Why I Oppose Graphic Images
[This article was originally posted to the Gauntlet website on November 3rd, 2011. It has been sightly edited for clarity.]
As the current head-honcho of the FreeThinkers club, I’m quite strongly committed to the idea of free speech. I think we can only approach the truth through the free discussion of issues, without censoring or invoking blasphemy.
Which is why I’m opposed to the Genocide Awareness Project’s pictures of genocide and aborted fetuses.
To see why, we need to detour to Mars. NASA’s Spirit rover spent an astonishing five years wandering the planet, taking photos and sampling rocks, quite impressive given its 90 day best-before date! On November 6th, 2007, it even pulled off something no human has done before: it took a photo of Bigfoot.
Ok ok, this biped is about six centimetres tall. And, it’s on a planet that has just a wisp of an atmosphere, let alone any trees to swing from. And and, it stayed rock-still for three days, perpetually in mid-stride. Yet looking over the photos taken by the rover, it’s difficult to see it as anything other than a humanoid taking a stroll.
The reason is due to a game our ancestors played trillions of times in billions of years.
Imagine you’re sashaying through the forest, when you hear a noise nearby. Should you: 1. Flip out and run away, or 2. Ignore it as harmless random noise? If you ignore it, only to be attacked by a giant sloth, you’re no longer anyone’s ancestor. If you freak out, even though it was only a harmless sleeping tiger, you’ve wasted a fair bit of energy and frazzled your nerves… but at least you’ll live on to make excuses about a giant sloth. Wash, rinse, repeat, and you get a high-strung creature which jumps at any strange noise.
This rationale extends quite some ways. Is that spotted pattern just random noise, or a hungry boar? Best be on the safe side. Is that group of shadows in the forest nothing special, or someone from a rival tribe waiting to pounce? Better be careful. Was that a friendly face I saw, or just a weird pattern in a distant tree’s bark? A second
look couldn’t hurt…
So when we see something that looks like a hand, we don’t think “hmm, that looks like a hand,” we instead exclaim “oh, that’s a human hand!” And if we see a hand, we know there’s a human lurking around there.
But is there? Human beings are a lot more than just hands and arms; what goes on in our heads is far more important. I’d love to rationally discuss what makes a human human, when we become conscious or when we are granted rights and responsibilities… the problem is, when looking at those bloody foetuses, a portion of my brain is going “hey, that looks like a human arm, so it MUST BE a human arm!” It’s prematurely coming to a conclusion and forcing an emotional response,
trying to veto my rational side. Thanks to billions of years of evolution, this response is both highly effective and impossible to remove.
There’s a term for this situation: the Heckler’s Veto. By drowning out all contrary opinion, you can either shut down debate or force everyone to agree with you merely to shut you up. The Genocide Awareness Project’s foetus pictures are a visual Heckler’s Veto, tricking our lizard brains to shout over any rational discourse on their behalf. The GAP should stop using them immediately, if they place any value on reasoned debate. Otherwise, they’re merely punking all our brains via an evolutionary flaw.