Blasphemy

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Blasphemy

Drealm
When I was in Japan I had a pleasant experience at their Osaka airport. It is against Japanese culture to make people feel worthless so they go out of their way to make you feel better by being polite. In America it is the opposite, people get pleasure from making other people suffer. I hate Americans but I don't go out of my way to make Americans suffer, so I'm neither intentionally polite or intentionally rude. I can live in a society that is neutral but it's unpleasant to live in a society where people get off on being rude.

Outlining an ideal way for people to act towards each other is an elusive concept though. For example if someone is ugly should you tell them they are ugly? On the one hand this is honest but on the other hand it would probably upset them. So you cannot easily code rules for eliminating what some people feel is rudeness. The closest concept I see to this is Blasphemy. Blasphemy is the idea that showing any disrespect to a deity is not allowed. So if a deity is ugly, fat or stupid it doesn't matter if these things are true, you are still not allowed to call your deity any of them.

If you look in Leviticus 24:10-16 you see this:

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10 Now the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father was[b] among the Israelites. A fight broke out in the camp between the Israelite woman’s son and an Israelite man. 11 Her son cursed and blasphemed the Name, and they brought him to Moses. (His mother’s name was Shelomith, a daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan.) 12 They put him in custody until the Lord’s decision could be made clear to them.

13 Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 14 “Bring the one who has cursed to the outside of the camp and have all who heard him lay their hands on his head; then have the whole community stone him. 15 And tell the Israelites: If anyone curses his God, he will bear the consequences of his sin. 16 Whoever blasphemes the name of Yahweh is to be put to death; the whole community must stone him. If he blasphemes the Name, he is to be put to death, whether the foreign resident or the native.

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This concept works for being applied to a virtual person because they won't take advantage of your submission to their authority.

In the ten commandments the fifth command says:

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Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

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Depending on how you interpret this, you can argue that this is a case for extending Blasphemy law to parents. Most parents in a civilized society will not abuse their power. They want their children to do better so there isn't a need to give children democracy. Children also need to be protected from themselves before they've matured. So while honoring your parents can make children submissive to their parents autocracy I think the danger of abuse is much more limited than from a stranger.

So I made two references above. They indicate that you're suppose to submit to your deity and your parents. Most people you deal with are neither though. Most of the restrictions in the old testament are for quantifiable offenses such as killing, stealing, raping. If you strictly follow the rules you can still be a complete asshole to everyone except Jehovah and your parents.

So what is the solution to this?

Japan has a nice appearance but it's not really an ideal example. What you get in Japan is a fairly hollow way of interacting with people that doesn't allow for real exchanges when they are needed. I would speculate to say that this is why they have a zombie economy and lack of innovation. Their culture doesn't allow them to express constructive criticism because they error so heavily on the side of being polite.

So is Blasphemy law for everyone the answer? This exactly what liberals want. It's also what plenty of people on Happier Abroad want. Most of the world wants their own variant of Blasphemy law. I don't think this is the answer either.

My sense is that what's needed is some other solution. Children are often told to think about what they say before they say it. This is instructed at an age where they're able to express themselves faster than they can think through what they're saying, often resulting in saying something that's truthful but insensitive such as "your haircut looks stupid billy". By telling a child to deliberately slow down what they say it helps them refine their thoughts instead of being just a verbal gag reflex.

Modern society teaches people to have no internal thoughts. People respond with the same gag reflexes as children. I think the solution between letting people be total assholes and enforcing blasphemy law is teaching people to think internally about what they say before they commit to saying something. Practices like the Sabbath or praying five times a day are one way to get people to start thinking more internally. If you have to invest the energy in thinking through something before you say it you are more likely to say something refined than to just have a gag reflex. In a way you are putting a price on speech. You are making it very expensive for assholes to talk.
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Re: Blasphemy

fschmidt
Administrator
This post was updated on .
This is an excellent topic.  The explanation for Japan and the Torah is the same, but I will start with Japan.

My basic point in this post is this:  In a civilized culture, you are unconstrained in what you say but you are constrained in how you say it.  In an uncivilized culture, you are constrained in what you say but you are unconstrained in how you say it.

Let's consider an example.  Your boss is a moron who just did something very stupid, and your task is to inform him that what he did is stupid and that he should reconsider his decision.  In Japan you are required to be deferential and obedient to your boss at work.  This guarantees harmony in the workplace.  However it is traditional for workers to go out with their boss after work.  During this time, you are permitted to say absolutely anything to your boss as long as you don't do it in an insulting way.  So you can tell your boss that what he did is wrong and why.  You know from Japanese custom that your boss cannot hold this against you.  He must listen and he may or may not agree, but your right to tell him is built into Japanese culture.  Your boss knows that you will not bring this up at work and will not embarrass him with it.  Because he knows this, he will not feel threatened by what you say and this lets him consider your comments objectively.  This is how a civilized culture uses cultural rules to allow the expression of truth in a safe way.

Compare this to America.  You can act like a complete jerk and this is considered completely normal.  But if you bring any facts in any circumstance that contradict anyone in power, they will feel threatened and will attack you.  So in America, you have no real freedom to tell the truth.

The same logic applies to the Torah.  The crime in Leviticus 24:10-16 wasn't what was said, but rather how it was said, namely cursing and insulting God.  The Torah is very supportive of free speech.  Nowhere in the Torah will you find any prohibition of expressing any ideas.  But to act in a disrespectful manner to God or your parents is prohibited.  This in no way constrains what you can say, only how you can say it.

It is impossible to both allow freedom of what is said and how it is said.  The example of America makes this clear.  When there is no contraint on how things are said, then people feel easily threatened and will use their personal power to constrain what people say.  Since power is never equally distributed among people, this means that freedom of speech will be constrained practically even if not legally.  See the rampant bannings on American forums as an example.
Following the Old Testament, not evil modern culture
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Re: Blasphemy

Drealm
You've provided a remarkably clear and practical way for handling this issue. I think this covers most scenarios.

Once scenario that isn't covered is talking about a person rather than something they did. For example your scenario shows a worker addressing his boss for doing something stupid. The worker isn't addressing the boss himself for being stupid, yet this could be a correct. So the I guess the ideal constraint is never to address a person's character. So even if someone is stupid, you should only call their actions stupid as this leaves their personal integrity intact? Realistically I think anyone, regardless of how politely they are told, will feel it's rude if you say "I'm very sorry but you're not a intelligent/attractive person".