No. I’m saying it is understandable that four-year-olds hit each other. It is not acceptable. But I understand why it happens. That allows me to best respond to and hopefully successfully discourage the behavior.”
        “SO YOU’RE SAYING IT’S OKAY TO HIT?!?!”

        For some reason, we often conflate understanding something with accept, justifying, or even defending it.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LWA says:

        For what it’s worth, my problem with the majority of the arguments that involved trying to figure out why the 9/11 attacks happened after the fact was that they centered around some variant of “if only we had listened to my advice and implemented my favored policies, then these attacks might have been prevented”. The arguments that centered on “let’s read this open letter that Osama wrote!” were far more too my liking.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to LWA says:

        @jaybird
        I would think that the first step in formulating a set of norms of how “we should” treat people is including Muslims in the “we part”.
        That sounds trivially simple, but it isn’t.
        The rate of civic participation by ethnic minorities depends in part by how well functioning the overall relationship is; If a group feels excluded and mocked and scorned, it becomes a lot harder for them to behave with the level of trust and good faith that the political process requires.

        Yes, I’m indicting my own liberal tribe somewhat in this. There may be a segment of the culturally conservative who really need mocking and ridicule, but the larger, more moderate group that feels torn but can be persuaded to go either way, is the group that needs- really needs -respect and understanding.

        Which means less in-your-face Because-I-Can free speechifying by Charlie Hebdo and Bill Maher.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to LWA says:

        Careful, @jaybird …

        “… Osama … [was] far more too my liking.”Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    A joke I just heard:

    You know why the Charlie Hebdo shooters drank instant coffee before they shot up the place?

    They didn’t like the French Press.Report

  9. Avatar Kazzy says:

    @stillwater

    For some reason, I was thinking about what I’m about to write about and trying to figure out how/where/when to bring it up and then I saw you say this:
    “I’d ask the question a different way: is it possible to talk about the Desecration of the Host or the Hebdo massacre without mentioning “Free Speech”?”

    And figured that was as good a time as any.

    But first, some apparently-necessary concessions:

    The murders at Charlie Hepdo were heinous acts of unjustifiable violence that I decry as strongly as possible. (Hmmm… that should do…)

    Okay… now… I’m trying to understand why these HEINOUS ACTS OF UNJUSTIFIABLE VIOLENCE THAT I DECRY AS STRONGLY AS POSSIBLE have so captured the world’s attention. Why did 1.5M people — including many world leaders — gather in solidarity for these HEINOUS ACTS OF UNJUSTIFIABLE VIOLENCE THAT I DECRY AS STRONGLY AS POSSIBLE but not for other acts of violence?

    I’m not saying these HEINOUS ACTS OF UNJUSTIFIABLE VIOLENCE THAT I DECRY AS STRONGLY AS POSSIBLE do not deserve the response they have garnered. I’m just trying to understand why.

    And as tempting as it is to be very cynical about the factor, I do not think it is as simple as saying, “The media was attacked and has driven the narrative uniquely since then.” Tempting. Probably a factor. But I think there is something else going on.

    And the way this connects to your question is thus: why does it matter why the victims were killed? I mean, once we established that the victims were indeed innocent by all logical and relevant definitions of that term, why are their deaths seemingly worse because they were killed over exercising free speech? Or, as you say, can we talk about Hepdo without talking about free speech?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

      An interesting question is “why aren’t people marching about the 2000 dead by the agency of Boko Haram?”

      I mean, I feel no need to put any disclaimers in this comment about how awful I consider murder to be. I assume it’s understood and, for that matter, all on the same page about it.

      We are, right?

      So why aren’t people marching about the 2000 dead by the agency of Boko Haram?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

        I felt the disclaimers were necessary because this particular situation seems to be very with-us-or-against-us… more than usual. And mostly because of the free speech thing. If you don’t make it clear how heinous and unjustifiable you think the murders were, you are immediately deemed an enemy of free speech.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        This is precisely what I was thinking when they strapped explosives around a child and sent her into a crowd the other day.

        The most charitable explanation I can come up with is that we really do feel like Charlie Hebdo was attacked for our freedom, or at least our way of life, whereas Nigerians are attacked for their way of life, which is not ours.

        Every other explanation I can think of is much less flattering.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jaybird says:

        So why aren’t people marching about the Christian militias hacking people to death with machetes in the Central African Republic?

        And why are we not holding Rupert Murdoch and ourselves responsible until we recognize and destroy this cancer?Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

      @kazzy @jaybird

      Because no one cares what really happens in Africa, and because folks in Euroland and the West DO care about what happens in the west.

