Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Je suis Charlie, que tout le monde devrait

Greetings, readers!  It's been a while since I've posted on the blog, and there's really little more to it than being insanely busy working long hours through the would-be holidays and all.  It's more than a little bit annoying that CES happens pretty much the first working week of January (after the New Year's holidays and all).  Well, it was like this last year as well, and this year, the crunch was not quite as bad, but there was a lot more shown from my department this time.  Anyway, during all this, there was the attack on Charlie Hebdo after a supposedly insulting-to-Muslims cartoon appeared, and there's already plenty out there about the attack itself.  What I wanted to get on was the so-called "liberal" reaction.

We generally expect the atheist community to have a problem with the attacks, but the flavor of multiculturalism that imbues the so-called liberal viewpoint comes out with every condemnation of violence hedged and qualified.  "Freedom of speech is incredibly important but..."  "Violence is inexcusable but..."  If there's a "but" in that sentence, it means that you're willing to make exceptions for that principle, and that already puts you on a spiral of wrongness.  All the "but"s regarding the Charlie Hebdo attack basically lead down this view that insulting religion is inherently wrong, and therefore, Charlie Hebdo brought it on themselves.  One article on Time suggested that anything that could be construed as an insult to Muslims automatically means you're not a bastion of free speech.  The Daily Beast said that being deliberately provocative isn't really part of free speech.  Really?  Then what is?  The worst part is that this is also a sentiment coming from the right wing religious nutbars (in a thinly veiled effort to intimate that they, too, should be shielded from all criticism).  If you're a self-described social liberal, and you find yourself agreeing with Bill Donohue, there's a chink in your armor somewhere.

You won't find me ever saying that I'm not socially liberal with a fiscally center-left position.  What I don't do is tow some political line, because as far as I'm concerned, the thing that gets me is the sort of trend I see here on the standard "line" of social liberalism.  There is a tendency among people with any strong political alignment to extrapolate anything that they label as bad as universally bad.  This is why Godwin's Law even exists -- because Hitler is such a poster child of evil, that associating anything with him repulses people to the extent that they dare not take the trouble of determining the extent to which the invoker of Godwin is full of bullcrap.  One of my favorite works of Mozart -- K.466 -- is also reputed to be Josef Stalin's all-time favorite piece.  *GASP!!!*  Clearly I must support Stalin in every way!  And so the cries of "COMMUNIST!!!" ensue.  When I worked on Tomb Raider Underworld, I actually incorporated some research related to bounded harmonic functions.  Well, the author of very much of the really ground-breaking work I used was none other than Ted Kaczynski...  A.K.A. The Unabomber.  Well, clearly, that means I'm completely in favor of all the content of the Unabomber manifesto and I approve of his acts.  That makes a lot of sense.

But this is really the depth of thinking that I'm seeing. Intolerance of other cultures, norms, and ideas is bad in the mode of religious hatred and racism and so on...  therefore it's always bad under any and all circumstances.  I wonder how someone who doesn't tolerate intolerance can be called anything other than...  intolerant of intolerance?  Well, of course, the standard solution to this paradox is to simply say that "intolerance" is the exception.  Here's my solution to the paradox -- intolerance itself is not inherently bad.  It's the idiotic reasoning (or complete lack thereof) behind it that is the problem.  I don't have a problem with you hating something.  I have a problem with you being an idiot.  If you have good reasons for it, you're not likely an idiot...  at least on that point, anyway.

So why am I so regularly against religion?  Because it is poor reasoning on all accounts.  My approach to all ideas is strictly meritocratic.  Religion is without a single unique merit, and abounds with unique harms.  Therefore, it is worthy of rebuke.  Anyway, what I see in the credo of multiculturalism is that all cultural norms, views, beliefs, etc. should be considered beyond reproach.  This is a focus on the equality of end results rather than on the equality of process of consideration.  If you consider all ideas through the same filter, some ideas will fail.  That's perfectly okay, because all ideas got a fair shake.  Instead, people want to argue that it's only fair if every idea that people care about has an equal chance of getting through your filter.  The argument against Charlie Hebdo is that the cartoons that set off this latest attack was clearly offensive to Islam, and therefore, Muslims had every right to be angry.  Nowhere in any of this was there an explanation of how said cartoons were offensive to Muslims.  Charlie Hebdo has been attacked before because they've done multiple political cartoons that featured Mohammed over several years.  The most recent of these that I can find was last October --

The cartoon features an ISIS executioner about to behead Mohammed.  He says "I'm the prophet, you asshole!", to which his ISIS killer says "Shut it, infidel!"  The caption at the top reads "If Mohammed returned..."  This is pretty similar in meaning to how it is often pointed out that the right wing conservatives in America, who claim to be all about their adherence to Christianity, are very likely to be the first in line to crucify Jesus a second time if he were to return today.  The butt of the joke here is clearly not Islam, but ISIS.  If anything, this cartoon is suggestive that terror groups like ISIS are the corruptive influences on Islam.  I fail to see the insult to Islam here; rather an insinuation that Islam is better than this.  But the likely source of the backlash is the fact that Mohammed was depicted at all, or that it shows Mohammed in a victimized position.  Who cares about the content or the actual meaning of the cartoon?  That's not what's offensive, and sure enough, there is not a single blame-the-victim article out there that actually got into the content.  It simply waved a banner of "religious beliefs are off limits!!"

