dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

War-On-Terror as Rock-Paper-Scissors

February 14th, 2006 by dk

When dealing with fundamentalists, it’s best to stick to fundamentals. The rules that work are the ones we already know. Don’t think of the riots over cartoons as the latest wrinkle in the global war on terror; think of it as an epic contest of “Rock-Paper-Scissors.”

Free speech and violence always connect, because somebody somewhere will always find a way to say something that will make somebody else mad enough to fight. If there are enough angry Muslim Danes to start a media-worthy riot, it took them four months to gather. The cartoons were published in September. The riots exploded in February. How many rioters in the Middle East could even find Denmark on a map?

No, these riots are not fueled by some overlooked Danish Muslim diaspora, receiving their hometown newspaper months after the fact, checking the police blotter for happenings near their old neighborhood in Aarhus, only to be confronted with cartoons depicting their religion’s founding prophet.

But that’s the thing about free speech: it is a frictionless force. Each person repeating something that was said or written is also repeating the act of speaking freely. This is true whether they repeat it correctly or not. The game of “telephone” taught us that a message passed on will become a message changed, often in very silly ways. It also taught us that listening is hard and sitting still can be even harder, unless it’s almost our turn to listen.

Free speech is the most powerful force in the world. “Paper” covers “Rock” and if that’s all there is, it’s game over. Free speech eventually overcomes violence every time. “Paper” has nothing to fear from “Rock.” The trouble comes when “Scissors” or censorship is introduced. “Rock” knows it can’t beat “Paper,” but if it can just make enough of a ruckus to bring in another force to take on “Paper,” then everything is up for grabs.

Once there are three forces instead of two, nobody can be assured the victory and the struggle can go on forever. “Paper” as free speech need only fear the sharp tip of control from “Scissor”-wielding government regulators, weak-stomached observers, or an overactive conscience. Interference and self-censorship pose more danger to free speech than outright censorship, because it’s harder to see what the speech looked like before it got sliced up.

Nobody should say something only to make somebody else mad. That’s just not nice. But if there’s something to be said that isn’t, only from the fear that it will make somebody else mad, that’s worse.

It’s worse because it has no end. Nobody ever wins at “Rock-Paper-Scissors” because defense and offense are always pointed in opposite directions, ensuring that no movement will represent progress. It forms a perfect circle of futility.

The president and others have wrestled to find the right name for this battle we’re engaged in. It started as a War Against Terrorism or War On Terror, but that confused the conflict’s purpose with its preferred tactic. Struggle Against Violent Extremism showed promise, but — even with a catchy acronym, S.A.V.E. — it didn’t catch on. Now it’s being called the Long War. They may be tardy, but they are finally getting it right.

The pen indeed is mightier than the sword, but only if you’re patient. “Rock” looks strong and intimidating, but “Paper” will win eventually. Just so long as we can keep “Scissors” out of it.

Tags: No Comments

Leave A Comment

Are you human? *

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.