      Because the French thing happened to a bunch of the “in group”: media/press, western, etc.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Damon says:

        What’s interesting to me is that the Boko Haram killings are getting a lot of press in the West, just not anything like the Paris attacks.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Damon says:

        @chris

        Maybe I’m more isolated, but I’ve only heard of one news report on the Boko Haram killings…a few days ago. Nothing since nor any follow up.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Damon says:

        Yeah, they’ve been featured prominently on CNN.com and other American news sites off and on since last year’s mass kidnappings. Nothing like they would be if they were happening to white people in a part of the world we cared about, of course.

        If you want real international news, you have to use a source other than American news channels or papers, though.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

      Kazzy,

      Kazzy, if you want me to acknowledge that folks in fact do view this event thru the lens of free speech, I agree. It happened right here on this blog. So I’m not sure what you’re asking in that question. My primary takeaway from the Hebdo situation is that folks will kill others over a perceived offense and that creates a whole slew of actual as well as potential problems right now and down the road, that manifest as and are realized by all sorts of clashes of culture. That the exercise of speech caused this event seems to me to be just a part of the description of events. Defining at as an attack on free speech seems to me inaccurate, even tho lots of people – plenty of folks right here on this blog – think it should be, and it seems to me doing so won’t rectify or resolve any of the underlying problems that gave rise to the violence.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:

        @stillwater

        I’m a little confused by your comment so I’m going to try to go point-by-point through it so you can let me know if I got you and, if not, where I seem to go wrong…

        “Kazzy, if you want me to acknowledge that folks in fact do view this event thru the lens of free speech, I agree. It happened right here on this blog.”
        Not at all. It seems quite obvious to both of us that damn near everyone is viewing this thru the lens of free speech.

        “So I’m not sure what you’re asking in that question.”
        In its (hopefully) simplest form, my question is this: Are these murders worse because of the “free speech” component than murders which do not have a “free speech” component? If so, why?

        “My primary takeaway from the Hebdo situation is that folks will kill others over a perceived offense and that creates a whole slew of actual as well as potential problems right now and down the road, that manifest as and are realized by all sorts of clashes of culture.”
        I agree, though I don’t think we needed Hebdo to know this.

        “That the exercise of speech caused this event seems to me to be just a part of the description of events.”
        Some people seem to want to make it the entirety of the description of events. That seems wrong to me. And I don’t know why they want to do that.

        “Defining at as an attack on free speech seems to me inaccurate, even tho lots of people – plenty of folks right here on this blog – think it should be, and it seems to me doing so won’t rectify or resolve any of the underlying problems that gave rise to the violence.”
        Agreed.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

        Are these murders worse because of the “free speech” component than murders which do not have a “free speech” component? If so, why?

        There are a lot of little things that change little dynamics in big ways. The fact that the shooters seemed to have military training. The fact that they yelled that God is Great as they were shooting. If circumstances were just a little bit different, we might all be agreeing that this was a “hate crime”.

        Let’s compare to the George Tiller murder/assassination. Let’s say that, instead of being gunned down in church by an assassin who pretty much confessed that he did it for ideological reasons, George Tiller went on vacation to Boston, took a wrong turn, and got shot by a group of Irish Gangsters in the middle of a drug-deal gone bad. “Shore and begorrah!”, the papers might have quoted. “We dinnae know he was even there!”

        We’d have significantly different feelings about the shooting.

        It would have been just a bullshit accident rather than the premeditated assassination for ideological reasons.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Kazzy, you said you were confused but it turns out you agree with four of the five points. Now I’m confused. 🙂

        Are these murders worse because of the “free speech” component than murders which do not have a “free speech” component?

        Not to me, but to someone who views the massacre thru the free speech lens they will be. I think what they reveal – and this is why they are important to folks in France specifically but probably westerners generally – is the “clash of cultures” side of all this.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Kazzy says:

      @kazzy At the risk of going all Kazzy on you, I think your privilege is showing here:

      “I’m trying to understand why these HEINOUS ACTS OF UNJUSTIFIABLE VIOLENCE THAT I DECRY AS STRONGLY AS POSSIBLE have so captured the world’s attention. “

      I’m pretty sure they haven’t. I’m pretty sure what you mean when you say “world” is in fact the US, Canada and Europe. And when you do a reset and ask yourself why things that happen in the US, Canada and Europe get more attention from people who live in the US, Canada and Europe, I think the question somewhat answers itself.

      I grant that the media gets its feathers especially ruffled when the media gets attacked, but I strongly suspect that the reaction would have been the same if the shooters had gone into, say, Yves St Laurent and killed 12 people for making women’s clothes that offended. I think these kinds of attacks hit home for the same reason that the WTC, the London tubes and and the Boston Marathon hit home — its too easy to imagine the victims being us or our loved ones. And they happened in places where we tend to think, “This is where civilization occurs. This is where we’ve successfully left behind all of the barbarism for something better.” Neither of which we tend to feel when we think about Nigeria, which both feels a million miles away and where you still expect things like this to happen.

