Category Archives: Political Correctness

Free Speech Aside, Why We Must Defend Those Who Draw Muhammad

Callimachi free speech aside

Free speech aside, why would anyone do something as provocative as hosting a ‘Muhammad drawing contest’?”

New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi asked that question on Twitter at 8:08 p.m. on May 3, within hours of gunmen opening fire at a “draw Muhammad” event in Garland, Texas.

It is tempting to answer Callimachi’s question dismissively. Speech needs no why. Freedom of expression is its own raison d’être.

That is in fact what I believe.

I am a freedom fetishist.

But perhaps we have strayed so far from our classically liberal tradition, become so complacent inside the bounds of our own civility, that we must deign again to explain the why of it.

Free speech aside, why depict Jesus Christ floating in urine? Why paint the Virgin Mary splattered by dung and surrounded by hovering vaginas? Why fake an interview wherein Jerry Falwell confesses to losing his virginity with his mother? Why produce the musical The Book of Mormon?

Free speech aside, why does anyone, ever, do or say or think or draw or write anything profane or blasphemous or provocative or controversial or impolite or mean-spirited or harsh or unkind?

Do only certain answers to that question justify the exercise of such freedom? Insulting to Christianity 15-0505

I sit as I write this in a crowded coffee shop. The tables are small and closely spaced. There are men seated at the two tables on either side of me. All three of us have matching disposable cups of overpriced coffee sitting precariously on the edges of our small tables crowded beside our silver laptops.

There is no way for me to turn my laptop to prevent them both from seeing the screen. After reading the Wikipedia entries for the artwork I mentioned above, I peruse galleries of Charlie Hebdo covers looking for examples of images targeting Christian and Judaic ideas.

Ideas. Not people.

CircumcisionI wonder to myself, what do these men sitting so closely beside me think of these images? By now, they have surely glanced over and seen them on my screen. What meaning have they ascribed to them, to my perusing of them here inside the narrow confines of this crowded coffee shop?

I find my mind flowing back through the years to another table in another time. It is more than a decade and a half ago. The table is bigger, square instead of round. In a lunch deli, not a coffee shop, and not at all crowded. I am having lunch with a friend. It is before the days of smartphones. We are reading different sections of a shared newspaper.

An article captures my attention. I summarize it aloud for my friend. A couple struggling with fertility sought help from a fertility clinic. Ultimately the wife was implanted with embryos that were successfully fertilized using her eggs and donor sperm. A baby was born.

Only there had been a mix-up with the donor sperm used by the clinic. The baby does not have the right look to her parents’ way of thinking.

Her skin is too dark. Her hair is too kinky.

The parents are suing. The article closes with a quote in which they insist they are not racist.

“Right. We aren’t racist,” I mimic, sarcastically. “We just don’t want this baby. For entirely nonracist reasons.”

My friend snickers. We both get it. We are young and smug and sure of ourselves, signaling our mutual membership in the best of all possible tribes. We start riffing off each other, back and forth, mimicking all the things we imagine people blissfully unaware of their own contrivances say in such circumstances.

We’re not racist. We just don’t think the races should mix.

We’re not racist. This is about the children.

We’re not racist. We have black friends.

A man at a corner table looks up from behind his own newspaper and frowns at us.

Jerk. I immediately assign him to one of those other, less desirable tribes. One whose members remain fatuously assured of their enlightened values right up until the moment they are handed that baby. The swaddled bundle of Other that forces them to confront the things they had until that point been able to deny existed inside their own minds.

Or—

Wait.

Wait!

Does he think we are the—?

Did he misunderstand? We were only…

What? I struggled to think of the right words to describe what we were doing.

Making fun.

Mocking.

Satirizing.

I am fifteen years away from knowing what Charlie Hebdo is.

Poe’s Law is not yet a thing.

All of sudden I see how the view might look from his table. I am no longer sure which of us belongs in which tribe. Which of us is blinded by our own contrivances.

It is not always obvious.

It is not always possible to find a single objective truth in satire, in mockery, in fiction, in art. It is not always easy to define the line between the thing mocked and the mockery itself. Between racism and the illustration of racism. Between targeting ideas and targeting people. To avoid the place where laughter collides with conscience. To know if we are punching up or down.

To avoid the inherent limitations of the views from our own tables.

