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  • Caught in the Attrition Mill

    Posted by David Foster on September 18th, 2012 (All posts by )

    In 2006, I visited an old industrial facility which had been restored to operating condition. One of the machines there was an attrition mill. It consists of two steel discs, rotating at high speed in opposite direction and crushing the substance to be milled between them.

    I immediately saw this machine as a political metaphor. Western civilization is caught in a gigantic attrition mill, with one disc being the Islamofascist enemy and the other being certain tendencies within our own societies. The combination of these factors is much more dangerous than either by itself would be. Events of the last 2 weeks have sadly confirmed this view.

    Significant numbers of people in influential positions have demonstrated their willingness, even eagerness, to throw the American values of free speech overboard in the name of appeasement. They serve as the lower disc of the attrition mill, providing a surface for the upper disc–the Islamofascists–to act against.

    We have discussed the Federal Government’s acts of intimidation against a filmmaker–I was about to say “an idiot filmmaker,” but really, this individual’s intelligence, taste, and artistic capabilities are utterly irrelevant to the issues here. The actions of the government, in conjunction with the media, may very well result in this man being killed for “blasphemy”–in the United States, in 2012 AD.

    Actress Bette Midler tweeted that the filmmaker should be charged with murder. Other entertainers (see link) have expressed similar views. I haven’t seen any outpouring of free-speech defense from academia, although some individuals–like Glenn Reynolds and Ann Althouse–have stepped up to the plate. The media in general seems far more outraged about a filmmaker who offended Muslims–and about the danger of “Islamophobia” (see this CNN headline) than they are about the treatment of Jews and Christians and Hindus and others in many Muslim countries.


    Author Salman Rushdie, whose 1988 novel The Satanic Verses drew Islamic death threats, does not think this book would be published today. “A book which was critical of Islam would be difficult to be published now,” he told the BBC. He noted that last week, a British TV channel cancelled a screening of its documentary, Islam: The Untold Story, following security threats.

    British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took a very strong position in support of Rushdie’s free speech rights–and he was by no means a Thatcher supporter–quite different from the kind of weaseling we are now seeing from the Obama administration.

    The leader of Hezbollah has called for an international law against “insulting Islam.” Can anyone feel completely confident that the Obama administration would not support U.S. implementation of such a law? It would, of course, be called “prohibition of hate speech,” and would theoretically apply to insulting any religion, but in practice would be applied against those who offend Islamists, not against those mullahs who preach hatred of Jews or those filmmakers and professors who sneer at Christians.

    And, of course, free-speech restrictions in the name of appeasement–in addition to their inherent evil–won’t work. Can anyone believe that the images of the police “visit” to the home of the LA filmmaker will not feel like partial victory to the Islamofascists and encourage them to demand ever-tighter U.S. crackdowns on anyone who offends them? If a person or group is looking for a reason to be angry, something can always be found. (Winston Churchill said, at the time of Munich, “England has been offered a choice between war and shame. She has chosen shame, and will get war.”) And is it not obvious that allowing the “thug’s veto”…actually now the “murderer’s veto”…to succeed, when exercised by Muslims, must inherently encourage entirely different groups to also resort to violence when they are “offended?”

    So why are so many people, some of them in quite influential and/or powerful positions, so eager to begin a writeoff of American free speech?…indeed, why does it seem that the Zeitgeist in the West may be turning against this kind of freedom? I think there are several factors:

    1)For a couple of decades now, American universities have implemented “speech codes,” attempting to control what students can say in name of ensuring nobody is “offended.” It was inevitable that these attitude would metastasize beyond academia into the broader society, and now they have.

    2)The excesses of the “self-esteem building” practiced in many K-12 schools, especially public schools, has led to the impression that people must be protected from hurt feelings at any cost…to modify the old saying, “sticks and stores may break my bones, but words can equally well hurt me.”

    3)An increasing number of people are in professions that are all about words, and hence the distinction between speech and action may be perceived less clearly. For a farmer or a machinist or even an electrical engineer, the distinction between speaking and acting is in their professional lives pretty clear; for a writer or a lawyer or an English professor, not so much.

    Whatever the causes of the current assaults on free speech, they should be taken very seriously and resisted strongly. The alternative is a future that would be very dark indeed.

     

    48 Responses to “Caught in the Attrition Mill”

    1. Ginny Says:

      Freedom of speech has traditionally been quite well understood by those whose professions are words. I would say that it is they who were most aware of its importance, important as they were in defining the nature of the Reformation and Enlightenment, with the former’s intense emphasis on the word. The codification of the law and the freedoms of speech/press/assembly all came from that emphasis upon the power of the word to stand for something real. And fiction, a written genre which was arising in that same period, showed, we could look to a truth in its fictive world that captured the human nature which those who wrote our constitution and enshrined those rights were so concerned. Those were fictions; but human nature was not. Jonathan Edwards, immersed in the thinking of that period, insisted during his exile that teaching English to the Indians should always emphasize the fact that words had power but that came from their representation of things.

      Our problems are beliefs that counter these insights – beliefs that once seemed silly and now are mainstream, beginning with some of the flights of the Romantics and Rousseau and ending in the theories of the post-modernists and the post-colonialists. These are views that use literature as a means to the end of gaining power. It is not the study of literature but the method, theory, approach to it that has led us astray.

