the pressing question of freedom

I don't know what to make of it all, people shooting people because one made fun of the other in a cartoon.

I don't know what to make of it all, people making fun of others because they are different, because they think they have a right.

What is wrong here? What to write? There are questions pressing for release and so I will post those letters, jumbled up together, giving voice to something not actually quite expressible.

It's rather a vexed issue, this freedom of the press. Anyone within 'the press' will defend this freedom to the hilt. But is this freedom - is any freedom - without limits? At what point does my freedom impinge on your freedom, and become, then, a diminishing of both your freedom and mine?

The question occurs to me in the wake of the violence that was perpetrated against the Paris offices of a satirical magazine. Satire: so its business is poking fun, mockery, provoking thought. They'll ruffle feathers. They'll cause offence. Who will tell them when they've gone too far? And how to tell them?

Certainly not by killing people.

Perhaps through satire of one's own? Or through other artistic means, or news media tools.

We are all responsible for how we respond to critique. Perhaps understandably, the persecuted, marginalised, vulnerable will be more easily offended. They're already under attack. Killing people is still not the way to communicate your feelings of offence, hurt and being disrespected.

But where is the line for the press? I have pondered this often in regard to the paparazzi claim of the public 'right to know' in defence of the invasive disrespectful hounding of anyone in public life. A public role does not come with a reduction in the amount of respect or dignity to which one is entitled.

Likewise, the personal attacks on politicians, a particular subset of those in public life, is too often cruel and beyond any right a constituency has to information on their representatives' character and expertise.

When it comes to critique of politics - the policies - and religion ... to some extent, there is no preventing the overreaction of the hyper-sensitive. The inability of the subject group or members of it to cop critique on the chin is no measure for the line.

Critique is a helpful tool of accountability for the integrity of individuals and organisations. Outside eyes help us to see inconsistency, potential for harm, areas for growth. There are ways to offer critique that still maintain respect for the inherent dignity of every human being. Satire pushes up against that respect by its very nature with humour and mockery.

So, then the freedom to critique buts up against the subject's freedom as a human being whose dignity is worth respecting - and sometimes oversteps the mark. Negative stereotyping and vilifying of a particular group would be an overstepping of the line, I would think, if that is what the satire had become. I don't know. I haven't read the magazine.

It is a vexed question. And I don't know what to make of it. I do wonder if we might all engage in continuing critique of the ways in which our own words and actions respect or diminish the humanity of others, and thereby our own - for each person is the only person, in the end, whose behaviour and attitudes s/he can control. And if we each took better care of each other, those with whom we come into contact, what a difference we could make in the world.


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