Saturday, January 10, 2015

I Am Not Charlie/Je ne suis pas Charlie

Savage mocking of the most important thing in the lives of an impoverished minority in your own country is the height of asshole-dom. Majoritarians doing this merely to revel in their unfettered right to do so are worse, still.

Being an asshole, however, is not a capital offense. And I deeply support the right of anyone to speak freely. To name an extreme example, I supported the American Nazi Party's right to march in Skokie (home to numerous holocaust survivors at the time). But I certainly didn't proclaim, at the time, "I am a Nazi", nor would I have done so if the marchers had been massacred (though I'd have been enraged by such a result).

Update: David Brooks, it turns out, used the same headline, in Thursday's NY Times. Not quite the same point, however. But still worth a read.


ThereAreLimits said...

I agree on your first point.

But why should people who believe in murdering others, who believe in ethnic genocide like Nazis, have free speech rights? Why should I support their right to publicize their evil agenda in any way? I don't understand that, and I don't agree.

James Leff said...

How do we decide who's too evil to have free speech rights?

And how do we quantify "belief" in disqualified causes? Can such causes be mentioned ironically? How about tenuous expressions of sympathy, e.g. "ISIS has a couple of good ideas"?

I'm strongly in favor of free speech for people and ideas I approve of, too. That's easy! But that's not free speech. It's not America.

Also, fwiw, American Nazi party doesn't directly advocate murder or ethnic genocide. In fact, they deny it ever happened. They're just really into the jackboots and kitschy fascism/racism. Are those things permitted?

Unknown said...

Well put - you make your point and make it more succinctly than any of the editorials I've read on this. And I agree with you 100%. I fully support the right to free speech, and abhor murder and suppression (of course!). But, I am not one with Charlie Hedbo. I would have never published what they did, and I don't think I need to declare allegiance to them to prove my support for free speech.

James Leff said...

"I fully support the right to free speech, and abhor murder and suppression (of course!). But....."

The fact that we both must bend over backwards to emaphasize that we're against massacre and in favor of free speech (duh) before noting that the satire in this magazine was loathsome - and the fact that most people won't be reassured by these avowals, and view both of us as apologists for barbarity - is an illustration of this:

Sometimes alternative perspectives can't be rationally heard - even with copious avowals and clarifications - even when they come from people whose intelligence and reasonableness is otherwise respected. In this particular situation, it is, of course, the very height of irony that only one perspective about a free speech crisis is acceptable to those championing that right.

It's nuts, but it's temporary. Such situations are always (per the above link) the result of idea viruses and mass hysterias. Individuals calmly at rest, untouched by winds of popular sentiment, can be quite thoughtful in considering alternative perspectives (they may not agree, but they'll listen and consider without lashing out).

Unknown said...

And you are right again. I think the vast majority of the people posting "Je suis Charlie" to their Facebook timelines aren't even really thinking through the issue. They are just jumping on the political bandwagon du jour.

James Leff said...

It "feels right".

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