The Link Between Cultural Maturity and Religious Blasphemy

In light of the recently proposed anti-blasphemy laws in the UN (which I think is bullshit), and the (misrepresented) furor of the Middle East in regards to that stupid film, Innocence of Muslims,  I recently watched a debate on Freedoms of Speech with the late Christopher Hitchens and Shashi Tharoor. Their respective points summarized go something like this:

Shashi Tharoor – Against an anti-blasphemy law, thinks that statements should be said in retrospect to the opposing party, being unable to effectively envision their reaction, not that that condones the sporadic violent outbursts. As such, a censor of public opinion is unavoidable.

Christopher Hitchens – Speak your mind, first and foremost, always. Censorship is all or nothing. Exceptions here or there only serve to convolute and are divisive in nature, nor could any person, one or many, objectively do such a job of fair censorship even if it was to be required. Censorship of public opinion should always be ignored

At one point, Shashi, tells Christopher that he projects his own societal values (from the USA and Britain) where we have become accustomed to criticism, both in the giving and receiving of it, and applying it to places like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia where they are culturally immature, lambasting him in assuming they should be where he wishes them to be in their cultural evolution. At this juncture, the moderator, Joan Bakewell Vigorous, asks Christopher how an immature culture could in essence, evolve to where civil discourse is allowed without the threat of retaliatory violence. For a renowned intellectual as Christopher, and while still correct, his response is immature and borders on irrelevance, stating that he has the right to such things and that nobody can or should stop him. While this is true, there are surely better ways to say it without sounding so self-centered, but that is not my problem with his response. Since it applies only to him, it is less relevant and only distills a small portion of the true answer. Though to be fair to Chris, he had gone back and forth for an hour, so mental fatigue (plus the cigarettes and whiskey he was partaking in may have slightly diluted his cognition).

Here’s what he (I think) should have said. In order for a society to culturally evolve, on civil discourse, is to say everything, again and again and again. Yes, in the short run, the threat of violence is great, but with repeated usage, repetition, hearing, familiarity etc., the impact of the overall direction, (and of each individual comment) becomes less emotional and more rational. When it comes to new things, whatever form they may take, our gut human reaction is to act, or react emotionally, and since we are predisposed to negativity (an evolutionary defensive measure), it is far more likely that we elicit a shocked response. The more one is exposed to new and perhaps incendiary information, the more our rational tendencies become involved and the less our reactionary tendencies spike (I suppose you can call this the law of diminishing returns).

I liken it to areas where bush-fires are frequent and happen naturally. In one city (I cannot remember which), they were so sick of the bush-fires that they cleared the underbrush every year in certain areas and were quick to respond to such fires by putting them out immediately. For years, they went without a major bush-fire, though, the dry undergrowth grew everywhere else. Several years later, a fire began in a region where the undergrowth was not managed, and the fire raged far bigger and far worse than ever before, being completely unmanageable as well as taking the community by surprise. By allowing the finicky, flammable undergrowth to accumulate, the risk of a bigger fire and disaster is increased. All it takes is a stray cigarette, a lightning bolt, or accidental spark by a camper.

Something similar occurs in economics. Every time a recession occurs, usually, the government or central bank will decrease interest rates, or increase bond-buying in order to stave off the recession. Yet all the while, increasing the economic undergrowth, that eventually, requires an even bigger recession to consolidate and reset so the economic distortions of the cheap money and governmental intervention can be washed away. For example, Milton Friedman, one of the greatest 20th century economists, lays the blame of the Great Depression solely on governmental intervention (after the fact) as well as the Federal Reserve distortions (before the fact), not as the result of inherently free-markets. The government prolonged the Great Depression by years as a result of meddling instead of just letting the economy run its natural course, and the Federal Reserve kept removing the underbrush improperly allowing a future risk flammable kindling from which to spring forth.

