Friday, January 09, 2015

DAVID BROOKS MAKES A CATEGORY ERROR

David Brooks misses the point:
The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.

Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.

Just look at all the people who have overreacted to campus micro-aggressions. The University of Illinois fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality. The University of Kansas suspended a professor for writing a harsh tweet against the N.R.A. Vanderbilt University derecognized a Christian group that insisted that it be led by Christians.

Americans may laud Charlie Hebdo for being brave enough to publish cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, but, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali is invited to campus, there are often calls to deny her a podium.
Yes, activists fight to block speeches by Ayaan Hirsi Ali on their campuses, but not only do they not try to kill her, they don't try to prevent her from speaking anywhere else. They don't try to prevent her from publishing. They don't (violently or nonviolently) threaten bookstores and online retailers that sell her books, or periodicals that publish her articles. (Why, here's Ali at the Daily Beast right now, not being silenced.) You can call it intolerance, but their message with regard to Ali is this: Not in our name. Not in our house. And that's the message of all the "micro-aggressions" on Brooks's list. That would be the message if a Charlie Hebdo were protested or denied funding as a college publication in America -- take it off campus, obtain your own funding, and you're free to publish.

And please note that Brooks looks at Charlie Hebdo and says, in effect, Not in my house:
... whatever you might have put on your Facebook page yesterday, it is inaccurate for most of us to claim, Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, or I Am Charlie Hebdo. Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in.

We might have started out that way. When you are 13, it seems daring and provocative to “├ępater la bourgeoisie,” to stick a finger in the eye of authority, to ridicule other people’s religious beliefs.

But after a while that seems puerile....

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....

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.
But people who are generally acknowledged as racists and anti-Semites aren't simply "heard through a filter of opprobrium and disrespect" -- they're denied certain outlets for their hate speech. The op-ed page of The New York Times doesn't publish David Duke. Is that censorship? Is that speech suppression? Does David Brooks think the Times op-ed page should publish David Duke?

If, as I assume, his answer is no, then he needs to understand that Ayaan Hirsi Ali's protesters feel about her the way all right-thinking people feel about Duke.

The problem with Brooks's argument is that he doesn't object to all public and private curtailments of speech -- he objects to just some of them. He needs to acknowledge that.

11 comments:

Roger said...

Dinesh D'Souza suis Charlie.

Victor said...

"...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. "

Poor Bobo.
He thinks he's one of the scholars.
But, too often, his columns put him in the satirist category - and, a poor satirist at best.

Palli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Never Ben Better said...

The man tries so hard to sound profound, but the more you deconstruct what he's saying, the less sense it makes, till at last you're left with a puddle of pretentious gibberish.

Palli said...

Oh really, he thinks adults don't "stick a finger in the eye of authority". Every time a republican somebody sends out a deliberately offensive racist cartoon, photoshopped image, tweet or email and is called out for it, the reply is always "It was only a joke." It is just an expression of "deliberately offensive humor freedom", right?

Aunt Snow said...

"Dinesh D'Souza suis est Charlie."

Otherwise, thumbs up, Roger.

Aunt Snow said...

Whooops, strikethrough not allowed.

ed waldo said...

"Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in."

True: His stuff isn't funny.

aimai said...

So: he doesn't know what "holy fool" means?

Yastreblyansky said...

aimai, I think it's partly a Brooksian confusion with Shakespearean fool--crazy court truth-teller) and partly the de-rigueur gesture of bothsiderism.

lowell said...

Mr. Brooks has a way of greatly simplifying things. Take the Howell case--the University of Illinois professor who supposedly was fired for explaining the "Roman Catholic view on homosexuality." Mr. Howell sent an email to all his students, supposedly to illustrate the utilitarian perspective, using sexuality as an example. Included in the email are comments such as these: "my physician has told me that these acts are deleterious to the health of one or both men" and "Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought, you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter." (In other words, "you should accept my views because I'm an expert."} There is also a statement that utilitarianism, because of its acceptance of "informed consent," would find a sex act between a man and a dog just as acceptable as between a man and another man. A friend of a student in his class complained about his comments on homosexuality. An academic review committee concluded that he should have been given due process in the case, but that there might be grounds for dismissal because of incompetence.