Some context about Charlie Hebdo: don’t judge a magazine by its cover

"It's hard to be loved by idiots" The past two days have been nerve wracking for the French, and for friends of freedom of speech. We’ve all been floored by the savagery of the attacks, but it’s been heartwarming to see support messages from all over the world, as well as the extraordinary unity of the French people overall, including the Muslim community and clergy, as well as all other confessions (but of course, let’s not fool ourselves, there are already brain-dead violent reactions against the whole Muslim community, which is exactly the sort of division the terrorists are trying to create).

All this makes it particularly irritating when several voices from supposedly smart people writing in reputable journals start blaming the victim. USA Today even went so far as to publish a commentary from a self-avowed radical extremist, something I find way more offensive than anything Charlie ever put on their front page:

Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression […] why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the sanctity of its citizens at risk?

It is time that the sanctity of a Prophet revered by up to one-quarter of the world's population was protected.

USA Today is not quoting an opposing view, in an article meant to give context to the attacks: they actually gave an unrestricted tribune to a dangerous extremist who misrepresents his own religion, and advocates against freedom of speech, in favor of blasphemy laws, without comment. It’s hard to fathom why USA Today would do that, but at least one can understand what this guy is saying and why. And it’s chilling.

Harder to understand is the chorus of reasonable journalists who attempt to paint Charlie Hebdo as a racist, islamophobic journal. Before I go into the details of the accusations, and why they don’t hold water, I want to point out what should be very obvious: this is the equivalent of showing up at a funeral and telling the family that the deceased had really looked for it. Only insensitive, tasteless assholes do that.

Case in point, David Brooks writes in the NY Times:

let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.

Notice the subtext here: in America, this wouldn’t stand, not because speech is less free, but because the French agree with “hate speech”? Give me a break and watch Fox News for 10 minutes to realize what Americans allow (which is fine, of course, just pointing out the hypocrisy of an article that aspires itself to denounce hypocrisy). It also takes about 30 seconds to find direct counter-examples of American campus newspapers that are nothing but racist hate speech

I’ll also point out that nobody but their readership can “cut financing and shut them down” in the case of Charlie: it’s completely independent, has no ads, and is not part of a large corporation. Imagine that: really free press. Now that’s something you don’t see every day.

So is Charlie hate speech? Of course not, but if your knowledge of it is limited to a few of the most provocative covers that you’ve seen on the Internet, it may seem to be.

Charlie Hebdo is one of the last journals in a long tradition of lampooning, political caricature, irreverence, humanism, secularism, and freedom that goes all the way back to the French Revolution. If you go beyond the cover and look inside, you’ll find something a lot different from what Brooks describes: the articles are about raising awareness on social issues, about defending the defenseless, such as immigrants, and the homeless, about culture, about the struggles of the Third World, the environment, and generally about fighting oppression in all its forms. Most articles aren’t even funny ;)

The authors of those articles and drawings who died in the attack were not immature 13 year-olds trying to “stick a finger in the eye of authority” and who belong at the “kids’ table”. They were very smart, respected and beloved journalists and cartoonists whom people of my generation have seen on TV and read in newspapers since our childhood. We know they are all the kindest, funniest, and smartest folks. They were also resolutely at the “adults’ table”, even by Brooks’ standard that “you must read Le Monde or the establishment organs”: they were not just reading those, they were writing and drawing in them.

Cabu drew on Antenne 2 (French TV), in Paris-Match, Le Journal du Dimanche, France-Soir, Le Figaro, Le Figaro Littéraire, Le Nouvel Observateur, Le Monde, Politique Hebdo, Jours de France, and many more.

Wolinski has drawn in France-Soir, L’Humanité, Paris-Match. In 2005, Jacques Chirac gave him the Légion d’honneur, the highest decoraration in France.

Tignous was drawing in Marianne, and Charb in Télérama and l’Humanité. He even drew illustrations in Le Petit Larousse, the most popular French dictionary. Bernard Maris was a PhD-holding University Professor of economy and “agrégé” who wrote for Marianne, Le Nouvel Observateur, Le Figaro Magazine, Le Monde, and France Inter.

This puts the front pages that created such controversy under a much different light: those were not racist caricatures reminiscent of the darkest anti-Semitic propaganda of the second quarter of the twentieth century. Rather, they were funny, courageous, and deliberate, if provocative, pieces from well-respected and well-understood humanist authors who thought that one should be able to laugh of anything, that it was an essential part of Democracy.