Much the same goes for our culture. We went through a lot of pain as a result of such economic policies (which we still haven’t learnt our lessons from but will soon). We also went through a lot of pain as a result of bush-fire management, but we learnt from that and it is now normal policy to burn off the underbrush in small, manageable quantities, as nature itself does, instead of allowing it to accumulate, and we should be doing the same in regards to cultural sensitivity, but we are not. Instead of we get into silly debates about freedoms of speech and causing unavoidable offense.

That which needs saying, needs to be said. Brushing it under the carpet, in the false hope of not offending someone, only insures that when somebody eventually does say something similar, all but inevitable, then the impact is all the worse. It creates an entitlement on behalf of the offended to not be offended, as if any other person could control their subjective reaction to a statement. The more they are offended, the more they learn to cope with it, in the process overcoming their emotional tendencies (which all people have), and instead using their reasoning skills to respond civilly. In the short-term, will this create riots? Yes. Injuries? Yes. Deaths? Perhaps. Should these be celebrated, no! But they happen regardless of whatever moralistic attitude is prevalent of the time and always has. Pretending to ignore them does not mean it won’t happen, and is in point-of-fact, immoral. The all-to-common liberal response in the aftermath of Innocence of Muslims (as well as many other western offenses), was to apologize to the Islamic world, in effect, taking responsibility for that which they did not do, but more importantly, rewarding the tragic and immoral behaviour of a small percentage of muslims who rioted, caused damage and injured innocent people and made it all the more likely that it will occur again the next time, and that next time that somebody says anything cannot be stopped short of total worldwide censorship, which nobody advocates, so it’s far better to deal with the reality of where we are instead of burying our heads in the sand.

Keeping anything stagnant, be it culture, morality, technology, or law, is a recipe for disaster. It allows the rot of internal decay to fester. It allows the human race to become too accustomed to certain norms that must eventually be overturned as a result of moral, ethical, technological, scientific, or cultural progress, and if we know anything, it’s that there will always be progress, so the very notion of not dealing with important issues is tantamount to creating the necessary conditions by which future conflicts and suffering might arise. By not talking about that which is pertinent, we only delay the inevitable, and increase the potential for violence in allowing the emotion and agendas of power that all too commonly suppress the power of critical thought, especially as it happens now in the Middle East with the outrage industry that governments and certain religious demagogues use to their advantage (I’m looking at you Ayatollah of Iran.)

Let’s compare blasphemy to slavery. The forceful imposition on one group of people by another (supposedly superior) group of people, on the freedom of the former. Imagine the debate 150 years ago. An anti-slavery video comes out on WildWestTube lambasting slavery (this is not to completely equate religious belief with slavery. All across the south, uproar goes up at the audacity and offense that this video giveth them. The left apologize for hurting the cultural morality of the south, saying that it should be respected, as a form of cultural relativism. Who would agree with this sentiment? Nobody in their right mind would. There are right and wrong answers, and at the very least, in the absence of universal acceptance, discourse should be encouraged.

Now, again, slavery is not the moral equivalent of religion in terms of physical and mental cost, though it is not so much dissimilar, being more subtle in its behavioral reworking of the individual’s mind. Religion is generally foisted onto children of religious parents before they are taught critical thinking, thus accepting it as true for the remainder of their life’s, but I digress.

Give me the child for seven years, and I will give you the man.” – Jesuit Maxim

Be that as it may, that does not give anyone else the right to unilaterally pull them out of it forcefully, though that does not preclude anyone from discussing it and from throwing our opinions up against the cultural wall in the hoping of evolving it (or not for some), through participating in a general discourse. However, as if often the course throughout  human history, at the beginning of such discourses, or cultural progressions, one side or the other (or both) react emotionally instead of rationality. This is the human condition, our brains are more emotional than rational, since we are after all, caveman seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. The only way around it, is to go directly through it! Not avoiding it, going round it, or underneath, or above it, as that just causes greater problems later. Each individual should stick to their guns and go through it. Individual points can be evaluated based on their merit, or lack thereof, before moving onto the next. Each parent, and I imagine, adult will react similarly to a child wanting a chocolate and crying when they don’t get one. We know they are acting emotionally, that they lack of the ability of properly thinking in a long-term perspective, yet we (seemingly) lack the ability to see this in full-grown adults. The only difference being, that adults should know better.