      Now, that, that leads to the bizarre speech codes – pretending that a word hurts as a gun does and that it therefore justifies the action of a gun is no less a leap from the real to the absurd to a student of literature than a factory manager.

    2. Joe Citizen Says:

      Freedom of speech is not an absolute, of course. There are laws against speaking about national security secrets, there are laws against libel and slander, there are laws against incitement to violence, and there are law against such dangerous and irresponsible speech as yelling fire in a crowded theatre (that is not, in fact, on fire).

      I don’t think one advances the discussion very much to simply go on about the ideals of free speech, or its history. These things are not controversial, and really just amount to posturing.

      The difficult questions arise when one encounters speech – like this film – which seems to exist for no other purpose than to give offense and to provoke a violent response. Is it an incitement? Is it akin to shouting fire in a theatre?

      Personally, I don’t think I would go that far, but I do think it is a legitimate question to ask. I do not think that anyone who does see it as an incitement is necessarily one who has abandoned the core principles of free speech, or betrayed Western civilization, or whatever… To make that claim is to do what so many on the right seem to love to do these days – scramble for some moral high ground from which to denounce in absolutist terms all who differ, rather than acknowledging the complexity of the issue and engaging respectfully.

      I asked another commenter before, with no response – how does a responsible journalist (and that could be broadened to all of us) not end up being exploited and manipulated by those amongst us who really do want to provoke a conflict. Lets leave aside the question of whether this is the case with this film. Just in general – we are obliged to defend our citizens and their freedoms – what do we do when they use those freedoms to actively try (and to succeed) in provoking bloody conflicts that we are dragged into?

      Oh, and btw, since you asked…
      “Can anyone feel completely confident that the Obama administration would not support U.S. implementation of such a law [Hezbollah blasphemy law]?

      yes. I suspect that a couple hundred million people in this country are completely and properly confident of that. What planet……?

    3. David Foster Says:

      “Giving offense” depends on the internal psychological state of the offense-taker. If this film were to be considered criminally-actionable incitement, what of the crucifix-in-urine “work of art?” Presumably, it did not create physical danger, because most Christians (in the present day) do not react violently to insults toward their religion…but what if there were a new, extremely violent Christian movement that *did* tend to cut off heads and blow people up when they felt offended? Would the “piss Christ” then be outlawed by the standard that you are suggesting might be reasonable?

    4. Joe Citizen Says:

      How can you imagine that I am advocating a “giving offense” standard? Giving offense and incitement are two very different things. I did not mention giving offense at all.

      You even put it in quotes. Where does that come from?

      I would seriously like to know how y’all uphold the principles that you espouse, but also avoid being led by the nose into conflicts by those who might take advantage of your absolutist position and provoke violent encounters that you will feel obliged to enter.

    5. tyouth Says:

      The difficult questions arise when one encounters speech – like this film – which seems to exist for no other purpose than to give offense and to provoke a violent response. Is it an incitement? Is it akin to shouting fire in a theatre?

      It’s not a difficult question at all. “Fire” in a theater has an immediacy that demands non-fictionalization, other representations do not. It’s beside that point whether the film provokes a violent response. Slander (assuming slander) is never a sufficient excuse for violence, period. The freedom to express gives one a freedom to present fiction as fact. That freedom also give others the right to criticize the representation of fact.

      It’s pretty basic – civilization 101.

    6. The Sanity Inspector Says:

      This post hurt my feelings. Who do I sue? After I eliminate you with the fatwa I will soon promulgate, I mean.

    7. veryretired Says:

      These supposed incitements are pretexts. You do understand that, right?

      There is no actual spontaneous outburst of rage over this film, any more than the cartoon deal. These violent acts are part of a planned campaign of intimidation.

      There is no possible standard which could be developed which could prevent violent acts which are part of a theatrical performance meant to cause exactly the kind of befuddled response we are currently observing.

      For anyone to fall for all this phony indignation BS, and then complain that those who support the 1st amendment are being led around by the nose, is one of the grandest examples of delusional thinking I have seen in a long, long while.

      Given that these recently arrived concern trolls are lockstep in their support for the delusional current regime, I’m not surprised.

    8. Ginny Says:

      Like hate crimes & hate speech, some (in this case Joe Citizen) feel that intentions should be the criteria. Since I thought that the ability to read other’s minds was one of those parlor tricks rather than a science, this standard has always made me uneasy. God may be able to distinguish our motives; I figure, being somewhat less omniscient, we go with actions. (And how much less sure, surely, should be those who doubt a God or such omniscience.)

    9. Jeff the Bobcat Says:

      “The difficult questions arise when one encounters speech – like this film – which seems to exist for no other purpose than to give offense and to provoke a violent response. Is it an incitement? Is it akin to shouting fire in a theatre?

      Personally, I don’t think I would go that far, but I do think it is a legitimate question to ask. I do not think that anyone who does see it as an incitement is necessarily one who has abandoned the core principles of free speech, or betrayed Western civilization, or whatever… To make that claim is to do what so many on the right seem to love to do these days – scramble for some moral high ground from which to denounce in absolutist terms all who differ, rather than acknowledging the complexity of the issue and engaging respectfully.”

