Tag Archives: context

PA: Charlie Hebdo – Sufficient Context

÷I fully condemn the murder of the the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, but we need to consider the wider context.÷

While a great number of people lined up passionately behind the freedom of speech hashtag #JeSuisCharlie, a significant fraction limited their support, adding the caveat that the satire was clumsily messing with a volatile menagerie of political and religious anger and that therefore the violent response may have been understandable when put in context. We here attempt to understand this caveat of context and determine its validity.

We are actually free to expand our context continuously so let’s explore the effect of modifying our scale. Firstly, on the everyday timescale and spatial scale an observer (say, one of the casualties) would experience, the event is an absurd slaughter without cause and should be fully condemned. If we zoom out to a world-wide reach and all-of-history timescale we find thousands of years of horrific, religiously inspired autocracies which we can contrast with our own time and place: a veritable oasis consisting of a few hundred years and a handful of countries safe from the stranglehold religious ideology has had over human dignity. This scale of context actually supports the cartoonists and would convert the “but we need to” to an “especially when we” in the original claim.

However, between these vantage points there are a select few decades of horrible events including wars, terrorism, Western intervention, decolonisation and secular–Islamic conflict that act as juicy, context-rich ingredients for left-wing commentators to muddle together to make the comic absurdity of satire the bad guy. This isn’t possible at any other level, for if we zoom out to the scale of the anthropocene, it becomes difficult to see any meaning at all. Zooming out still further to infinity we reach a limit of perfect apathy as we stare down, doe-eyed and awed at the meaninglessness and the absurdity of our very existence across the infinitude of space and time.

Figure 1 | Widening context changes the meaning of the event in a nonlinear way.
Figure 1 | Widening context changes the meaning of
the event in a nonlinear way.

Rather than slide down this slope to nihilism, the strange dip between the local and historical scale is the range that allows one to reduce condemnation; what we have dubbed the “Aslan zone”, named after not the discoverer but the current chief capitaliser of the effect. (Editor’s note: we have censored the beak-shaped dip). Applying mathematical real analysis, provided the curve is continuous there must be at least two zero-points each representing pure apathy. If time is the only variable the first zero-point must be some moment between the immediate shock of the news and the next university tutorial where the event can be abstracted to obfuscation. If space is the only variable, the first zero-point is somewhere between Paris and University of California, Riverside. Unfortunately it is most likely to be some complex, untenable combination of space and time; we may search forever for the dependence and never find it, however the uncertainty will allow us to talk in circles in news interviews while making zero points.

The choice of scale of context is clearly arbitrary, so we should obviously select our scale to match that of God’s omniscience where all true causes are known. A God’s eye perspective can presumably be accessed through the word of God, via a book that was well studied by the attackers, making The Quran the ultimate con text.