But it is in those moments when self-doubt obliterates contrivance that paradigms shift. It is in the moments when we finally sense the chinks in our own armor of righteousness that we fully appreciate the limitations of our perspectives. It is where we straddle those lines that cannot be drawn that real debate occurs and social change is worked.

There is inherent value in the speech that drives us to the place where the curtain is pulled back.

And that is why.

As Caleb Crain, author of Necessary Errors, writes on his Steam Thing blog:

It’s possible, of course, to see the antiracist message of one of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons as no more than a cover for an underhanded relishing of the racist imagery deployed in it. Parody usually does participate to some extent in the energy of what it parodies; that is one of the risks it runs. Humor is not pure. It speaks to us through our flaws, as well as speaking to us about them—envies and hates, as well as greeds and lusts—and it can’t exist without the license to work with dark materials.

Last year at the University of Iowa, a visiting professor created a sculpture of a Ku Klux Klansman papered with articles about racial tension and violence over the last 100 years. Some people complained that it was racist, and the sculpture was removed. Its creator, Serhat Tanyolacar, intended the sculpture to confront the comfortable assumption that our racial frictions are all safely in the past.

Can one of these interpretations be pronounced objectively correct to the exclusion of the other? They are like conjoined twins—one good, one evil—and you cannot kill one without killing the other.

And that is why.

If the message cannot always be nailed down, neither can the direction of the punch, though that was a criteria for meritorious satire recently advocated by cartoonist Gary Trudeau. An LGBT couple denied photography, floral or catering services will undoubtedly perceive the balance of power differently than the Christian business owner bankrupted for expressing religious values that amount in others’ eyes to politically incorrect discrimination.

Which side controls the narrative about campus “rape culture?”

Does Paul Nungesser have more or less power than Emma Sulkowicz?

Are the targets of Charlie Hebdo’s satirical barbs victims, as Trudeau suggests, or are they oppressors, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others might argue?

[T]o portray an institution that mocks any religion’s sacred cows as villainously “punching down” ignores that religious institutions are very much part of the power structure and have been throughout history.

When you’re challenging the gods, and those who claim to speak for the gods, you are always punching up.

Can we say with certainty that Charlie Hebdo’s (alleged) punching down in France does not help people like Raif Badawi punch up in Saudi Arabia?

Like shifting sands, our perceptions of the balance of power change from setting to setting, issue to issue, moment to moment, always influenced by the view from our table. If we refrain from swinging except in the clear cut cases, satire is sidelined precisely at those moments when we stand on the brink, when social upheavals make the scores too close to call.

And that is why.

But it is not all.

Circumscribing speech based on the sensibilities of out-groups marginalizes and infantilizes the members of those groups. It treats them as children who must be shielded from the harsh confrontations that members of other, more superior groups might be expected to handle. As David Frum noted in responding to Trudeau:

It’s almost as if he thinks of underdogs as literal dogs. If a dog bites a person who touches its dinner, we don’t blame the dog. The dog can’t help itself. The person should have known better.

In this manner, Trudeau and his cohorts would return fierce debate to the exclusive province of those—white, male and Judeo-Christian—who by dint of their power and privilege can be expected to handle such heady and taxing matters responsibly.

Out-groups are not comprised of children. Nor are they homogenous. Among their many victims, extremists who call themselves Muslims kill moderates who also call themselves Muslims. Is Charlie Hebdo punching down against the latter—or punching up on their behalf?

People of good faith can reach different answers.

And that is why.

Finally, and here is the crux of it, we cannot make the world safe for the people who would punch up unless we find it our hearts to defend those who will use the same freedom to punch down.

I used to differentiate between government censorship and private consequences for unpopular speech. It was the wrong distinction. The meaningful difference is between non-forceful responses to speech—firing, boycotting, bankrupting, and shunning, all of which are fair game—versus forceful responses, which never, ever are.

It is not functionally different whether the thugs suppressing expression are the official ones we call “government” or a renegade band of religious zealots. If we give in to the latter on the theory that they are somehow exempted from the resistance we would put up against the former, the zealots simply become a shadow government of censors.

We are no less unfree.

Bosch Fawstin's  winning entry in the Garland, Texas "Draw Muhammad" contest.

