Irreverence In Support of Rationality (Hence, of Life)
February 15, 2008 by Paul McKeever
Arutz Sheva yesterday published a news story saying that Danish police had arrested three Muslim men suspected of plotting to murder Kurt Westergaard, who drew one of the 12 Muhammed cartoons to which enemies of reality, reason, self and consent responded with acts of violence in 2005. It said that 15 Danish newspapers, and one Swedish newspaper, had responded to the arrests by republishing the cartoon drawn by Westergaard (the famous bomb-in-a-turban cartoon). The Ayn Rand Institute’s Elan Journo is calling upon US newspapers to republish all 12 of the cartoons, as a statement that the USA opposes censorship.
In assessing that call to action, it is important to consider the nature and root cause of the violence in which some people engaged after the publication of the cartoons. That many Muslims found the Muhammed cartoons insulting, rather than funny, is perfectly understandable: the cartoons were a condemnation of the things that they consider to be values and virtues; things they revere. Similarly, the violent response of some Muslims to the mocking of Muhammed was founded, essentially, on their reverence for their beliefs.
In response to that reverence, many have claimed that, in a free society, “nothing is sacred”. However, that is an incorrect assessment. Moreover, the absence of censorship laws in a free society is not properly founded upon the notion that nothing is sacred, or that nothing should be revered.
A rational person might rightly show irreverence for the irrational, but it would be wrong for the rational person to mock or make light of his own values and virtues. A rational person, by implication, reveres reality, reason, self, and consent.
Consider for example that, during a question and answer period following a lecture in 1976 by Dr. Leonard Peikoff, author/philosopher Ayn Rand – an Atheist – stated that:
Humor is the denial of metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at. The classic example: you see a very snooty, very well dressed dowager walking down the street, and then she slips on a banana peel. … What’s funny about it? It’s the contrast of the woman’s pretensions to reality. She acted very grand, but reality undercut it with a plain banana peel. That’s the denial of the metaphysical validity or importance of the pretensions of that woman.
Therefore, humor is a destructive element – which is quite all right, but its value and its morality depend on what it is that you are laughing at. If what you are laughing at is the evil in the world (provided that you take it seriously, but occasionally you permit yourself to laugh at it), that’s fine. [To] laugh at that which is good, at heroes, at values, and above all at yourself [is] monstrous. … The worst evil that you can do, psychologically, is to laugh at yourself. That means spitting in your own face.”
It follows that, when it comes to calls for censorship or the punishment of “sacrilege”, it is wrongheaded for the opponent of such laws to respond by condemning reverence itself. A society full of individuals that revere nothing – hence, that value nothing – cannot become or continue to be free. Freedom requires the reverence of that which makes human life possible: rational thought and action.
When considering how to respond to the call for censorship and anti-sacrilege laws, one should start at the beginning, philosophically: at the level of metaphysics and epistemology. One must remain cognizant of the fact that no person can take direct control of any other person’s thought process, no matter how much force he has at his disposal; that nobody can be forced to revere anything, whether rational or irrational. The sovereignty of every individual’s thought process is the key fact not recognized by the irrational individuals who demand censorship; who demand laws against “sacrilege”. Their aim, ultimately, is to make others revere what they revere by means of coercive physical force; to somehow make others adopt irrational beliefs by making it difficult to physically express rational ones. They are demanding the impossible, and they need to realize it, for all of our sakes.
Therefore, it is important that the government of a free country, in response to such demands, stand on the side of rationality by recognizing the fact that it is irrational to try to make people revere anything by means of coercive physical force. Government takes that stand both when it refrains from censorship and when it defends every person from those who would use force to prevent the expression of any opinion, whether rational or irrational, reverent or irreverent.
However, it is not enough for government quietly to be on the side of rationality. That loyalty must be demonstrated from time to time if the governed are to recognize that their government stands on the side of the rationality upon which human life depends. When it comes to the issue of free speech, one of the most convincing demonstrations of a loyalty to rationality is a government’s response to irreverence. This implies the necessity, from time to time, of the governed putting government to the test in full public view by being irreverent.
Thus, to express my support of reality, of reason, and of human life and personal happiness; to condemn the alleged plot to murder Kurt Westergaard for his irreverence; to carry out my part in demonstrating that the Canadian government takes the side of rationality; I am answering Elan Journo’s call by republishing, in my blog, the twelve cartoons. To the same ends, I would encourage others to do the same or, in the alternative, to publish something that demonstrates an irreverence for that which someone else (anyone else, not just Muslims) reveres.