There’s also this weird perception that Charlie was going after the Muslim minority. In reality, they were going after all fundamentalisms, not after communities. In fact, over the years they got 14 lawsuits from Catholic organizations, but only one from Muslims (and Charlie won them all). It’s also worth mentioning that they were able to gather 173,000 signatures against Front National, the extreme right French party that is the real voice against the Muslim community in France, and that attacked the journal several times with lawsuits. During the Mohammed caricature controversy however, the F.N. weirdly supported Charlie, for their own partisan reasons. “It’s hard to be appreciated by idiots”, indeed.

Wolinski said in an interview that what they were doing was in fact to treat Muslims like the adults they are, with whom it’s possible to joke and laugh. Fundamentalists, on the other hand, are like bratty children who can’t stand contradiction. Brats with guns. They are the criminals here, let’s not be confused about that, and they are attacking us all, by assassinating journalists and policemen. They’re the ones we shouldn’t allow at the grownups’ table.

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Discrimination by private businesses

Imperial Laundry Co. "We wash for white people only"I’ve been watching this video of Rachel Maddow interviewing Rand Paul about civil rights. Paul’s argument is that private businesses should be left free to discriminate, because Liberty. I think he’s profoundly wrong, here’s why.

Firstly, the argument that discrimination is a bad business decision is plain wrong. We may want it to be true, but there are places where it would actually be an excellent business decision. Just ask Chick-Fil-A.

Secondly, Paul repeatedly claims that racial segregation was a problem mostly in public institutions. While state discrimination was especially shocking, there is no shortage of legal cases showing that some business owners do shamelessly discriminate. To this day, ask any member of any minority, and they will tell you horror stories that happened to them personally, illustrating the reality of ordinary, everyday discrimination.

Thirdly, businesses have real power over people’s lives, a power that is highly asymmetrical. They can hire or fire, promote or demote, move abroad, destroy local economies, buy politicians, and they can refuse to provide their products and services. This great power however comes with very few counter-powers and responsibilities. As we’ve seen, public outrage does not constitute a credible deterrent for bigoted behavior, because there are more than enough bigoted customers to support bigoted businesses. If anything, those businesses are rewarded by the market. Additionally, if we were to listen to the likes of Rand Paul, the business world would be totally de-regulated. In his ideal, Libertarian word, the state is trivialized or non-existent, and as a consequence, the real power lies within the corporations, unchallenged, and free to discriminate. No, thanks.

“We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” Who do you think they mean?

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What if… small businesses could get out of the patent system?

The Monopoly patent was granted in 1935It should be pretty clear at this point that our patent system is broken. It’s been designed to foster innovation, but is nowadays stifling it. It’s supposed to protect inventors, but instead threatens innovators. Patent trolls are extorting billions of dollars from our top tech companies, and are threatening to do the same to small businesses and individuals. Meanwhile, big corporations amass enormous patent portfolios that they use as currency, with contents so vague that they can be used to attack their smaller competitors before they even start: if you want to start a small technological business today, don’t do a patent search: you are going to find patents broad enough to cover your innovation, and you may have to give up for fear of litigation that would kill you from the legal fees alone.

There is a lot of debate about fighting patent trolls. The solution is probably multiple. I may have an original idea however to protect small businesses, that are more innovative than large ones, and against which the balance is today grossly tipped.

What if companies below a certain size (that are not owned by companies above that size), could be exempt of any patent litigation at all? This would eliminate altogether the threat against small innovators and inventors.

But what about big corporations? Wouldn’t they be harmed by swarms of unfair parasites that would only be living off their innovations? That’s unlikely, as no small business can rival the firepower of larger companies. They cannot benefit from the same economies of scale, and they can’t advertise as well. To do well and survive, they will have to innovate on top of whatever invention they would have “borrowed”. They have no other choice. They will also have to move fast.

Such a model, of course, is very close to what open source businesses are already doing. The difference is that the very real threat of patent litigation would disappear. Many businesses ignore it and try to stay under the radar, or donate their intellectual property to foundations that act as legal lightning rods. They wouldn’t need to do that if such a proposal got applied.

What do you think? Is this even possible? Would it work?

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The outlaw and the sheriff

Click the image to open in full size.The little town in a remote corner of Arizona had been living in fear since Jim Coldhands and his band of outlaws had decided to stop here on their way to nowhere. They had taken the biggest house in town at gunpoint and were robbing the bank every week, leaving the townsfolk only the bare minimum to survive. They had the guns, and according to them, it was generous on their part to let anyone live. The sheriff was just as frightened as anybody else.

