Free Markets, Free People

So we’re not all Charlie Hebdo …

David Brooks opines today concerning the murders in Paris (quit calling them “executions” and giving them some sort of legal patina):

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.

So this might be a teachable moment. As we are mortified by the slaughter of those writers and editors in Paris, it’s a good time to come up with a less hypocritical approach to our own controversial figures, provocateurs and satirists.

The first thing to say, I suppose, is that whatever you might have put on your Facebook page yesterday, it is inaccurate for most of us to claim, Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, or I Am Charlie Hebdo. Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in. 

We might have started out that way. When you are 13, it seems daring and provocative to “épater la bourgeoisie,” to stick a finger in the eye of authority, to ridicule other people’s religious beliefs.

But after a while that seems puerile. Most of us move toward more complicated views of reality and more forgiving views of others. (Ridicule becomes less fun as you become more aware of your own frequent ridiculousness.) Most of us do try to show a modicum of respect for people of different creeds and faiths. We do try to open conversations with listening rather than insult.

Yet, at the same time, most of us know that provocateurs and other outlandish figures serve useful public roles. Satirists and ridiculers expose our weakness and vanity when we are feeling proud. They puncture the self-puffery of the successful. They level social inequality by bringing the mighty low. When they are effective they help us address our foibles communally, since laughter is one of the ultimate bonding experiences.

A lot of people are panning Brooks today, but on the large point, I think he’s right.  What was done was, in many people’s opinion, “puerile” and “offensive”.  But as he further points out, even those who are puerile and offensive in that regard do indeed serve a “useful public role.”  They point to things that need pointed at and they do it in a way that is difficult to ignore.  That doesn’t mean I have to like their methods or even their message, but I do want them to have the freedom to express it.

For myself, I usually avoid that sort of offense.  I personally think most points can be made within reasonable bounds of propriety.  But those are limits I put on myself.  It’s a personal belief that I am able to sway more people with reasonable arguments and bits of sarcasm that I am from being puerile and offensive.  I believe that those who engage in that sort of behavior turn off more minds than they turn on.  But that’s my belief.  However, for those that believe otherwise, they have the full right to engage in such behavior as long as it doesn’t violate the rights of others.   And no, you have absolutely no right to not be offended.

So in that regard, Brooks is right.  I’m not in the mold of Charlie Hebdo … but I defend their right to be offensive, profane, blasphemous and puerile via their speech with everything I have.  That doesn’t at all mean I like it, am not offended by it or think it is right.  And whatever they do, their right to free speech also opens them up to the consequences of exercising that right.

Murder is not one of them.  Violence of any sort is not one of them.  We hear a lot about proportionality.  What is a proportional response to being offended?  Off the top of my head I can think of any number of “proportional” responses – depending on what you find offensive, there are several ways to make that point – condemnation, boycott, peaceful activism, ignoring them, dismissing them, etc.  But their right to say what they want is as fundamental a freedom as the consequences that come with it.  And that’s how it should be.

Modern Christians, for instance, have seen many examples of profanity and what they’d consider to be blasphemy writ large – in supposed “art” for instance.  However, they’ve responded proportionally to the offense.

So Brooks is right in the large sense.  I’m not Charlie Hebdo – but I’ll support Charlie Hebdo’s right to do what they did to the death.


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21 Responses to So we’re not all Charlie Hebdo …

  • I’m not Charlie Hebdo – but I’ll support Charlie Hebdo’s right to do what they did to the death.

    Ezzzzackly, McQ!

    I thought this was good, too…

    The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.

    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.

  • Yeah I am pretty much over this I Am Charlie thing. Fact is the vast majority of people will never be in the position the Charlie was in. Even the vast majority of journalists sticking their pens in the air will make sure never to be in that position, yet will work to deny the views of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and her kind. It is 10 years since Theo van Gogh was murdered in similar style, yet no one seems to have learned anything. If anything it is worse, since it is now *I* Am Charlie, me me me me. Yet *I* never go out of my way to ensure this does not happen. In my grumpy old man guise I’d be so unkind as to suggest most of these people should be tweeting “I am A Charlie”, in the British derogatory sense.

    • Hey, everyone here has crossed the line…even the poor moronic Erp. He openly said that parts of the Koran were not to be relied upon, and that’s enough to get his head sawed off.

      All the rest of us have been even more openly critical/condescending/blaspheming WRT Islam and its founder.

      • Some have said things like that. But for most in these je suis demonstrations, as far as I can tell, it is an empty platitude that will not be backed up by actions.

        • But of course! The talisman of this age is the hashtag, where you can vacantly, self-righteously associate with a cause d’ jour today and never think about it tomorrow.

          But there is a part of our population…including that of the broader West…that will be more inclined to learn from and live by the words of Churchill….

          “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

          We have always known how to deal with Islamists, just as we knew the hard math of how you dealt with Imperial Japanese on Okinawa. You kill them. That is ALL you can do with them, because they have made choices and embraced death. If they change their minds, fine. But that has to be made very clear, and until that happens, you simply kill them because there is no viable choice, as they are committed to killing you and subjugating those you love.