      This sounds like you might be convinced that “giving offense” is akin to the “fire in the theater” to me at least. You allow that people who do see giving offense as incitement have the right to feel that way without abandoning our core cultural values. I agree with that allowance by the way.

      My problem is with how one culture’s response to the “giving offense” incitement is bullets, suicide bombs and riots which results in restriction in another culture, whose response would have been indifference had the shoe been on the other foot.

      If we modify our cultural behaviors and core freedoms to appease the most restrictive culture, then we, in essence, become like that culture in practice if not in name. Not immediately or completely, just small baby steps. Suddenly we will find ourselves in a different world. I think this is what David is getting to with his original post. Maybe. Please excuse my horrible spelling and English skills. And its my native tongue…(sigh)….

    10. Percy Dovetonsils Says:

      From the sound of it, I guess we can censor Bill Maher now.

    11. Shannon Love Says:

      Leftists don’t care about freedom of speech in this context because it’s not their speech they see as threatened.

      Leftist and leftism are raging cases of egocentrism and narcissism centered on the supposedly superior articulate intellectual. All matters, especially foreign policy must be interpreted and rewritten into a narrative about why the leftists intellectuals should rule all the rest of us.

      They don’t care about general rules because they see themselves as an elite for whom rule do not, can not and must not apply.

      One need only look at leftwing academics who constantly the political regulation of literally every other profession or activity who suddenly turn into radical libertarians when the question is raised over whether there should be poitical oversight on how academics a public universities use the people’s name and money. Suddenly, it’s all about freedom from a tyrannical state that will cripple the most vital and precious element of society!

      As little as 30 years ago, the America college campus was the greatest free speech zones in the world. Now they are the most restrictive. They college campus is the bellweather indicator of how the left will eventually drift. They will seek to impose speech codes and censorship on all of us to their own advantage.

    12. Mike_K Says:

      Our recent troll infestation demonstrates the egocentrism nicely.

    13. Joe Citizen Says:

      Ginny,

      “Like hate crimes & hate speech, some (in this case Joe Citizen) feel that intentions should be the criteria.”

      Where did I say that? I am not a fan of hate crimes. And, as I said quite clearly, I do not think this case rises to the level of incitement or “fire in the theatre”.

      “Since I thought that the ability to read other’s minds was one of those parlor tricks rather than a science, this standard has always made me uneasy.”

      Me too, in a sense. But we do use such standards all the time, say, as we distinguish manslaughter and various levels of murder in criminal cases.

      “God may be able to distinguish our motives; I figure, being somewhat less omniscient, we go with actions.”

      Actually, thats not how it works in the real world. Actions are done for reasons and often the reasons count. And often it does fall to us to ascertain what the reasons were.

    14. Ginny Says:

      The difficult questions arise when one encounters speech – like this film – which seems to exist for no other purpose than to give offense and to provoke a violent response. Is it an incitement? Is it akin to shouting fire in a theatre?

      The judgment (“for no other reason”) would appear to be “intention.” Yes intentions are important – but the distinctions between manslaughter and 1st degree and their appropriate punishment should not be decided by a mob.

    15. TMLutas Says:

      Joe Citizen – Have you read aeropagitica? You should. Your ignorance of your own legal tradition and the pitfalls of the alternatives is sad. In answer to your question, one is under no obligation to cover an event as a journalist and no obligation to do violence in response to a provocation. The longstanding tradition is to respond to words with words in this country and if you’re going to change the rules on that one make sure you have your affairs in order because you are inviting violence down on your own head. Myself, I would prefer the established dispensation of fighting words with words.

    16. David Foster Says:

      “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize”

      –Voltaire

    17. Joe Citizen Says:

      “The judgment (“for no other reason”) would appear to be “intention.”

      Yes, it is a judgement of intention. But it is qualified – “seems” – i.e. with our current level of knowledge. I would be happy to have more knowledge and adjust my judgement accordingly, in either direction. Not that my judgement counts for anything dispositive, nor should it. I make no plea for the forming of a mob.

    18. Joe Citizen Says:

      TM,

      I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you are talking about. I did not mean to imply that anyone is obliged to cover things like a journalist. My question was immediately relevant to the behavior of journalists, so I mentioned them, but it is also a question that addresses principles we all hold, so I made it more general. Nor did I imply that anyone is obliged to commit violence.

      You seem not to understand my question, and I do not understand your response well enough to lead us out of the thicket.

    19. Joe Citizen Says:

      Jeff the Bobcat Says: “You allow that people who do see giving offense as incitement have the right to feel that way without abandoning our core cultural values. I agree with that allowance by the way.”

      Actually, I allow that people who see incitement as incitement have the right to feel that way. I do think incitement is substantively different than merely “giving offense”.