That is what Christopher Hitchens should have said. Only by discussing that which can give offense, can we understand, discard or accept any specific subject, and then move on to the next issue of relevance. This is especially important today, yet so often overlooked. You don’t see christians in America or Europe rioting or hurting others as the tide turns against them, though they used too, for a 1,000 years stifling, torturing, and killing those it deemed heretics, but the tide turned in the renaissance as information become more widespread with the Gutenberg printing press, and discourse became more rational, and though there were pockets here and there, big and small at times, the overall trend has been towards civility even though a lot of knowledge remains to be discussed and agreed upon. Now in the Middle East, with several forms of information control, an outrage industry looking for issues to exploit, autocratic governments justifying their existence, and abuses of power in provoking the ignorant to riot for political or religious gain, has resulted in much the same immaturity. There is only way forward. In the process, everyone talking hopefully civilly, respectfully, and understanding each others perspective, though that won’t always be the case, and there will be pain at the beginning, whether the discourse is civil or not. That old maxim seemingly rings true, No pain, no gain.

Civilization has never prospered for long with one group of people foisting upon others their own morality, subjectivity, and beliefs. Be it Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Atheistic in nature, or any other such philosophy. It’s time we be civilized again, especially if that includes offending each other. Progress comes only with change. Only in ignorance can one think that standing still gets you anywhere. And the UN should worry about the billion hungry people they’ve made it their mission to help, instead of worrying about needless bullshit, and restricting free speech. Human nature cannot be legislated, only learned from and advanced through culture and education. This is immensely important if we wish to advance towards a global civilization, instead of a clash of civilizations.


  1. I agree that the lack of dissent causes cultural immaturity, and that maturity can be slowly built up by having opposing views, even if it offends immature people in the short run.

    But I think you also need to consider another factor – the ideology of the people who are being offended. If you listen closely to what both the Jihadists and the Islamists are saying, they reject the sovereignty of man and say that sovereignty belongs to God. When they say that sovereignty belongs to God, they are effectively saying that sovereignty over all men belongs to Muslims, because their God isn’t the same as that of other religions (despite their claims to that effect). This is why there is always a violent conflict between Islamists and non-Muslims in every country where Muslims come close to a majority until the non-Muslims are subdued.

    This reality is something that the politically correct liberals need to face. Eventually, no matter which country you may reside in, you are going to have to stand up for your right not have to conform to Sharia law. It may not happen in your country during your lifetime, but it will definitely happen in your country. What the People in Control should be doing is preventing the fall of secular governments and their replacement with regimes that impose Sharia law on the popluation. The Soviet Union was not defeated militarily, but by preventing the fall of democratic goverments and their replacement with communist governments. Similarly you can’t defeat the ideology of Jihadism by killing terrorist leaders, you must prevent the fall of secular governments and their replacement with Islamist states that impose Sharia law.

