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The Freedom To Be Insulted
Salman Rushdie, in the face of an increasing presence of funda-nutters, in our own country and around the world, warns that the battle of The Enlightenment is in danger of being unwon:

The idea that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted, have the right to call on the law to defend them against being offended or insulted, is absurd. In the end a fundamental decision needs to be made: do we want to live in a free society or not? Democracy is not a tea party where people sit around making polite conversation. In democracies people get extremely upset with each other. They argue vehemently against each other's positions. (But they don't shoot.)

At Cambridge I was taught a laudable method of argument: you never personalise, but you have absolutely no respect for people's opinions. You are never rude to the person, but you can be savagely rude about what the person thinks. That seems to me a crucial distinction: people must be protected from discrimination by virtue of their race, but you cannot ring-fence their ideas. The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it's a belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.

Posted by aalkon at February 12, 2005 8:32 AM


I happen to like ass candy, JP, and I have much better battles to fight and risks to take than wrestling sneakers with TSA workers. (So many difficult men to date, so little time!) Rushdie's making a terrific point here, but I think someone needs to float the word "dialogue" in his general direction. Rigorous conversations (and bad dates) are not necessarily about opposing positions and win/lose odds.

Crid said something interesting about the slings and arrows of communication between grown-ups a couple of months back, topped off with a Hitchens quote. I'll leave you with Miss Didion:

"People who respect themselves are willing to accept the risk that the Indians will be hostile, that the venture will go bankrupt, that the liaison may not turn out to be one in which 'every day is a holiday because you're married to me.' They are willing to invest something of themselves; they may not play at all, but when they do play, they know the odds."

PS: I miss you, Crid. Please come back. I promise we'll talk about the Iraqi election with you!

Posted by: Lena and the Upward Chin at February 12, 2005 11:34 AM

The candy ass culture that personalizes free and liberal discourse is the same one voluntarily surrendering its shoes to the brain dead airport screeners and willingly handing over its library reading list to Homeland Security.

Their insecurity and lack of self esteem make them perfect targets for both terrorists and autocrats.

Life is not risk free, certainly not a life lived in a liberal society. Get over it, or get thee to a nunnery.

Posted by: JP at February 12, 2005 4:59 PM


Who said anything about wrestling with the TSA workers? I used the word "voluntarily" because I've witnessed people removing their shoes despite no such request from security personnel.


Posted by: JP at February 13, 2005 12:17 AM

I believe they're voluntarily bowing out of having somebody peer up their ass with a flashlight.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 13, 2005 12:32 AM

Flashlights and assholes, now your talkin' wrasslin'!!!

Posted by: JP at February 13, 2005 9:17 AM

If the word "asshole" is being used in the anatomical sense, I'll fashion my response to the flashlight after the provocations of President Bush: "Bring it on!"

Posted by: Lena-doodle-doo at February 14, 2005 8:27 AM

Hello, I love the Rushdie quote. It's good technique. OVer the weekend I had a sort political slamdown with a guy at work using precisely that style. After he calmed down for twenty minutes he seemed to be a little bit persuaded, which is all you can hope for.

Also, I like Rushdie because his latest wife is a cupcake, to wit:



It is GOOD to be one of the premier novelists of your generation.

Posted by: Crid at February 14, 2005 11:16 AM

I once tried to read "Midnight's Children" and found it almost as tiresome as Joyce's "Ulysses" (I'm so glad I got THAT one behind me during my wasted and pretentious adolescence). "Lesbian Cell Block Heat" is much more my literary speed these days.

Posted by: Lena Spillane and the Dead End Blondes at February 14, 2005 6:26 PM

May I bitch and moan about one more thing? I'm really getting tired of people linking the origins of their opinions to The Enlightenment. Blah-de-dah!

Posted by: Lena Diderot and the Defenders of Liberty, etc, etc at February 14, 2005 6:31 PM

Flashlights? I was looking for the comments on the Fleshlights. 'Scuse me....

Lena, when you bitch and moan it takes on a whole 'nother level of meaning. Gotta be grammy category for that somewhere in those hundreds of others. Damn, you make me laugh.

Posted by: allan at February 15, 2005 10:02 PM

Thanks, Allan! I live to make people laugh, even if it's at my expense.

Posted by: Lena-doodle-doo at February 16, 2005 10:14 PM

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