Vanity thought #1349. Marketplace of ideas

In the wake of Garland shootings everyone tried to find some explanations to it and I’m no different. At first I thought it would be fairly easy but on a close inspection the issue is far more complex then I expected. Everyone is pushing his own opinion and they all seem perfectly reasonable. Can the “market” sort it out? I don’t think so.

I thought of looking at it as a marketplace because that’s what it really is – people trying to sell their views to the highest number of customers. They rationalize them, dress them up nicely, present them in a positive light, compare them favorably with the competition, and withhold crucial information when necessary. Everybody hopes to win.

Some want total market domination, some want a healthy competition, some want to carve out a niche, some want to hold on to their existing base. No one thinks of God, however.

Since the shootings happened in the US every discussion on the issue involves inviolable principle of free speech. No matter what else people want to know or discover about Muslims, moderate or extremists, free speech is untouchable. After centuries of indoctrination it has become a state religion, along with democracy or the right to carry a gun. Cannot be questioned. And yet it must be questioned, though probably not in this post.

Over in Europe free speech is not nearly as sacred. They jail people for tweets, for example, and they have laws against hate speech. American Muslims also want such a law to protect themselves but not an overwhelming majority of them. So, Europeans are somewhat indifferent to the “free speech” argument and have no problems with restricting it for the public good. Their reaction to Islamic outrage over cartoons is different, and historically so.

Muslims started coming to Europe from 60s onward, as European empires crumbled and people started to leave former colonies for the “mother ship”. No one drew offensive cartoons back then, no one cared to offend them, it was all kind of cool. This particular problem started with the second generation that was supposed to be fully integrated but it wasn’t. This batch of Muslims was expected to completely blend in and melt away but they didn’t. Europe promoted multiculturalism instead. It’s a project with mixed results but what is relevant here is mainstream reaction to the internalizing millions of Muslims.

When they became “one of us” they also became a member of the family, and in European families they do things in a certain way. Satire and criticism is a must, for example. Guests could be spared but second generation Muslims weren’t guests anymore, they were supposed to take insults on the chin just like Christians did before them, just like politicians get it all the time. In Europe it’s not only a fair game but also a sign of acceptance and an expression of love, however weird.

They don’t do these things to strangers, especially with the rise of the liberalism where all minorities must be protected and promoted and white men must always express guilt for sins of their fathers, but Muslims have lost their special status. Liberals there are caught at crossroads – speak against insulting Muslims and they’d undermine their commitment to freedom. Speak for freedom and they’d undermine their commitment to protecting minorities.

No wonder they haven’t got a united response. Everybody condemns Charlie Hebdo killings but that is as far as their unity goes.

In the US the same dilemma manifests differently. There they talk about double standards where it’s okay to insult Christians but not okay to have a “Draw Muhammad” competitions. They’ve done some pretty offensive things towards Christians. There was one exhibition where they had a small crucifix with Jesus submerged in a glass of urine, for example. Another artist had a painting of Virgin Mary smeared with elephant dung, and these exhibitions were sponsored by tax payer dollars, “Piss Christ” even won a prize.

Christians protested against those, of course, and someone broke the glass protecting the virgin painting but there was no violence against artists, afaik. There were death threats, there were curses, there were repercussions, but no one died. Why can’t Muslims react in a similarly civilized manner, atheists ask? But, more importantly, why is it considered free speech and artistic freedom but not if it’s directed towards Islam? Why there’s a chorus of condemnation against organizers of Garland event?

I don’t have an answer to that, but that’s because I think these questions are irrelevant. They do not address any of our needs just like vast majority of the merchandise out on the market is practically useless.

People pushing variations of free speech argument offer a familiar product but, perhaps, the one that is at the end of its life cycle. It certainly is in Europe and many Americans are fed up with constant barrage of insults thrown in each every way in politics without any signs of eventual reconciliation. Everyone is tired of political partisanship but they haven’t connected the dots yet.

There are those who don’t argue against free speech but are genuinely puzzled by the need to draw Muhammad at all? Why? What for? Free speech is just an excuse to say something and it’s that “something” that interests them.

Some draw Muhammad just because they can, or to prove that they can, but that is just a teenage style rebellion. They haven’t understood even their own motives yet. “Freedom of speech” is not a motive, it’s an excuse for not admitting one.

Some get it, but don’t realize the significance of it. Satire is meant to force people to look at familiar objects from a different perspective and thus provoke thinking and re-thinking their paradigms, they say. Fine, but in practice it means trying to convert Muslims away from their beliefs, challenge them and force them to see their religion in a different light, not from the position of respect but from the position of atheists.

Next argument in this line is that if people’s beliefs can’t withstand a little laugh then they are not deep enough. Okay, that’s a fair point, but every religious person is aware of his weaknesses already and they structure their lives in such a way as not to push their buttons.

A comparison could be made with Alcoholic Anonymous here – yes, their commitment to sobriety is weak and they fall of the wagon all the time, but it’s not an excuse for someone to tempt these people by offering them free drinks. Some would withstand and some would not. I bet there could be a statistically proven formula that predicts the number of those who fail depending on the time spent in AA, strength of the ties with their sponsors, frequency of attending and sharing in the meetings etc.

Temptation chips away at faith of even the strongest ones, as mere consideration of the possibility pollutes one’s mind, and it does most of the damage on the fringes of the community where faith is not yet strong enough. It’s community leaders’ responsibility to protect their brothers and that’s how it works with atheists, too – people willingly sign away their rights, trusting the society to act for their own benefit even if it goes against their will. Laws against underage drinking are a good example.

Not disclosing this hidden motive – to change how Muslims view their religion and their prophets, and to bring them in line with the secular mainstream, is such a typical marketing gimmick, the tiny fine print about side effects that makes all the difference when there’s trouble with the product. The don’t mention it when they urge you to buy this argument.

I also disagree with “Christians can take insults in stride” argument. Their acceptance of attacks on Christ is offensive towards their own religion and they suffer for it by losing their faith and losing their numbers. When faith is not there they are forced to explain themselves in totally irrational ways and that brings even more damage to Christianity. Insults DO have their effect even if one doesn’t react to them.

And then there’s “insults are taken, not given” crowd. They say that a truly rational being would ignore any kind of insults unless it brings physical harm. Words can’t hurt them, they say, they are not sticks and stones that can break your bones. It’s an old school of thought and it has its use in teaching kids to deal with bullying, or to promote free exchange of ideas, but not in this situation.

The problem is that such a truly rational being doesn’t exist. These people might say that they don’t care about insults but only as long as they are in situations where they don’t care about the target. As soon as “I care about this” realization steps in, the principle goes out of the window. That’s what makes people human – they have desires and “irrational” attachments. They are compelled by the modes of nature and they can’t escape it. Any attachment eventually leads to anger and anger leads to actions.

I think this phenomenon deserves a closer look, though, and not today.

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