      “My problem is with how one culture’s response to the “giving offense” incitement is bullets, suicide bombs and riots which results in restriction in another culture”

      Yes, I find it hard to conceive of how one would react like that. But I do make an effort. I guess the world looks pretty differently from the perspective of people living in a culture which is not the most powerful in the world, which is not powerful at all, which has been colonized, looted and oppressed within recent history, and where most of the people’s lives have not improved all that much with independence, given that they are usually ruled by violent, corrupt dictators who are in the pay of those who did the looting and colonizing in the past. To suffer grevious insults to your core beliefs from those ruling cultures must be qualitatively different than what I would feel if some nobody in the third world pissed on my sacred documents. Why would I give a damn what some nobody thought of my beliefs? But the pissing hurts more when it is not some mosquito pissing on your toe, but some elephant pissing on your head.

      That is why I have no personal interest in insulting people in such a position. Why would I want to do that? And if my neighbor does it, am I really obliged to come to his defense when he provokes a violent reaction? Yeah, I guess I am, and it pisses me off. So I ask all of you again – how can I respect all the principles you guys are espousing and yet not be dragged into conflicts that are not mine, that I am not invested in, and are just provoked by my neighbor for whatever his own reasons are?

    20. Shannon Love Says:

      BTW, the “[falsely] shouting fire in a crowded theater” comes from Oliver Wendell Holmes in Schenck v. United States in which Holmes and the majority of the court held that it was legal for the Federal government to arrest and imprison socialist who were passing out leaflets opposing the draft in WWI.

      Holmes was actually an authoritarian progressive (there really isn’t any other kind) who usually sided with the centralized state to do as it pleased to the common citizen. His other most famous line is “three generations of imbeciles is enough” in Buck v Bell where he argued successfully for the state’s right to impose eugenics on the general population.

      Not really a nice guy. He was, however, very articulate, which allowed him do more damage.

    21. Joe Citizen Says:

      So Shannon, are you saying that there should be no penalty for shouting fire in a crowded theater?

    22. Scotus Says:

      Sigh. I’m afraid we are stuck with Joe C. as long as he believes his gnat straining and camel swallowing (with Kool-aid chaser) gets under our skins. Just remember, amigos, shouting at the willfully deaf just gives you a sore throat.

      Of course, as David indicated in his original post, Joe C. is not alone in his tactics of distort, distract, misrepresent, and outright lie, the NEW YORK TIMES today compared “prejudice” against Muslims to nativist American anti-Catholicism. Strange, I seem to recall it was the nativists who burned Catholic buildings, not the other way round. Can the same be said of many of today’s Muslims?

    23. newrouter Says:

      “So Shannon, are you saying that there should be no penalty for shouting fire in a crowded theater?”

      what if there really is a fire?

    24. Jonathan Says:

      The Islamist apologetics will continue until there is another 9/11 or worse, or perhaps a series of such attacks. Then US public opinion will insist the problem be eradicated regardless of collateral damage and it will be. That, or a gradual submission of our society to Islam, is the ultimate consequence of our feckless leaders’ efforts to placate the most hostile elements in the Muslim world. It would be much better for everyone if we show backbone and moral clarity now. Our enemies interpret our attempts to “understand” them, and our legalistic rationalizations for submitting to the mob, as signs of weakness.

      People forget that ten years ago there was a national consensus for large-scale military action against the Islamists and their allies. That consensus didn’t exist because “Bush lied” but because the memory of 9/11 was fresh and we hadn’t yet lost thousands of people in the war that followed. The war weariness that now stands in the way of further military involvements is predicated on the fact that we haven’t suffered major terror attacks since 9/11. That this fact may result from our strong response to the 2001 attack is too little noted.

      Perhaps we will not be attacked again even if we continue to relax our vigilance. But if there are attacks US public opinion can change, and the next time we may be much less discriminate in our response. It is in no one’s interest for such a scenario to be realized. Unfortunately, Obama makes it all the more likely by throwing Americans under the bus instead of telling the Arab mobs to go to hell.

    25. John Says:

      Joe:

      …how can I respect all the principles you guys are espousing and yet not be dragged into conflicts that are not mine, that I am not invested in, and are just provoked by my neighbor for whatever his own reasons are?

      At one level you can’t. If you espouse the principal you’re stuck with its implications. In this case, if you espouse free speech (and some other principals I’ll skip for brevity) you are stuck with the implications which are, more or less, free speech for everybody, even idiots, all the time, even if it is offensive, foolish, or hurtful.

      At another level it is very easy. You exercise your own right to free speech and you say, “neighbor, whatever your reasons are, you’re wrong and here’s why.” You can even say so publicly and hopefully more people will listen to you than to him.

      The problem in the present case is a little different. IF one accepts that the offense is real, and not a product of the “outrage industry” there are several principals with which most Americans and those who are offended disagree. Free speech, group culpability, establishment of religion, and violence as a legitimate response to insult, to name a few.

      From a typical American point of view, your neighbor is free to say what he pleases, you are not responsible for it, religion has nothing to do with government, and physically attacking someone over something they said will get you arrested.

      To me the key to this whole thing is (as it often is to libertarian leaning types…) the use of force, particularly the initiation of same. Words call for words, force calls for force. The legitimate response to insult, error, or heresy is verbal correction and argument, preferably civil. The legitimate response to physical attack is physical defense. For someone to attack an embassy or consulate building is an act of force not speech. On the other hand, to call for legal restrictions on speech at home is also speech, but to actually enact such laws is force and also crosses the line in my opinion.

