Thursday, January 08, 2015

Charlie Hebdo

A couple of interesting responses to the Charlie Hebdo shooting. I don't agree with all of what they say, but they're worth reading, if only as an anodyne to the sanctimonious hand-wringing.

An open letter to 99.99% of American editorial cartoonists:
What is not justified, or rather, what is not earned, is how many of you are comparing yourselves to the slain cartoonists based, it seems, on nothing more than the fact that you are in the same line of work as them.

On Charlie Hebdo:
[T]here is already an enormous pressure, in this context, to defend Charlie Hebdo as a forceful exponent of “Western values,” or in some cases even as a brilliantly radical bastion of left-wing anti-clericalism. . . .

[But] irrespective of whatever else it does, and whatever valid comment it makes — the way in which that publication represents Islam is racist. . . .

No, the offices of Charlie Hebdo should not be raided by gun-wielding murderers. No, journalists are not legitimate targets for killing. But no, we also shouldn’t line up with the inevitable statist backlash against Muslims, or the ideological charge to defend a fetishized, racialized “secularism,” or concede to the blackmail which forces us into solidarity with a racist institution.

In the forward (?) to his book Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut compares writing an anti-war book to writing an anti-glacier book. The comparison is apt: people have been slaughtering each other in retail, wholesale, and industrial quantities since the beginning of recorded history. And it's always at best just "regrettable" or "unfortunate" when people are dishing out the hurt, but everyone gets seriously bent out of shape when they're on the receiving end. We've been dishing out the hurt in the Middle East and South Asia; now we're all shocked that we're getting some back. I suppose that's just how people are. C'est la vie.

I think it's almost always a mistake to assign blame. Whom do we blame, the provocation or the disproportionate response? My training in business and engineering was, "Fix the problem, not the blame." When, for example, someone shoots his or her spouse, I think it's a mistake to blame the shooter; I ask why we have a society where people let resentment build up to murderous intensity rather than just separate. And with Charlie Hebdo, I ask, why do we have a society and international relations such that people think killing cartoonists is a Good Idea?

Almost all social problems are structural. Either they're just people acting economically efficiently, e.g. a social structure where thousands of drug murders really is economically efficient, or they're a structural failure to provide humane medical treatment for people with mental illness. I mean seriously: we can fly thousands of enormous, complicated aircraft five miles up in the sky for a trillion passenger miles for years without killing a single person. Our political problems are not technical.

This is the society that we want, that we ourselves have built. We built it the way we did because we want power more than peace. If we don't like it, only we can fix it.

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