Sunday, June 01, 2008

Yes, but...

I wrote this post a week ago after some of the stuff I heard on the radio. I didn't post it because I don't think it fairly reflects the media response to the violence, but I do think it's relevant to this kind of thing, and it's just a blog, so...

Back in the day, when people were being murdered because some Danish paper printed drawings of Mohammed it was very common to hear people say things like, "Of course I support freedom of speech, and I condemn the violence, but people shouldn't use this freedom to cause offence." I mention this mild version because it was very widespread (Another common refrain was more confusing and went something like, "free speech doesn't entitle you to cause offence" which it obviously does).

I don't like this approach mostly because there's nothing really wrong with it, they affirm free speech and express a view on the original action, but it still makes me uneasy (a sure sign of unquestioning dogmatism on my part). I feel it subtly legitimised the violence. To me the violence was the story, changing the subject to our opinion about certain kinds of speech was worse than irrelevant.

It made me think of the chapter in Freakonomics on lynching by the Ku Klux Klan. They were surprised to find out that it was never very common. So, it was true that the vast majority of Klan members were non-violent and they could "reasonably" say things like, "Of course we condemn lynching but, I understand the underlying reasons." And then they'd have changed the subject and could rant about the "real" problem (because, hey! People get murdered every day right?).

No, no, no,
NO!
In this past any attempt to change the subject should have been resisted, there shouldn't have been a national debate attempting to deal with the root causes of Klan's grievances. They only needed a few lynchings because they had an enormous symbolic impact that did have real world consequences. It was intensely scummy and understanding where they came from would make it more likely that some communities would be sympathetic and possibly harbour the perpetrators or otherwise help perpetuate the problem.

So fine, there are underlying reasons why this has erupted now, but that doesn't mean we should talk about it now. Right now, there are a bunch of evil scumbags out there who need to be caught, and people need to know that it's not OK to sympathise.

Talk about the optimal immigration policy, whether it's really true that illegal immigrants are jumping the queue to get housing, whether stealing local jobs and local women, later.

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