      This, as an aside, is where I think a lot of the people who are currently arguing that what Charlie Hebdo did was asking for violence are missing a key point. The decision to commit violence from a group of people like this does not really hinge upon a cartoon getting or not getting published; that’s just something we tell ourselves afterward to feel more in control. When you cross that mental line, an act of violence is going to happen regardless; if Charlie Hebdo had shut down operations and issued an apology after the initial threat, something and someone else would have been targeted.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        A very, very fair point, @tod-kelly . Thank you.

        And still… the response to Hepdo seems different even then other acts of heinous violence committed in the west.

        Maybe I’m suffering from some form of amnesia… but did 1.5M march after 9/11? Newtown? Aurora?

        So, yes, this is in part about the media. But it is not all about the media. Is ‘free speech’ the ultimate sacred cow? Or are these various instances so distinct from one another as to not be comparable?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I hate to cover this well-trodden ground again, but who thinks they were asking for it? I mean, so far we have Bill Donohue, a jihadist, and a commenter at LGM. Have we found anyone else?Report

      • @kazzy I suspect that a big part of the reason 1.5 million didn’t march (and really why no one marched) in those instances was that they didn’t occur in France. They also didn’t strike at the core of the victim nation’s identity, while simultaneously striking at its biggest social problem, in nearly the same way as this did.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I think you are misremembering.

        For a long while after 9/11, everything we did was centered around 9/11. I don’t know that 1/5 million people marched at one single place, but well over a million gathered separately in most major US cities to march and hold vigils. And as I recall over a million people walked away from their jobs via vacation, granted leave, or just plain quitting (many of them people I knew here in PDX) and travelled across the country to help with the clean up in Manhattan. TV shows put off the cliff-hanger-ending season premiere episodes to do special 9/11 episodes to kick off their seasons, literally weeks afterward. I remember in December there being long, passionate discussions on sports talk radio about who should be asked to sing the Super Bowl national anthem, because it was so important that right after 9/11 we nailed it.

        The people in Paris held huge candlelight vigils. Not as big as they are doing now, but that makes sense considering.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        “I hate to cover this well-trodden ground again, but who thinks they were asking for it? ”

        None that I know of, but that’s not what I said.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Maybe I’m suffering from some form of amnesia… but did 1.5M march after 9/11?

        No, we had leaders of our military and executive say we would “Annihilate Nations” (plural) as a response. So there’s that, I guess.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        You’re right, “asking for it” is an expression with different connotations. I apologize. “Asking for violence” is still, I think, not what people are saying, at least not very many.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Thinking more about this — and reading the feedback here — I think I’m partly right and partly wrong.

        When you can make an attack on people into an attack on something broader — elevating the heinous murders of almost 3000 people to an attack on freedom or the heinous murders of 12 cartoonists to an attack on free speech — not just your potential victims but your actual victims increase by orders of magnitude. Weave this into a “clash of civilizations” narrative and you multiply further.Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The Authorities seem to be arguing, with some justification, that the shooters were members of Al Qaeda.

    Does that change anything?Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

      For whom? From what I understand, they trained with AQAP, and were one of several cells trained in Yemen that were activated (though it is not clear to me from the reports by whom, and from where) last week. I imagine this is very important for counter-terrorism folks, and it suggests that Charlie Hebdo was a target of convenience, or salience, rather than a target someone who wasn’t going to send terrorists to France to carry out attacks saw blaspheming and thought, “Now I’m going to send terrorists to France!” But it doesn’t really change anything for me.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        According to ABC: “The leadership of AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] directed the operations and they have chosen their target carefully,” a statement from the group says, according to The Associated Press. The statement went on to say the attack was to ‘revenge the honor’ of the Prophet Muhammad. “

        If AQAP actually did “direct” the operations, then I’m not sure that we’re even talking about a clash within modern French culture, but a clash between French culture and foreign actors.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Foreign actors using French citizens who were radicalized in France, but trained in Yemen.

        France and Germany have, I believed, produced more foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq than any other Western nations. There’s definitely something going on.Report

  11. Avatar Glyph says:

    I’ve been chewing on this post for a while now; my thoughts remain incoherent, but here’s what I got. Pardon me as I think while commenting rather than before, and forgive for length.

    I am as aware as anyone, of the difference between myth/ideal, and messy reality. Anyone is, when you get right down to it, unless you are the kind of fundamentalist maniac who thinks shooting cartoonists is God’s will – now there’s a worldview that permits no distinction between what is unseen and what bleeds.

