Reflections on the attack on Charlie Hebdo

The attack on Charlie Hebdo and the deaths and injuries are horrific. 

Yet sometimes when something like this happens there are a few people who say that religious satire and sarcasm not should be published.  Some of these people want legal prohibitions; others do not want legal prohibitions but just want people to self-censor.

To those who say that religious satire and sarcasm not should be published my response is that on the contrary people should be able to heap ridicule, satire and sarcasm on religion.  And politics.  And which OS is better.   Anything. The point is that I have never seen a convincing argument that religion or any thing else should have a special status. 

My position is that through the criticism of ideas we improve both individually and as a species.  And that criticism can take the form of ponderous tomes written by philosophy professors or it can take the form of a satirical cartoon pointing out the absurdity of some idea.  But sometimes we hear the lament: what about the emotional grief that the cartoons caused to some people?  This position assumes that the emotional grief is caused by the cartoon.  Let me propose that the problem is caused in part by people committing so strongly to an idea that they think it is the most important idea in existance and that it defines them.  How tragic.  Tragic because as mentioned above criticism of ideas is a method of identify false, illogical and harmful ideas and if one abandons the criticism of ideas then they have abandoned reason and rationality in order to commit to some an idea that they will never fully test.

Consider a gardener who tends the garden to pull out the weeds; what I advocate is that each of us have a similar process of eliminating false, illogical and harmful ideas that each of us may have.  Is this easy?  No, it is hard.  Is it worth doing.  I certainly think so.

There are many book, essays, blogs and other tools.  One that I have often recommended to persons with an interest in philosophy is the book The Retreat to Commitment written by W. W. Bartley however be warned this is a dense book.  The position given in the book is that of Pan-Critical Rationalsim.  A more accessible summary of Pan-Critical Rationalism is at
written by my friend Max More.

So let us look a decade or two in the future; how do we avoid similar attacks on those who publish satire and sarcasm?  Perhaps each of us should practice cultivating our own mental garden of ideas and encourage others to do likewise.  And when it comes to criticism of ideas remember that satire and sarcasm are useful tools. And the master of any craft knows how to use all of the tools.