So, some French paper got blown up. Honestly, to me it’s far enough away I don’t really care save for a couple ex-colleagues living in Paris and a friend visiting there for her birthday this week. It amused me seeing that almost nobody from the US even mentions it, and that nobody from here mentions that Boko Haram killed 10 times as many in the same week.
In the past week, my Facebook has been ample with people using French for the first time in their lives to declare that “je suis Charlie,” people condemning that some support terror by not condemning the attack, and the worst of all: people being all smug and claiming they are not “Charlie” because they don’t want to insult religions, but neither do they support terrorism.
I saw another one of these, and ended up picking the bait and entering the argument. A bit into the discussion did I realize that I and the opposing view were both arguing a straw man. I was arguing that freedom of speech is binary. You cannot be for freedom of speech and require that people be tolerant of your religion/politics/opinion/whatever. Trying to introduce a third state where you do not support Charlie but also do not support terrorism, I would argue, was a false compromise.
While the original smug statement implies that the entire discussion is a false dichotomy, and my argument was against the false compromise when considering the discussion from the point of view of freedom of speech, I realized that the argument is really the same association fallacy as committed in the American pro-life/pro-choice discussion.
Also, I’ve recently read up on logical fallacies inspired by this neat poster, which means I’m an asshole in discussions picking them apart. I have tried not consciously using any logical fallacies in this writing, though some may have crept in unnoticed.
I assume that “everybody” is pro-life and pro-choice, but the discussion is really whether you’re for or against abortion, and the entire strategy is applying the if-by-whiskey argument by applying loaded emotional phrases. The same has really been part of the discussion about Charlie recently: Are you for terrorism or for Charlie? Are you for insulting religious groups or against Charlie? People support Charlie because they are against terrorism and don’t want to be seen as somebody supporting that, and others get their panties all up in a knot because some do not want to support freedom of speech due to feeling insulted by Charlie.
Really, what we have here is two discussions: for or against freedom of speech? for or against terrorism? It seems people want to equate “for freedom of speech” = “against terrorism” and “for terrorism = against freedom of speech”. You can easily be against terrorism and against freedom of speech at the same time. In fact, I think the majority of people are, and shall demonstrate this later. It is, I guess, also possible to be for terrorism and for freedom of speech. The latter is more a theoretical case, so fuck that.
I believe for/against terrorism is a continuum, at least insofar as one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter and people might accept killing for specific reasons. I also believe that most people are fundamentally against terrorism. I’ll touch slightly further upon this later, but for now let’s just say that I don’t find the terrorism discussion too interesting here.
Freedom of speech, on the other hand, I believe to be entirely binary. If in any way we disallow any expression, we are against freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is not needed for popular or accepted speech, but for the unpopular speech we do not agree with. Freedom of speech is granted to Charlie, it is granted to Salman Rushdie, it is granted to Jyllands Posten, it is granted to Kurt Westergaard, it is granted to Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, it is granted to Geert Wilders, Pia Kjærsgaard and Jean-Marie and Marine Le Pen. It is even granted to Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler. But freedom of speech is also granted to Galileo, Oskar Schindler, same-sex protesters kissing in Moscow, Ukrainians protesting in Майдан square, and Malala Yousafzai literally getting shot in the face to fight for the right to education. These are all standing up to the establishment around them. Aside from a couple rotten eggs, they are just expressing their opinions (and even the rotten eggs should be allowed to speech as long as they don’t go all crazy killing people as a means of argumentation or Endlösung). You may agree with some of them and disagree with others, but if you deny even one the right to speak up, you might as well deny all of them their right. Let’s go all pretentious by describing why using a little poem by German pastor Martin Niemöller, “First they came…:”
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
This is why we have to stand by Charlie if we believe in freedom of speech: an attack against one use of freedom of speech is against freedom of speech itself. As Voltaire is often misattributed to have said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (it was really written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall).
People have died for this belief, people have self-censored for this, some are even still brave enough to stand up for it. I have myself received threats because I share my last name with Kurt Westergaard. The threat I received was just over Skype and anybody can make threats on the internet, but nonetheless it caused me to think twice about what I put online. Not out of respect for those I might insult, but because I’d prefer if threats stay on Skype. I have no other connection to Kurt, except for a great respect for him still standing up for freedom of speech even after a terror-attempt at his life, where I on a much smaller scale failed.
