David R. Henderson  

I Am NOT Charlie Hebdo

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After the horrible murders of workers at the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January, it became chic for a few weeks to wear buttons saying "I am Charlie Hebdo." I thought that was a mistake then and I almost wrote a blog post on it. The discussion on my recent defense of freedom of association has convinced me that I was remiss in not writing a post. The reason: in the discussion of freedom of association, many people have failed to understand the distinction between favoring someone's freedom and favoring someone's use of that freedom. I saw that same blunting of distinctions with the Charlie Hebdo button.

Consider an extreme case: the desire of the National Socialist Party of America to march through Skokie, Illinois in 1977. The background is that this seemed to be intended as an in-your-face rally because a large number of residents of Skokie were Holocaust survivors. The American Civil Liberties Union defended the right of the Nazis to have their march. The ACLU saw it as a free speech issue. So did I.

Imagine that someone had fashioned a badge then that said "I am the National Socialist Party." Do you see the problem? The ACLU could, in good conscience, defend the National Socialists' right to march and one reason it could do so is that it was NOT the National Socialist Party and--call it a hunch--the vast majority of members of the ACLU (I was one*) detested what the National Socialist Party stood for. The ACLU understood then that to defend someone's freedom of speech is not to defend someone's speech.

Ditto with freedom of association. Defending someone's freedom of association is not at all the same thing as defending someone's choice about whom to associate or not associate with.

One other comment: One thing I find interesting--and discouraging--is libertarians who use language they know to be wrong and language that they have, countless times, objected to when used by critics of freedom. Libertarian Penn Jillette did that here. He stated:

We're asking that maybe they can treat people the same as other people and that does not seem unreasonable.

No one is asking. If that's all people were doing, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

*I became a permanent resident of the United States in October 1977. I was so concerned about something gumming up the works that I didn't dare join the ACLU before getting my green card. The ACLU was the first organization I joined after I got the green card.


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COMMENTS (30 to date)
Thomas Nagle writes:

Thank you David. A well-reasoned post about a point that needed to be made.

ThomasH writes:

I do not think that in context, "I am Charlie" was interpreted to mean "I just love to offend people with a ideology different from mine and think everyone should do it."

The "Je suis Charlie" motto was understood by most people I know as "your attack on freedom of expression is an attack on me as an individual." Its meaning is evident in a Voltarian heritage context - could it be too foreign to people outside of continental Europe?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Thomas Nagle,
Thanks.
@ThomasH,
I do not think that in context, "I am Charlie" was interpreted to mean "I just love to offend people with a ideology different from mine and think everyone should do it."
That’s the problem with your use of the passive tense. “Interpreted” by whom? I bet many people, especially many Muslims, did interpret it that way.
@Pedro Albuguerque,
Its meaning is evident in a Voltarian heritage context - could it be too foreign to people outside of continental Europe?
No, it’s not too foreign to people outside continental Europe. We great unwashed in the United States understand it. Indeed, Voltaire, as you well know, was the one who is often given credit (possibly mistakenly) for making the strong distinction that I’m discussing here: between approving of what someone says and defending that person’s right to say it.

Henry Stork writes:

Your analogy to the nazi march is not relevant. There's a difference between the appropriate strategy to protect freedom of speech when someone gets a fine or has to spend a night at the police station for expressing an unpopular idea and when vigilantees kill someone for expressing that opinion. The lawyers of the ACLU can't protect you against a fanatic with an AK-47.

Adam writes:

I'm a bit confused about the Penn quote. He's said, multiple times, on his podcast that he has no problem with allowing businesses to discriminate against whomever they wish. In fact, he's said that he would love it if people advertised their bigotry so that the rest of us know whether to use their services at all. I'm not sure if he's being inconsistent or too subtle in his stance. Probably the former, which is a bummer.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Henry Stork,
Analogies are rarely perfect and you have put your finger on an imperfection. I don’t think that makes my analogy “not relevant” though. Let’s try to improve the analogy as follows: Some citizens of Skokie announce that if the march proceeds, they will murder some of the participants. Let’s stipulate that they’re credible. I’m assuming you’re a defender of free speech, or else you wouldn’t be making the point you’re making. In that case, would you feel comfortable defending the Nazis’ free speech by wearing a button that said, “Je suis un Nazi”?

Trevor H writes:

Excellent post David. But I think the question in front of the public right now is not whether we should have anti-discrimination laws. It is clear that we have anti-discrimination laws and will so for the forseeable future.