Bosch Fawstin’s winning entry in the Garland, Texas “Draw Muhammad” contest.

If we want freedom to exist for the Raif Badawis of the world, we must defend its exercise by the Pam Gellars.

The peaceful way to do that, to render violence counterproductive to its own ends, is by mirroring the speech that would be suppressed. Even when it is offensive. Even when it is blasphemous. Even when it is rude, childish, stupid, unpopular, pointless or unnecessarily provocative.

Even when we don’t agree. Especially then.

And that is why.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Trigger Warnings and a Police Escort for Christina Hoff Sommers

Christina Hoff Sommers is an author, resident scholor at the American Enterprise Institute, host of the Factual Feminist YouTube channel, and a former philosophy professor.

Christina Hoff Sommers, equity feminist, classical liberal and author of the books Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys, gave a speech at Oberlin College earlier this week. The week before that she made a similar appearance at Georgetown University.

Anticipating Sommers would use the occasions to speak words in freely exited auditoriums no one was required to enter, tomorrow’s greatest minds concerned students at Oberlin and Georgetown rallied to face the psychological trial of…hearing words in freely exited auditoriums no one was required to enter.

Of course, they could have just not attended.

That would seem an ironclad way to avoid being subjected to the dangerous trauma of this shaming, violent, misogynistic, rape-y…uttering of words.

Instead, they wrote a “love letter” to themselves in the Oberlin student newspaper calling Sommers a rape “denialist,” referring to her upcoming speech as “this violence,” and evincing an odd fixation on Sommers’ Twitter followers.

They posted “trigger warnings” around the speaking venue. The signs said loving, “safe,” non-triggering things like:

“Christina Hoff Sommers & OCRL [Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians] support rapists.”

“RAPE CULTURE is REAL and YOU are a PARTICIPANT.”

And:

“FUCK ANTI-FEMINISTS.”

These were obviously thoughtfully and carefully crafted to help rape survivors who might be attending the speech to feel safe and avoid being “triggered” as they entered.

The objecting students also created “alternative safe spaces” for anyone who felt triggered by Sommers’ words (but not the signs). These were in addition to the “alternative safe spaces” of: 1) one’s own dorm room or apartment; 2) the library; 3) the coffee shop; 4) the entire rest of the world; 5) just not going; 6) doing whatever one would have done if Christina Hoff Sommers had never been born; and, 7) hiding under the bed at mommy and daddy’s house.

The existence of the “alternative safe spaces” (the special ones with the vapors and fainting couches, not the seven I listed above) was announced ahead of the speech. This was to help the adult college students who, despite being old enough to vote and go to war, otherwise might not have known they could get up and leave the unlocked auditorium they had voluntarily entered to hear a non-mandatory speech.

Despite their insistence that listening to Sommers speak words was so fraught with peril it required trigger warnings and alternate safe spaces, many of the objecting students nevertheless attended the speeches.

Is anyone surprised?

At Oberlin, they interrupted, booed, and mocked a professor who asked them to be civil. Well, that is, except for the ones with the duct tape over their mouths…

Folks, this isn’t about dangerous words.

This is about tribal signaling and performance art.

As anything more, it is at best dead on arrival. Such mindset cannot empower its adherents to compete with women like Sommers, capable of confronting auditoriums of angry protestors, engaging in unfettered debate, examining deeply held beliefs, considering contrary evidence, and revising paradigms and refocusing energy where appropriate.

Deep down they know it.

The echo chamber is guarded so shrilly precisely because of how deeply its occupants fear subjecting their beliefs to scrutiny. But choked off from sunlight and oxygen inside those rigid walls, their ideas wither into limp and lifeless shades of ideas.

At worst, they have become bullies. They are the ones suggesting that rape survivors are participants in the “rape culture” if they attend the wrong sort of speech. They are the ones trying to stifle disfavored speech. They are the ones making people feel unsafe.

They are the reason Oberlin College gave Sommers a two-man police escort.

After the speech, some of them followed her to the restaurant where she was having dinner in order to confront her.

Is that how we do safe spaces? Or is it that Sommers is not entitled to safe space because she’s the wrong sort of woman?

Some women just deserve what they get, I guess.

Students who think they see something dangerous in speakers like Christina Hoff Sommers should consider the possibility that what they are actually looking at is their own reflection.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Are “Safe Spaces” the New “Coloreds Only?”