          • Remember “bring back our girls”? Yeah, if someone had *my* two girls I’d be moving heaven and Earth to get them back, not standing looking frowny with a scribbled hashtag selfy. Ergo, no one believed they were “their” girls. Oh, and looky here, Boko Haram is still out massacring and kidnapping. Reality 1 – Hashtag vanity 0.

            Same with “I am Charlie”. Charlie is dead, along with his colleagues. Some few souls in the business will continue standing up for what they believe, the rest, meh, they’ll be back on the lolcatz soon enough.

  • What is purile and offensive is subjective and therefore arbitrary. Therefore considered as a ‘valid’ reason to supress speach could be use to arbitrarily suppress speach.

    • Also by its nature anything that needs to be protected by the priciple of free speach, is going to upset someone. There wouldn’t be a need for the 1st amendment if it didn’t.

  • So Brooks is right in the large sense. I’m not Charlie Hebdo – but I’ll support Charlie Hebdo’s right to do what they did to the death

    >>> I’m not being a punk when I ask this – honest – but does that support include putting up some of the cartoonshere ? Believe me, I can understand why you may not choose to do so and I would never get on anyone who chooses not to do so on their web site. I’m very upfront about my lack of warm feeling (to put it mildly) for Islam, but note that I’m doing it from behind a nom de plume and a gravitar even though I have my reasons for doing so. So no, I’m not Charlie and I won’t criticize average people who aren’t either. I will however spend my contempt on the excerable media class who wrap themselves up in this meaningless sentiment and then tap out. The exception is Jyllands-Posten, who admitted freely why they’re not Charlie. How can I fault them?

    This is a clear win for the terrorists, and it hurts to admit that.

    • Terror works.

      • If you let it, it works to the ends of the terrorists.

        Or it works to invigorate an effective response. I like the latter.

        • The sheep find it much easier and ‘safer’ to huddle together in the corner of the paddock and hope the wolf will pick someone out there on the edge of the huddle.

      • It works because we’re on our own. Half the country wanting to pander to their violence and all the politicians in denial, any real protection from someone willing to face the post-attack consequences is non-existent. We’re on our own.

        One reason the NSA spies on a large scale is that drilling down on the real bad guys looks like you’re profiling. So we have this mindless bulk data collection instead of focusing the resources where we need it.

  • This reminds me of a free speech statement from the University of Chicago:
    The Committee’s statement declares: “Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. … [I]t is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”

  • interesting comments, all.
    personally, I find it quite telling that those who were loudest in defending a crucifix dropped in a bottle full of urine as freedom of expression, and even artwork, seem to find it so easyto go after Charlie Hebdo for their output.

  • Islamic verse and context for proscription against freedom of speech.

  • “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” — C.S. Lewis

  • The Obama administration three years ago even attacked Charlie Hebdo for publishing the naked Mohammed cartoon, saying it was “deeply offensive”.

    President Barack Obama even told the United Nations “the future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam” and damned a YouTube clip “Innocence of Muslims” which did just that. The filmmaker was thrown in jail.

    We are all Charlie?

    In Australia, Charlie Hebdo would almost certainly be sued into silence, to the cheers of some of the very protesters now claiming to be its great defenders.

  • What little understanding and love for free speech and knowing when you defend it you yourself may be targeted or offended by it is pretty much limited to the US.
    Everyone else understands there are things that may not be said, or must not be said because those in power have so ordained.
    We’re lamenting the loss of a concept that most don’t understand at it’s root and don’t even have a license to practice..

    The Euro’s are rallying less because Charlie Hebdo spoke out and someone tried to silence them and more because of who achieved that silence and how it was achieved.
    They recognize crazies showing up with machine guns and shooting people in cold blood is wrong and freightening. They’re upset because they don’t want to be subject to arbitrary death sentences issued and carried out by men shouting and shooting.
    No, they perfer the silence be enforced by uniformed officers acting under codificatios and clear rules with writs and warrents and a chance to stand before a judge and knowing when it’s over they’re unlikely to shuffle off this mortal coil for their improper words spoken aloud.

    They’re not rallying against the loss of free speech, ask most of them the right questions and you will find they believe there is something that may be said that the government should stop people from saying.

  • (quit calling them “executions” and giving them some sort of legal patina)

    If that was the intent, then they are not being very successful. Perhaps it’s some faint residual regional cultural trace since I live in the area where Prohibition’s mobs were strong and powerful, the last huge organized crime the US has seen, but when I hear the word “execution” used outside of a government context, I hear a claim of a large-scale, extra-governmental systematic organization that just had someone killed. It’s not a relaxation of the word “murder”, it raises the stakes.

    And I do not mean that just because you mentioned it and I’m trying to feed the echo chamber here… that really is what the word “execution” means to me in this context and I would have given that definition two weeks ago, too.