      I admit that there are some “hard cases” at the corners, but this is nowhere near one.

      (Just another two cents, the rolling disaster you describe in these places is partly a colonial legacy but is also — some would say largely but I don’t actually know the ratios– a product of the lack of adherence to these sorts of principals. It won’t help them for us to abandon ours.)

    26. tyouth Says:

      “The war weariness that now stands in the way of further military involvements ….”

      Jonathan, maybe later, but now it would be in spite of the presence of three U.S. carrier fleets in or around the Straits of Hormouz. A force to take on the world.

      I believe that the perception of Islam as a religion must change. It’s a political force with the Koran providing instruction for personal and group inter-actions which make the Islamic party unacceptable and corrosive to western civilization. The the religious aspect is auxiliry (although very useful, of course, for purposes of intellectual innoculation, propaganda, and agitation) for all practical purposes.

    27. Jeff the Bobcat Says:

      Joe C. says,”So I ask all of you again – how can I respect all the principles you guys are espousing and yet not be dragged into conflicts that are not mine, that I am not invested in, and are just provoked by my neighbor for whatever his own reasons are?”

      Well our Social Contract (Constitution) obliges all of us to respect and defend these rights even when the exercise of those rights by others causes conflict. I think most libertarian leaning people believe that those defended rights make us what we are and have allowed us as a society to achieve great things. Understand, I am not saying you are disputing this. I’m just saying that if you start pruning away another person’s liberties simply because it the expedient way to settle a conflict then we will become a lesser society. Everyone’s rights get pruned. If another society has a different internal social contract then good for them, just as long as they don’t expect us to be bound by it over our own.

      Attrition Mill like David said. A slow grinding away at our core values until we are reduced.

    28. Mrs. Davis Says:

      Our Social Contract is quite distinct from our Constitution. Contracts seem to last 80 years before they breakdown due to their internal conflicts. When the contract is renegotiated, we amend or reinterpret our constitution to square it with the new contract. We are in the process of renegotiating the contract now. That is the grinding you sense and the reason our discourse is so abrasive.

      A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half maker, half taker. I do not expect the it to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. And if all taker, then it will fall.

    29. Jonathan Says:

      Mrs. Davis: Yes.

    30. Joe Citizen Says:

      “At one level you can’t. If you espouse the principal you’re stuck with its implications…which are, more or less, free speech for everybody, even idiots, all the time, even if it is offensive, foolish, or hurtful.”

      Interesting that you ignore the really relevant implication. I don’t care about it being offensive or foolish or hurtful. What I am concerned about is some morons dragging all of us into destructive wars that are entirely unnecessary. You are conceding leadership of our foreign policy to whomever wishes to be most outrageous, most antagonistic to people in other places.

      I basically agree with most of what you say in your comment, but the reality of the world remains. For whatever reason (and I don’t think it all that hard to understand), some people react with violence did grave insult. I don’t think it is particularly an Arab or Islamic thing, it is human nature given certain circumstances.

      If some millionaire drives his limo into a poor community and gets out and approaches a bunch of guys hanging out on the corner, and says to them – your mothers are bunch of whores, then I am betting his next stop will be the hospital. Hey – he is just exercising his free speech. No doubt. And he should not be assaulted. No doubt. But he will be, and some innocents who are traveling with him may be drawn into the fight that they have no interest in fighting.

      And we need not consider the poor neighborhood to be filled with minorities, btw. I grew up in a euro-american working class neighborhood and I guarantee you that things would have gone down like that.

      Now, if a poor homeless person goes up to a millionaire walking down Park Ave. and says to him – your mother is a whore – he will likely be ignored or get some dirty look, or perhaps even laughed at. Is that because rich people are so much more civilized than poorer people? I don’t think so. It could be the same guy – hanging on the corner when he is young and poor, getting into fights, then, a few years later after he won the lottery, laughing at the clown who tries to insult him.

      It comes down to power relationships. People who feel they are powerless take great offense to insults to their core values (which is all they really have to “cling” to :) ) that those of us who are securely within the most powerful civilization in history can just laugh at.

      There seems to be some on the political right who get their jollies by going to the powerless people and poking them with a (rhetorical) stick, just to see what happens. I guess they hope that some reaction ensues that will give them justification to stomp these people like bugs.

      I want no part of that game, and I don’t want my country to dragged into playing those games.

    31. Joe Citizen Says:

      ” I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. And if all taker, then it will fall.”

      Huh? What on earth can this possibly mean?

      You envision our society to become all makers, no takers? Does this mean that children shall be put to some productive work within hours of popping out of the womb? That there shall be no such thing as retirement any more – that all people shall be obliged to work until the moment of their death? That they crippled and infirm shall receive only such treatment and care as is commensurate with the economic contribution they can make, and if that be zero, well, too bad?

      I suggest you do a tad of research to see just who the actual human beings are within Mr. Romney’s famous 47%. And just how much some of them are actually giving, even if not in federal income taxes. (since you refer to “half-maker, half taker”, I assume you are making reference to this 47% meme).