Entrance 15-0325

Earlier this month, two white students at Ryerson University in Canada were dismissed from a meeting of the Racialized Students’ Collective, a university group funded through the Ryerson Students’ Union. The university’s student newspaper, The Ryersonian, reported the RSU coordinator confirmed the students were excluded for being white. Last week Aeman Ansari, a fourth year journalism student at the school posted a blog entry on HuffPo Canada defending the decision.

Ansari ably and convincingly defends her belief that safe spaces are important. Ansari’s defense falls short for failing to explain why taxpayers, the university, and other students should fund them as exclusionary campus events.

Specifically, Ansari opines that:

[T]he point to note is not that two white students were asked to leave the event, but rather that this was a safe space …

…This group and these sort of events allow people of colour to lay bare their experiences and to collectively combat this societal ailment. These spaces are rare places in the world not controlled by individuals who have power, who have privilege.

…The presence of any kind of privilege puts unnecessary pressure on the people of colour to defend any anger or frustrations they have, to fear the outcome of sharing their stories. The attendees are trying to move forward by supporting each other and they should not have to defend themselves, they should not fear the consequences of raising their voices.

Let us get out of the way that I dislike people who cannot deal with opposition, who will only defend their opinions to friendly crowds, or who must banish dissent to feel validated.Drinking Fountain

I prefer feisty tanglers to special snowflakes.

It is neither here nor there. Special snowflakes are entitled to their preferences too, and everyone deserves an occasional session in the echo chamber. I agree with Ansari that safe spaces are important.

Where I disagree with Ansari is her implicit insistence that other students and Canadian taxpayers pay for them as exclusionary campus events. She never gets around to explaining or defending this aspect of her position.

The fact is “safe spaces” already exist.

They are called “private property.” Private homes, leased apartments, backyards, and private event venues can all be used to host exclusionary events. In addition, private conversations take place every day in bars, restaurants, coffee shops, conference rooms, sidewalks and parks.

That there are insufficient opportunities for people to have private conversations seems false on its face. If certain students want to get together to talk about their experiences only with a carefully selected crowd, there is no shortage of opportunities or “spaces” to do just that.

Waiting room 15-0325The issue is why they want to use student and taxpayer funds to do it on campus. Ansari never explains that.

Private, exclusionary discussions and events should be conducted privately. Forcing other people to pay for and host them is a new form of bullying—a new incarnation of an old segregation.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Instead Of Giving Gay Marriage Opponents Special Rights, Get Rid Of All Anti-Discrimination Laws

forsale

The Alabama House passed a bill on Thursday that allows judges to refuse to perform gay marriages. It passed after a four-hour debate by a vote of 69-25. More “religious protection” bills are on the way according to groups pushing this legislation.

The bill was passed to ease fears that judges and ministers would be forced to perform gay marriages if court rulings legalizing gay marriage in Alabama were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. This bill to be blunt is a travesty, would open the door to lawlessness by Alabama’s judges, and should be vetoed.

The first problem with this bill is that it tries to link judges performing gay marriage ceremonies with other travesties on this issue, such as requiring bakers to bake cakes for gay wedding ceremonies. There is a major moral difference between a private company refusing to offer a service and government official refusing to perform their legal duty. Judges are bound by law to serve all of their constituents and perform certain duties as described, despite their own personal feelings on the matter. One of those duties is solemnizing marriages. A judge cannot refuse to perform an interracial marriage because they personally disapprove it.

On the other hand, fining or legally punishing a private individual because they refuse to perform services for a gay wedding is immoral. In this age of Yelp and social media where customers can easily leave reviews of businesses, we need to ask ourselves if anti-discrimination laws covering the private sector are obsolete. If a business is discriminating based on gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion; it’s more easy for customers to identify those offending businesses and for people to vote accordingly with their pocketbooks. There is no need for the state to get involved and punish businesses with fines and other punishments.

If a judge cannot perform a gay marriage ceremony because they disagree with it, they should not be a judge. This is like refusing to sentence someone to jail because they object to a law. Judges do not have that discretion in criminal law and should not have that kind of discretion in marriage law.