    1. Well, there is a small silver lining. As the internet is becoming more widespread in the Middle East, arabs are becoming more tolerant of dissenting views. I see this as no different than the rise in information and books with the advent of the printing press 400 years ago in Europe in breaking Christianity’s stranglehold on power. The two religions (and I imagine most religions) have followed an extremely similar path. Human beings, in an information-drought, will contribute to all manner of falsity, cruelty (when their minds are made up for them), and various other things in which they are indoctrinated. We are so very close to the cultural dissent we need, we need but keep at it.
      The Soviets were defeated economically. They could not keep up with military spending in the US, and so they diverted a significant amount of funds into weapons-catching-up instead of building their society, and as soon as they relaxed control in the satellite countries, they seceded and bham, the soviets were done.
      We need to do the same now. Not bomb them, sanction them, but keep talking and keep on chugging on. But that is in danger now, especially because the USA is falling into the same trap the Soviets fell into (Osama Bin Laden even said this is exactly what he wanted, and Bush gave it to him). In your other comments about Iran on the other post, the sanctions and war-posturing are giving them the required incentives to pursue the bomb (if they are at all, the CIA says no). We are egging them on by our stupid sanctions. We are giving the Iranian people (who hate their government) a reason to crawl back to their government for protection. It’s counter-productive.

      1. Islam is a lot more resistant to the separation of Mosque and State than any other religion. There was never any Biblical reason for the lack of separation of Church and State – it was just foolishness on the part of Christians. What about Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions – why aren’t the followers of these religions imposing their religious views on others? Why’s it only Islam? Ask any Muslim – Islam is not just a religion – it is an all-encompassing way of life. I’ve been following Dr. Zuhdi Jasser – he’s an American Muslim who’s championing the separation of Mosque and State. Instead of getting support from the Muslim community, he’s been demonized as an “Islamophobe”!

        I find this very troubling:
        1. When Muslims are a majority, they impose Sharia law on non-Muslims, giving them a small subset of the rights that Muslims enjoy.
        2. They are able to migrate freely to the secular West and get fully-equal rights.
        3. The irony is that while they enjoy full rights in the West they never acknowledge the rights of others, i.e., reject the imposition of Sharia law on others and affirm their commitment to a secular state.
        4. When Muslims are a majority, they impose Sharia law on non-Muslims, giving them a small subset of the rights that Muslims enjoy.

        ***On Iran***:

        Iran seems to be taking the same path as India and Pakistan with regards to nuclear weapons. India got nuclear weapons capability years earlier than it actually got the bomb. All the Indians had to do once they had the capability was to make the political decision to go ahead – it just takes a few months after that.

        The CIA said that Iran *had* stopped pursuing the bomb (which is not the same thing as pursuing nuclear weapons capability) years ago. That does not mean that they are saying that Iran hasn’t changed it’s course *now).

        Please see:

        1. One, listening to western correspondents such as CNN on the muslim world is counter-productive and stupid. I’m an arab that grew up in the west, but have travelled all over the Middle-East working and leisurely, and I know a lot more than those who think they know about it because I can talk to muslims on the ground. The west has done nothing but bundle, falsify, and ruin the situation in the Middle East. What makes you think it will be any different now?
          The west is responsible for most of the current problems now, and guess what, their making it worse again. Don’t be so arrogant, and high and mighty as so many of your forebears are.
          Arabs are becoming more tolerant of others thanks to the internet and differing opinions, so let’s just keep with that. But your continual incursions in the middle east are giving the dictatorial governments and clerics the ammunition to indoctrinate and increase the stranglehold they have on the minds of the ignorant, but even then, they are only a minority, albeit a very loud minority. Don’t you realize the west is creating so many of its own problems, and it thinks that by intervening (yet again), that the outcome will be favorable the next time.. That’s the definition of Insanity according to Einstein.
          Trust me, most of what you think you know, either you don’t, or the west is the cause of it, and more interference will make it worse.
          The only way to really stop Iran getting the bomb (if they ever chose to pursue it which will inextricably linked to how hard the US is pushing them), is to invade Iran. That would be another multi-year war worse than Iraq, solidify Iranian’s against the USA (which they aren’t right now), plunge the middle east into war, take out 25% of the worlds oil supply off the market (when libya’s 2% went off the market, the price of oil went up 20%), potentially increasing the price of oil by 250%, plunging the entire world into a global recession far worse than 2008, and destroying your way of life. That sounds like a pretty stupid route to me, not too mention that you will radicalize the middle east, potentially instigating a new wave of terror attacks. Don’t be so naive as to think western intervention will do anything to help. It never has in the past, and there’s no reason to think it will in the future. Don’t buy what the mainstream media propagandizes you to think. It will bring nothing but trouble.

