How to Disagree

Yesterday, radio host Sheila Liaugminas made some comments on her show that  sounded to me like she was saying that the people who shot up Charlie Hebdo were in some ways just doing the same thing as, say, the people who protested Chick Fil A back in 2012.

Although I heard it on Irrelevant Radio, I have heard reports that similar comparisons had been made in other media outlets.  First I want to deal with the comments in a general way, and then make some observations specific to that case.

First of all there is absolutely no moral or logical equivalence between opposing an opinion and killing the holder of that opinion.  A basic premise of modern liberal democracies is freedom of speech and that (for the most part) “objectionable” speech is to be countered with more speech.  That is to say, anyone who was offended by Charlie Hebdo and their cartoons or articles were perfectly free to speak out against that.  In fact they were free to start their own magazine to express opinions counter to those.  Considering that Charlie Hebdo appears to be pretty far out to the left wing of politics and religion, I have to imagine that France has plenty of publications expressing an opposite point of view.  As well there should be.

Some people, such as Richard Dawkins, sometimes express the opinion that taking offense at something is “not a reason.”  That is to say it is not a logical premise.  Which is true as far as it goes.  But we have to recognize that being offended is a real psychological state and it does motivate people to do things.  But in modern society, merely being offended does not magically eliminate the free speech rights of the “offender.”  The “offended” do not have the right to eliminate the “offender.”  They only have the right to respond back with more speech.

Now, Liaugminas did go further and say that while the CEO of Chick Fil A was “just expressing his opinion in a nice way” (more on that in a minute)  that the protesters were trying to “take away his livelihood” by boycotting the company.  But I call BS on that argument as well.

Freedom of association is a basic right in modern democracies as well.  In this case, call it voting with your dollars (or francs) if you like.  Anyone who was offended by Charlie Hebdo was certainly free not to subscribe.  I would also say that they have the right not to patronize the news stands that carry the magazine or to not buy things from their advertisers.   When you sell things to the public, you are subject to public opinion, whether directly about the quality of your goods or services or indirectly in regards to almost any other opinion.  If the barrista at the local coffee engages in conversation that I don’t like, I can certainly get my coffee somewhere else.  For no other reason.  So, if people don’t like the politics of the people who run Chick Fil A, they are perfectly free to eat somewhere else.

But here is where I have to call BS on Liaugminas again.  The CEO wasn’t simply expressing an opinion “in a nice way.”   A foundation built on Chick Fil A money was actively funding groups opposing same sex marriage initiatives.  Which (as long as they follow IRS rules for charities) they are perfectly free to do.  But I am also perfectly free not to give them more money to fund a cause that I am opposed to by eating at their restaurants.  I can well imagine that if a “charitable” arm of a major corporation was funding organizations whose goal it was to deny Catholics the right to vote, surely RR would be up in arms about it and have a zillion shows on how horrible that is and how they should vote with their dollars to not fund something against their own interests.  And I would agree that they have the right to do that.

In fact, one of the advertisers on the station is a cell phone company that promises to spend their profits funding anti-abortion groups.  Which means the station is encouraging a “boycott” of other phone companies.  And I say power to them.  But in the same way, if my phone company is funding those same groups, I have every right to take my business elsewhere, for that or any other reason.

There is no sense in which the Charlie Hebdo murderers and the Chick Fil A boycotters are either logically or morally equivalent and Liaugminas should be ashamed to have said that.

Also on the same show was an writer by the name of George Weigel, who kept saying over and over that Europe’s philosophy of “Can’t we all just get along?” is a form of “nihilism.”  I am calling BS on that one as well.

First, I think we have to say that response of the French police in this case is actually pretty amazing.  They apparently found (and killed) the perpetrators the next day.  This is not handling terror with some kind of kid gloves, especially when religion is involved.  Laws were broken and they reacted, with great efficiency, I would add.

Because Europe is becoming more diverse they certainly have a number of issues in terms of balancing rights and responsibilities among the many groups there.  For example, in the wake of these terrorist attacks France is considering ways to increase the ability of police to anticipate and hopefully prevent such attacks, for example with increased wiretapping authorizations.  Even as they begin these discussions there are voices saying “don’t go to far, we don’t want to sacrifice too much freedom for security.”  Which of course is a valid concern.

With that being said, there is no evidence that the Europeans are just going to roll over to terrorists and militants and let them run roughshod.  This is a strawman argument and Dr. Weigel knows it.   Trying to balance rights, responsibilities and freedoms is certainly not “nihilism” as someone as accomplished as Dr. Weigel well knows.  I am sure secular Europe can figure out what to do to balance the threat of religious extremism versus the necessity of religious freedom without the Pope’s help.


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