If you have any reservations against freedom of speech you are not for it. You are against it. You side with Vladimir Putin, you side with the terrorists, you side with good ol’ Adolf on the topic of freedom of speech. No association fallacy here, no if-by-whiskey: being against freedom of speech does not make you literally Hitler, but please get off your high horse and stop claiming you can somehow double-speak you into being for freedom of speech as long as it doesn’t offend you or others. Then again, freedom of speech allows you the freedom to be against it as well. This is why I stand behind freedom of speech. If you do not, your philosophy does not tolerate mine while mine tolerates yours, making mine the more tolerant one, even if it allows making fun of yours.
Most people are actually against freedom of speech. Most countries have laws against libel and slander, against threats, against racism, against hatespeech. While we can probably all agree that none of those are particularly nice, it is also easy to see why this is a slippery slope. Why not add insults and mockery of religion to the list? Well, if we cannot make fun of muhammed, you sure also cannot make fun of Xenu, the Scientology space alien killing his people in Earth volcanoes leaving their spirits to cause harm to humans. Nor can we make fun of the flying spaghetti monster or the invisible pink unicorn mock deities. You cannot add one and not the others. And where does the border go for beliefs? Can we speak against Young Earthers? Flat Earthers? People raping babies to cure AIDS?
It is entirely possible to be for free speech but against making fun of others. You just have to accept that some may make fun of others or yourself. Freedom of speech is not an obligation to make fun of others. Maybe it’s healthy to consider whether you are really for or against freedom of speech. It might also be healthy to consider whether and how you use it yourself. Being for FoS is accepting that the good we get from allowing to contest popular opinion surpasses the bad we get by potentially offending others. And let’s not even get into smug assholes getting offended on behalf of others – I don’t care if you think some IPU supporter may be offended by me drawing an invisible unicorn in blue; I barely care if the IPUer is offended, so why would I care about your self-righteous “caring” about others that is really just badly masked desire to control what I do?
Sure, freedom of speech is being used by xenophobes, anti-muslims and racists (no, none of those are the same – feel free to look them up if you think they are) to further their agenda. Sure, the attack on Charlie is as well. But if you want to lump everybody supporting freedom of speech together, you also have to lump everybody supporting islam together. I’d love for somebody try to argue that it is possible to be a muslim without being terrorist but not to support freedom of speech without making fun of religions, only because I love hearing out idiots trying to explain double-speak when they don’t even realize their double standards. Please don’t make an association fallacy and assume that either of these are the same. Especially don’t be all smug and claim that you belong to the elusive group of non-violent muslims or non-racist FoS supporters. I’m fairly sure that these groups are really much larger than the overlaps, and most likely even have a fairly large overlap.
I do believe provocation and contesting the status quo is important for discussion. I believe that it is especially important to make fun of religion. I’ve already argued why religion in any form is bad. Here, I’ll just say that religion has caused really bad things like wars and murders over the years (think crusades, numerous wars, modern-day terror), is still causing oppression of women and abuse of children, and is all-in-all a bunch of backwater rules designed thousands of years ago to guide life then. Religion also has its place – if it causes you comfort for being an insignificant biological entity alive for an infinitesimal piece of time on a piece of dust in the universe, then great! I don’t believe that, though in my younger years I tried to get into various of the major religions and even experimented with various forms for mysticism, before I finally came to terms with us getting just one life and making the most of it (and hoping for science to extend that so I can wet my pants and annoy the cute nurse also in year 2142).
Most religious people are pretty sane about their beliefs, but some subscribe to the entire dogma prescribed by most of the major religions: their holy books are all-or-nothing. Mostly, this dogma seems to me to be more a way of oppressing people, though. The Americans are all up about how every life is protected and their irrational belief that abortion is bad justified by their book, that the bible says that homos are forbidden, and it is not just their irrational feeling that what they do is icky causing them to judge and hurt people causing others no harm. People from warmer countries use their holy books (I frankly haven’t read them and don’t particularly care to, so I’m just speaking in general terms) to justify keeping women in uncomfortable clothing, to mutilate children (doesn’t the bible do that too?) and to justify terror against Charlie and other entities.
