Amoeba’s Lorica: Je suis que je suis

Je suis Charley [Je suis que je suis (French): “I am what I am.”]

Sometimes, the news is so bad that even Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba eventually hears about it –

Tips for making sure that an Amoeba hears something.

1. Find ears …

Like, the pseudoreligiously-motivated shootings of journalists, police officers, and an innocent bystander at the offices of the satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France, earlier this week (7 January 2015).

And, the subsequent elevation of those journalists (but not, apparently, the officers or the bystander) to the status of martyrs to the cause of free speech. Even 87-year-old cartoonist Albert Uderzo, whose standing in France is akin to that of Charles Schulz in the USA, has joined the martyrdom crusade. Not to mention the US National Basketball Association players who have started showing up online wearing “Je Suis Charlie” T-shirts.

Now perhaps, dear reader, you already know that YFNA has pretty strong contrarian tendencies. Like, for instance, when, during a vigil the night following the 9-11 attacks, he placed a request for grace to be extended to all sides involved, in the process suggesting that American (political) actions just might have had something to do with precipitating the calamity (an opinion he still holds, btw), and nearly got thrown out of his own, allegedly-liberal, church.

So you may get how come YFNA considers this contrarian piece to be essential reading. In which author Arthur Chu dares to suggest that Charlie Hebdo and its creators are [ahem] suboptimal candidates for martyrdom.

Indeed, Chu compares the content of Charlie Hebdo to the worst (stopping short, YFNA presumes, of the rape [politely called ‘pornography’] and murder) of what goes down on American social media – precisely the kind of ignorant, loud, deaf ranting that has caused YFNA to dump Facebook and consistently refuse to have anything to do with Twitter.

“Well, Amoeba, isn’t this precisely the point? That ‘free speech’ should be free, and safe to be free, no matter what its content?” YFNA could bring up the hoary old bit about yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, but he prefers to quote Chu:

We have a problem where we feel like everything has to be boiled down into black-and-white sides … and where the enemy of your enemy must be your friend … where in order to condemn the actions of horrible murderers we have to elevate their victims into sainthood … the Internet is already busy at work deifying Charlie Hebdo as the new Satanic Verses and Charb as the new Salman Rushdie. People are changing their profile photos to crude, racist caricatures of Middle Easterners in solidarity with the principle of “free speech” … and the average person’s Twitter feed is one-half gleefully “irreverent” reposts of offensive cartoons and one-half cloyingly reverent tributes to said cartoons.
And any Middle Eastern or Muslim person who objects, even in the mildest possible terms, gets dogpiled for siding with the terrorists … [emphasis added]

YFNA argues (speaking of hoary old bits) that, like it or not, the freedom of speech implies also the responsibility of speech. How responsible is speech that serves mainly to shout Here I am, join me or fight me, hm? How can we be surprised when we proclaim armed camps and then discover that some of them have shown up with guns?

“So, Amoeba, rather than fail to be polite, you’ll let yourself be a slave? What, are you Canadian or something?”

“What d’ya think about that, dude?”

“Think about what, dude?”

“That free speech stuff OC’s been yammerin’ about for the last three pages, dude!

“I ain’t got no clue what yer talkin’ ’bout an’ I don’ care neither.”

I’ll give ya a clue, ya fmmmfmmmmmphmmfmmfmmptui!an’ git yer hand outa my face!”

“How many times I told ya ta keep yer language clean when yer talkin’ ta me on here, yeah? Ya want OC ta command-X us?”

Dammit, dude, I’ll talk t’ya in language ya got a small chance a hearin’ an’ understandin’! An’ fer tha last time, it’s control-X!!”

Yeah, dudes, YFNA has heard the argument that such stridency is necessary to get ‘the other side’ to sit up and take notice. Especially, the stridency associated with Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show – which YFNA regards as no less toxic than the outputs of the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage. The idea that the other side takes any notice at all – until it has to, and then, probably, with preemptive force – runs against what science now understands about the workings of social groups, in which a challenge to the group and its members, if it is recognized at all, is seen as a confirmation of that group’s importance, and of the necessity to defend that group. To the point, peace lovers, of war.

Tom Lehrer, the satirical musician and anti-establishment darling of the 1950s and 1960s, made perhaps the most telling comment regarding the ‘effectiveness’ of strident social commentary:

I don’t think this kind of thing has an impact on the unconverted, frankly. It’s not even preaching to the converted; it’s titillating the converted… I’m fond of quoting Peter Cook, who talked about the satirical Berlin kabaretts of the 1930s, which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the Second World War.

Something about which the ‘left’ in these Untied States (e.g., Daily Show devotees) may wish to reflect upon after the libertarians (Tea Party) take over the Presidency as well as the Congress in late 2016, just sayin’ …

Besides. When We the People identify and elevate martyrs, when We back their cause with all the stridency that We can command, are We not elevating Ourselves as well? Hey, look at Me! I’m all that! Look upon My works, ye mighty, and despair!

YFNA could only wish, speaking for himself, that it could ever be so. He looks back on his life – hell, his last 12 hours – and yeah, there were a few moments that maybe he could pass off as not being a drain upon humanity, but the rest of it … well, all he can do is pray that grace protects him from getting smashed like a gnat on the windshield of God’s 18-wheeler, eastbound and down on I-90 in the high plains of Montana. Which is what his consistent idiocy and thoughtlessness have otherwise earned him.

Are there really all that many of Us who can look in the mirror, really look, see past the hubris, and say anything to that mirror other than “[insert name of spiritual reference point here] have mercy on me, a sinner”?

YFNA has heard a bit about ‘self-loathing’ lately – and about how difficult it is to live in a world where self-loathing is practiced. YFNA counters that the practice of self-loathing – through which We recognize that We are not, and cannot be, “all that”, and therefore can only, with any smidgen of justice, act towards Our fellow humans with humility and petitions for forgiveness – might just ensure that We have a world in which we can worry about the difficulty. That it just might pull Us back from the precipice towards which Our strident pride is careening Us.

He is willing to take the risk.

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