    32. Anonymous Says:

      The difficult questions arise when one encounters speech – like this film – which seems to exist for no other purpose than to give offense…

      Tyouth got there first: this is not a case where difficult questions should arise, and that they do says more about your tepid (at best) appreciation of the freedom of speech than it does about anything else.

      …and to provoke a violent response.

      But the point here is that it should not evoke such a response–violence is not ever an appropriate response to mere mocking. Given that such people do exist, if they offer war I’m perfectly willing to give it to them rather than give in to them.

    33. Kirk Parker Says:

      You envision our society to become all makers, no takers? Does this mean that children shall be put to some productive work within hours of popping out of the womb?

      Ok, troll-troll it is, then. Sorry, folks, for responding.

    34. Kirk Parker Says:

      Oops, anon @ 2:14pm is me.

    35. John Says:

      Joe:

      Interesting that you ignore the really relevant implication. I don’t care about it being offensive or foolish or hurtful. What I am concerned about is some morons dragging all of us into destructive wars that are entirely unnecessary. You are conceding leadership of our foreign policy to whomever wishes to be most outrageous, most antagonistic to people in other places.

      I think we disagree about what is really relevant. The relevant issue is that words are words and violence is violence. I tried to answer a very specific question you seemed to be asking.

      We seem to agree that there are people in the world at home and abroad who will resort to violence if verbally provoked. Some of these people will even take out their anger on innocents through the form of “group culpability.” This is a bad thing.

      Where we *seem* to disagree is in giving these fringe elements veto power over profoundly important personal and social values. I think you are pointing at the person making the offensive speech as the point of culpability, and saying that by allowing them to speak we have conceded the ability to make foreign policy to them? I’d contend that there are others still in the chain, and that there is nothing culpable in speech but there is in attacking and killing people. I’d rather point at the person engaging in violence as the culpable party.

      Or, to put it another way, is it better to concede domestic policy to the most outrageous and antagonistic people in other places?

      You make some domestic analogies, pretty inexact ones I think, but I wonder if you’d support a similar policy in a closer domestic analog? Say a lunatic white supremacist is driving down the street when he passes a house where the stereo is blasting a rap song at top volume. He gets really ticked off, goes downtown and lobs a pipe bomb through the front window of a night club. Do you advocate for abolition of rap or rap with certain lyrics in order to avoid conceding domestic policy to every yahoo with a loud stereo?

      I’m not sure you were advocating that anyway, but you seemed to be asking: “How can I respect the right to play rap music and yet not be dragged into conflicts (through a govt. intermediary in both cases) that are not mine, that I am not invested in, and are just provoked by my neighbor for whatever his own reasons are?”

      I answer you again: You can’t. If you espouse the principal you have to accept its consequences. If not, you’re not espousing it you’re espousing some other, perhaps similar principal.

      That doesn’t mean you can’t dislike the consequences, or work to moderate them, etc. That’s a different issue.

    36. Mrs. Davis Says:

      Huh? What on earth can this possibly mean?

      I knew you couldn’t. That’s why I didn’t direct it to you. But rant on, if you wish.

    37. Mrs. Davis Says:

      What I am concerned about is some morons dragging all of us into destructive wars that are entirely unnecessary.

      You are a hater, no better than Nakoula, and you should show more respect for our Muslim brothers.

    38. Joe Citizen Says:

      John,

      I don’t think we really disagree on the question of whether violent people, at home or abroad, should have a veto power over our freedoms. I have expressed, twice, the fact that I don’t think the filmmakers actions quite rise to the level of incitement that might warrant some suppression.

      I have been asking for people to take the other issues seriously, to think about them, and to help me with my own efforts to figure out the balance. I think the issue of provocateurs is a serious one. The radical jihadists desperately want a clash of civilizations, and there seems to be a group of people here at home that are working along complimentary lines, although from a very different perspective.

      The overwhelming majority of Islamic people in the world do not want a conflict with the US, nor do the overwhelming majority of Americans want a conflict with them. We have no desire to mock them, ridicule them, or try to provoke them to violence. And yet, when some of our fellow citizens do that, it ends up being done in our name precisely because it is sold as an expression of American freedom, because we as a nation are obliged to defend these people, and there are even pressures for us to act in cahoots with the provacateurs – to republish their trash, lest we all be branded as traitors to the West.

      No, we as a nation properly have a very different agenda. It is in our interest to assist people in the Muslim world in finding a peaceful and prosperous place in the global net of economic and social relations. To make them understand that the universal principles we espouse include them – that we are willing to accord to them the same respect we grant eachother.

      If we are engaged in a global war on terrorism, on jihadis and jihadism, then a central strategy of that effort is to attempt to isolate the extremists from the base of normal people from which they arise. To make it clear to the normal people that our battle is not with them, that we see them in the manner I described above, and that the jihadis really are a cancer amongst them who are holding their entire culture back.

      These provacateurs amongst us are working against the interests of the United States in this war. What they are doing is exactly what they jihadis are trying to do – to forge ever closer bonds between the jihadis and the culture they try to dominate. They are sending the message the the US does not just oppose the terrorists, we look with contempt on all of them. The effect is to rally the normal people to the side of those who oppose us.