The question now is should we include LGBT as a protected class? And if so, should we allow religious beliefs to serve as an "opt-out" of those laws? Answering yes to the second question makes the first one kind of moot since any anti-gay animus can simple be explained as an expression of religious belief.

My opinion is that as long as we have anti-discrimination laws, we ought to include LGBT. And you're right to criticize Penn's language. But even more accurate language doesn't sound so awful, the government is forcing bakers to bake cakes and florists to deliver flowers.

Joshua Katz writes:

Adam, I took the issue with the Penn quote to be the use of the word 'ask.' The context was that he supports anti-discrimination laws (but thinks the market will do a better job - so why support them - but that's his problem.) It's like saying "All we're asking is that you contribute to Social Security." Nope, you're not asking, you're telling.

Tom West writes:

in the discussion of freedom of association, many people have failed to understand the distinction between favoring someone's freedom and favoring someone's use of that freedom.

And I reiterate my point in the last post: the converse holds true. Many (most) people are unable to differentiate between the freedom to discriminate and the government (and society as a whole) favoring the use of that freedom to discriminate.

Not that that that's the final word about freedom of association, but it's certainly a factor in my calculus.

Yancey Ward writes:

Doesn't matter, the "I am Charlie" campaign was empty rhetoric in any case- most of them really didn't mean it.

vikingvista writes:

The issue comes down to, what do you think should happen to a person who offends in such a manner (e.g., by employing racial discrimination in personal trade preferences)? Sadly, most people seem to think, and the state has long agreed, that such an offense merits violent retribution against a disobeying offender.

Most people's threshold for introducing violence into peaceful, if offensive, situations is frighteningly low. And that low threshold has been formally institutionalized.

RogC writes:

What Orwell called Herd-Poisoning has again become common in the west. Many people are so tied to their tribal identities that any affront to the tribe results in calling for blood either figuratively or sadly even literally. Those old enough have seen this process before where people stop identifying as individuals and become almost a hive mind full of hate for anyone outside the hive. It does not end well.

Tom West writes:

vikingvista you do have to admit that, historically speaking, the willingness to accept discrimination has far more often been accompanied with violence against the discriminated.

While Libertarians see a huge gap between physical violence and everything else, much of the rest of the world sees violence/coercion as a spectrum rather than binary, and thus defines the cut-off for acceptable government intervention relatively arbitrarily.

vikingvista writes:

"vikingvista you do have to admit that, historically speaking, the willingness to accept discrimination has far more often been accompanied with violence against the discriminated."


You have to admit, that notions of collective guilt (such as guilt by association) have historically been used extensively to punish the innocent for the crimes of others. Let's keep a firm moral footing, shall we, and not forget that what matters in judging an individual, is how that one particular individual decision maker treats another individual, regardless of the offenses of others (and regardless of the uniformity of his dress or officiousness of his title).


"While Libertarians see a huge gap between physical violence and everything else, much of the rest of the world sees violence/coercion as a spectrum rather than binary, and thus defines the cut-off for acceptable government intervention relatively arbitrarily."


Most everyone recognizes an easy division between violence and non-violence, at least when it involves those not presumed to be authorities. It isn't that the rest of the world sees more gradations, it is that the rest of the world holds a double standard for violence committed by presumed authorities versus violence committed by anyone else, as though the exact same human action is transformed by a shiny metal badge or well-pressed uniform or grandiose proclamation.

When such an authority commits what would widely be agreed to be an egregious offense by a non-authority, most people think as though such an act never even occurred. This is how, e.g., millions of people find it perfectly acceptable that a man be maliciously killed for peacefully trading his property with willing customers; or even advocate for the kidnapping at gunpoint and forced relocation of immigrants or migrant workers and their families.

Mankind has become very adept at constructing specious arguments for sanctimoniously terrorizing the innocent. And almost all of it involves diversion away from the particular acts and/or the particular individuals.

Thomas Boyle writes:

It seems to me that the core dispute here is not freedom of association or gay rights. It is, "who holds society's moral high ground - my group, or yours?"

The disapproved-of group pleads for tolerance. The approved-of group demands intolerance.

Gays, once disapproved of, formerly pleaded for tolerance. Now, suddenly... not so much. And vice versa for fundamentalist Christians.

