Friday, March 03, 2006

Kind of Standing for Some Stuff

Okay, so this amuses me in a rather cruel way. I support the pro-Enlightenment side of the cartoon riot "clash of civilizations" crapola. Sorry. Theocrats make me itch. And free speech is fine with me. But, maybe we need to be a bit more committed, eh? Look at the first picture of people rioting against the Denmark in their minds that published dirty cartoons to defame the prophet. Do they look committed to you? A pretty high level of anger, right? Pretty much ready to die to prevent cartoons from proliferating. Now, look at the pro-Denmark, free speech, et cetera side of the fence...

Jeezus! Could they be more lukewarm?! They look like they're all thinking, "Boy! I hope this thing doesn't go too long! I've got pilates tonight!" Like they all want to be somewhere else. That's our whole attitude: "Western Civilization: We Kind of Stand for Some Stuff..." I imagine the woman with the sign is hoping The New Yorker will run an article on this huge protest, and the guy behind her is thinking: "I think this has something to do with Denmark, right? I hope I'm not at some gay thing..." and the yuppie to the far right (natch) is thinking "Dittos! Mega dittos! I'm calling Rush right away!" The older couple is just hoping there will be coffee for the crowd and the tall kid in the back is thinking, "Crap! There's no way I'm getting extra credit for this!"

What was the Warner Herzog line about grizzly bears? "I look at them and I only see a bored half-interest in food." That's us, isn't it? At the top of the globalized food chain with a bored half-interest in whatever it is that we hold dear.


Hiromi said...

Are you picking up on my subliminal thoughts?

I *know* I'm romanticizing poverty and developing nations here, but when I went to Cambodia, I saw horrible poverty and corruption, but the people's eyes were bright, for want of a better word. They cared about what happened to them.

I went back to Japan and the U.S. and saw bored, dead eyes.

We're so numbed by our prosperity that we have nothing to fight for or be passionate about. I have a photo of that Chinese man standing alone in front of a line of tanks going to Tianemen Square as my wallpaper on my computer. It still has the power to make me tear up.

Rufus said...

I'm currently reading "Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650- 1750" by Jonathan I. Israel, and I'm struck by how much I admire the values that modern liberal democracies are actually founded on- freedom of expression, inborn human equality, sexual freedom, law only as a protector of rights, religious toleration, but a secular public sphere, gender equality and the deep value of human reason. Whether or not most democracies have reached these goals, they still remain worthwhile values to ascribe to.

However, I'm not really sure that the people who are defending those values really care about these freedoms as much as they do about holding onto power for themselves. So, if you defend the Enlightenment, it's easy to oppose the religious fascists over there, but hard to support the authoritarians at home. Also, of course, it's hard to get excited about a "war" against an enemy that never had a chance against us anyway. Sorry, but I'm not scared of the Big Bad bin Werewolf, and I'm increasingly embarassed for people who are.

I think we're never going to be conquered by the fanatics and terrorists, but may well lose the precious gifts of the philosophes simply because we don't really care enough about them, or even see them as values. We're just spectators in this sort of assisted living society, and perhaps we need to stop hating ourselves for that and do something to change it.

Hiromi said...

What's funny then and now is that those liberal principles are supposed to be universal. Nevertheless, there has been constant struggle for centuries to exclude people. What's the biggest fear of people born with privilege? That others might take away, or lessen, their privilege. And what about the oppressed? Do they want to ensure the universality of those prinicples? No, they want to join the circle of those who hold power.

It's human nature, and it's discouraging. We Americans are supposed to believe in the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but does this include poor immigrants? HELL no.

The Pagan Temple said...

I think I've noticed something about these and a lot of other Muslim protests, and riots. The next time you see a film, especially,of one, look and see if you can't pick out at least one of these idiots smiling gleefully, if only for a split second, sometimes actually seeming to try to keep from busting out laughing. Some of these people are actualy enjoying htemselves, I tell you. Probably more of them are than you can actualy tell.

I've always believed these protests were coordinated, managed. Probably planned well in advance of the actual event. And there wil probably be more, just give it time. And with each successive one, the intensity will be greater.

Rufus said...

Pagan: They really do seem to be coordinated in advance. It also seems weird how selective the anger is. Cartoonists can't draw the prophet, but South Park can? Also, why exactly do non-Muslims in a non-Muslim country have to follow Islamic law anyway? It's not like the Jews are firebombing bar-b-que restaraunts for serving pork.

As for the glee, I think that if you have a riot for any reason, there will be some people who will show up just to burn things. There also seems to be a percentage of the population that are just sociopaths. People like Hitler or bin Laden of Manson appeal to them because they give them a "sign" that enables them to delight in destroying things.

Hiromi: The real common thing to do when we teach the Enlightenment ideas is to say, wryly: "Well, they believed in equality for all people, but they didn't apply that to women or slaves, eh?" But, I always worry that the students will think that we're criticizing the ideal itself! I usually quote Shakespeare's line about nothing straight being made from such crooked timber, and hope they get the point.

Personally, I think that equality and enlightenment are much better goals than Sharia law or the divine rule of kings, or some other such shit, and figure we just need to keep on pushing forward in our own way against those who would push backwards.

What scares me most is how many people want to be freed from history, and so the human context. "9/11 changed everything!" Well, no it didn't, and you should never trust anyone who says that all bets are off. Chances are, they want to do something unthinkable.