Friday, January 9, 2015

Are You Really Charlie Hebdo?

This morning David Brooks reminds us that, for all of our expressions of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo we are often intolerant of speech that offends our own sensibilities.

In his words:

Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.

Just look at all the people who have overreacted to campus micro-aggressions. The University of Illinois fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality. The University of Kansas suspended a professor for writing a harsh tweet against the N.R.A. Vanderbilt University derecognized a Christian group that insisted that it be led by Christians.

Americans may laud Charlie Hebdo for being brave enough to publish cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, but, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali is invited to campus, there are often calls to deny her a podium.

In Time Magazine Charlotte Alter elaborates:

Clearly a slaughter of 12 innocent people is countless orders of magnitude more devastating than Internet umbrage. But the motive comes from the same place: the notion that people should be “punished” for making insensitive comments or jokes, that they should pay for their words with their reputations or their jobs. In other words: You said something that offends me, so I will destroy you.

That destruction can take many forms. It could be leaking your emails and destroying your computer systems, as happened to Sony. It could be getting someone fired. It could be destroying someone’s reputation through relentless public Twitter flogging. But we forget that Internet outrage can have real-life victims (and I admit, as a writer, I’ve occasionally forgotten that.) We give ourselves license to indulge in these perverse impulses out of a sense of righteousness — Down with sexism! Conquer racism! But destroying lives over objectionable language is just a different form of extremism.

She continues:

The notion that somebody deserves to have their life and career ruined for tweeting an offensive comment or bad joke is an out-of-proportion response, driven by righteous indignation. The answer to a tasteless comment or cartoon is discourse, not destruction, but too often, we sanction professional immolation as a fitting consequence of objectionable speech. It’s a snowball effect, because nobody wants to defend sometime who is being accused of bigotry, lest they be labeled a bigot themselves. There’s even a whole Tumblr devoted to policing social media and reporting racist comments to employers, called “Racists Getting Fired.” And as anyone who’s ever been the object of online vitriol knows, public finger-pointing is usually enough to make you re-think your assumptions and prejudices. You don’t have to lose your job over it.

If all of us standing up for Charlie Hedbo are truly committed to the freedom of speech–and we all should be– we need to stop demanding professional punishment whenever somebody says something idiotically sexist, racist, or classist. Embarrassing comments, in most cases, should not cost people their jobs or livelihoods. We should disagree with people, but not aim to destroy their lives.

Both Brooks and Alter are correct. The much-vaunted marketplace of ideas has in some cases degenerated to the point that anyone who offers a politically incorrect opinion is targeted for destruction.


Ares Olympus said...
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Ares Olympus said...

Knowing humans are terminal uncurable hypocrites is sometimes helpful, but it is still strange how it works.

I recently heard about Benjamin Franklin's Junto clubs, started in 1727, when he was only 21. It seemed similar to modern Toastmasters.

I thought their questions for new members was good:
Any person to be qualified as a member was to stand up, lay his hand upon his chest, over his heart, and be asked the following questions, viz.
1. Have you any particular disrespect to any present members? Answer. I have not.
2. Do you sincerely declare that you love mankind in general, of what profession or religion soever? Answer. I do.
3. Do you think any person ought to be harmed in his body, name, or goods, for mere speculative opinions, or his external way of worship? Answer. No.
4. Do you love truth for truth's sake, and will you endeavor impartially to find and receive it yourself, and communicate it to others? Answer. Yes.

You can imagine these high-minded ideals where sincere and credible at the beginning, but less believable when passions arose and severe differences of opinions appeared out of no where. But with the standards set, members were required to uphold them. They had a compass that allowed them to judge their own behavior.

Many of the "founding fathers" despised political parties, because it was obvious it made people loyal to party and broke a common spirit of the whole.

I expect historians could identify many power struggles that Ben Franklin participated in, in politics, and business, and even family, and where he stepped over the line, and found the will to "destroy" the reputations of others by the power of his word and knowledge and ability to use rhetoric to distort dialogue into his favor.

But maybe his early ideals stopped him short, and he decided to make peace once he had the upper hand?

And maybe that's the hard question, knowing when to stop, when is your righteous anger righteous, and when do you stop once you start? When do you look in the mirror and see you're part of the problem?

n.n said...

Unfortunately, Hebdo was a poor representative of a free marketplace. He targeted men and women, and organizations, that offended his delicate sensibilities. He would not, for example, entertain a juxtaposition of an Islamic terrorist and FEMENist decapitating and dismembering human bodies in a shack and "clinic", respectively.

Anyway, it all returns to that supreme hypocrisy, always. First time, repent. Second, and later times, natural born abortionists. Hebdo belonged to the liberal church which demands adoption of an atheist (i.e. narcissistic faith) and libertine (i.e. immoral or amoral, pro-choice) religion.

I guess he felt secure living among people who are known to "turn the other cheek". He probably forgot that his church had engaged in mass immigration in order to displace and disrupt its native competitors. And while those immigrants had a church with overlapping and even convergent interests, it did not share the faith and religion of local patrons.

Dennis said...

Also one must consider that the so called paper of record, The NYTIMES, is as much responsible for not facing the realities of terrorism as a government that won't define terrorism to include radical Islamists. Freedom of speech has no greater enemy than the NYTimes, and most media outlets, and the federal government under Obama. Ask the Egyptian who has languished in jail because of a video he made.
As for the tolerance demonstrated by our superiors:

The market place of ideas is almost dead by the very actions taken by most journalists. It seems disingenuous for them to talk about these things when they are the first to cower when the possibility of radical Islamic violence might affect them.
The brave are always brave when it is safe to be brave.

Anonymous said...


Creed means belief. One's personal/private creed may be offensive to others, but it's a matter of conscience and conviction.
While one should be expected to behave professionally at work, one's thoughts and expressions away from work is one's own private/personal matter.

Liberals say that even communists in the 40s/50s should not have lost their jobs over their personal ideological creed. But these same people say individuals should be fired and destroyed for personally held beliefs that are 'hateful'.

Where does this lead? If Richard Dawkins were dictator, wouldn't all religious people be fired and sent to re-education camps since Dawkins believes religions to be crazy and hateful?

We need separation of personal creed and professional life.