Posts Tagged ‘Freedom of Expression’

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition*

April 29, 2014

imagesIn the Spanish Inquisition, if your beliefs did not conform to religious orthodoxy, you would be tortured to change them; and failing that, burned alive. America is different and, being nonconformist myself, I cherish that difference. I’ve always felt free to express myself. Yet even America has its Inquisitors.

Brendan Eich was not tortured or burned alive for his beliefs. images-1Not quite. But a campaign by gay activists recently forced him out of his job as head of Mozilla. His crime? In 2008, he donated to California’s referendum against gay marriage.

Now, such censoriousness might arguably be defensible were the beliefs in question especially stupid and/or heinous. Holocaust denial, say. Though in my view even Holocaust deniers have a right to hold and express their ideas (and not be jailed, as has occurred in Europe).

However, in Eich’s case, the views at issue were not beyond the pale. In fact, at the time, his was the prevailing view. That referendum passed, remember. Yet now, to have supported it is deemed so atrocious that a man should lose his job over it? Have Eich’s persecutors lost their minds? What about the other 50+% of Californians who voted “yes”? Fire them all too? (Good thing there’s a secret ballot.)

Gay marriage is a just cause. But it’s sullied when its advocates pursue it by unjust means. You (and I) might think opponents are wrong, but theirs is not an illegitimate opinion to which they have no right.

Unknown-2Unfortunately the Eich episode isn’t some isolated aberration. It’s all too typical of the mentality of the so-called “progressive” left, which thoroughly contaminates their politics. While the left is all “free speech” and “freedom of expression” and “academic freedom,” what they really mean is freedom for them and them alone. The hypocrisy mirrors Putin’s – he’s all against outside interference in a country’s affairs – Russia’s affairs — but not Ukraine’s. (And all against Ukraine “killing their own people” – after Putin killed at least 25,000 Russian Chechens.) The left even has a magazine named Dissent! I guess opposing gay marriage doesn’t count as dissent. Or at least not the good kind.

Eich is, again, no aberration. Remember when Larry Summers speculated that women’s underrepresentation in math and sciences might be due to brain differences? Truthiness didn’t save him from Harvard’s feminist political correctness Inquisition, which ultimately booted him out of the school’s presidency. images-2And in campuses all across America, students and teachers are criminalized and booted out for violating “speech codes” that sacralize particular political orthodoxies. Is this what the 1960s campus “free speech” movement was for?

Of course, the right too demonizes opposing views. But there’s a real difference. You don’t see the right seeking to punish anyone for their opinions. At one time communists were jailed, but nobody would seriously suggest that now. Indeed, for all the liberal alarm about the religious right and putatively looming theocracy, nobody – nobody – would seriously suggest punishing atheists! Only the left is into punishing dissent.

Why? Why is the left so gosh-darn intolerant? Because they are imbued with hypermoralism? Seeing politics as a morality play, with diverging views not just mistaken but evil? There is certainly a lot of that. Yet that’s true on the right as well, but, again, the right doesn’t generally seek actual suppression, and indeed punishment, of opposing opinions. Maybe the difference is that the right doesn’t imagine for a moment they could get away with it; whereas the left, certain of its monopoly on virtue and posturing on the high horse of a tolerance ethic, can get away with the worst intolerance. Sanctifying nonjudgmentalism, they are the most judgmental of people. And don’t forget McCarthyism and blacklisting — people persecuted, and kept from working, due to their political beliefs. The left still lionizes those victims and loves to cry “McCarthyism!” Yet isn’t the Eich story perfect McCarthyism?

The howling contradiction between the left’s professed ethos and its actual behavior seems baffling.