          1. Fourat, I must say I’m a bit disappointed. Normally, you are very open, which is a trait that I admire in you and which is why I am interested in your ideas, despite us being very different. But you seem strangely defensive on this topic. Why’s it stupid for me to listen to CNN? Please note that I haven’t said anything about “Arabs”. I have complained about the injustice in “Muslim” countries. Granted, as an atheist, you would be less affected by the blatant injustice that is Sharia law than a theist non-Muslim, but surely it should bother you as well??

            Just to take one example – Christian Pastor Youcef in Iran. According to Sharia law, he had to be put to death for the “crime” of leaving Islam. He was jailed for 3 years, sentenced to death and finally released ***because of international condemnation***. You realize that could happen to atheists as well? Does this not trouble you as it does me? The West didn’t create Sharia law. That was done by the Muslims. And you can see the same unjustice in every Muslim country, to various extents, ever since there have been Muslim countries.

            Really, I’m laughing 🙂 … do you assume that I’ve never travelled to the Middle East or spoken to Muslims? Or, that a newsworthy source like CNN wouldn’t be able to do the same? Do you think there are no Muslims working for CNN? 🙂 What about Fareed Zakaria?

            ***Regarding Iran***

            Yes, I agree with you that the only way to prevent Iran from getting the bomb would be to change the regime militarily. Yes, I know that it would be much more difficult than Iraq. They could block the Straits of Hormuz, rain missiles on their neighbours and activate their terror cells throughout the GCC. But they would lose the war.

            If they block the Straits of Hormuz, all the world powers, even their protectors Russia and China, would be very pissed off. The Arab countries would also not tolerate it.

            Yes, the price of oil would really spike for a few months. The Saudis have said that they could increase production to compensate and the U.A.E. has threatened to build a pipeline bypassing the Straits altogether.

          2. *Typo: injustice

            Also, I forgot to add that a short-term spike in oil would be far, far preferable to the permanent, unsolvable problem of a nuclear-armed Iran.

            FYI, I’m not a hawk. I was concerned that the U.S. would overreact after 9-11 steamrolling multiple countries in revenge (I’m glad I was proved wrong). I was also very vocal against the war in Iraq in 2003, when, as you would remember, people were being ridiculed as being naive for being against the war. But, I do think that a war would against Iran would be necessary if we cannot pursuade them to voluntarily abandon their pursuit of nuclear weapons capability using sanctions.

          3. Correction in my post: The Saudis’ statement was regarding sanctions. Obviously, it wouldn’t help after the Straits were blocked 🙂

  2. Hi Hugo,
    I apologize if I sound overly defensive, and I don’t mean to be condescending. However the mainstream media has incentives to to display only the most extreme examples of most situations, as well as display false equivalences.
    My father is a diplomat in an arab country, and Ive lived and worked there for years (including with the US reconstruction effort in the heart of Baghdad for over 2 years, I was also in Bahrain during the Arab Spring), as well as having a 100+member extended arab family, so I am very much in tune with the general sentiment, not to mention meeting lots of diplomats and intellectuals from the Middle East through my father.
    I am very aware of the inequalities, atrocities, and repressions that plague the arab world, but outside intervention will not help (just as it did not in Iraq). We must give them the tools to bring themselves out of it, and we are doing that with social networks, internet etc (there was a recent study that actually showed that arabs are becoming more and more tolerant in recent years). Democracy is starting to seeping in all by itself (though I believe in the short-term it will be overly Islamized due to the natural human tendency to go overboard once freedom arrives, but to interfere will only bolster the islamist position). American posturing in the middle east has never helped, nor ever worked, and I dont think anything will likely change that this time. I believe the only approach is to get out. War in the Middle East is not a favorable outcome
    It doesn’t really matter what the Saudi’s do, negative investor sentiment will nosedive and the price of oil will go through the roof in ways that are unforeseeable and could crash the global economies, which could in essence, forestall any ongoing military effort. You can only buy tanks, guns, ammo, and feed your troops with a functioning economy.
    I apologize again for my tone before, I just meant to get to the heart of the matter in as few words as possible, and sometimes my mental filter stops working (I’m also on painkillers from a broken ankle).
    I do very much enjoy your comments, they are thought-provocative, but in my opinion, I believe it is shortsighted to take to heart what government and media news say without copious amounts of salt, especially in light of the media’s predisposed affiliation to just run with what their given without verifying most of the time (as happened with Iraq). And George Bush’s push for war, and considering he wasn’t crucified for the lies that led to the war.

