Like a good humanist and liberal I have always been opposed to censorship, however in the 1980s I stirred up a debate in the Humanist literature, pointing out that there was a newer wave of pornography about and it was very different from the kind of harmless stuff that prompted censorhip of things like Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In the end I agreed that censorship is not the answer, but what is?
So I shifted my ground slightly, not in the direction of censorship, but in the direction of asking opponents of censorship to do their bit to maintain standards of civility and good taste. This means taking issue with artists who use bad taste, shock and horror in the belief that the primary responsibility of the artist is to shock the ordinary, boring people. Congratulations to Nicholas Gruen for maintaining the theme of art reviewing on the Troppo site.
This piece is really about the Danish cartoons. In case anyone is wondering about the cartoons that detonated the current agitation, here is a copy from a British libertarian/anarchist site. They are attributed to a Danish site that has been down since 31 Jan.
There is a rumour that some really gross and offensive cartoons on the same theme were put into circulation by mischief-makers who wanted to stir up an exaggerated reaction. More advice on this would be appreciated.
In my view it is generally undesirable and bad manners to lampoon other people’s religions, although I would be pushed to define where good humoured satire stops and offensive lampooning starts. However you can tell when it has gone too far and this means that people who produce works of art like the Piss Christ should be subjected to polite but firm criticism from all fair-minded and reasonable people who think that art and civility matter.
There is no place for legislation or violence in response to lapses in taste. As Hayek pointed out, in a free society we have to put up with a lot of things that we don’t like. That is also my rejoinder to the generally sound comments by our learned friend on the Bench. There is nothing new about rancid behaviour by parents at junior football games and it is absurd to suggest that additional legislation is required to improve our manners. In fact it sends precisely the wrong message.