Expanding on what Tom said below, a perfect example of the necessity of societal limits of relativism that Tom was talking about comes in the form of King Reasonoid Matt Welch raising the bar on freedom of speech to “being offensive as humanly possible” in the wake of yesterday’s Paris attack on Charlie Hebdo.
So no, we’re all not Charlie—few of us are that good, and none of us are that brave. If more of us were brave, and refused to yield to the bomber’s veto, and maybe reacted to these eternally recurring moments not by, say, deleting all your previously published Muhammad images, as the Associated Press is reportedly doing today, but rather by routinely posting newsworthy images in service both to readers and the commitment to a diverse and diffuse marketplace of speech, then just maybe Charlie Hebdo wouldn’t have stuck out so much like a sore thumb. It’s harder, and ultimately less rewarding to the fanatical mind, to hit a thousand small targets than one large one.
And it’s not just those of us in the media business who have failed to be Charlie Hebdo. Every person in the broader West, whether it be a Financial Times editor or the president of the United States, who wrongly thinks that speech should not offend, and falsely believes that artistic commentary can somehow incite murderous violence, are also contributing to an ever-worsening cultural climate of speech, and therefore freedom.
Today is an awful day for the basic project of free inquiry. Do you really wanna be Charlie Hebdo? Then get on out there, live and speak bravely. And God help you.
You are free to say whatever you want, Matt. You are however not free from the consequences of saying whatever you want. Being brave enough to offend everyone is not bravery, it’s just vulgarity for vulgarity’s sake that doesn’t contribute very much. Is it necessary, as Tom said? Yes, absolutely. Does society have a right to say “we reject that?” Absolutely. That’s your marketplace of ideas at work, mac.
The terrorists who shot up Paris yesterday are the worst kind of censors possible and they had no justification whatsoever to do what they did, but let’s not conflate that obscenely awful act or the people who committed it with “political correctness.”
There’s a huge gulf between saying “Hey, I don’t agree with your statement and I find it offensive” and “Hey, I don’t agree with your statement and I’m going to shoot you now.” The first is what people should be doing, talking out their differences and debating the merits of why we think the way we do. The second is terrorism and murder, period. Implying that the former is as bad as the latter is just lazy.
Next he’ll be saying it’s really about ethics in political cartooning.