Friday, January 9, 2015

On Satire

There is a thought-provoking piece in The Guardian by Joe Sacco. It is intended to push us into understanding our relationship to satire - and the deliberate giving of offense. So I worked to understand.

The first thing that I understood is that satire is not an objective term. An examination by a physicist will not inform you of whether something is satirical or not. Like offensive, it is in the eye of the beholder. Then I understood that Mr. Sacco had made some very interesting points. So I decided that I would speak to them.

Copied from The Guardian's website, so that you may see what it is to which I am referring.
Though tweaking the noses of Muslims might be as permissible as it is now perceived to be dangerous, it has never struck me as anything other than a vapid way to use the pen.
It strikes me as vapid, too. And? What difference does that make? What I find to be vapid and others find to be gravely offensive still others find to be clever. It is not my place to judge. I must defend the vapid along with the wise. I am stuck defending those (and given that this is the United States, there are a fair number of them) who would use their freedom of speech to denigrate me - and some who would hope to inspire others to be their cat's paws for violence against me, because as vapid as I find it, it is the nature of the beast. The freedom to use the pen in the ways that strike me as clever, uplifting or useful is not the same as the freedom to use the pen.

Bad ideas are sometimes dangerous. But history has shown us the the power to decide which ideas are good or bad (or, inspiring or vapid) and to back that with force - legitimized or otherwise - is nearly always dangerous. People who have been charged with the protection of others almost always come to find that it is in the best interests of the protected that the interests of the protector come first - especially when the protected have few means of enforcing accountability.
And what is it about Muslims in this time and place that makes them unable to laugh of a mere image?

There is nothing about Moslems, apart from those things that are necessary to be Moslem, that does not exist in any other group. I know many non-Moslems who claim they would resort to murder - not only to avenge themselves against those they feel have wronged them, but to show others the price of wrong action. True, those who act in the name of Abrahamic religions often look forward to an eternity of the gratitude of a bloody-minded (but strangely lazy) deity and this undermines the fear of punishment that restrains others, but in the end, they all have chosen a path for themselves based on what they believe that others owe - either to themselves directly, or to the world around them.

When I learned to laugh off a mere image, it was because I came to the understanding that I am not owed anything. The positive (or neutral) impressions of others towards me are not my birthright. I am not entitled to be ignorant of either the possibility or the reality of others' negative opinions of me, nor am I entitled to preventing the spread of same to those who do not currently share them. This is not to say that the opinions of others do not have consequences for me. They do, and if history is any guide, they can be severe in the extreme. But attempting to control people's speech in the hope that I can expunge consequential thoughts is, and was, a fool's game, regardless of the enthusiasm with which I once played.

In the end, the freedom to offend, regardless of how vapid we may find it in practice, may be the only tool we have with which to end offense. Because offense is not in the intent of the offender, but in the reception of the offended. In spite of this, we may not find it valuable. That is our choice to make, and there is nothing that demands we not make it. However, as the saying goes, there are no solutions, only trade-offs. The question is not if we will pay, but only if we will find what we have purchased worthwhile.

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