Monday, January 12, 2015

Je Suis Charlie Hebdo

David Brooks’ fantastic column in the New York Times about the Charlie Hebdo attacks and political correctness on college campuses really got me thinking.  Of course resorting to violence in response to being offended is way beyond the pale. 

But Brooks’ point is also important.  Just how strongly do you support Charlie Hebdo’s right of free expression?  Even when it is offensive?  Even when it is insulting to a religion or ethnicity or gender or . . . ?  They offend everyone at some point.  Do you agree with Brooks’ when he says that we should apply this equally to controversial opinions of people who are coming to speak at your campus or workplace or church? 

My Take

Here is an example that I think you can use to test your commitment.  What do you think of the name of the Washington D.C. professional football team?  If you think it is offensive to Native Americans, what do you think should be done about it?  Nothing, because it represents freedom of expression?  Do you think we should each make an individual decision about whether to support the team, boycott their games, and buy their merchandise?  Do you think that the league should require that they change it?  Do you think the government should get involved in any way?

I ask in part because the U.S. Patent and Trademark office has canceled their trademark protection because it disparages Native Americans.  I find this to be a step too far.  It is OK for private citizens to take these kinds of steps, but when the government does it, I think it violates their freedom of expression. As I have said in this blog before, I am a strident believer in individual freedoms, at least when it comes to government action.  I personally would boycott any organization or person that is being offensive.  And I would recommend that action to any other private person or organization who will listen to me.  But not the government.  Stupidity and offensive expression should never be made illegal.

Your Turn

What do you think?  Do you think the government should get involved?