Today: Left the house a bit late, dinner of cupcakes and soup, then a few hours in the 61c. Current reading material is Jacob Neusner's "Major Trends in Formative Judaism", which I picked up a few years ago at a library sale in Columbus but never got to reading until a few days ago. It is written in a surprisingly awesome font. At 61c, I spent a good amount of time listening to the Intelligence Squared debate on whether freedom of expression should be absolute. If you take the time to listen to the debate, you might find my comments below interesting: I didn't find my position adequately represented in the debate, although I found it quite lively and interesting - freedom of speech as a near-absolute is considered dogma throughout most of the USA, partly because our educational system teaches it as such. It is our fortune to share a language with other countries that don't see things the same way, so we can better understand arguments against it. My positions are somewhere between the American consensus and what I can see to be the European consensus - I don't consider it dogma that offensive speech should be protected, but I think that it should be considered a default which requires a very strong argument to override. In particular, insult to the character of religions, religious figures, and national heroes/figures are things that almost always should be protected, and I have no sympathy for either the laws protecting the character of Kemal Ataturk in Turkey (although I think he was a great person) or those who riot to protect the honour of Mohammad (e.g. cartoon controversy). If people wish to curse HaShem or insult Gandhi, I believe that is fine - to improve society, we must be able to reevalute the worth of these figures to our culture, and consider their faults, real or not. That said, I felt Matsuda and Cesarani made excellent points that freedom of speech, like any good in a society, should not be considered an absolute - it must be weighed against other goods and occasionally will weigh lighter rather than heavier (just as with the other highly esteemed values we put on the scales with it).
More importantly, I think the slippery slope argument (very predictable), as pointed out by Cesarani, is juvenile - it neglects that we already are in the business of making careful judgements in this arena. Sometimes these judgements are, from my view, poor - the FCC's censorship of words like "fuck" serves no real purpose, but protections against libel, harassment, and the many other examples brought up are areas where our speech is not absolutely free. We should not be afraid of using our judgement when it serves humanity - by placing enough intuitions into the intellectual soil, their roots firm up the slippery slope and make it the best place to live. A political philosophy that is afraid of human judgement, thinking that should culture rot the laws will persist unchanged to protect them, is ignorant - such thinking distracts them from consideration of virtue, which, even in moderation, is the only thing that can keep a civilisation worthwhile in the long term. Virtue does, of course, not need to be religious (or secular), but it is social.
When should we censor? My inclinations are that we should not prevent offense to existing faiths or nationalist ideals, but ideas that are sufficiently racist, sexist, or theocratic by nature may be worth being barred from some parts of public discourse - this does not need to be a foolproof bar - moderate enforcement and a law are enough to help establish/preserve a norm. Punishments should, in most cases, be light - the primary point is to manage norms, although in some cases stronger management is in order (Russia and Germany are examples of societies that have a certain amount of struggle with containing neo-fascist groups, likewise the USA has/had similar struggles with groups such as the Ku Klux Klan).
Cesarani's full presentation (check the unedited version) was fantastic. Philip Gourevitch's was an exercise in rhetoric - I would hope that even those who agree with his position will find his style based on shallow, feeling-based manipulation.
I also listened to another I2us, and then worked on philosophy for a bit - working on the introduction to some of my thoughts for the next version of my website. I'm still stumped as to how much detail to go into, but at least things are coming together.
On the way back, I swung by the supermarket, and realised that the elusive quality of a meal that I've given the name "heartiness" is probably in fact protein content - I've often complained that most vegetarian food that one gets at restaurants that doesn't cater much to vegetarians lacks that quality, and have been thinking about what's needed in a meal to give it what's missing. Particulars:
- Tofu works
- Nuts sometimes work, although they're often unsatisfying
- Beans of many kinds work, if properly prepared
- Cheese works very well
- When I ate meat, it always worked.
After that, went home, but had a pretty bad heart thing on the way there. Oh well.
I seem to occasionally get this confusion from other people, so ... if people want me to turn up at social events, be they dinners, hanging out, etc, they should make sure I know that such events are taking place. I am not socially well-connected, and don't typically hear about parties/gatherings except after the fact when people say "I had a great time at X" in their lj, and even when I do hear about them beforehand I don't like showing up unless I'm pretty sure I'm welcome (I usually am not sure). I am not hard to reach.
I wonder if Boss Hogg (dukes of hazzard) was meant in any way as a parody of Boss Twig (19th century NYC mayor)...