Then again, so many policies embraced by the left are likewise grounded in curbing other people’s freedom. Unknown-3Progressives seem to have an Orwellian understanding of the word. (They certainly have down pat 1984’s concept of “thought crime.”) And how about their excusing the rottenest human rights abuses by monsters like Castro or Chavez? But cynicism is a hallmark of left thinking too.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer recently addressed the whole Citizens United money-in-politics issue. There’s irresolvable tension between the undeniably corrupting effect political money can have, and the idea that in a free country government has no business regulating political participation at all (which always really amounts to incumbent protection). Krauthammer saw the ideal answer as full disclosure of political contributions and spending. But then he noted how disclosing Eich’s referendum donation resulted in the man’s persecution, ruining his life. Krauthammer therefore concluded that his full disclosure solution to the campaign finance conundrum is – as often happens – ruined by zealots. People should feel free to make political donations without expecting the Spanish (or American) Inquisition.

Here yet again we see the scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners style of partisanship poisoning our body politic.

Unknown-1Jefferson said that the best response to bad ideas is not suppression, but better ideas. Nobody should expect the Spanish Inquisition, and punishment for their beliefs. In general I see people whose views differ from mine as being wrong, but not evil. These are the precepts of a genuinely free and good society. But undermining those crucial precepts – as happened in the Eich case – may be not just wrong but evil.

*For my younger readers, the reference is to a famous Monty Python skit. In a conversation, one guy being questioned a bit closely blurts out, “Well, I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition!” At that, a bunch of red-robed churchmen suddenly materializes, intoning “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

UPDATE NOTE: The comments by “Rob” illustrate exactly what I’m talking about regarding the left-wing mind and freedom of speech. Worth a look; really frightening.

“Muslim Rage” and Enlightenment Values

September 22, 2012

Someone just commented on my 2008 post, The Enlightenment and its Critics, calling me arrogant for saying (“Western”) Enlightenment values are good for other, very different societies. This is a standard multi-culti trope, denying progress. But what’s really arrogant is believing enlightened Western values are good only for us enlightened Westerners, and not for those other benighted brown-skinned people over there.

So call me arrogant, but I do say Muslim societies would be better – for the Muslims in them – if they were more like ours. All this “Muslim Rage” happens because their existing social constructs aren’t working for them the way ours do. Europeans and Americans don’t burn embassies, basically because we lead more satisfying lives and aren’t so insecure that we feel humiliated or threatened by some stupid You-Tube video or cartoons. The violent response of Muslims who feel “dissed” mirrors that of the young street tough who feels dissed. Both are powerless nobodies and know it, defending their honor because, from their perspective, that’s all they’ve got. People whose place in the sun is secure don’t behave that way. (And, of course, nothing degrades Muslims as much as crazy violence.)

It’s no coincidence that Western nations, with “Western” values, are far richer not only materially but intellectually and socially than most Muslim societies, backward in every respect. It’s because they haven’t yet gotten “Western” values – like democracy, openness, competition, rule of law, pluralism – and freedom of expression.

These are what historian Niall Ferguson calls the “killer apps” of Western civilization, that have made us so phenomenally successful in providing good lives for most of our people. Some Muslims act as though it would pay for them to be protected against the insults coming from free expression. It would not. Freedom from insult carries a very high price, in intellectual stagnation. An open market in ideas is a key factor propelling the West to so much progress and human betterment than less open, and less open-minded, Muslim societies. I love living in the kind of dynamic society where my beliefs are insulted every day.

But Muslims are not doomed to forever stew in their self-emasculating backwardness. Western society was not born with our killer apps pre-installed. We had a long road groping our way toward them, with some stumbles along the way, like the odd world war. Only lately have we finally gotten into the groove. Muslim societies aren’t there yet, but they’re not congenitally handicapped; they’re on the road too, if only farther back. We were not straitjacketed by our feudal past, nor are they eternally stuck in their dysfunctional present. Societies change; and, in the grand sweep of history, for the better.

 In fact, in just the last few years, some Muslim societies have made a lot of progress. Tunisia had elections, won by secularists. So has Libya; and thousands there, bless them, have marched against Islamic extremism. In Egypt, an elected president is pushing back against the army. And the embassy burners are, after all, small minorities. They are yesterday’s men, fighting against a tomorrow they cannot stop – because even most Muslims realize that “Western” values are human values.