It is not religion causing this. It is probably not even dogma. It is probably just good old-fashioned poverty making some so desperate they are willing to commit this. When there is not enough for everybody, some will try and make sure they have enough – and more – by taking from others. This is easiest to do by controlling other using fear. Hitler was blaming the depression on the Jews. Putin is blaming the terrible conditions of living a country that’s half rock half snow by “the west.” Europe is blaming the “terrible” conditions of unemployment on “the muslims” or “terrorists.” A lot of arabic countries are blaming the terrible conditions of living way too many people in a shitty desert on “the west” and “infidels making fun of the prophet.” Terror is not about people hurting people’s feelings, it is just about poor people being hungry. The terrorist enemy picture is largely just people being afraid that some poor smuck from Islamistan will come and take their job, so they can longer support their ugly kids. I’m confident that without religion, assholes would still be assholes and invent some other dogma to oppress people. Name it something sciency sounding, maybe adding an -ology suffix? Go all out and name it after putting your exposed ass in the rear window of a car?
I think freedom of speech is important to counter such manipulative and oppressive thinking. It is important to further knowledge. With that said, freedom of speech is not perfect. I see several problems of freedom of speech, but still support it because it is the least flawed thing we have. I am also against democracy. I wrote a long blog post about that but then removed it because apparently saying you are against democracy attracts crazy people furthering their wacko agendas. In the same vein as I believe a technocracy is fundamentally better than democracy, but not blind to the fact that it has never really worked in reality, I also believe that freedom of speech is flawed. I don’t think it should be allowed to defame others, I don’t think people should insult others for no good reason. I don’t think it is necessary to incite hatred except against Beliebers. But those are just my opinions, and I am more concerned by the slippery slope of forbidding this than offending some.
I have two very strong points where my belief of freedom of speech is really challenged to the point I don’t have an answer to how to deal with it. I believe most will agree with me on at least one, and more than half (at least of my readers) on both.
The first is child pornography. Sure, producing it is easy to make illegal (you are actually harming the child), but what about distribution? Isn’t that just freedom of speech? Sure, nobody gets hurt directly by the distribution (aside from defamation but I don’t see that as enough), but doing so is the entire reason for producing it. Thus, distribution is to a very high degree furthering the illegal production. Being into that stuff is not illegal, and I am mostly of the opinion that distributing drawn child pornography should be legal – nobody was harmed – but also aware that it might incite more of the sorry souls actually into that shit to acting on it. It’s all really terrible and I’d really rather it wasn’t legal to distribute in any way (as it isn’t in most places), but it does go against my belief of 100% freedom of speech. It’s really a muddy gray area in my mind, filled with concepts like freedom of speech, thoughtcrime, and the general ickiness of the entire topic. As with anything child pornography, I prefer to just pretend the problem isn’t there, but I am not blind to my double standard around freedom of speech in this instance.
My second problem of total freedom of speech is related to religion and summarized in this comic. Why on Earth do we allow imprinting dogma on children? Children are not sufficiently developed to form their own opinions, and are obviously more prone to believe anything taught by an authority figure (our parents) at a young age. Still, who else should decide what bullshit to feed the brains of children? One of the most important advantages of getting kids, after all, is the prerogative to make them every bit as misogynist as yourself.
Despite the flaws of both freedom of speech and democracy, I think they are both so important we need to protect them. They are not perfect, but they are the best we have. Despite FoS allowing making fun of others, and democracy allowing oppressing people (any minority less that 50% of the population), they are much less prone to and much more tolerant than any of the alternatives. The problems on Earth are caused mostly by poverty, a problem so fundamental we need to solve it and soon. It is not just a problem of inequality and distribution of wealth, but of the fundamental fact that Earth currently can sustain around 10 billion people, a number which has historically been increased by introduction of cooking, agriculture, industrialization and globalization. To sustain humanity in the future, we need a similar revolution, and this can only come about by challenging the existing using freedom of speech. The only alternative is mass extinction or disgusting population control measures.
Time person of the year 2006, Nobel Peace Prize winner 2012.