1) Why free speech advocates reject the “but it will offend Muslims!” argument as if it were clearly not worth considering.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the idea that you should not be able to draw a picture or write an article about something because somebody might find it offensive really is inherently stupid. I think blasphemy laws suck, that they’re a disgrace to a civilised world and that they’re taking us back to the dark ages. But the idea that some things can offend us simply by existing is not in fact particularly new or unconventional, as much as it might go against my libertarian principles. Few people demand the categorical repeal of obscenity laws, which are essentially just that. Here is a Less Wrong article asking a similar question.
My theory is that this is a problem that inevitably arises in heterogenous societies. Most of us don’t object to a law that bans public masturbation because we share the same instinctual reaction to it, and we don’t share the reaction of an observant Muslim faced with a cartoon of Mohammed. Of course, I still say the offended Muslim can go poke his/her eyes out if he cares that much, but then I’m also perfectly comfortable to generally push “enlightenment values” and secular traditions in the face of local cultures everywhere.
2) Why people cried for Steve Jobs
Which is an entirely different question from why people exhibit such strong emotions for their Apple devices. Because let’s be fair, Apple makes a lot of good products. They have great designs and generally trouble-free, marvelously smooth interfaces, and the customer support in Apple stores is wonderful (or so I’m told). But Jobs himself was never the most savoury of characters. The man was horrible to work for, stole ideas all over the place, never gave significantly to charity despite his vast wealth, promoted quack medicine until it almost killed him, and cared little for how his subcontractors treated workers.
Of course he was smart. And of course he had a good eye for design and had vision and was a good executor and gave good speeches. If I owned a tech company-ok, pretty much any company- and Zombie Jobs offered to run it I would jump at the chance. But since when does any of that lead people to care so deeply about a total stranger?
My answer is a combination of the media’s increasing tendency towards hagiographic obituaries, the fact that he had very consciously developed a personality cult and tied the company and its products strongly to himself, and the simple truth that he was a very well-known figure and there will be someone who cries for just about any celebrity, just because it means a change in their world. I remain unsatisfied at the idea that so many people the world over chose him as the only corporate titan to connect to in such an emotional way, though.
3) Why people care about the US elections
Like the first one, this is a bit of a tease, because I find myself reading a fair bit about it and I’ll probably continue to, if only because I won’t be able to escape it. But from a purely utilitarian viewpoint it’s a pointless exercise.
“But Nikhil!” , you protest. “Perry’s a whore, Santorum’s santorum, and Gingrich is such an obvious prick: wouldn’t it be horrible if one of them won?” And I say: it won’t, because they won’t. The truth is that none of them have a real shot, let alone the gallery of buffoons (Cain, Bachman, and oh God, Palin) that have sprung up and dropped out one by one. Mitt Romney is the only real Republican candidate who has a chance- sorry, Ron Paul- and no matter what he says in the primary to appease the raving horde, his actions as president are unlikely to be significantly different from Obama’s. Of course he’ll be a little to Obama’s right but on most things we would care about-foreign policy, Internet regulation, general IP regulations/agreements, free trade agreements- that isn’t saying much. As long as he isn’t stupid enough to start a new war-and however much you might despise his views, he shows all signs of being a rather intelligent man- the rest of the world could easily close their eyes to this entire circus.