So what did the people do to make their lives a little easier? Why, they elected Jim as their new sheriff.

Don’t be those guys. Go out and vote against the bully.

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Elections are not democratic

AgoraIt’s becoming increasingly clear that our so-called democracies really are plutocracies and always have been. But, I hear you ask, aren’t elections the guarantee that we the people are getting represented properly? Of course not.

To get elected, you need to be a candidate. To be a candidate, you had to belong to a very specific category of individuals who actually desire power. It’s very easy to see how this can result in elected assemblies that are constituted exclusively of rich people: they are the ones who desire power and can afford to spend the money to get there. And like it or not, the rich are not necessarily the most caring of people. After all, how many of your own caring, decent low or middle-class friends want to become politicians? My bet, which coincides with my personal experience, is precisely zero.

How is that representative? Doesn’t this show clearly that elections result in precisely the opposite of democracy? More importantly, what would work better than that? Isn’t democracy the least bad of all systems?

Democracy means power by the people. Part of the problem is that we the people let that term get hijacked by a system that is anything but. When a system results in the exact opposite of representation, assemblies that are statistical aberrations with no correlation whatsoever with the general population, that cannot possibly be called a democracy. When the people in power are systematically the rich -elected or not- that is the definition of a plutocracy.

I understand that some are perfectly fine with a plutocracy, but can we at least call things by their names and stop pretending to live in a democracy?

So what would be a real democracy then, you may ask? Well, that’s easy, the Greek had it all figured out (except for the part about women and slaves of course, but come on it was 2,500 years ago).

The only truly democratic system is one where the assembly is not elected but randomly selected. Only chance can select a sample of the population that is truly representative.

Think about it.

More on this later. This text was inspired by a TEDx talk by Etienne Chouard, unfortunately in French, but nonetheless one of the most inspiring things I’ve heard in years.

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What religious freedom is not

Non-Separation of Church and StateThere is a growing culture of entitlement among religious people nowadays that we should not confuse with righteousness. More and more, we see politicians or bishops claiming that secular values are antagonistic to religious freedom. But what is religious freedom and why is it important?

In order to find out, I think it’s important to look at what it can’t be. What it can’t be, unless you have a taste for the perverse twisting of words, is religious tyranny.

Religious freedom is not a license to kill apostates (Qur`an 4:88-91). It is the freedom to become an apostate, convert or adopt any religion or lack thereof.

Religious freedom is not the freedom to discriminate. Even if your sacred texts tell you that white people are better than black people (2 Nephi 5:21), or that homosexuality is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10), you do not get to discriminate on sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Religious freedom does not mean you get to use public spaces and positions to promote your religion. Public spaces are for everyone and cannot be hijacked for the use of one creed at the exclusion of others. They must be inclusive, and for that they need to be neutral. Elected officials do not represent their church, they represent their constituents, all of them, including those who did not vote for them. Public office is not a tribune, it is a position of responsibility.

Religious freedom does not allow you to avoid your professional and legal responsibilities, even if your moral convictions tell you otherwise. If you are a healthcare professional, you are required to provide the treatments and procedures necessary to improve your patient’s health. In particular you cannot refuse to perform a life-saving procedure. If you feel your religious convictions are more important, maybe you should choose a different line of work, because you are a danger to your patients.

Religious freedom does not mean your ideas are free from criticism. Nobody would dream to penalize political criticism in our secular democracies. We are free to criticize conservatives and liberals freely. Why is it then that religious ideas get a free pass and those who criticize them are accused of intolerance? No, it is healthy that all ideas are open for debate, and criticism is not the same thing as intolerance.

Religious freedom, to generalize, is not the license to apply what’s dictated by sacred texts, over the secular rules of the state (Deuteronomy 4:2). If we are going to live together, there must be one law for all. Anything else creates categories of people, with different rights. It’s also untenable, as many religions exist, with as many contradictory demands. As they can’t be reconciled (they each claim to be absolute and unchangeable), you would need to choose one over the others, which is nothing short of theocracy. Our laws can only reach universality by relying on deeper principles than religious texts. Those principles come from reason, not arbitrary revelation (even if they occasionally align).

Religious freedom is a secular value. It means that you are free to believe as you like, with no intrusion from the state. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Blaming the victim

Blaming the victimA few days ago, French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo was fire-bombed. The decent part of French society condemned the terrorist attack and offered its help. Even Prime Minister François Fillon, who is politically diametrically opposed to the journal, had some nice words of support.

