I’m getting organized to take Ian to his drum lessons, so here’s a quickie post. A diversity of pundits are talking about hate speech and when humor steps over the line.
In most societies, there’s the adults’ table and there’s the kids’ table. The people who read Le Monde or the establishment organs are at the adults’ table. The jesters, the holy fools and people like Ann Coulter and Bill Maher are at the kids’ table. They’re not granted complete respectability, but they are heard because in their unguided missile manner, they sometimes say necessary things that no one else is saying.
Healthy societies, in other words, don’t suppress speech, but they do grant different standing to different sorts of people. Wise and considerate scholars are heard with high respect. Satirists are heard with bemused semirespect. Racists and anti-Semites are heard through a filter of opprobrium and disrespect. People who want to be heard attentively have to earn it through their conduct.
Once the fight for free speech was conducted on the lofty terrain of high art. Now, perforce, it must be conducted on less exalted terrain — tasteless and sophomoric would-be humor.
And yet the fight is no less important, because the enemies of free expression today are adopting terrorist tactics to do battle with Western freedoms in an entirely novel and uniquely terrifying way.
To claim, as Tony Barber, the Europe editor of the Financial Times, did in an opinion pieceyesterday, that “some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo,” is to grasp the wrong end of the stick. One of the joys—more often than not, a joyful embarrassment—of a democracy is that it allows time and room for people who find the whole lark of maturing, whether in politics or in personal conduct, to be overrated.
(ack. out of time. more later.)