As for ministers being forced to perform gay marriages, that’s a red herring. The First Amendment already protects the rights of ministers to refuse to perform gay marriages. The decision of churches to solemnize marriages to whom ever they want, as long as they can legally consent, is a protected religious practice. This legislation to protect them is not necessary.

The best way to solve is to divorce government from the act of solemnizing marriage. Make the only legal paperwork that has to be signed off is the marriage contract itself. Whenever a county or parish official files or signs off on a contract, they’re not passing judgment on the issue. All they’re doing is just filing legal paperwork so it can be enforced in courts. We should also look into ways into getting government out of marriage for tax purposes and other services.

All of these “religious protection bills” miss the big picture. Why should private businesses have the right to discriminate against potential customers based upon their religious beliefs and not have the right to discriminate based on other factors? Here’s another way to put it, why should gay marriage opponents have special rights?

Instead of writing “religious protection bills” to protect business owners from being bankrupted and driven out of business by government agencies for deciding who they want to serve, legislatures should consider a different approach. Every legislature should pass a bill or better yet an amendment to their state’s constitution stating this:

The right of any private business to deny service for any reason, except for emergency medical services and emergency lodging in a licensed hotel, shall not be infringed by any law.

 

 

Anti-discrimination laws, in this era of social media, are relics of the past. It’s time to make these laws history and let the marketplace punish discrimination. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to trust ordinary people than the government.

 

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Defense of Charlie Hebdo Must Be Absolute

I support the right to publish offensive things without limitation, qualification or exception.

There is no “but.”

Defense of the right to satire unmolested by violence and coercion must be absolute, unequivocal and unqualified.

There can be no “but.”

There can be no “but” because one man’s outrage is another man’s art.

Just ask Serhat Tanyolacar.

This image was published by The Onion on September 13, 2012, under the headline "No One Murdered Because of This Image."

This image was published by The Onion on September 13, 2012, under the headline “No One Murdered Because of This Image.”

The image to the right may, at first glance, be seen as an insult to the religions whose figures are depicted. Upon second glance, we might see in context that the image pays compliment to those religions, while the insult is instead to the one whose Prophet was omitted.

Vulgarity in satire becomes provocative think piece.

The same Charlie Hebdo images deemed racist by some are interpreted as mocking racism by others. There is no right or wrong answer. Subjectivity is inescapable; offensiveness being in the eye of the beholder, the only way to avoid it is not to speak at all.

A Charlie Hebdo cover: "If Muhammad returned."

A Charlie Hebdo cover: “If Muhammad returned.”

I find some of Charlie Hebdo’s images grotesque and unpalatable, others almost touchingly sweet. I interpret the one on the left as a defense of Islam against those who would distort it with their violence, and the one below as a heartfelt insistence that our common humanity will prevail over all differences.

Others will look through the lens of their own perspective, find different meaning in the same images, and take offense or not accordingly.

It changes nothing.

There can be no “but” because freedom has no meaning if we censor ourselves based on the dictates of any conscience but our own.

A Charlie Hebdo cover: "Love is more powerful than hate."

A Charlie Hebdo cover: “Love is more powerful than hate.”

Freedom left politely unused cannot be shown to exist, and courtesy and restraint become the foundation on which we build our own cages.

The battle between those who would be free and those who would be reverent is not between different races and religions, between east and west, or between nation-states. It is a battle between those who love freedom, in all its messy, imperfect glory, and those who would spill blood in pursuit of their own personal utopia.

We must never fail to love our liberty more than they hate it.

Those who qualify their defense of freedom with any “but”—but we ought not mock religion; but we ought mind our own prejudices and hypocrisies; but we ought not be surprised when the profane elicits violence—are trying to straddle a fence that cannot sustain the mighty weight of such freedom.

There can be no “but,” because the stakes are too high.

A war not fought with words and ideas, however cutting, will be fought instead with drones and bombs. Rewarding the murder of satirists with suppression of images, rather than publication of a thousand more, foregoes the peaceful power of the Streisand Effect in favor of enhanced interrogation.

Those who would be free, of every race, religion or nationality, must form a circle of defense around the indefensible. We must give rein to that rebellious voice inside that whispers, If you tell me I must not do something, I will do it to prove I can. We must value freedom over respect, not just when it is tasteful and without cost, but always.

Every. Time.

It is where we stand in the hard cases that defines us.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.
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