    But still, myths and ideals are important anyway; all of us in the gutter but hopefully looking at the stars, for inspiration and aspiration. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, can be (and usually are) beautiful lies; but without them – if our reach did not always exceed our grasp – why would we ever strive to be more or better?

    And so (and, full disclosure – I consider myself one of the dreaded Free Speech Absolutists, or near enough to one as makes little difference, for free speech/thought/inquiry is the genesis of the hope of ever solving any human problem) an attack (real, or perceived) on an ideal or a myth like “Free Speech” *can* be something we take as seriously as the deaths of actual people.

    Not “take seriously” to the point of going out and shooting the cartoonists’ opposite numbers – again, see “Maniac, Fundamentalist” – but I don’t think that a strongly-worded blog comment is necessarily out of line.

    Put another way: when people are violated in the name of the WOD, or the WOT, or police brutality, or racism, it’d be easy enough to say, well, that only happens to brown people/drug dealers/the unlucky, etc.

    If there are no abstract principles that we are concerned with, then it’s either a rare event that happens to a small number of people (that hopefully doesn’t include me) or it’s a common event that happens to everybody (a million strip-searches is just a statistic) – either way, why should *I* care?

    But if we feel that it’s an attack on our shared ideals – if we feel that it’s downright “unAmerican”, to stick our hands up grandpa’s butt looking for drugs or explosives, or to kill someone over a drawing – well, then enough of us might feel we should do something about it.

    Now, “doing something” here might well turn out to be the wrong thing, which is, as I take it, the biggest fear of Chris, and many others.

    It’s a valid fear. We’ve done it before.

    But that’s not an argument that we need to de-emphasize our ideals or “myths” in the wake of such events; in fact, I’d argue much of our current troubles and wrongdoing came from FORGETTING our ideals, from purposefully bringing our myths down to messy reality and throwing mud on them, telling ourselves “we have to be realistic here, we can’t fight with one hand tied behind our back” and “the Constitution is not a suicide pact” to quell our consciences as we tapped phones and rendered the latest suspected terrorist to some CIA black site torture hole. We must remember and affirm our ideals (which is not to say that this affirmation must come in the form of reprinting cartoons), because our ideals are better than we usually are. That’s why they are called ideals.

    That’s part 1, and I am sure I can now be criticized as a naive ideologue more interested in narratives than reality, and that I have failed to provide any answers other than “keep talking”.

    Part 2 is somewhat meta, and it is this – I was one of the people (I think Jaybird and Mark T. were as well) who noted the striking resemblances of the conversation in this case to other conversations, in which painting the victim as “no angel” is often roundly condemned as largely beside the central point.

    A & B together: This was a horrible event that we must understand so as to prevent in the future!

    A: The (woman/cartoonist) should have shown better judgement than they did! They also have a history of (promiscuity/provocation), that was only going to lead to trouble sooner or later!

    B: That’s victim-blaming! The history and judgement of the (rape/murder) victim is not on trial here: we need to teach (men/Muslims) not to (rape/kill satirical cartoonists)!

    A & B together: But you have to understand, it’s not that most (men/Muslims) don’t think that (rape/murder) is wrong, it’s that they don’t think it’s (rape/murder) when the victim was (falling down drunk/blaspheming their God)! And also, it’s annoying and obvious to have to keep stating over and over that (rape/murder) is a heinous thing that nobody supports! I’m just trying to prevent it from happening again!

    Now, I said something early on to the effect of “it’s not exactly victim-blaming, but it’s hard for it not to sound like it”, and others (Will and James among them, along with me) said things like “maybe now is not the time” – and that feels a lot to Chris and others like being shouted down. I know Chris and greginak and others well enough by now, to distinguish what they were actually saying, from what it sort of sounds like; but had their words been spoken by somebody else, I might well have let that person have both (rhetorical) barrels.

    And that’d be unfair, and unproductive.

    My hope would be that that knowledge is carried back out by everybody into this conversation’s analogues – for example, if you are thinking about insinuating that someone is a “rape apologist” just because they are questioning the prevailing narrative of a particular case, or a policy prescription, or they haven’t said “rape is terrible” enough – then remember how it felt to be implied as a “terror apologist” because you questioned the wisdom of Charlie Hebdo’s actions.

    It’s frustrating, and annoying, and you feel like you are being shouted down.