The picture should be very clear: we have on the one side a legitimate press organization doing its job, freely expressing opinions and thoughts. On the other hand, we have despicable terrorists who are trying to silence people through violence and fear. I for one stand with the press, against the terrorists. Sounds easy, right?

Well, apparently not. Some people got confused as to who the bad guys were. In an astounding move, a blogger at Time Magazine had these words for the journal:

do you stillthink the price you paid for printing an offensive, shameful, and singularly humor-deficient parody on the logic of “because we can” was so worthwhile? If so, good luck with those charcoal drawings your pages will now be featuring […]

not only are such Islamophobic antics futile and childish, but they also openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy.

How can someone who poses as a journalist even say that? What's this guy's problem? What are we supposed to do? Let the terrorists tell us how we should live and what we're allowed to say or not say? I usually avoid swearing on these pages, but the only thing I feel like saying is: "fuck you, Bruce Crumley, you are a disgrace to your profession."

I really can't stand this revolting habit of blaming the victim. In the same way that a woman has a right to dress any way she wants without legitimizing one bit a rapist's horrendous crime, a journalist has a right to publish any opinion he holds without legitimizing any form of violence against him.

Let's also not lose sight of what Charlie Hebdo was making fun of. The "attack" (graphic and verbal, which is different from physical violence by the way) was blasphemy, which is a victimless crime. It is a foundation of our societies that we respect people more than ideas. The ideas that people should submit to a tyrant in the sky, that you can never get out of his grip under penalty of death, that little girls should be mutilated lest they later enjoy sex, or that women are worth less than men, those ideas are revolting and deserve no respect. What they deserve is precisely what Charlie Hebdo delivered: ridicule and spite.

Speaking of which: http://www.jesusandmo.net/2011/11/09/law/

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Collaboration vs. Competition: why our Future is Open Source

Fig. 135Two Neanderthals need a bow and some arrows. Grrmt can build a bow in 5 hours and arrows in 4 hours. Aaaargl can build a bow in 2 hours and arrows in 3 hours. Thus, in order to build what they need, Grrmt will take 5+ 4 = 9 hours, and Aaaargl will take 2 + 3 = 5  hours. 14 hours total will be spent by the both of them.

Now what happens if our primitive friends talk to each other, specialize in what they do best, and trade? Something extraordinary. Aaaargl should have no interest doing that, as he's faster than Grrmt in everything, right? Right?

Wrong. If they each specialize on what they do best, Grrmt will have to build two sets of arrows in 8 hours, and Aaaargl will have to build two bows in 4 hours. Grrmt and Aaaargl both saved one hour. Both of them, even "faster at everything" Grrmt, because he was allowed to focus on what he's fastest at being faster.

If they compete, Grrmt and Aaaargl both lose. If they collaborate with each other, they both win. Competition can be detrimental to everyone? Who would have known? And this is without even taking into account that by specializing, one naturally gets better, and one can industrialize processes.

Of course, competition comes with its own dynamics of supply and demand that we've all been taught. But is competition really beneficial and stable? The supplier's interest is in the prices being as high as possible. He can achieve that by organizing scarcity. But how does he organize scarcity if he's competing in a free market? Why, by eliminating competition and becoming a monopoly of course... In other words, we have one agent in each transaction whose best interest is to eliminate competition, and the other whose interest is to maximize competition but that has practically no means of doing that, except for the collective control of governmental anti-trust laws. If left to evolve on its own, a competitive system spontaneously decays into the elimination of competition.

Every single year that I've attended the Microsoft company meeting, I've seen Ballmer jumping around the stage and getting borderline hysterical about being number one of this, becoming number one of that, and generally poo-poo-ing the competition. It's only natural: suppliers want to become monopolies, they want to control the market so that they can impose their prices.

Now look at a farmer's market. Do the cheese sellers there want to crush each other and dominate the world market of Gouda? Most of them don't, but they still do fine because they act locally, without excessive greed and in a collaborative environment. In this sense, it's not between the cathedral and the bazaar that there is a contention, it's between the bazaar and Wal-Mart.

One often talks about "competitive advantage". But there is also a collaborative advantage! Competition makes losers, that's inevitable, but collaboration makes it possible for everybody to win.

Open Source, by its very nature, is the ultimate collaborative mechanism. It eliminates competition, not by crushing it, but by replacing it with sharing and emulation. It makes sure that there is always a way out of monopolistic situations. It replaces the advantage of exclusive assets with the advantage of know-how.

Above all, it replaces top-down innovation with network innovation. What we are finding out is that many connected small structures are often better at innovating than a few big ones.