I propose "Sense of Society" laws: resolutions with no penalties, that communicate society's judgment, that is, its moral position on social positions, one way or the other. They would apply to virtually any socially divisive issue. The beauty would be that the victorious group could be completely intolerant (the resolution could mercilessly express disdain for the immorality of the disapproved-of group's practices), even at the same time as the disapproved-of could receive tolerance. Pipe dream? Maybe. But Congress routinely passes "sense of Congress" resolutions, so I'm not so sure. Courts could nudge things along by applying stricter scrutiny to enforceable laws than to "sense of society" resolutions.

How to recognize a "sense of society" issue? Easy: a real, enforceable law should have overwhelming support. The fraction of society that favors murder, rape, or Ponzi schemes must be well under 1% (setting aside the debate about Social Security). The fraction that favors freedom of association even when it's used for arbitrary discrimination must be well above 10%. It's fairly easy to see the differences, most of the time. Notice, too, where some divisive social issues land - abortion, for example, or the drug war...

Finally, I'm a bit puzzled by something. A person who wants the cake, or the photography, provided by someone who opposes their wedding... What kind of person would want that? Either for themselves, or for the baker/photographer? And what kind of person does it take, to want it badly enough to go to court over it?

Henry Stork writes:

Let's say they actually did kill several neo nazis, after breaking into the place they held their meetings. Which is more compareable to what happened in Paris.

As with Charlie Hebdo it would probably have disincentivized further attacks like this if the victims were showered with money, attention and sympathy. And if whatever was found offensive in the first place was repeated in solidarity with the victims the risk of new attacks would be divided between them.

However, there's a difference with doing this when the victims are ireverrent leftists who dislike all religions but don't really want to physically harm anyone and when the victims are neo nazis who would be very interested in killing the people who killed them first.

Tom West writes:

Most everyone recognizes an easy division between violence and non-violence

I'd strongly disagree with that. Sure, the ends of the spectrum are obvious (random violence / shaking hands), but there'd be tons of people that would consider strong social pressure, demeaning comments, or discrimination in business violence.

And it's not just the victims. In my youth when discrimination was far more acceptable, there was a smooth continuum between sneers, whispered comments, clearly spoken taunts, 'accidental' shoving, tripping down the stairs, beating the minority up in the parking lot.

No easy division between being told "you really should move out of this neighborhood" and a brick through the window at midnight.

To politicians, war was simply an instrument of policy, and to most people, violence is simply an instrument of beliefs.

it is that the rest of the world holds a double standard for violence committed by presumed authorities versus violence committed by anyone else

Of course. For most, government (more or less) reflects themselves. And if they (or their proxy, the government) are doing the coercion, then it's not really coercion (or it if it was coercion, it was necessary).

Moreover, since humans are social creatures, in the absence of strong government enforcement, it seems pretty clear that smaller groups essentially re-invent government, except without the legal barriers, and enforce their social norms using coercion and violence.

Its one reason that I'd say that more government has, over centuries, brought less violence overall (although perhaps more coercion, as it suppresses the natural tendency of the powerful to prey on the weak).

And yes, I acknowledge that if you manage to flip the government, then things are *really* bad. But on the whole, I'd say that with notable exceptions governments tend to trail the worst impulses of the populace, not lead them.

Roger X writes:

Penn agrees with you completely. Listen to last week's Penn's Sunday School podcast. He says he holds two completely contradictory positions on this at once. He said if the ACLU woman had spoken first, his entire rant would have been against using law and government force to make businesses enforce equality. It happened that the woman who spoke first hit a nerve he could go with, so he did.

Henry Stork nailed it: the comparison is charged so it's a misleading analogy. A better analogy would be to imagine an attack on the staff of South Park. Modern progressives and conservatives may have reasons to not enjoy Trey Parker's and Matt Stone's rowdy jokes, but I'm sure that, if it had been an attack on South Park Studios ("Super Best Friends" anyone?), lots of people would be carrying a "I'm South Park" badge around the world, independently of their real interest in the show.

Hazel Meade writes:

Trevor H:
It bears repeating for the umteenth time that the florists and bakers in question aren't advancing a right to discriminate against gays generally, just to not participate in their marriages. Wedding cakes are a small percentage of the bakers business, and wedding flower arrangements are a small percentage of the florists. In all of these instances, the people in question have always insisted that they have no problem selling to gays. They only object to providing these services for a marriage ceremony they believe is morally wrong.

vikingvista writes:

Tom West,

ME: Most everyone recognizes an easy division between violence and non-violence
DU: I'd strongly disagree with that. Sure, the ends of the spectrum are obvious (random violence / shaking hands),

Shaking hands? So by “random violence” do you include the random shaking of hands?