    (And as a meta-meta-point – I’d really, REALLY like to know how it is that the conversations themselves can be such good analogues to my mind, and yet the persons playing the roles A & B switch around with such consistency and reliability, depending on the topic – I’ve been A, and I’ve been B, and I do not know why. The easiest answers would be “I’m an Islamophobe/misogynist”; or, “I take the role that my perceived ideological ‘team’ seems to also be taking”. And that is depressing as all hell to me, as it should be to everyone, since the alternate explanation that “*I’m* doing it for the right reasons based on the facts of the current case, while my rhetorical opponent is doing it for the wrong ones” seems highly likely to be a self-serving rationalization a large chunk of the time, no matter who you are).Report

    • Avatar RTod in reply to Glyph says:

      This should be a postReport

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph says:

      I agree, it should be a post. Nothing wrong with comment-rescuing yourself, but if you are too modest, I will do it for you.

      I’ll have to chew on it some more before responding more completely, as there is a lot to chew on, particularly in that first part.

      On the second part, though, I’ll say this: The rape analogy was used pretty much from the start of this conversation, and I (and others) have argued that it is inapt.

      Part of why the mythologizing is a real problem, with practical consequences, is that we know that violence is possible, this has been demonstrated more than once, yet because we’re dealing in myths rather than realities, we’re pressuring publications to publish the cartoons anyway. To say that violence is possible in response is to blame the victim, within this rhetoric. To run with your analogy: the free speech absolutists are demanding that women go to a party at a house filled with rapists, and dose their own drinks.

      I will say that there is a way in which the rape analogy works: the reason the “short skirt” nonsense is victim blaming is that rapists, in the end, rarely care what the woman looks like. That she was wearing a short skirt had nothing to do with her being raped. Only that she was a woman. And as is clear from the fact that the terrorists didn’t just kill the people at a magazine, the terrorists just wanted to kill French people. The magazine was just a convenient target, because it was there, relatively unsecured, and on their radar. Violence is about power, in both cases, and we tell ourselves it’s about something else to make it more understandable.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

        “To run with your analogy: the free speech absolutists are demanding that women go to a party at a house filled with rapists, and dose their own drinks.”

        FWIW, speaking as someone who is not a free speech absolutist, I think this observation is un-Chris-like in that it is both way off the mark and needlessly provocative. I have not heard one FSA here of anywhere else say anything of the sort, and I’m going through a whole lot of interpretations in my head of what that analogy run backward would look like.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I apologize. It is needlessly provocative (I’ve twice deleted an even more provocative analogy, but I let this one get out when I shouldn’t have). I have definitely reached a breaking point with bad analogies and other nonsense in this debate. In reference to the analogy, I should have just said “Ugh,” as I did to Jaybird’s needlessly loaded question above, but the first part of Glyph’s comment was too good for me to just use an “Ugh” in response to the second.

        The context, for what it’s worth, is that the critics of the NYT last Thursday for not publishing the cartoons were very vocal. On Twitter, I watched a Washington Post reporter — a reporter for a publication that had printed the cartoons — defend them and then be attacked pretty mercilessly for defending them.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        needlessly provocative.

        Well, one of the views expressed at this here blog is that provocative speech is by definition valuable. So, if that’s right, then Chris’s comment isn’t needlessly provocative.

        Also if it sounds like I’m mocking a certain view here, it was also suggested that mockery has value.

        I don’t know, Tod. I hear what you’re saying, tho. Somewhere during all this the views on free speech presented by the absolutists became a caricature of theirownselves. If that’s possible.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

        @chris No apology needed. I meant what I said about it being un-Chris-like.

        @chris & @stillwater FWIW, I don’t have the sense that those attacking the Gray Lady are FSAs. My blink is that they are just part of the conservative noise machine punditry, who are always looking for the tiniest thing to blow out of proportion to undermine later reporting by the Times. The places I see attacking the NYT are the exact people who began attacking Obama’s response before the White House even had one.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

        I have definitely reached a breaking point with bad analogies and other nonsense in this debate.

        With others’ bad analogies, your own bad analogies, or both?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        And as is clear from the fact that the terrorists didn’t just kill the people at a magazine, the terrorists just wanted to kill French people. The magazine was just a convenient target,

        I think this assumes facts not in evidence, to be honest. For one, there is a direct causal link between Muslim anger and CH. For another, if the quotation Jaybird linked to yesterday is accurate, the attack was to revenge the honor of Muhammad, which again points to CH as a specific target. But the killers did kill other folks, too.

        So I’d say that the claim requires an “also” or something in there.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris says:

        @stillwater https://ordinary-times.com/blog/2015/01/12/what-myths-hide#comment-977240

        Was going to to make a similar comment – and relates to the question of identifying the real provocateurs in my reply up thread to Prof H. Chris has had so much to deal with defending an OTC post, I think his attention much have flagged there.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

        Somewhere during all this the views on free speech presented by the absolutists became a caricature of theirownselves

        So you see their arguments as caricatures, and Chris sees them as nonsense, and while it could be my bias, I’m getting a sense of triumphalism in these comments. As in, “In our own view we’ve successfully refuted all their arguments and so we win, and I can’t believe they’re still talking.”

