Friday, January 23, 2015

That Obnoxious Cartoon

Whatever you say, Skippy.

The above cartoon was drawn by Randall Munroe as part of his xkcd webcomic. And it has been spread around for almost a year now by those who get their kicks trying to prevent, silence or punish people for expressing ideas they don't like--by any means necessary except (as the cartoon helpfully points out) via arrest by government authorities.

Interestingly, the cartoon seems to leave open the possibility that it's okay for the government to, say, selectively audit your tax returns.

But isn't frequently exercising your right to yell at people, boycott them, "cancel" them, ban them, call them "A*holes" and kick them out the door if you don't like them or their opinions, part of what a free society is all about?

No. It's what an intolerant society is all about.

Let's call these people, being scrupulously fair and charitable as always, the brown shirts. Now, the brown shirts have discovered that you don't need government to shut people up. You don't even have to be part of a majority. Indeed, while the bullying tactics of the brown shirts are often used against people with minority viewpoints--or at least minority viewpoints within certain communities--even this is not a requirement. You (as a brown shirt) can be in the minority but be better at shouting, or have fewer compunctions about, say, politicizing everything or lying about your opponents, or just have more energy and staying power (for whatever reason) than your enemies, and that will good enough to win.

The choice of the term "brown shirts" is intentional. Germany in the 1920's had many competing political groups--including the Nazi's--all of whom had only minority support. But the strategy of the Nazis, fronted by the thuggish Sturmtruppen or brown shirts, was to win by bullying, which in turn created the illusion that they were bigger or more powerful than they really were--that their victory was inevitable and that their opponents were on the wrong side of history. (To be fair, that was the strategy of the Communists too but the Nazis were better at it.) Of course, the successful application of this strategy caused the illusion to become reality. They might not be in power now but it looks like things might be headed in that direction. How can one man stop that? And why should I stick my neck out? Better just to lie low and see what happens.

Paradoxically, however, the Nazi strategy also depended on people not taking the threat seriously. Those brown shirts are losers and Hitler's a clown. Everyone knows that. Sure, they're beating people up in a few cases. That's too bad. But that's as far as it will go and rational heads will sooner or later prevail. They always do. I'll lie low until things get better.

I wouldn't be surprised if some people at the time held both views simultaneously. The human mind will do all sorts of things to rationalize taking the easy way out. And when I say, "easy way out" I'm not necessarily being critical. Who wants to risk getting their head bashed in.

These days, you don't get your head bashed in. But you might be blacklisted in various communities, including perhaps your own industry or field, as someone who engages in "hate speech".

Unless you're in Europe and offend Muslim sensibilities. In which case...well, you know.

It really is an obnoxious cartoon, promulgated by smirking bullies and thugs.

But in a sense we shouldn't give them that much credit. They're also, for lack of a better term, wimpy-men. They call you a "bigot" ten times. You call them a "bigot" once (fair is fair). And now they want to report you to Google.

In my own case, a few days ago, someone threatened to report me to "international authorities". He claimed to be an anarchist.

What to do?

A friend of mine suggested: Push back. Push back hard.

What's the point, you might ask? You're not going to convince the brown shirts. They're just going to keep pushing as hard as they can anyway. I'm not sure about that. Pushing back often surprises them. They're not used to it and get flustered. As I said, they're wimpy-men.

But the same friend also made the great point that the more achievable goal is to raise the morale of the good guys, and perhaps embolden those in the middle to consider something beyond the "easy way out". Spoiling the goal of the brown shirts to make everyone think their victory is inevitable is a big part of it.

Someone edited that cartoon a few days ago. You might have seen it. If not, you'll see it here tomorrow.


  1. I hope you aren't intimidated into silence (and I rather doubt you would be) more importantly I hope the "international authorities" don't decide on the easy way out of acting o a complaint about someone who says things other people don't like.
    I have said before that your blog makes me uneasy when I read it because I have to think about what you say and decide if I am okay with it. Most of the time it is a matter of degrees I am okay with some things less so with others. Which is a good thing over all to quote Jon Stewart "I don't agree with you but I am pretty sure you are not Hitler". It seems to me as someone who make little effort to follow the various controversies that face the world that tolerance of views different from your own is dying out. To hold a different view makes you evil, not wrong but evil some kind of threat to society. Mostly I just end up confused. What happened in France was horrible but I can't help wondering why it is more evil than killing over 100 children in a school in Pakistan or over a 1000 people in Nigeria. I just don't understand how those two stories get almost no coverage and the Charlie Hebdo atrocity gets weeks of coverage and world leaders having a march. In the age of internet trolldom some people can work themselves up over what they perceive I am saying but I am a fairly literal person. I don't want to diminish any of these events nor am I trying to rank them in some kind of order of importance. I am saying I don't understand why the surprise (not shock or horror) over what happened in France (and I am not saying they brought it on themselves) when the other two seemed to get the reaction of oh look violent extremists did something horrible over there and now on to deflategate.
    I am a 50 year old white guy with a high school education from Massachusetts in the United States and don't claim to have any insight, knowledge or most importantly solutions for any of this but I do wonder why where an atrocity occurs seems to dictate the emotional response of the portrayed world conscious.

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      As much as I think the term "racism" has become almost meaningless through misuse, if it has any meaning, then I think it applies to the lack of coverage of what's happening in Nigeria. The implicit assumption (maybe it's even unconscious) is that these are just teeming overpopulated third world places where people track their tribal rivalries by killing each other over religion, or whatever. Ho hum.

      I also went to high school in Massachusetts. The Commonwealth School on Comm. Ave in Boston. I'm 51.