[ by Charles Cameron -- compare and contrast as a means of contextualizing, suggesting a tool that might be of use to the IC in any number of circumstances ]
In this particular case, Pussy Riot is the topic, comparison with is the method, and some form of graphic the appropriate medium around which to build a presentation.
Both these statements have been made recently by Catholic priests, and they portray opposite positions on the matter. Again, it is my sense that the graphical representation of these remarks calls forth in the reader both similarities and differences, as Cath Styles nicely put it:
A general principle can be distilled from this. Perhaps: In the very moment we identify a similarity between two objects, we recognise their difference. In other words, the process of drawing two things together creates an equal opposite force that draws attention to their natural distance. So the act of seeking resemblance – consistency, or patterns – simultaneously renders visible the inconsistencies, the structures and textures of our social world. And the greater the conceptual distance between the two likened objects, the more interesting the likening – and the greater the understanding to be found.
From my point of view, the direct juxtaposition in a DoubleQuote or equivalent format does the job nicely when two fairly simple quotes are considered together.
Things can get more complex than that when a variety of discourses come together, but the same general principles can still be applied, and a graphical representation sought.
Bearing Cath’s point in mind, then, I’d like to examine some of the ways in which people have contextualized the Pussy Riot event in the Cathedral with counterfactual instances (ie by contrasting it with instances that in some ways parallel the factual instance, but in “what if” style alternate universes.
An Amnesty International petition site (Take Action Now – Amnesty International USA) urges people to send an email with the following text to the Russian prosecuting authorities:
I respectfully urge you to drop the charges of hooliganism and immediately and unconditionally release Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Furthermore, I call on you to immediately and impartially investigate threats received by the family members and lawyers of the three women and, if necessary, ensure their protection. Whether or not the women were involved in the performance in the cathedral, freedom of expression is a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and no one should be jailed for the peaceful exercise of this right. Thank you for your attention to this serious matter.
Now imagine, for a moment, that the boot was on the other foot.
Imagine that it was a Western European country, and that the act of “hooliganism” concerned was daubing swastikas on a synagogue. If that were the case, would Amnesty International be urging its members and the general public to send messages saying:
Whether or not the women were involved in writing the graffiti on the synagogue, freedom of expression is a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and no one should be jailed for the peaceful exercise of this right. Thank you for your attention to this serious matter.
I think that in Western Europe such a petition would be widely regarded as “hate speech”, and “anti-Semitic”, as would the graffiti. So why does Amnesty International think that it is OK to encourage people to send such things to Russia?
And then, of course, one can put the boot back on the first foot again. If these same three young women had daubed graffiti on a synagogue in Moscow, would they have been prosecuted for the same offence and in the same way as they have been in this case?
So there are differences between Russian culture and Western culture, and differences within Russian and Western culture.
That’s a pretty impressive example of the counterfactual genre — and doubly so, it seems to me, because of the final reversal, the twist in its tail.
Next, here’s another quote from the same Fr. Hogan we quoted above. In this case, the mosque is used as the primary contrast to the cathedral, but the synagogue also makes an appearance — and Fr. Hogan throws at least one other interesting contrast into the mix — comparing Putin and western leaders:
Protest is fine, the day will come, I’m sure, and not too far away either I think, when we Christians may be protesting against our governments and engaging in civil disobedience, but protest must always respect others and the faith of others. As some have asked, would these ladies do the same in a mosque? They would not for two reasons – it would not be politically incorrect and they might end up being stoned to death before they had a chance to get out of the building. Is it legitimate to mock faith and descecrate places held sacred by people in order to protest against a political regime?
Some will say these ladies did so because the Orthodox Church is too close to the Russian government. Okay, well Judaism is considered by many to be too close to Zionism and the State of Israel – well, where are the lewd feminists dancing in the synagogues mocking Abraham and Moses? They are not there because they know it is inappropriate and wrong – just as it is inappropriate and wrong to desecrate a place of Christian worship.
What interests me here is that he uses multiple counterfactual contrasts, which perhaps makes his paragraphs a little less elegant than Khanya’s — but interesting in the complexity it adds to his analysis.
I’ll return to that remark about “we Christians may be protesting against our government” later.
I wonder if #PussyRiot would get so much attention if they were a band of men called #DickMob.
That comes at the Pussy Riot issue from a completely different angle, and is very elegantly done.
Our next task is to see what oppositions we can find in these three statements.
- Kanya uses Amnesty’s concerns regarding freedom of expression vs appropriateness of expression by comparing the cathedral incident with women “in a Western European country” daubing swastikas on a synagogue, thus also proposing a comparison between eastern and western European mores.
- Then, in a reversal, Kanya uses the same cathedral incident vs daubing graffiti on a synagogue specifically in Moscow this time, to explore the degree to which Moscow might be more tolerant of anti-Semitism than of anti-Orthodoxy, both in terms of public opinion and via political and legal systems.
- Fr Hogan’s question poses a contrast between the cathedral (and Orthodoxy and Putin) and a hypothetical mosque (and Islam and, say, a militant faction in Pakistan).
- His second comparison is between two church-and-state collaborations, Orthodoxy with the Russian state and Judaism with the Zionist, and again the question he raises is whether similar behavior in a parallel situation would be tolerable.
- Then there’s his intriguing third comparison, which I said I’d return to, in which he suggests that the “not too far” future may hold the need for civil disobedience and anti-government protests by Christians – in the west presumably. Fr Hogan hails from Ireland, which has had its own share of Church troubles and no longer wields the power it once did over Irish people and politics. Present day Russia, then, contrasted with a hypothetical future Ireland.
- But the malaise is more widespread, and to add a comparison of my own into the pot, Fr Hogan’s remark reminds me of something Cardinal George of Chicago said not so long ago, looking at the looming battle between an increasingly secular state and his own moral stances on such issues as abortion and same sex marriage:
I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.
- Finally, there’s Josh Shahryar’s contrast between a factual girl band named Pussy Riot and a counterfactual boy band called DickMob.
But that’s oblique to our narrative here…
What sort of a graphic would allow us to rotate all these polarities in our minds?
One answer is a Sembl-type game board — see design below — but with concepts rather thyan objects in the “positions” on the board:
But I’m also after other possibilities here. What would our fine artists, engineers, architects, dancers, cartographers, logicians, musicians, data visualizers and computer scientists suggest?
It would of course be nice if we could wrap this whole business of counterfactuals with a nice British cuppa tea, eh? Perhaps we can…
From a comment in the Guardian:
With the best will in the world I can’t see that if a bunch of noisy youngsters stood up in Westminster Abbey and screamed obscenities about the Queen to the accompaniment of electric guitars turned up to eleven, that the rest of the world would throw up its hands in horror if they were first stopped and then charged with an offence.
What’s that? We endured the Blitz, for goodness sake!