        Curiously, though, I don’t think your side’s done any better a job persuading the other side that you’re right than that side has done in persuading you. So I guess they are just as justified in taking a triumphalist turn and talking about how fed up they are with Chris’s bad analogies and nonsense, and how the non-absolutists are talking round and round in circular arguments (as it seems to me).

        I think we’ve agreed there’s not that much substantive ground between us all, but there sure as hell seems to be a big gap on whether we see the other side’s arguments as having any validity whatsoever.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        With others’ bad analogies, your own bad analogies, or both?

        The view you expressed there is just like when Nazi baby killers burn freedom pizza footballs …

        Wait. OK. I see what you’re saying. It’s sorta like when Neo-capitalist welfare supporters require …

        Dammit.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        James,

        Regarding my comment about caricatures: read the comment! I use arguments made on this very blog to demonstrate that the incoherence of some of the views expressed!

        Now, I’m not saying that free speech absolutism is incoherent, or that it can’t be very well defended. I’m just saying that lots of the rhetoric used over the last week to convey or defend FSA is inconsistent and incoherent.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I don’t mean to imply that the cartoons were not the reason why Charlie Hebdo was chosen. I just think that if Charlie Hebdo had not published the cartoons, there still would have been cells in France, and they eventually would have attacked someone. Hebdo was, as I said but underemphasized, chosen because they were salient and would resonate with many in the Muslim extremist choir, if you will.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

        Stillwater,

        I’m not persuaded by your arguments.

        I get that you’re not persuaded by our arguments.

        Can we agree that neither side has managed to persuade the other, and step back from what appears to me to be a step toward “I win, you lose, because your arguments are crap demonstrated by your not having persuaded me, and you’re an idiot as demonstrated by you not being persuaded by my arguments?”

        I’m not saying you’ve done that; I’m saying I think I’m beginning to smell the faintest whiff of that tone, and not just from your comments.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Glyph says:

      Awesome comment, Glyph.

      For me, there’s also an undercurrent of how Al Qaeda, if we’re going to analogize it to anything, is analogizable to the KKK. Discussing how, if we engage in this or that act, it might make the KKK mad enough to get violent strikes me as a mistake.

      It’s back to “I’m not saying that we need to accommodate the feelings of the KKK, I’m just saying that it’d be wise to avoid actions that make them mad enough to get violent.”

      Which strikes me as a distinction without a difference in service to taking the requests of an unreasonable violent group as if they were reasonable.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Glyph says:

      Wow. This is some meta-meta stuff. Judgments about not only other people’s beliefs but their beliefs about their beliefs, and beliefs about other people’s beliefs about their beliefs about other people. I’m sorta tempted to get involved since I feel like my meta-beliefs are being discussed – even critiqued! – here. And that deserves a response. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about getting too meta, it’s this: that there is no reliable truth predicate anymore, so all our disagreement would amount to is irresolvable bickering. I’ll pass.Report

  12. Avatar Dave says:

    @chris

    Change of subject.

    This caught my attention:

    It’s worth noting that my reasons for being against gratuitous mocking are similar in both cases. In the case of a rusty nail through a communion wafer, what I saw (and what came to pass) was a strengthening of the association between atheism and science among precisely the sorts of people scientists need to convince that science is not against them. That is, the rank and file Christians who support creationism in schools. As long as they saw science as an atheist enterprise, and said asshole, who had the biggest voice among science bloggers at the time, promoted it as such, communication was difficult, and the battle lines would at best stay the same…

    Do you really believe that the absence of people like PZ Myers would bridge the gap between scientists and rank and file Christians and make the issue less of a battle?

    I don’t know what context allows you to conclude (or imply) that it’s possible, but being someone that has studied Establishment Clause jurisprudence and paid very close attention to the various ways religious groups have attempted to re-introduce religion into the public schools, I don’t share your beliefs.

    Myers may be an asshole, but he isn’t the problem nor will his absence make the problem any less difficult to deal with, especially with respect to rank and file creationists. After 1968’s Epperson v Arkansas, which ruled that laws that banned the teaching of evolution were unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds, these people have not stopped trying to get creationism introduced into the science classroom, and one of the worst recent examples of this was the attempt to introduce intelligent design into the Dover, PA school district (Kitzmiller v Dover). The findings of fact in this case biased my view so much that I don’t believe that scientists can work to bridge any gap nor do I believe that rank and file creationists have any interest in coming to a good faith compromise (none exist).

