Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.

Freedom's Fidelity

Thursday, February 09, 2006

More Cartoon Talk

Not much time for me to comment today, so I'll (mostly) just link. Ain't the blogosphere great?

In Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton's character Dr. Malcolm often speaks of chaos theory, Crichton touches on that concept in this speech: (via Belmont)
We live in a world of complex systems. The environment is a complex system. The government is a complex system. Financial markets are complex systems. The human mind is a complex system---most minds, at least. By a complex system I mean one in which the elements of the system interact among themselves, such that any modification we make to the system will produce results that we cannot predict in advance.

Furthermore, a complex system demonstrates sensitivity to initial conditions. You can get one result on one day, but the identical interaction the next day may yield a different result. We cannot know with certainty how the system will respond. Third, when we interact with a complex system, we may provoke downstream consequences that emerge weeks or even years later. We must always be watchful for delayed and untoward consequences.

Surely the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, could not have predicted the consequences that publishing these cartoons last September would lead to an international incident this February. And surely the Islamists would not have predicted that, in the face of violent reaction, that this time the politically correct Europeans would show solidarity and refuse to be intimidated in the name of free expression. And surely I would have never guessed that Eric Zorn, a Chicago Tribune columnist who is talented but with whom I rarely agree, would have penned one of the most lucid commentaries on this whole issue. Zorn disagrees with the Chi Trib's decision to not publish the cartoons. I'll quote at length:

But some of the drawings make a point in exactly the same way that any good editorial cartoon makes a point, and they have a grown-up, even sophisticated purpose: to challenge those who use intimidation to block free expression and those who find in their religious texts justification for mass murder. Specifically, Jyllands-Posten commissioned the cartoons to make a defiant statement after learning that several Danish artists had refused to illustrate a children's book about Muhammad because they feared reprisals from Muslims who consider images of their prophet blasphemous.

...The flag says freedom, real freedom, is more than just voting and dipping your finger in purple ink. It's messier and harder than that. It requires giving the same liberty and license you demand for yourself to those whose views offend you. It requires putting away your torches, setting down your rocks and bottles and fighting ideas with ideas, words with words, art with art.

It says if you aren't regularly offended, insulted, provoked or angered by something you read, see or hear, then either you're not paying attention or you live in a repressive society.

It says freedom of thought is meaningless without freedom of expression.

It says freedom of expression is meaningless without a guarantee of safety.

It says that if this ongoing bloody unrest represents, as some have said, evidence of a profound, international clash of cultures, then you know which side I'm on.

I'm on the side that says if your good ideas can't peacefully win out over my bad ideas, maybe your ideas aren't so good.

I'm on the side that says that any belief worth having--be it love of a country, a deity, an ideology or a person--must be strong enough to absorb criticism and impervious to mockery.

Are you on my side?

If so, you will repudiate the words "The right to freedom of thought and expression cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers" that came from the Vatican last week.

If so, you will join me in pointing out the hypocrisy of European nations that are decrying the totalitarian impulse of Muslims while simultaneously enforcing laws that make it a crime to downplay the Holocaust.

If so, you will recognize in proposed flag-protection amendments to the U.S. Constitution the same repressive impulse and obsession with symbolism that is inspiring the cartoon riots.

In a strange way, I've always thought that the image of a person burning the US flag on US soil, while NOT being led away in handcuffs is actually a greater symbol of free expression than the flag itself. No matter how hateful, no matter how offensive, speech and expression must never be suppressed by the government. In a free society, the market place of ideas will naturally draw to good ideas and marginalize the stupid, the dense and the hateful.
You can read comments to Zorn's column here, I encourage you to tell him what you think, I have.


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