      We have a free society, but we have always limited freedoms on matters of national security. I find it so odd that those who are most likely to emphasize the “war on jihadism” seem to be the very last to take the aims and strategies of the war seriously – to, at the very least, be saying (just with words!) “why don’t you STFU with this anti-Islam crap and stay focused on the actual perpetrators”. Rather, the provacateurs find sustenance and support from those at sites like this one, with people who will loudly and aggressively promote them (even demand the resignation of the President if the government asks them a few questions!!!), and denounce our own government as it works to actually advance our nation’s interests.

      I find your bottom line answer – “you can’t” do anything to prevent our nation’s policy from being dictated by our own extremists – to be quite unsatisfactory. We the people as a whole get to decide our nation’s policies, especially on matters of war and peace, where we may well end up paying a very heavy price in blood and treasure for a failure in the struggle for hearts and minds.

    39. TMLutas Says:

      Joe Citizen – Since you seem to need a bit more hand holding than is my usual, here it is again, just for you:

      Your question – “how does a responsible journalist (and that could be broadened to all of us) not end up being exploited and manipulated by those amongst us who really do want to provoke a conflict.”
      My answer – “In answer to your question, one is under no obligation to cover an event as a journalist”

      That seems, on second read, quite clear but I’ll try to reformulate and be more direct.

      If a journalist finds himself being given a story that is merely a provocation and without real journalistic merit, the appropriate response is to just not cover the event. So much real artistic merit is being put up on the Internet these days that you could omit all the dreck and still have enough material to make a full time career out of covering it.

    40. Anonymous Says:

      Joe,

      There’s a great deal of asymmetry in what you demand of “moderates” on both sides. Our cultures are different cultures. Many of the things that we do seem disgusting, blasphemous, or offensive to even moderate Muslims. The converse is also true. We (and they) may choose to pass over this in silence, and often do, but our values are not the same, and the our coexistence as independent cultures requires both of us to tolerate this. The gist of your position seems to be that moderate Muslims won’t work with us unless we stifle our own people who say or do things offensive to them (which today is an amateurish video, but tomorrow could just as well be open homosexual relationships or alcohol consumption). That’s not tolerance or coexistence; it’s the demand made by a conqueror upon the conquered. If Muslims at large really can’t resist the urge to set fire to things and self-detonate because an infidel in another country didn’t share their values, then a clash of civilizations is inevitable and your theory is wrong.

      (I’m not convinced it’s inevitable–but I don’t believe that these events were an uncoordinated, spontaneous reaction to the release of the video. I suspect they were largely orchestrated by religious elites in the Middle East, who are using the video as a pretext to demand concessions from the West. The administration is playing along with this, probably because they see it as preferable to admitting they got pantsed by a coordinated terrorist attack on 9/11.)

      In any case, you seem to be scrambling around for pretexts to limit this extremist speech that you see as obstructing peace, and you’ve come up with some pretty bad ones. National security has indeed been a pretext for limiting speech in this country, and the results have usually been fairly unpalatable. See this post by Ken at Popehat (no right-wing warmonger, he) for a nice discussion of some of these decisions. You may notice that the power to infringe on speech in the name of national security has largely been used to suppress dissent against wars and the government’s powers in carrying them out; the tool you seek to bring about a peace is more likely to be used to compel you to support the war you would avoid.

      Your analysis of “power relations” to justify why offense given by an American to an Egyptian is necessarily more “provocative” than the converse is also lamentably facile. I would argue that it’s just as important–perhaps more so–that Nakoula is a Copt than that he’s an American. Viewed in that light, the power relation is reversed. He’s part of a group that’s been subject to arbitrary abuse from the Egyptian Muslim population for quite some time. In that light, his making an insulting film about Mohammed isn’t like a millionare insulting poor people on the street corner; it’s more like a poor man fleeing the plutocracy to start a street protest movement.

      So yes, you are obliged to bear some of the cost of letting your idiot neighbor mouth off; not because he’s talking particularly good sense, much less “dictating national policy,” but because once you set the precedent that the government can be intimidated by the violence of others into gagging its own citizens, you’ve opened the door for a heckler’s veto by anyone. And if you’re confused about why people concerned with “national security” would be so eager to approve of something potentially violence-provoking, consider what our nation secures for us: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Real national security preserves not our bare lives only, but the exercise of our liberties as we live them.

    41. Joe Citizen Says:

      Anon,

      “The gist of your position seems to be that moderate Muslims won’t work with us unless we stifle our own people who say or do things offensive to them”

      No, that is not quite right. My claim is that if our citizens continue to gratuitously insult Islam – not by us merely living our lives and our values, but intentionally mocking and ridiculing that which they hold sacred – then we are allowing a statement to be made, that we the most powerful force in the world hold all of them in contempt (even though that is not true). And the implications of that for the peaceful integration of all of them into the global community is not promising.

      I have repeatedly stated that I did not support suppressing the film or jailing the filmmaker – the entire first day of this argument I argued here repeatedly that the various actions and words taken by the government in this case were ok precisely because they did not cross the line into coercing behavior.

      So you have no standing to claim that I have ever advocated stifling our own people, at least not in a legal manner.

      I have made a plea to consider the complexity of the situation and the consequences of these actions.

