Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sartre, Cigarettes, and Cartoons










The brilliant and anonymous Wretchard at The Belmont Club had an interesting post some time ago about recent attempts by the "authorities" to remove the cigarette from the lips of Jean-Paul Sartre. I was reminded of this in the wake of the current controversy over cartoons in the Muslim world.

In the case of Sartre's cigarette, a post-hoc air-brushing of history is attempted, and we are all supposed to pretend he never smoked. The modern sensibilities of the anti-smoking crowds are assuaged, and maybe an inch or two of reality is ceded for the sake a little bit of "peace." Fair enough. Who cares about the existence or nonexistence of Sartre's cigarette, right? You might call these the philosophical equivalent of small potatoes.

The cartoon controversy is a different kind of air-brushing altogether, i.e., a preemptive air-brushing, which is meant to control the kinds of allowable opinions about the Prophet. This preemptive air-brushing, accomplished with force and intimidation, and rendered effective by the engine of political correctness, cedes not an inch or two of reality, but something more like a football field, and it brings us no peace whatsoever. In today's world, believe it or not, cartoons are no longer small potatoes.

Consider this amusing bit of small-scale irony: Sartre's philosophy of existentialism, and one of its logical consequences, postmodernism, ultimately paved the way to the removal of his cherished cigarette. Existentialism air-brushed Sartre himself. Were Sartre alive, he would probably snicker about that.

Consider this bit of less amusing irony: it is also Sartre's Existentialism--and its bastard child we call postmodernism--that has pulled the rug out from under the West. The rug has been pulled so cleanly that the First Amendment is held hostage, philosophically speaking, by a group of silly cartoons.

Next time you hear some CNN or State Department official drone about not offending the sensibilities of those who might not like certain cartoons, tip your hat to the now tobacco-free Jean-Paul Sartre.

He always said life was absurd, and the front pages of our newspapers are proving it.