If Apple comes up with something brilliantly designed (as it often does), Microsoft's first reaction is fear, and then it is to move a few hundred engineers to the project of reproducing and improving on the idea, which usually takes at least two years, and gives mixed results. This is a reactive, sluggish and inefficient approach to innovation.

In Open Source, when a new innovation appears, it's never met with fear but rather with enthusiasm. Reactions vary from "wow, that's neat, and it solves my problem exactly, I'll just use it" to "wait a minute, that gives me a great idea". When an improvement is made, it's contributed back, and everybody wins. It's a much saner, productive and efficient way to innovate.

Of course, Open Source has its lot of problems, but it's nothing that good engineers can't work with.

It started with software, but it's spreading fast. The Maker and Open Source Hardware movement are another step, but we also see forms of crowd sourcing appearing everywhere in society: health, news, literature, encyclopedias, science have already jumped on that train. but I think there is another domain where this wind of freedom and collaboration must spread, and that is democracy. I don't expect that to appear first in the old Western democracies, but rather in all those countries that are awakening from the deep nightmare of dictatorship, and where everything remains to be invented.

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The Many Tribes Society

King DavidIf I told you that the emergence of blogs, Twitter and Facebook have changed our societies in more profound ways than we imagine, you’d be justified in telling me that I’m being neither original nor very pertinent. There is certainly something to be said about the amplification effect those services have on self-centeredness and gossip, and how those are sometimes more powerful than the few examples we have of new media spreading freedom, truth and democracy. Still, I think we are seeing the first signs of a profound revolution, one that is remodeling society in a way that is more in tune with our evolutionary origins. One where the notion of tribe makes a comeback, but with a couple of twists.

We all belong to many tribes.

I belong to a small tribe of French people living in the Pacific Northwest. That tribe is defined by geography, friendship and a shared cultural heritage.

I belong to a tribe of godless liberals. This one is also circumscribed by geographical proximity. It values debate, evidence and a certain willingness to show the finger to bigots and conservatives. It is brought closer together by what we perceive to be the radicalization of the USA towards religious conservatism.

I belong to the tribe of my family. This one is defined by genetics, not at all by geography. Common values are almost non-existent in this tribe, but still it exists.

I belong to the tribe that is building an open-source content management platform with Microsoft. Work, a commitment to open software and some ideas around software design are what keeps us together.

I belong to the tribe of people I follow and people who follow me on Twitter. The only thing these people have in common is... me.

This last example is troubling: the borders of this community are well-defined but still it seems fuzzy, because it is just one in a cloud of many millions of others like it. Nothing about it is particularly extraordinary or interesting: it is only valuable as a part of a complex network of similar entities.

To understand why this is new and worth noticing, we need to take ourselves back in time to the society of our parents or grandparents, the society of nations, the centralized hierarchical society. Every aspect of public life was then structured as a tree, with a supreme authority on top.  Government is most obviously an example of that. Whether our ancestors lived in a theocracy, a monarchy or a democracy, there was an authority on top, and everybody else spread in a pyramid of authority beneath it. Democracy’s saving grace is that it allows people on the bottom to choose who’s on top, but the structure remains essentially unchanged.

Hierarchical models are being challenged today by the idea that a network is more efficient that a pyramid. By the idea that talent, ideas and leadership can emerge from any point in the network and maybe also the thought that no authority should be permanent.

Beyond this, what interests me in blogs, Twitter and Facebook is that they leverage a powerful instinct of our kind: tribalism. Instead of bringing a small group of primates together around a dominant male and against neighboring tribes, like tribes of old were doing, they make us all the patriarchs and matriarchs of our own local tribe. In such a model, there are no frontiers, no wars to wage: the limits of your personal kingdom overlap those of everyone else’s around you. There is a continuum of tribes that now covers the world (or at least, the industrialized world).

That brings us to the second fundamental change: connectedness. Bacon’s six degrees of separation have become a cliché, but they are also outdated. They have very much become no degrees of separation. I can now have a direct connection –if one-directional– to all the living people that I admire. That rich connectedness is far from meaningless. In the same way that our brains use local and global connections to function, there is a fundamentally new society that can emerge from social networks that feature both local and global connections. It takes only a few hours for a brilliant idea to conquer the world today.

Think about that: a few centuries ago, when no global communication existed, an idea had to spread organically in concentric circles, and was often stopped by geographical constraints (seas, mountains), or political ones (frontiers, confessions). That’s a most inefficient system.

