Monday, January 4, 2010

We have the right to offend you

Given this, in solidarity, here's this:

(See also: this)


  1. I'm uncomfortable with this. About as uncomfortable as I am with 'Blasphemy Day'. Why give intentional offense? Freedom of speech has limitations that apply to us all.

    I understand why some feel there's a need to lambast religion, but for many, religion is a coping mechanism. And I'd never thought I'd say this but atheism just doesn't provide the same.

    So how does causing offense provoke a debate between religious groups and atheists? Do we not want to engage with them to find better solutions?

  2. I'm with John Stuart Mill on questions of free speech (read his On Liberty if you haven't): speech should be protected unless it is a direct incitement to violence (or obviously libelous). Commenting on the relationship between Islam and violence by depicting Mohammad in this way is most certainly neither. Westergaard has a right to his opinions, and a right to express them. And, whether you agree with him or not, we have the duty to defend his rights against the Islamo-fascists who would silence him. In my view, every newspaper in the free world should have published these cartoons as soon as the firestorm about them erupted. Disseminating what is trying to be silenced is an exceedingly effective response to attempted repression. (Streisand effect, etc.)

    I'm open to debating religious folk - fundamentalists included - but certain principles are just not up for debate. Freedom of conscience, religion, thought and speech are inalienable rights I'm not going to debate with them. Tolerance - in the original sense of not using violence to settle matters of opinion - is the prerequisite for any civilized dialog. Civilization, a politically plural society, science and a vibrant culture are all impossible without this kind of tolerance.

    Again, I reserve the right to offend you.

  3. But that's not going to begin a dialogue. What's the point if offending Muslims only lead to more attacks?

    Offend away but be aware that there are risks attached -- some more costly than others.

  4. So there are two questions: one of principle and one of strategy. I am defending the principle that people have the right to offend. I don't know whether you agree with this or not, but the case in favour of this view is overwhelmingly strong in my view.

    Your main point seems to be over strategy, i.e., is it a good idea in terms of relations between, say, Muslims and Westerners (or Muslims and atheists or whatever) to create offensive material? I don't have a strong view here, except that it obviously will depend on the circumstances. I'd also say that the principle trumps the practicality...

    Besides, is it possible to have a dialog with a person who would murder someone for drawing a cartoon? With people who favor beheading those who 'insult Islam'? I'm not so sure.

  5. I see your point. Yes, sure, we all have the right to offend. What I don't condone, however, is doing it when it can provoke hostility.

    I don't see how 'Blasphemy day' can contribute to a better world. It's better to change people's attitudes by engaging in dialogue with them. Law won't help us here.

  6. Well, look, I understand your point. But doesn't causing offense almost automatically provoke hostility? There are degrees sure, but the principle is important enough for us to risk outright hostility, imo.

  7. OK, I need to choose my words better this time around. Doing something to cause intentional offense is wrong, pig-headed and stupid, imo.

    There's a thread on the Richard Dawkins Forum that's discussing this:

  8. It's true that, living together as we do, there's a strong case to be made for good manners. It helps. But formalizing that approach into a kind of moral imperative or political strategy is dangerous. In the end, the party that is (or acts) more easily offended -- that for whatever reason has a keener sense of humiliation or threat or rage -- that party will always end up getting its way.

    Like a child who gets what it wants the first time it throws a tantrum, groups (especially religious groups, who don't pretend to argue rationally) can learn to harness outrage to shut their opponents up. And each victory, almost counter-intuitively, brings more rage. (In the US, where speech enjoys greater protection than in Europe, people are generally less squeamish about the extreme forms it can take. There are other cultural reasons for this, but the non-negotiable, iron-clad guarantees in their constitution definitely contribute to the more adult attitude.)

    In republishing the cartoon en masse, the West's newspapers would've, I think, demonstrated to their complacent readers and to the fanatics alike, the radical nature of the freedoms we take for granted, which mean *nothing* if they don't include the right to offend.