      “I suspect they were largely orchestrated by religious elites in the Middle East, who are using the video as a pretext to demand concessions from the West. The administration is playing along with this, ”

      What concessions do you imagine are being demanded? And how exactly is this administration playing along with this?

      ” And if you’re confused about why people concerned with “national security” would be so eager to approve of something potentially violence-provoking, consider what our nation secures for us: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. ”

      Huh? Thats quite the non sequitor. How on earth does the fact that our nation secures life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for us lead to the fact that people on this blog are eager to approve of something violence-provoking???

      As I said before, and that you clearly have not understood, I have not advocated for governmental suppression of free speech. The paranoia in some parts regarding Islam conquering us, or creeping Sharia or other such lunacy in just ridiculous. No one is endangering our freedoms here. It would not in any way, shape or form being a violation of our free speech for those concerned with national security to use their freedoms to argue to their fellow citizens that gratuitous provocations like this film are against our national interest and are just making it harder for us to secure a peaceful world on our terms.

      But that doesn’t happen, and that is what confuses me. The instinct I see here is to denounce our own government, to call our cops a bunch of Nazis, to cheer on the provacateurs as if they were heroes doing something good and helpful. I won’t say that this is the only explanation for this behavior, but it sure seems like the case that some people here actually are itching for a conflict – who actively want to provoke a fight. I hope I am wrong about that – maybe they are just emotionally incapable of thinking about the national interest so long as Obama is in office – maybe that is an alternative explanation. But they sure don’t use their space here and their energy to advance our national interest, but rather make specious arguments about phantom threats to our freedoms.

    42. tyouth Says:

      “…and that is what confuses me.” A lot confuses you Joe, read more, write less, and you’ll be less confused.

    43. TMLutas Says:

      Joe Citizen – Perhaps your problem is your own bigotry, not just your ignorance. By bigotry, I mean anti-muslim bigotry of the bushian “soft bigotry of low expectations” type. I suspect that if the muslims were a different skin tone, perhaps white, while the Copts remained appreciably darker, you’d get the problem of the Muslim/Copt relationship and hold them to the moral standards of any other post-independence empire state where the local allies of the imperial power took over where the empire left off.

      The empire in this case is the last Islamic Caliphate, the Ottoman empire. The put upon natives in this case are the christian Copts who have been resisting various muslim empires for a thousand years. The legal disabilities of Copts in Egypt remain, to this day. The grievances accumulate, to this day. And Copts mostly shut up about it because, to this day, they are under constant threat of violent pogroms and a culture of group punishment that americans usually find distasteful and is generally illegal in the US.

      So those who hold the muslims to a lesser standard than the post-colonial standards of everybody else, well there’s a little problem there. Why do they get off the hook? Why do the Copts not get the general benefit of the doubt that the downtrodden so often get in the US among the chattering classes? Do you have any answers that are not fundamentally rooted in the excuse of what can you expect from mere muslims?

    44. david foster Says:

      The push for a global blasphemy law:

      http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/19/us-protests-religions-blasphemy-idUSBRE88I1EG20120919

    45. Joe Citizen Says:

      “The push for a global blasphemy law:”

      Nothing new here David. As the article points out, this organization has been pushing for this for many years, and is simply using the occasion of the film to renew their appeal. The “push” has never made any headway, for obvious reasons.

      You can come out from under the bed now….

    46. Joe Citizen Says:

      “Perhaps your problem is your own bigotry,”

      Ah yes, that must be it.

      “I suspect that if the muslims were a different skin tone,”

      Its just raaaaaaaaaacism, Joe!!!

      “So those who hold the muslims to a lesser standard…”

      Aa, I see. You concluded that from when I said that the normal Muslims were like normal people everywhere, having no interest in provoking conflicts, and that the jihadists were a cancer in their society?

      “Why do the Copts not get the general benefit of the doubt…”

      What benefit from what doubt? What events have transpired that give substance to your charge that Copts have somehow not gotten some benefit of the doubt for some issues. What issues? Who is accusing them of what?

    47. TMLutas Says:

      Joe Citzen – Normal people who riot over a film clip get called hoodlums, criminals, and the focus is on how to get them in an appropriate prison if they cause property damage, injury, or death. This is obviously not your recommended focus for this incident. Thus your revealed preference is to hold muslims to a lesser standard, thus the bigotry of low expectations. You can say you respect muslims all you want but if you treat them as not capable of rising to the standards of normal people you are, in fact, a bigot. It’s pretty obvious that you’re coming from a western subculture where this is such an unusual attitude that it actually has to be explained to you.

      You treat normal people normally. When you don’t, the disparity between your statement of explicit preference and your actual actions reveals your real opinion and it’s not one of muslims being normal people.

    48. Anonymous Says:

      Wonderful article!

      Where is the old-fashioned idea that we each need to develop a thicker skin? Of course, freedom of speech demands that we all become less sensitive to the pain it may cause us that others think differently from ourselves. It also demands that we listen to the other side and properly formulate our own ideas.

      Is this too much to ask? Does it take a higher intellect to do this? Is it too difficult for those people who prefer to be blinkered and only see one side of each intellectual argument?