(I stole that off the Internet. Can’t take credit.)
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Who Looks Like Who(m)?
My latest Separated at Birth is a tribute to two things the Blonde One was entertained by: The Office and UFC 229.
Speaking of the Latter…
As you probably already know, McGregor lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229, after a contentious run-up that saw McGregor verbally berate Khabib’s honour, family, homeland, and possibly Khabib’s Muslim religion. (I say “possibly” because I actually don’t recall Conor having disparaged Islam, but I accept that he probably did so.)
After Khabib’s beatdown of Conor, a brawl ensued, initiated by Khabib leaping into the audience to attack Conor’s teammate Dillon Danis.
Later on, Khabib would comment, “You cannot talk about religions and nations. This for me is very important.”
Okay, I have something to say about this. First of all, I don’t care who started the brawl. Some will email me to show video footage of Conor throwing the first punch. That’s not relevant to this post. What is relevant is that Khabib has justified his action by saying that “you cannot talk about religions…”
This is a big deal. This is a freedom of expression issue. If we start to push back that very bright, solid line that defines one’s right to express oneself, then nothing less than liberal democracy itself is at risk.
Some years ago I expressed my position on this issue very poorly, in response to the 2006 Danish cartoon kerfuffle. You may recall that some cartoonists published cartoons mocking Islam, and were met with threats of violence in response. The 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks followed almost a decade later, stirred by the same action.
I wrote about the Danish cartoon controversy on Feb 23, 2006, in a post called “Buggery Makes Baby Jesus Cry.” I argued then that “the basic axiom of ethical behaviour [is that] we are ultimately ethically responsible for the reasonably forseeable consequences of our actions” and that the cartoonists were therefore ethically responsible for the threats that followed.
Some readers called me a “theocrat” for that post. Unfortunately, my commenting system has yet to recover the public comments from that previous version of my site, so you can’t (yet) read the spirited exchange(s) that erupted below the post. (Ah, I do miss the early frontier days of blogging, long before social media stole the debate fire.)
I don’t know if my position on these matters has moved much over the years; but I have come to understand the varying positions a bit more clearly. And frankly, these days I tend to side with the free speech absolutists more than with the “responsible speech” people. This elucidation of my position comes after I became a professor, and after social media has so sensitized and tribalized society such that I am personally feeling the fear of writing even slightly provocative content for public consumption. Several of my newspaper columns in very recent years have resulted in hate mail from all political corners.
“Free speech is not consequence-free speech” is the mantra of the activists. In 2006, it was shouted by people defending the right of Muslim extremists to threaten the Danish cartoonists. In 2018, it is the mantra of activists seeking to de-platform campus speakers who are politically Right of centre.
But what are those consequences? Vilification, mockery, social exclusion, marginalization, and infamy are all expected consequences of problematic free speech. It’s the risk we all voluntary assume when we step upon the soapbox. That’s what public engagement courage is all about, regardless of one’s political stripes.
Another possible consequence is that one’s employer might not wish to continue a relationship with someone whose public views are incendiary. I have a slight problem with this. But, overall, all of these listed consequences –from social impacts to losing one’s job– are well within the legal and acceptable social speech consequences deemed appropriate within a liberal democracy.
On a wider canvas, civil prosecution for libel and defamation are also acceptable consequences, as is criminal prosecution for speech that deliberately incites violence. That is why we have libel and defamation laws. (We also have anti-hate speech laws, which I have a problem with, as well: your comments about me are not more inflammatory or criminal just because you called me a racist name when making them. But I am flexible on this point, and I can see arguments in support of hate speech laws.)
It is entirely intellectually and philosophically consistent to be a free speech evangelist while simultaneously being vehemently opposed to libel and defamation. I passionately support your right to speak your opinion, however stridently I might disagree with it… but I do not support your “right” to tell demonstrable lies about individuals or events.
The consequences of free speech that are not acceptable are the ones that venture into criminal behaviour. This is the bright line that liberal democracy has deliberately drawn to keep the strong balance between individual rights and societal stability. After all, a completely free society is an unstable one; whereas an authoritarian society is implicitly stable. The magic of the Enlightenment was the discovery of a sweet zone that gives us maximum freedom without the burden of dangerous instability. And that magic was made possible because of rational, defensible bright lines that limit the most important freedoms.
An individual may say things that you find personally distasteful. Such a person is likely reprehensible and deserves mockery, disavowal, and marginalization. But the response to speech can never be physical assault. NEVER. Because therein lies collapse of the Enlightenment miracle.
We already have profound disincentives against honest speech. Social bias, peer pressure, media bias, and educational bias can all direct thought toward a particular ideological bent. It sometimes takes strength and courage to deviate from mainstream thought, to be an iconoclast. And iconoclasts are needed to serve as he vanguards of new thought; the captains of intellectual innovation often emerge from the ranks of iconoclasts. The checks and balances of a liberal democracy are such that the social penalties of mockery and marginalization are always present to discourage such iconoclastic expression.
And when iconoclasm in expression threatens to bleed over into truly reprehensible thought and action, we have criminal laws against such things as child pornography, libel, and calls for violence.
We do not need physical assault to further suppress iconoclasm. It’s an extreme step too far, and a solid footstep into the realm of mob rule, which is a short shuffle into authoritarianism.
This goes for offended religious zealots who threaten cartoonists with physical violence, and it goes for virtue-signalling Millennials who threaten to punch Nazis.
And it goes for Khabib Nurmagomedov, who needs to understand that Conor can insult his religion, and that the only socially permissible consequences of those insults are similarly verbal or even litigious in nature, never physical. (If only there was an opportunity for these two professional fighters to work out their differences in a physical manner, perhaps in a cage of some sort, with well defined rules and a referee. Hmm.)
As authoritarianism grows around the world, we must protect the core philosophies of our liberal democracy with renewed vigour. It’s a lot more fragile than many realize. We can deride the Conor McGregors of the world for being dishonourable and boorish. But we must never tolerate physical assault as a response to what amounts to mere words.
Last I Will Say About UFC 229
Dillon Danis, the dude Khabib attacked, posted this response to another fighter:
I don’t think he meant to write, “Let’s fight then fuck.” Or maybe he did. Might explain a few things.
Meanwhile Twitter user Bojan commented on the photo below, “When your child is being difficult after you shower him”
Bert & Ernie
Are Bert & Ernie gay? No, they’re puppets. Not everything has to be a thing. Some things are definitely not things. Some things are just puppets.
But then there’s this:
It’s Breakfast Time
Yep, still logging the meals. Here we go…
Oct 8. A bowl of cheerios with diced apples in almond milk; fried rice & beans, roasted potatoes, roasted tofu, curried channa, steamed carrots, broccoli, & cauliflower topped with cranberry sauce, a baked beet, all topped with pineapple slices (for the enzymes!)
Oct 10. A fruit and almond milk smoothie (made by the Blonde One); two lentil-quinoa veggie burgers topped with tomato slices, fried onion & garlic, two kinds of homemade pesto, and deeelicious mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables, also made by the Blonde One:
Okay, not gerbils. But I like saying “gerbils”. So… gerbils.
I had posted earlier about the debate between Chris Kresser and Joel Kahn, about whether eating meat is healthy or not. I had some thoughts about the very unscientific things being said by both men, but mostly by Kresser (the pro-meat guy). It turns out that I don’t have to write a detailed response, because a physician has taken it upon himself to upload a SEVEN HOUR analysis of the science that was presented:
Chris Masterjohn has a more digestible (heh heh… digestible) shorter analysis here:
That Is All
Until next time, Droogies.