Fuck that.

Whatever else you want to say about religious beliefs, they are, at the most basic level, a collection of ideas.  Are you prepared to say that in the ocean of ideas, there are some that should be above all scrutiny, above all criticism, immune to any attacks, or even due some unavoidable pussy-footing?  Would anybody worry about insulting an adherent of Austrian economics?  Are there any people who think it's "intolerant" (in the liberal parlance) of hiphop artists to put down their art form?  And yet religion gets special treatment?  Give me one good reason why that is not a double standard.  

Here's another angle on this;  One that I've mentioned several times before.  Among the religious, there is an endless sea of insults directed at atheists.  Some Gallup polls suggest that over 20% of the voting public in America wish that atheists could be imprisoned or killed for being atheists.  Count for me the number of times atheists have firebombed churches, temples, or mosques.  Right wingers in the U.S. repeatedly bash pretty much any and all fields of science and literally go about impugning those who actually do real science as evil Satanic heathens.  Show me all the violent acts committed by scientists directed at right wing ideologues.  There are countless times I've seen media mock philosophers and mathematicians as people who simply waste their time on necessarily useless pursuits.  How many times have they fought back with violent retaliation?  Countless times, doctors who perform abortions have their clinics attacked by Christian fundamentalists.  Tell me all the tales of the doctors who grenaded churches.  Back when I was in the game industry, I was one of many who were deeply incensed by the advertisements for the game design programs at Collins College and Westwood College which both made a shameful mockery and trivialization of the process of game development and design.  How many game designers do you think formed a coalition to behead Westwood's officials?

Now I know, the standard argument is that one's religious faith is a very deeply personal thing for most people, and this is true.  You want something personal?  How about every religious groups' favorite target?  The LGBT community!  Certainly, nothing could be more personal than who you love.  The number of homosexuals killed for being gay is enormous.  There is no shortage of wingnuts who proclaim proudly that all gays should be rounded up and killed.  There is no shortage of gays who were murdered, imprisoned, or tortured for the crime of existing.  We still have politicians who propose and even pass laws to grant special privileges for discrimination against LGBT individuals.  Now you tell me how many gay men and women killed straight people for being straight.  You tell me how many times LGBT activists came into a megachurch guns blazing and killed dozens.

Now I have to ask...  if any of these scenarios I mentioned did play out, how many people out there do you think would be blaming the victims then?  How many people would say that biologists would be totally justified in bombing the U.S. Congress because an entire political party mocks, categorically rejects, and seeks to ban the single unifying principle of all of biology?  Who among the journalists who rushed to blame the victim here would do the same for any other set of ideas under assault?  Charlie Hebdo, we have to realize, is a publication full of satirical cartoons.  What the hell is respectful and polite satire supposed to be?  So what if religious ideas are being mocked?  An idea is an idea, and if there's one worthy of mockery, it should be mocked.  One writer on the Financial Times suggested that poking fun at any religious group means playing with fire because it's a sensitive subject, and so Charlie should have expected violent backlash from the Muslim community.  If that is the case, what does that say about Muslims?  Oh, but it's only a small percentage of extremist Muslims who do this.  Yeah...  a small percentage, indeed.  Why is that percentage not zero?  If all groups for whom religion is not part of the equation can be insulted, assaulted, murdered, ridiculed, belittled, discriminated against, marginalized, hated, banned from living in several nations, and still not retaliate with murder, what is stopping Muslims?  What is it about Islam that allows a moral equivalency between a cartoon and killing 12 people?  What is it about being part of someone's beliefs/culture that necessarily means that something that no sensible person would say is reasonable in any other context suddenly has the right to demand respect?

You want respect?  Earn it.  No exceptions.  No special pleading.  No privilege of protection on account of your sincerity.  You do not deserve respect until you show you do.  You do not get to have your belief that your "prophet" split the moon free from ridicule any more than some alt-med practitioner deserves to be shielded from the fact that he/she's a fraud.  Either take it on the chin and accept that or ride your winged unicorn of delusion on some other planet.