Provisionality, Offense, and Conviction September 27, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: blasphemy, Islam, mockery, offense, politics, sacred cows
I was just reading a short post by Tristan D. Vick about the difference between beliefs and assumptions, and it got me thinking about conviction and offense.
Last week, Ginny and I were talking about offense. I’m not easily offended, and we were talking about why that is. Part of the reason, I concluded, is that I don’t have many things I find to be sacred; I don’t have ideas which are beyond criticism, unavailable for investigation, or held with great conviction. I am bereft of sacred cows to tip over, or something.
My beliefs, accepted facts, and interpretations—in short my worldview—is tentative and provisional, just as Tristan says about his beliefs. Thus, it’s hard to find ways to offend me because it would imply that some harm is being done to me to challenge or question something I believe. Since I have already questioned my beliefs (ideally, anyway) on my own, someone else challenging them is redundant and not harmful. Thus and form of poking fun, mocking, or calling my ideas stupid or silly in itself cannot offend me. I can be annoyed by poor attempts at criticism, but I cannot be offended by things which are not held with conviction.
So when I see people in the streets of Benghazi, Egypt, or elsewhere protesting the insult to their religion, I have trouble sympathizing with the offense they take. I can’t sympathize with having a sacred belief which cannot be mocked, questioned, or even illustrated. I find the idea that offense is taken by such mild acts as making a shitty video, drawing a picture of some guy who is believed to be a prophet, or simply saying that a set of beliefs is silly or unjustified as, well, offensive.
That is, if there is anything sacred to me, it is the freedom of expression, thought, and therefore of criticism. My ideal that ideas are subject to analysis and discussion is an idea which I don’t think I could be convinced out of. I am convicted to the idea of freedom of expression, and so the only way to offend me would be to protest such freedoms based on an idea or set of ideas.
And for someone to point of an inconsistency here; to say that I should hold the ideal of freedom of expression provisionally, seems to commit the same error as those who try to criticize what is sometimes called scientism, but which I think is better thought of as consistency in application of skepticism. That is, there must be some ground upon which we found other ideas and conclusions. For example, if we don’t accept that our senses are capable of giving us reliable (although not infallible) information, we cannot claim certainty about anything. If we don’t have some methodological basis for testing ideas (such as skepticism/empiricism), then we cannot test the veracity of hypotheses with any reliability. If we do not allow free expression free reign to all subjects, then we have no real (legal) freedom to believe what we want, because it becomes to easy to allow bias to inform which ideas are given privilege.
But most importantly, the only means to question the idea of free expression is with free expression. It is a self-founding idea, or a meta-value.
Finding offense in criticism, whether of ideas you hold or which are held by others, is a sign of placing value on the wrong thing. There is no good reason to accommodate sets of ideas over the ability to question those ideas. The meta-value of our world, our species, and of all sentient beings should be the freedom of expression of all ideas. Privileging a set of ideas, even if those ideas are right, is absurd. True ideas will survive the light of criticism, and do not need sanctions to survive. The truth, as Kosh once said, points to itself.
I have no fear of my ideas being questioned, mocked, etc. If they are good ideas, they will survive. If they are bad ideas, they will be replaced by argumentation whether in the form of polite discussion or mockery. The question I have for people who are easily offended, for their own sake or the sake of others, is where your values are? You can be sympathetic with the hurt feelings people have about having their ideas mocked, but at the end of the day if their ideas cannot survive that mockery, or even polite questioning, then perhaps that sympathy needs to be understood to be about their feelings, not their ideas.
There is a point when we have to take responsibility for our ideas, rather than coddle them. Ideas are not people, and they cannot be injured. Ideas are either good (justified) or not (unjustified). And if you are hurt because your ideas are mocked, then you are either protecting an unjustified idea or one that does not need protection.
Just like gods (if they are to exist), ideas cannot be harmed by our criticism, mockery, or polite disagreement. There is no reason to protect such ideas or beings, except to protect the fact that they are bad ideas and free expression might expose such a weakness.
Oh! That explains it now, doesn’t it?