When I say “most everyone”, I don’t mean “everyone”. One must always have exclusions for the deluded. You may very well feel so physically threatened at the sight of a 2-year-old eating a marshmallow that you run home, gather your family, load your shot gun, and stand guard at your door. But your unique and pathological perception in such a regard would not cause the general use of the word “violence” to expand to include toddler marshamallow eaters.

Likewise, when a business associate offers you his hand and you choose to accept it. You may uniquely feel physically threatened by it (I can’t get into your mind), but that doesn’t make such an agreement violent.

And by saying “most everyone” recognizes an easy division doesn’t mean there is no such thing as an ambiguous threat of violence. It does mean that such ambiguous threats are relatively very uncommon. The reason they are uncommon, is that ambiguity undermines the entire purpose of a threat. For a threat to work, a person must feel threatened.

“but there'd be tons of people that would consider strong social pressure, demeaning comments, or discrimination in business violence.”

No, there are not tons of people. No more than there are tons of people who think bananas are airplanes or justice is Red Bull. “Violence” exists as a word because it already has useful meaning, not whatever meaning any individual wants to give it. Can violence be used for social pressure? Of course, such social pressure is how all governments function always. Can demeaning comments employ violence? Sure, if the demeaning comment comes from a thug with a history of issuing demeaning comments prior to assaulting his target (but you likely will know, as ambiguity would undermine his purpose). Can discrimination in business employ violence? Sure, if the business employs thugs to assault unsuspecting patrons. Violence can be a tool for all kinds of ends. But it isn’t the only tool, and so is distinct from those ends.

“And it's not just the victims. In my youth when discrimination was far more acceptable, there was a smooth continuum between sneers, whispered comments, clearly spoken taunts, 'accidental' shoving, tripping down the stairs, beating the minority up in the parking lot.”

In that list, there is rather a sharp division between spoken taunts and ‘accidental’ (quotes meaning that you know it isn’t accidental) shoving. That is a sharp division clear in the minds of most people (not to mention common law around the world).

“No easy division between being told "you really should move out of this neighborhood" and a brick through the window at midnight.”

Uh, yes. That is a pretty easy division. Unless, “you really should move out of this neighborhood” comes from someone you know has a history of throwing bricks through windows. But if the latter, the perpetrator will want you to know.

“To politicians, war was simply an instrument of policy, and to most people, violence is simply an instrument of beliefs.”

Not “simply”, and not in a way that redefines “violence”. To politicians, *violence* as most people understand it is an instrument of policy. To some people, *violence* as most people understand it is an instrument of beliefs. That doesn’t change the fact that most people see an easy division between violence and nonviolence. “Violence” isn’t that useless of a word.

ME: it is that the rest of the world holds a double standard for violence committed by presumed authorities versus violence committed by anyone else
DU: Of course. For most, government (more or less) reflects themselves. And if they (or their proxy, the government) are doing the coercion, then it's not really coercion (or it if it was coercion, it was necessary).

Your collective fallacy is again failing you. Please try to understand that I am not you, you are not Joe, and Joe is not everyone else. If 100 strangers tar and feather me, that does not mean that I am tarring and feathering myself, I am being assaulted, and the numbers of assailants don’t make the assault necessary.

“Moreover, since humans are social creatures, in the absence of strong government enforcement, it seems pretty clear that smaller groups essentially re-invent government, except without the legal barriers, and enforce their social norms using coercion and violence.”

Being social creatures does not entail forming a violent monopoly authority, as seen by the fact that most social interactions are instead voluntary. And if you are attempting to defend government violence by asserting government is almost always a part of societies, then I hope you are ready to give the same defense to other things that are almost always a part of societies--like murder, rape, arson, war, child molestation, etc.

“Its one reason that I'd say that more government has, over centuries, brought less violence overall (although perhaps more coercion, as it suppresses the natural tendency of the powerful to prey on the weak).”

Except that there are few historical observations more obviously and dramatically opposite to what you claim. Where there has been more government, there has been greater violence. Unless of course you choose to arbitrarily ignore government violence. That would be like claiming state genocide is the most peaceful policy because of all the non-offending corpses it creates.

