If you are male and have not always been a hulking brute of a fellow, chances are that sometime in grade school you were challenged thus:
“You sayin’ something about my mother?”
Probably, but not necessarily, you knew the challenger, at least by reputation. It’s unlikely that you ever gave a thought to his mother, however, much less honored her with a remark. But suddenly there you are, on the wrong side of an affaire d’honneur.
Now that we’re grown up we recognize the scenario for what it was: a piece of street theatre, produced by the challenger in order to amuse and impress his invariably moronic followers.
In our victim-happy age it is too often forgotten that offense is taken rather than given and that taking it is a conscious choice. There are those who thrive on taking it in order to have occasion to demonstrate what they believe is their morally superior position.
Whereas sayin’ something about the schoolyard bully’s mother can get you a beating, sayin’ something about someone’s prophet can get you dead. The other difference is that you might be able to squirm out of the beating with only a slight loss of dignity, while you can avoid the death penalty only by yielding your liberty.
Some say that the liberty of speech and publication that is at stake ought to be seen as more theoretical in nature, subject to the very practical consideration that pushing it too far can lead to disaster. It’s a fair argument but, I think, a flawed one. It grants a veto to the crazed and violent among us, and a veto once granted to one species of insanity will surely be sought after by every other species.
Those who use satire and ridicule to keep the corrupt and the lunatic at bay merit our thanks, no matter how tasteless we in our secure fastidiousness may find their work.