A Heap of Broken Images*


Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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17 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Its not exactly a clash of civilizations but one big problem with globalization is that the world is becoming a smaller space in bad ways and good ways. We already documented the good ways. The bad ways is that people who believe mutually inconsistent things have to find away to live together without killing each other. What is harmless fun to one person could be something deadly serious to another. State neutrality and philosophical liberalism don’t seem to be working in Europe or other places.Report

  2. Avatar j r says:

    We defend a free market in disempowered images. We defend free speech on the basis that images and words are somehow unreal and can cause no real harm. This goes against a countervailing force in the Western tradition.
    Maybe I am misunderstanding this, but my immediate response is, “No. That’s not we we defend free speech at all.”Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to j r says:

      I was putting it a bit ironically. When we are confronted with people who sincerely believe that speech and images are an assault on individuals or on God, we get put in the uncomfortable position of having to argue that, no, they are simply not as powerful as those people say they are. We are not allowed to strike someone with a brick, but there are people who sincerely believe “hate speech” or “blasphemy”- words and images- are the equivalent. When responding to that, in order to defend speech, we can’t meet them on those terms, so we have to argue that words and images simply do not have that power.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I should say that I point this out as someone who started defending speech and images way back in the PMRC & Women Against Pornography days, so I am used to the argument that words and images are weaponry in some people’s eyes.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Rufus F. says:

        And what about reporting that would provide a chilling effect on the pursuit of justice?
        Of course words and images are weaponry — most people don’t even realize there’s a war on.

      • Avatar j r in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I’m not arguing that words and images are inert. I am arguing the opposite. Words and images are extremely powerful, which is part of the reason that we protect free expression. Likewise, we don’t need to argue religious fundamentalists out of their belief that images can be blasphemous and heretical. We simply have to defend blasphemy and heresy.

        As I said at the time, there is a reason that these extremists attacked Charlie Hebdo and not the National Front. And there is a reason that Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie. It’s the same reason that the Catholic Church prosecuted Galileo or the Communist Party prosecuted Solzhenitsyn or the HUAC went after Hollywood writers. Extremists want to control all representations of their ideology, because they know that controlling words and images is an effective way of controlling people.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Ohhhhh okay! This is a fantastic point!Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I find that point as interesting for what it elides as for what it illuminates. It is true that when extremists lash out at the secular, they tend to attack symbols of the secular. It is equally unsurprising, however, that they are much, much, much (much, much, much, much, much) more likely to attack the religious symbols of other religious groups which they see as impure or threatening in some way. We see this even in the Paris attacks, which included a Kosher grocery, but more often we see it in Sunnis attacking a Shiite mosque, the Taliban destroying the temples of other religions, and so on ad infinitum, unfortunately. Catholics may have gone after Galileo for having the gall to criticize the Pope’s theology directly, but they spent a lot more time, effort, money, and lives, going after Jews and Protestants: they confined Galileo to his home; they murdered as many as 30,000 Huegenots, while the Spanish Inquisition lasted almost 4 centuries.

        The most striking aspect of our Westernism is not our love of freedom, but our universal and near complete ability to simply ignore everything that doesn’t happen to us, or to people like us, so that we are able to take extremely rare events that involve us, which are embedded in an historical and even cultural context that involves many, many more events that do not involve us, and decide that those few, rare, events describe the pattern.Report

  3. Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

    Wasn’t in the context of no context supposed to be a kind of joke itself?Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

      I was tempted to say so at first when I read it years ago, but when I read My Pilgrim’s Progress I realized that Trow was wryly and perhaps a bit strangely stating the horrible reality of things, while pretty clearly dealing with his own mental collapse. I think he was, at the root of it, dead serious with in the context of no context and, for as much as I disagree with it, I still return to that book in my thoughts more than almost any other.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Awesome essay, Rufus.

    As is my wont, I see this as (yet) (another) clash between two (wait, three… wait, four… wait, five… wait…) different religions. There’s the post-Christian Religion variant one, the post-Christian Religion variant two, the currently-Christian Religion, Reform/Conservative Islam, and Orthodox Islam. (And that’s not getting into the Jewish variants that have insights to offer as well.)

    When Orthodox Islam has a couple of members that do something violent and claim that it’s in the name of Islam, the post-Christian variants start screaming at each other without a whole lot of context from what the Reform/Conservative Muslims or Orthodox Muslims are saying about their takes on what happened and, insofar as anything they say is paid attention to, it’s to cherry pick quotes that make the points that the post-Christian variants want to hammer on. (Insights the currently-Christian Religion has to offer are treated similarly but it’s possible to argue against those much more vigorously.)

    It’s not where the important part of the debate is happening but it’s pretty much the only game in the part of town where we feel comfortable showing up because there are fewer people glaring daggers at us.Report

  5. Avatar North says:

    The waters of liberalism flow in and the steam flies. It’s depressing, but less depressing than it would be if the waters didn’t fly in the first place.
    That said, the French and a lot of the European nations have a serious assimilation problem and they are going to have to tackle it sooner or later. It won’t be fun for them. It’s probably the European equivalent of the reparations quandry that confronts the US.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North says:

      Reparations are only seriously discussed in the blogosphere. Everybody else, including the institutions that can actually institute reparations, ignores it. Its not even a topic of conversation for the most part. The assimilation of Muslim immigrants in Europe is at least talked about. The main problem with assimilation is that assimilation is considered a dirty word in the present by many people. Any attempt to fully integrate Muslim immigrants and their descendants part of the body politic. Its going to require a lot of give and take on both sides. Europeans are going to have to accept a socially conservative, religious minority. Muslims are going to have to accept separation of religion and state.

      At this point I think that the United States has many more religious people than most European countries helped with assimilating Muslims.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I think the two issues stand close to even in terms of how hard and emptionally fraught they’ll be to resolve. That one is only barely discussed and the other is discussed more widely says something about us that probably isn’t nice.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to North says:

      Having lived for a bit in both, it seemed to me the difference between the US and France was that, in the states, they’ll bitch loudly in public about immigrants and expect them to assimilate, while in France they’ll be fairly quiet about how they feel about immigrants and expect them to stay the hell away.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F. says:

        American immigration policy basically assumes that if you immigrate here, you are here for good even if your on a status that doesn’t lead directly to citizenship like an H1-B visa or that your an undocumented alien. Eric Posner once described decades of undocumented immigration with a periodic amnesties for those that manage to behave as the American guest worker program. Since the United States assumes that every immigrant is here to stay, it has no problem laying down the law to behave. That we have less post-colonial guilt than other countries helps. European nations really peopled that the guest workers would go home and be replaced by other guest workers on a periodic basis. When this turned out not to be the case, they simply didn’t do anything.

        Like I said above, the fact that America has more religious, socially and sexually conservative people than European countries probably proved to be a great assist when it came to assimilating Muslim immigrants, who come from religious and socially conservative countries.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Part of it is also the French economy is a deeply regulated and restricted one with regards to employment- so employers have enormous cause and opportunity to be as picky as hell.Report