“And yes, I acknowledge that if you manage to flip the government, then things are *really* bad. But on the whole, I'd say that with notable exceptions governments tend to trail the worst impulses of the populace, not lead them.”

I don’t know what you mean by “flip”, but please try to restrain your collectivizations. Governments don’t trail the impulses of the whole populace, they are the tool and lubricant for the impulses of the most overbearing and malicious within a populace.

Shane L writes:

My trouble with the "je suis" trend was that it was not applied to countless other infringements on freedom of speech in France and other "Western" countries. I think many people vaguely believe that "in the West, we have freedom of speech" and are unaware or indifferent to a great many intrusions on this liberty by Western governments. Days after the French attacks the silly comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala was arrested for a Facebook post reading "Je suis Charlie Coulibaly" (where Coulibaly is the name of the criminal who attacked a French kosher supermarket).
http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/01/14/377201227/controversial-french-comedian-arrested-over-facebook-post-on-paris-attacks

Je suis Dieudonne? Defences of free speech look flimsy when they are not universal. The French state itself suppresses free speech with little controversy; if we want more general liberty it would be good to decriminalise such strange things as Holocaust denial in France.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_against_Holocaust_denial#France

David R. Henderson writes:

@Pedro Albuquerque,
A better analogy would be to imagine an attack on the staff of South Park. Modern progressives and conservatives may have reasons to not enjoy Trey Parker's and Matt Stone's rowdy jokes, but I'm sure that, if it had been an attack on South Park Studios ("Super Best Friends" anyone?), lots of people would be carrying a "I'm South Park" badge around the world, independently of their real interest in the show.
It’s certainly a closer analogy.
So let’s consider it. I agree with you that lots of people would be wearing such a badge. And I would not be one of them. The reason is as I have stated in my post: it’s important, when people have trouble distinguishing between favoring freedom and favoring a particular use of that freedom, to do everything one can within reason to remind them of that distinction.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Shane L,
Very well put.

Tom West writes:

I've think we've stated our points, so I'll only clarify that I was defining the *ends* of the spectrum (random violence at one end, and handshake at the other).

violence = random attack
non-violence = handshake

Sorry I wasn't clear.

@David, I think our disagreement comes from the fact that you associate "Je suis X" with "I support X" while I associate "Je suis X" with "I was attacked as X". Logically, to say that "I was attacked as X" does not mean that "I support X," it means only that an attack on X is taken as an attack on me. Some people carrying the badges did it probably for both reasons (support and attacked), but it's my view that the "I was attacked as X" was the driving force behind the surprising success of the viral campaign.

@Shane, the cases of Dieudonné and of holocaust denial were, in the worst case, examples of hypocrisy not of the "Je suis X" crowds but of people in positions of power. As pointed by many that I know in the "Je suis X" crowds, the behavior of those people in power was hypocritical but not surprising. In reality, the "Je suis X" crowds, according to my observations, used the opportunity sometimes to denounce possible acts of censorship such as represented by the case of Dieudonné, which by the way is not clear cut (he got in legal trouble mostly due to toying with incitement to violence). It's evident however that people will feel much more comfortable carrying a "Je suis X" badge if X is South Park or Charlie Hebdo than if X is the Ku Klux Klan or Dieudonné, simply because the first two clearly use satire to mock their opponents while the latter two use violence or have toyed (in the best hypothesis) the idea. This is why a viral campaign defending freedom of expression based on "I am South Park" may work while a campaign based on "I am the Ku Klux Klan" has very little chance of working.

jeppen writes:

The post does not answer why you are not Charlie Hebdo, just says that obviously, you'd not "be" nazi even if you don't approve of physical attacks on nazis. However, the nazi comparison too strong to be very useful, but hints that you might share some misconceptions about CH. The commenter that mentioned South Park, however, has a valid comparison. Would you be South Park?

A lot of people have been mislead to think that CH is racist. It is not. It is an anti-racist liberal satire publication. A few of the cartoons can, if read by or translated to an audience not familiar with the layered French satire nor the phenomena it targets, be seen as racist when they are in fact mocking racists.

Shane L writes:

Pedro, that's cool, I didn't know that. I judged only by Facebook comments of my own friends, where I didn't see such a response. If it leads to a wider appreciation of freedom of speech it could be a good thing.

David, thanks!

David R. Henderson writes:

@jeppen,
Would you be South Park?
I answered that above. See my answer and see why.

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