Monday, February 06, 2006

About those cartoons...

Occasionally a subject hits the press that everybody who writes feels compelled to say something about it, and readers hungrily gobble up every word they write. There is a parallel here with Super Bowl Sunday, another faux-Event that upsets a social sense of balance in much the same way. Those of us who find sports and card games a monotonous waste of time know in advance that the weekend just past is one of those occasions it is best to remain quiet and let the moment pass.

This might be a good time to take a look at what writers carelessly refer to as "demonstrations," an undefined term used to describe anything from a couple of individuals with slogans on teeshirts, to rioting multitudes in angry mobs, and everything inbetween. Words such as demonstration, protest, response, and reaction, the language of reporting which sound benign, becomes instead part of the accellerant feeding the fire.

If we sift through the public equivalent of an orgy and trace this mob behavior to its origins, we find two easy to grasp realities. In a manner predating widespread literacy or the printing press, cartoons are used to express an idea. That is the first reality. The second reality is that others find that idea so offensive that they cannot bring themselves to ignore it.

We can argue about facts, truth or reality , but anything we say will be spin. Those of us in service jobs know well that the only reality you can take to the bank is what the customer thinks. It matters not what anyone said, did or intended. That is of no value if the customer perceives bad service. Smart operators know that if you get enough bad service reports you're finished. Perception is reality.

Oversimplification you say? I think not. It's no more an oversimplification than saying that drinking to excess will make you a bad driver. Or performing acrobatics without a safety net is dangerous. Now back to basics. I know what a demonstration is. Been there and done that.

I know that if someone stands outside a federal facility passing out leaflets, that is a demonstration. Even if nobody takes any flyers and the individual handing them out is ignored, a demonstration has occurred. For the demonstrator very little happened but sometimes a little is enough because a need is met, to feel better having brought an issue to public attention and taking a personal stand.

I also know that if two or more people are involved there is a leader. The more people there are the more leaders are involved. The concept of leaders and followers is nothing new. Ask any military commander, preacher, politician, or parent. It is fair to hold leadership accountable for the consequences of demonstrations. This is where the problem arises. In the same way that a backyard fire burning leaves can get out of control and destroy the house, demonstrations also get out of control and cause terrible consequences.

Intended consequences or unintended consequences?
Good question. But at this point we have left behind the sparks and started facing the real fire, a heated public debate about bigger issues than, in this case, cartoons.

In the same way that wars devolve into argument about who started it?, public arguments about tolerance are a smokescreen for more basic issues. Returning to the idea of perceptions it matters little what the cartoon artist intended. What counts is whether the perception is accurate. And this is where I step back from the issue.

It is plain to me that there are those on both sides of this phenomenon that want to fight. I don't mean argue, discuss, complain, reason, protest or demand an apology. I mean fight. Really fight, using fists, knives, bullets or bombs if necessary, either to whip enemies into submission or erase them entirely from the face of the earth. That is what the cartoon wars are becoming. And that is why I want nothing more to do with them. We have crossed the line separating leaders who want peace from those who want war.

In the same manner that leaders during the Cold War used brinksmanship to press their points, leaders in this post-911 world are allowing, indeed encouraging their constituencies to engage in much the same tactic en masse. Welcome to the Brave New World of Democracy.

This from The Lounsbury, who counsels politeness. When The Lounsbury advises politeness, you can be certain that politeness is in order.

Mechanically gunning for confrontation is an extremists’ game. Renouncing the right to say things about the Prophet Mohammed is caving – and should not be done – showing good manners* and intelligent discretion even in the face of stupidity is not caving, but rather fighting an intelligent fight. Certainly few of the moderate devout will desire to side with liberalism if liberalism appears to them to be about insisting on offending them without giving a reasonable pause and hearing.
The rest of his post is the most intelligent analysis I have found, complete with excellent links.

1 comment:

eerie said...

This from The Lounsbury, who counsels politeness. When The Lounsbury advises politeness, you can be certain that politeness is in order.

Oh dear, this is quite funny (and true).