    The funny thing about atheism and science is that only a certain subgroup of Christians seems to believe that. My friends of other faiths (Catholics, Muslims, Methodists, Jews, Episcopalians, etc. etc.) don’t think about science this way and never had. I think the association is a rather stupid one, and I’m not in the mood to cater to stupid people.

    My apologies if that rubs you the wrong way, but you seem to believe that communication and compromise can happen with a group whose actions speak otherwise and have for decades.

    You’re not wrong to criticize the mocking Myers did, but if any of this had to do with your reasons for it, I would have pushed back had I been around to read it.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Dave says:

      @Dave , as I see it, there are two types of creationists: ordinary, everyday people who don’t study this stuff, and “authorities,” people those ordinary folks look up to. I don’t think the authorities will be swayed by anyone: creationism is, in many if not most cases, their “thing” (say, Bill Dembski), it’s why anyone even knows who they are much less considers them authorities. The rank and file, though, they’re trying to get through the world and get their kids educated and so forth, and while most of them will be stuck within a dogma, to be sure, because that’s most people in general, there are people, important people, people who vote for school boards and such, who can be convinced. However, it’s much more difficult for them to be convinced if the experts are telling them, “Science, particularly evolutionary science, is atheistic and anti-Christian,” and then scientists, particularly biologists, particularly those who study and/or talk about evolution, go about proving them right.

      If the battle were just between the active participants and the people who end testifying in court or standing up in front of large churches, I’d think Myers behavior (and that was just the last straw: to him, science is atheistic, and he said so over and over and over and over again) was pointless but not counterproductive. It is not, however: there are minds out there that can be swayed, that can be educated, and this is precisely the way to make that more difficult.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

        I’m skeptical, because I don’t think that everyday, ordinary creationists believe the way they do in a similar fashion that you believe what you do.

        For someone like me, evolution is a scientific theory that stands entirely on its own, like the theory of gravity. My self-identity, my relationship with my wife and children, the novels I read, the music I listen to and the place where I live have nothing directly to do with the scientific theory of evolution (or gravity). If someone came down the pike with a new theory that explained life today better than evolution (better to the point that the vast preponderance of the scientific and academic community were swayed) I could probably jump on board with that new theory, and the rest of my life could continue unchanged.

        Creationism is different. When you ask someone to discard it, you aren’t simply asking them to accept a scientific certainty.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Tod, that’s somewhat true: in order to convince a YEC, in particular, you’re going to have to change their life to a significant extent. I think this is possible; rare, but possible. There are a whole hell of a lot of people who aren’t hard core YEC’s who end up on the side of the creationists in the conflict between science and creationism in large part for cultural reasons, however. I’ve known a lot of people like that. Most of them, if you could convince them that it’s possible to have a creating god and science, that is, that science exclusively atheistic, you might be able to get them to flip sides. I think this is particularly true of the younger ones, the ones more likely to be reading the internet, and the ones who are about to have kids or who have young kids, and therefore are about to or are just now caring about these issues in the context of education, where the real battles are.

        Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think everyone can be convinced, but to me, every person convinced is a victory, and P.Z. Myers and his ilk are barriers to convincing people.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

        It might be that we are each defining creationists differently. Someone who has a knee-jerk “I don’t believe in evolution” but hasn’t really bothered to think about it (which is what I think the vast preponderance of where those polled stand) I don’t know that I’d classify as a creationist. This, of course, is probably an error on my part.

        Either way, though, I take your point.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        We probably are. I tend to think of religion as a primarily social institution, not a metaphysical or epistemological one, and social identities are malleable.

        I always saw the function of a science blogger to be that of promoter of science and educator. A good promoter and a good educator should not be contented with convincing or educating the easiest, the choir, the low hanging fruit. This is particularly true when there are very significant real world implications associated with ignoring, or worse, alienating the more recalcitrant minds.

        There were, in that time, many heated discussions in public and in the ScienceBlogs authors email list, about the purpose of science blogging. Suffice it to say that my view was not the consensus view. It probably didn’t help that it was not Myers’ view, and most science blogs at the time depended on him for the bulk of their traffic (which is how we were paid).Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        As someone who was raised a YEC, there was very much a, for lack of a better term, Marxist Dialectic going on with the expansionist portion of the community.

        Biblical Inerrancy was essential. You could get from Adam to Jesus and we knew about how long that was thanks to Bishop Usher. We studied the scientists from around the time of the Scopes Trial and examined every single one of their triumphalist statements that preceded a major mistake. We were told from one side of the scientific community’s mouth that science was a process while the other side of their mouths were all about how this was an argument over world views.

