Friday, September 28, 2012

I Might Lose My Mind

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said in a press conference on September 19th, (scroll to the bottom),  Freedom of expression should be and must be guaranteed and protected, when they are used for common justice, common purpose. When some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected in such a way." 

Oh my fucking Jesus Haploid Christ. What kind of freedom of expression can there possibly be if you can't criticize or attack others' values and beliefs? And values and beliefs people hold are not the fucking same as the people who hold them. Ban Ki-Moon is conflating two separate things here. It is not possible to provoke or humiliate a value or a belief. Values and beliefs are not animate things. For that matter, they are not material things, but anyway. Attacking a value or belief may make people holding them feel attacked, but they are not, in fact an attack on those people. 

Someone may choose to feel humiliated or provoked when their values or beliefs are attacked. I know sometimes I do; I'm human, it happens. But just because someone feels they are being attacked doesn't mean that we have to respect that feeling and agree they were attacked. When my family decides to argue politics with me and they attack Obama and his policies, for instance, I feel attacked. But they aren't actually attacking me. My feeling is wrong. I am associating myself too closely with my beliefs. How can issues even get discussed if criticism of beliefs and values is not allowed?

And what's especially vexing is that Ban Ki-Moon would actually give values and beliefs greater protection from criticism than actual goddamned people. Because virtually everyone agrees freedom of speech and expression includes the right to criticize others. I'm sure Ban Ki-Moon doesn't deny I have the right to criticize him, for instance. So it's okay to criticize an actual flesh-and-blood person, but not a value or belief? Simply because a lot of people hold it? That's bullshit. A value or belief doesn't become more true or have more value the more people who hold it. No matter how many people believe Saddam was behind 9/11, that Obama wasn't born in the US, or that Mitt Romney follows Satan because he's Mormon, it still isn't fucking true. And no matter how many people believe it, I have the right to criticize it.

I mean, a lot of Americans, perhaps even a majority, have some pretty fucked up views of Islam. They think that all Muslims are required to try to put Sharia law in place, and to kill infidels, and all sorts of other bullshit. Some Muslims believe these things are true, but most don't. But if we were to take the position that values and beliefs are sacrosanct, then we couldn't even point out what bullshit those beliefs are. Because we'd be "provoking" and "humiliating" the ignoramuses who hold them. That's bullshit too.

Many Muslims get angry and feel attacked when anyone says anything critical of Mohammed. Fair enough. I get angry sometimes when people criticize "Doctor Who" or "Community." You know what? Tough shit. My right to freedom of speech cannot be controlled by how angry it might make someone one else, even if they're a big group like Muslims, no more than anyone else's freedom of speech can curtailed because I don't like people criticizing "Doctor Who." 

Religious values and beliefs are no better or worse than any other kind, no matter how fervently their adherents cling to them. They deserve no special protection. When they make truth claims, as they often due, those claims can and should be scrutinized just as any other truth claim. It may be vitally important to Muslims to believe that Mohammed flew to Jerusalem and ascended to Heaven from the Temple Mount, but that doesn't change the fact that he never set foot in Jerusalem his entire life. And it shouldn't be illegal for me to say Mohammed never set foot in Jerusalem just because it might hurt someone else's feelings.


At 7:52 AM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

Perhaps it's poor phrasing; beliefs can't be provoked but people with a particular set of beliefs can obviously be provoked by exploiting known sensitivities. I agree that he is conflating two things, but I think his conflation is slightly different and a common one: "shouldn't" vs. "shouldn't be allowed to".

The video in question was pretty extreme. The people who made it were not just criticizing and expressing their position. The thing was clearly architected to provoke Islamic extremists to anger and violence. I admit that I am sympathetic with the argument that ultimately, they share some responsibility with what followed, on a moral level (though not a legal one). They were bullies.

But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be allowed to express themselves in this way, nor does it excuse the behavior of those who responded to it with violence. Those that committed violence after seeing something intended to provoke them are responsible for their behavior, independent of it's motivation.

You are exactly right: If we do not allow the freedom for people to say provocative things, then it's not freedom at all. And if we assert that freedom to provoke is curtailed when people are in fact provoked, then we reinforce the notion of using violence to silence people, which is a chilling thought, indeed.

Here's my analogy: Suppose I start insulting some guy's mom because I know he's sensitive about his mother and my goal is to make him do something stupid, then he punches me in the face. The man is morally and legally responsible for punching me, but I share some responsibility on a moral level for provoking him. I shouldn't have done it, but I should be allowed to do it.

Also, I'm pretty sure that, if there were a Jesus Christ, he was diploid.

At 9:44 AM, Blogger mooglar said...

But, Paul, it's Jesus H. Christ. (It's a meme on atheist blogs, BTW).

There's a difference, though, between some assholes making a shitty Youtube video which nobody has to watch and you trying to provoke a guy right in front of you by insulting his mom. Sure, the guys who made that film are a bunch of amateur asshole dipshits, but that speaks against worrying about what they fucking have to say. If some asshole is deliberately trying to provoke you with a goddamned video, it's incumbent upon you to realize it and not let that person have that power. It's still not for the government to restrain free speech because you can't control yourself.

(I'd also point out that your analogy with the guy punching you in the face comes very close to victim blaming. It's not far off from "she dressed slutty and was asking for it" rape apologetics. But I agree that the topic is difficult to address because the line between assigning responsibility for the outcome's of one's actions and victim blaming is not always a clear one).

At 8:20 AM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

I agree with your point that there's a difference. I only mean to suggest that each is responsible for their own behavior, and those that made the video behaved badly and are responsible for that behavior.

This is completely independent of the fact that there's no excuse for reacting violently to it, nor am I drawing any kind of moral equivalence here. I was really only trying to distinguish between "shouldn't" (I believe the video should not have been made) and "shouldn't be allowed to" (I believe they absolutely had the right to make it).


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