  3. Also, if 20+% of the worlds oil went offline, and the price of oil went up 100-300%, then food simultaneously goes up that price minimum. There was a recent study that shows at a specific price index, the conditions are societal unrest are so high, that revolution can occur at any time (based on past historical patterns and revolutions in the last several hundreds; as we know, human nature doesn’t change much). According to that study (I cant remember the name but ill try to find it and post it back here), we are almost at that level. Imagine if oil (which underlies food as well as everything else) were to double, triple, or quadruple in price? Global unrest, revolutions, governments failing. While it may not occur in the west (though I think it will, the 50 million americans on food stamps will hugely increase), it would be an unmitigated disaster.

    What would the implications be? I don’t think war is the answer. I believe the price, or even the potential for that price, to be steep and potentially it might be unrecoverable… Whaddaya think?

    1. No offense taken, Fourat. I understand that different issues are important to different people. I’m also quite impressed that your dad is a diplomat in an Arab country and I understand that you would naturally know more than the average dude on Middle Eastern affairs.

      Yes, I agree that the price of food is dependent on fuel due to transportation costs. But governments would subsidize food – this would be their highest priority, and wealthy countries would give also aid to help them bear the costs. I’m sure the U.S. would also stockpile fuel before choosing to intervene in Iran, as it did before invading Iraq.

      But, also examine the other choice. What would be the cost of allowing Iran to get nukes? Could they not take over the GCC and affect oil prices at will, once they are immune to military intervention?

      1. I think the best thing we can do is steam ahead with renewable energies. The cost of solar is dropping by 30% each year while becoming 50% more efficient. Oil companies get billions of dollars per year in subsidies (and worldwide, about $750 billion). Could you imagine how much we would weaken Iran (not too mention OPEC)?

        In this way, we would be pulling ahead economically full-steam-ahead while they would be languishing comparatively, and then there would be no excuse for them to say (we’re using it for peaceful purposes), so if it indeed was not for peaceful purposes, then international action would be more uniform etc. By 2015-17, on the west coast, solar power will be cost-competitive with hydrocarbons (Except maybe gas, that would come a few years later and you’re energy independent there anyway). Makes sense right?

        I think that politicians respond to short-term threats to justify themselves, all the while, ignoring the long-term threads that would help us all the greater. That’s my hypothesis at least, I dare say it has proof, but I’m also biased to myself 😀

        1. I think that if it were that easy and quick to move off of fossil fuels, it would have been done already 🙂 We wouldn’t need to do it in response to Iran taking over the Middle East. How long do you think it would take for the country to be free from fossil fuels?

          Certainly, I agree with you, though, that reducing dependence on fossil fuels would strengthen the U.S.’s energy security and would give it more options in its relationships with other countries.

          There are also other dangers in a nuclear-armed Iran, as I’m sure you’d imagine. They have the habit of interfering in other countries through their proxies like Hezbollah. They could increase that 20-fold without fear of military intervention. Their getting the bomb would also start a nuclear weapons race with Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni countries.

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