(Guest post by Greg Forster)
Today, Mark Steyn posts a letter he recieved from cowardly lioness Molly Norris, along with his absolutely devastating response. Not to be missed if you’ve been following the bru-ha-ha over Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.
Steyn does leave one thing out of his response, though. Asked to explain why he and others are so contemptous toward Norris, he offers a number of unassailable demonstrations that it’s because her behavior is contemptible. But Norris’s betrayal of her own professed principles was not only a missed opportunity, as Steyn stresses. It was a unique kind of missed opportunity.
For one person or one partnership or one organization – like, say, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, or Kurt Westergaard and Jyllands-Posten, or Ezra Levant and his team at the Western Standard – deliberately says something calculated to push back against a violent threat to freedom of speech, that is nothing short of heroic. They take all the risk, and all the rest of us reap the reward of their bravery as parasitic free riders.
But you can’t build a civilization on heroic virtue. Civilization has to be livable for the ordinary person. If a civilization is going to be characterized by freedom, it has to be built in such a way that the ordinary person can enjoy freedom without having to demonstrate heroic virtue.
Kurt Westergaard (Photo by Daily Mail)
Don’t get me wrong – heroic virtue such as has been demonstrated by Parker, Stone, Westergaard, and Levant – and Mark Steyn – will always be necessary. But that’s just another way of saying heroes will always be necessary. And you can’t have a whole civilization populated by nothing but heroes. In other words, heroes are a necessary but not sufficient condition for a free civilization. By all means, let’s affirm that the ordinary person can’t be free unless heroes make his freedom possible – but he also can’t be free if freedom for heroes is the only kind of freedom we have.
So what else, besides heroes, is necessary for the freedom of the ordinary person? A mutual defense pact.
We need a culture in which it is expected that when one person’s freedom is threatened, others will rally to his defense. If it’s everybody for himself, the enemies of freedom can pick us off one by one. Or if nobody but the government is responsible to defend those whose freedom is threatened – well, how well does anything work out if it’s a government monopoly? But if we come to each others’ defense, then defending freedom doesn’t require heroic virtue. It’s hard to be the first person to stand up for freedom – that’s why we need heroes, or nobody can be free. But it’s not so hard to be the tenth, or hundredth, person to stand up for freedom – that’s why those who aren’t heroes can be free, too.
It’s not necessary for everybody in the whole world to come to everybody else’s defense. But it is necessary that those who are morally and culturally proximate to the threatened person come to his defense. By “morally proximate” I mean those who have a special duty toward the threatened, whether by natural relationship (such as being a friend or family member) or for some other reason (such as by professional responsibility – doctors have more responsibility to care for the sick than others, because they are more able to do so and have voluntarily accepted the professional responsibility). By “culturally proximate” I mean those who best understand the social situation of the threatned person because they themselves inhabit a similar social situation.
And that’s what makes Norris’s abdication especially galling. The idea of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day was a fantastic way for all of us who are – as professional producers of social commentary – morally and culturally proximate to those whose freedom is threatened here to exercise a mutual defense pact. Steyn himself has articualted on numerous occasions the imperative for professional producers of news and culture to rally to fight off the threat to free speech from political Islamism. Well, this seemed to be, for a few brief shining moments, a way for some of us to do that.
But not now. Nobody else can make EDMD happen the way Norris could have. Yet it appears that being hip – i.e. not being even remotely associated with anything her elite-lefty social circle finds declasse – was more important to her than striking what could have been one of the most powerful blows for freedom in our generation.