Then with the sort of global hierarchical societies that were characteristic of our more recent history, ideas had to make their way to the top from the branch where they emerged, before trickling down from there to the other branches. In this configuration the reach of your idea is determined by how far up you can take it. This model gives a disproportional amount of power to authorities, as they can whimsically stop anything in its tracks.

In a networked society, ideas start locally and spread globally. They seduce nearest neighbors first, then get picked up by more distant nodes that start spreading them in their own neighborhoods, and this repeats until it dies down or it has covered the whole world, which happens with exponential acceleration instead of a linear pace.

There is a selection mechanism at play here, that amplifies some signals and dampens down others. It’s not just dumb transmission of a signal, unchanged. The signal is modified and reformulated as it moves. When it’s factual news being communicated, that’s a problem (a.k.a. the grapevine). But when it’s a concept, a pure idea, something marvelous happens: the concept can be enriched by each person it transits through. It can adapt to new environments. That is an essential difference with, say, genetic information, for which the substrate is purely mechanical. Because the substrate of ideas is brains, they can get smarter as they gather the thinking power of hundreds along its path, instead of having to wait for random mutations.

This is why I don’t believe in the old concept of intellectual property anymore. What ideas we have we should share freely with our tribe. Think local. Don’t attempt to bastardize your thoughts by attempting to make them universal. Know you can count on the rest of the network to adopt the good ones, massage them and adapt them to their needs. For that to work, we need to let go of ownership and accept to give and receive. Open Source software and hardware is of course in perfect tune with this worldview. As is scientific thought.

Today you need to think locally if you are going to have global reach. Centralized, feudal systems are but the remnants of old societies that should lose pertinence over the next few decades.

Even democracy should reinvent itself to adapt to these lighter-weight and decentralized networks. Rules and decisions could one day be made within diffuse entities that bear little resemblance to the political structures of today that were determined in a large part by the arbitrary rules of geography.

That’s what I hope for.

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Of taste and right

Portrait of James MadisonWhen a Dutch cartoonist drew the prophet Muhammad, the world split between those who thought that was a serious crime that deserved death, and those who thought freedom of speech was more important than anybody’s susceptibility.

The cartoons in question might have been of poor taste, maybe. But taste is by definition subjective and shouldn’t be made into law.

Only in a theocracy is speech against Scripture repressed (by definition). Even if you pursued the bizarre claim that all speech against all sacred texts should be repressed, you wouldn’t go very far with it. Why? Because those texts are contradictory and exclusive. The Qur'an is explicitly saying that both Jews and Christians are wrong (for example Al-Baqarah 2:120). So just by being a Christian or a Jew, you are contradicting the Qur’an and expressing opinions that go against a sacred text. Before you think you can talk yourself out of this one by saying that as long as religious practice remains private that’s not a problem, also remember that all those texts also have extensive sections ordering their followers to proselyte (sometimes through the use of force).

In consequence, unless you want to live in a theocracy, you have to realize that prohibiting the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion is a necessity. This is not repression against religions. To the contrary, this is protecting religions against each other and guaranteeing that all religions can coexist.

Now if you’re a follower of the dominant religion in any country, you might be tempted nonetheless, thinking you’ll be fine. Well, first that’s not a very charitable position for those who aren’t, and it goes a long way to show your ideas of tolerance and social life. Second, any given religion is in reality split into a multitude of currents (especially here in the States). What makes you think it’s your particular current that will be in power? Given how the people who seize power in the name of a religion are rarely the moderates, aren’t you just a little afraid?

It should be obvious then that the reasonable position is that we should live in democracies rather than theocracies (I’m not mentioning other grotesque forms of power here) and that those democracies should guarantee freedom of speech, including against religion.

Given that, you may or may not find caricatures of a prophet distasteful, but that does not entitle you to anything. It is your problem and nobody else’s.

Now move this out of the religious sphere into the political sphere. Let’s talk about Wikileaks. That is another case where we should refrain from desiring laws that would prevent such leaks into the public sphere lest we want to live in a dictatorship where the government is judge and party. There is no fundamental difference between Wikileaks and a press outlet. In many ways, Wikileaks is one of the modern evolutions of the press, for good or bad. Freedom of the press is another fundamental promise and guarantee of democracy.

We may find Wikileaks revelations distasteful or irresponsible, but that does not entitle us to anything. It’s our problem and nobody else’s. What I do find in very poor taste are the threats of legal action for espionage or terrorism. In even poorer taste are calls for assassination.

Careful what you wish for...

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