Time Heals All Wounds, And Then Kills the Patient
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Mon Sep 17 22:35:38 2012

In one ofthe philosophy things I still go to after the social-group cutbacks I've done (until I'm employed again I want to control costs), we had a discussion tonight about values and rules. It was a surprisingly contentious discussion on a number of points; it seems that Massimo (the philosophy prof who more-or-less runs the thing) and I come from a virtue ethics perspective, some others work from one of the other major flavours of ethics (Massimo identifies two: rule-based ethics and utilitarian ethics (of which various theories of ethical hedonism fall)). Perspectives on rule of law and rules in general turned out to be a formula for head-butting, but one of the latter topics we wandered onto is the role of shaming/mockery/criticism in communitarian theories of norms. Some people (whose positions, IMO, didn't seem very well-thought out despite being well-intentioned) expressed outright rejection of shaming or mockery in societal discourse; as my readers know, I believe shaming, mockery, and the like are essential parts of a mentally pluralist society, and that people should have thick skin, a sharp tongue, and the firm belief that a fair number of people disagree with them on any particular thing (religion, politics, whatever) and that there's no way to make everyone happy, so might as well express yourself freely/comfortably. I recently wrote about this in more detail on G+; really a particular application of this broad idea.

I am not quite an absolutist on free speech topics, but what convictions I have extend well beyond legal rights and into notions of decency; the Salman Rushdies, George Carlins, Frankie Boyles, Sarah Silvermans, and others who tell offensive jokes (even about rape, shoah, and other atrocities) are an essential part in keeping us sane and tolerant, and those strands of activism that would mark as hate-speech or unacceptable broad kinds of humour because of their concerns over marginalisation and the like are dragging society into illness in their will towards sterility. That's not what pluralism looks like, and it's not what responsible activism should look like. That doesn't mean we must like everything acceptable under pluralism; the recent anti-Islam screed was a hateful, stupid film from some Copts who decided to blame all of Islam for the faults of some of its worst practitioners. Still, just like Rush Limbaugh, we are better off with such speech, because the response is the illess, not the source. In a more ideal world, the muslims who were offended would just have been offended (at most), just as some Christians are still angry over "Piss Christ". Others just shrug, note the film as childish, and move on; they don't believe in a right to dignity and respect from every corner of society, because society is big and diverse, and any such obligation would be stifling and inappropriate. Tolerance and acceptance are the gold standard, not validation or respect.

Long after the west ceases to become so culturally and economically dominant, I hope both our and other cultures come to be pluralist and accepting of mockery/shaming/criticism of faiths, cultures, and individuals. It's the most important lesson western society has to teach; having a relatively independent press and highly distributed producers of cultural content helps with this, but the societal mores need to be suitable to allow this to begin with.