        The YECs pretty much came out and said “These latter scientists are right! This *IS* about world views! Christianity leads to a Culture of Life! Evolution leads to a Culture of Death!” and then we’d go back to reading about the so-called “Nebraska Man”.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

        @tod-kelly @chris @jaybird

        There are people who are YEC who have familiarized themselves with the issues and taken a stand. There are others who garner their position in large part through social cues and have learned just enough to be able to justify it. The second group, being I believe larger than the first by a large margin, simply can’t be discounted.

        The thing is, though, you have a similar breakdown among evolutionists. We tend not to think about it because, as we know, they’re right. But a whole lot of them are right for not-the-right reasons. They believe it because that’s what they were told. It’s really something when you see a YEC and evolutionist debate and the former kicks the latter’s ass because he’s from the first segment while the evolutionist is from the latter and thinks you can basically argue from appeal to authority (and/or mockery) without actually knowing much.

        Not that such debates really do win a whole lot in the way of converts. Not, that is, when evolution/creationism is a social or religious signal. That’s where it really does matter who is allied with whom, and who is aligned against whom.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Chris says:

        Debates between biologists and YEC promoters are so frequently show-pieces: a YEC presenter like Kent Hovind is slick, charismatic, has a good audio-visual presentation he’s given dozens of times.

        Meanwhile on the “evolutionist” side, you typically get an academic type who might (might) be able to deliver a decent lecture at in university setting but has little forensic polish, and whose closeness to the scientific subject matter renders her a little bit taken aback when required to shift focus from atomic detail to the 10,000-foot-view on a rhetorical turn of the dime.

        Then, you get an audience pre-packed with people who have already picked their side because tribes, and nothing the adverse speaker says will or could possibly ever convince them to even consider changing their minds. No matter how big the auditorium, the number of people there who approach the exchange with actually open minds, intending to evaluate the evidence presented as opposed to the personalities of the presenters, may reasonably be forecast to be countable without exceeding the realm of the single digit.

        All of which renders that sort of thing pretty much a farce ab initio.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Chris says:

        there’s also that the number of people who “believe” in evolution but can’t explain anything about it is unfortunately large. what they do know is that the other people are wrong and bad and whatnot.

        it’s young earth creationists all the way down. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Will and dhex are right, of course, particularly now when skepticism and “rationalism” have become quasi-religious institutions of their own. And if I were a creationist of the young earth or intelligent design sort, or somewhere in between, I’d be telling my fellow creationist the same thing: it becomes a lot harder for people who disagree with you to hear you when the first thing you do is shout “You’re stupid and so is everything you believe!” at the top of your lungs.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Chris says:

        they’re not particularly religious, but they are identities, especially for people who were badtouched by god when they were kids. which is actually where blasphemy can come in most handily (and necessarily), if people are willing to terror-fck their beliefs and fears, even if only tentatively at first.

        which, in addition to all his other issues, was part of pz myers problem; he’s lousy at blasphemy. now, if he joined a cult for three months and truly put his all into believing, or if he took a bunch of acid and spent a week going to the creation museum every single day and fully embracing what he saw…that’d be blasphemy.

        blasphemy requires genuine inversion to be meaningful.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

        To add on to @chris ‘s point… if you’re raised to believe that evolution is a conspiracy to undermine God… evolutionists can’t actually go out of their way to give those warnings weight. It’s not just that the guy is yelling that religion is stupid and the person they are yelling at is stupid for believing it. It’s that their validating what that person was told by his parents, pastor, etc.

        (This isn’t to say that atheist evolutionists should pretend to believe in god to convince people or anything silly like that. It’s just that… such things matter. Really. There has been a huge shift in the last ten years or so towards believing that people who don’t agree with you on important things never will and so it doesn’t matter what you say or how you say it. This is… an unfortunate development.)Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

        There has been a huge shift in the last ten years or so towards believing that people who don’t agree with you on important things never will and so it doesn’t matter what you say or how you say it. This is… an unfortunate development.

        No it isn’t, I can’t believe that you said that, and now you’re dead to me.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Dave says:

      We Skeptic-Humanist-Atheist-Freethinker-Agnostic-Rationalist types need to bear in mind that people get really into their religions for reasons that, to them, are deep and unconscious. People invest huge amounts of their egos into their religious identities. Their holy books and clerical leaders dispense not only a lens with which to view a complex and confusing world but also moral guidance (which quite often is good moral guidance). Their churches provide not just routinized affirmations of bronze age mythology but also fellowship, friendship, a mutual support society for those who fall on hard times, a sense of belonging and inclusion, and solace during times of grief. Their feelings of love and community, their notions of right and wrong, their sense of who they are in the world and being part of something bigger and better than themselves alone, that’s all of a part, something that they see as unified and unalloyed.

      Long way of getting to the Wheaton Rule, I guess.Report