Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Muslims Riot Over Cartoons

You've probably seen the news coverage of riots in Lebanon and elsewhere that seem to have been sparked by some offensive cartoons run in European newspapers. I say "seem to be" because of the possibility that some imams and mullahs were involved in whipping up the crowds. Anway, what does this news have to do with sociology?

Well, in part, I already answered that question. People respond to events partly because of the events, and partly because of leaders who inflame passions, provide a vision, give orders, or whatever that particular leader can do to influence people.

But there is another point to be made here. This one is at once obvious and subtle. Here it is:

People need to consider the social consequences of their actions. Could the newspaper publishers have anticipated this result? If so, are they partly responsible for it? Are the imams and mullahs who, one speculates, are encouraging or condoning the violence, responsible? Are the rioters themselves fully rational and independent human beings who can make their own decisions and face the consequences?

Please! I think the 19th century concept of rationality has been blown out of the water by evolutionary biologist, cognitive psychologists, sociologists, and social pyschologists. People are mostly responding to their environments when they act out.

Of course this logic puts the editors in the position of not being fully responsible for their actions either. What's an eggheaded social thinker to do with this problem? One would wish that people would anticipate consequences like these deadly riots and make an ehtical decision to not publish something that's likely to incite violence. Or is that to soft-minded? Ought people to act on their values (e.g., freedom of expression) without too much concern for the social impact?


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