Absurd philosobro Alain Finkielkraut strikes again: “I’m telling men: rape women. I rape my wife every night.”

Being a philosopher doesn’t mean that every outrageous claim you ever make or course of action you ever take is just ‘provocation’, ‘proving a point’, or ‘irony’. In a televised debate on French TV channel LCI (La Chaîne Info), largely between philosopher Alain Finkielkraut and feminist activist and politician Caroline de Haas, some very absurd declarations were made.

Screen-grab from LCI’s televised debate // La Chaîne Info.

The segment, part of the programme’s “#TheGreatConfrontation” series, hosted by David Pujadas and broadcast on LCI only three days ago, dealt with freedom of expression, the politically correct, and whether all opinions should be voiced or not. The clip has since expired and is no longer available on LCI’s website, but key moments of the debate have been re-uploaded on YouTube and elsewhere.

In a video excerpt, which seems to begin right after the panelists have been shown a series of comedy sketch snippets, Pujadas points out that it is not a question of whether some things are funny or tasteful, but whether some things should be allowed to be said at all. Framing the debate in such a way already puts de Haas in an uncomfortable position: either she must admit that humour is part of freedom of expression and therefore anything can be said, or she must agree to limit freedom of expression by supporting that not everything can always be said (without consequences), and take on the role of a dictator.

Extract of “The Big Confrontation”, LCI, 13 November 2019 // Dissident Officiel, YouTube.

Whereas the episode is entitled, verbatim: “Are all opinions good to be said?”, many in the debate itself seem to be interpreting the question as “Can anything be said?”, which in itself might not be worth debating at all. Of course, what is said cannot legally be limited unless the speech itself is an illegal speech act, such as a violent threat. So what’s the point?

When Finkielkraut shouts “Rape, rape, rape. I’m telling men: rape women. In fact, I rape my wife every night. Really, every night. She’s fed up with it, she’s fed up with it” on national TV, and then ludicrously tells Caroline de Haas “You are absurd”, no one in the studio is laughing.

Well, the episode mentions comedy, and that’s more interesting. Can you get away with saying anything when you’re a public figure who’s job is to joke around, be unserious, and at times, say the exact opposite of what you believe in? Comedy is tricky, and frankly, the deciding factor can definitely be tastefulness. There are sexist jokes on the more tasteful side of things that I can enjoy and laugh at, even the very crude ones.

At the same time, comedians are taking a risk by engaging in a socio-cultural pact of probabilities. Not all jokes land, and not everything will appeal to all people (hence the point of changing your material to suit a certain audience). When jokes are so politically, socially, or ethically charged and then are ill-received, it is your responsibility as a comedian to embrace the backlash. You set yourself up and you saw it coming too.

Alain Finkielkraut, however, is not a comedian: he is a French-Jewish philosopher and public intellectual who has written serious material on supporting identitary nonviolence. So when he shouts “Rape, rape, rape. I’m telling men: rape women. In fact, I rape my wife every night. Really, every night. She’s fed up with it, she’s fed up with it” on national TV, and then ludicrously tells Caroline de Haas “You are absurd” for thinking comedy sketches can trivialise assault, no one in the studio is laughing. In fact, there are audible gasps of shock, the panelists themselves don’t seem all that comfortable, and the host is quick to throw in “It’s just irony, it’s just humour”.

This isn’t the first time Finkielkraut has made such preposterous and honestly, weird declarations. He has previously been accused of making racist remarks when referring to France’s national football team, and has been critiqued for his unwavering defence of Roman Polanski who was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.

When referring to the case in this segment, Finkielkraut maintains that the girl was not a child but a teenager of “13 years and 9 months of age”, was “not prepubertal, she had a boyfriend, she had a relationship with Polanski, he was accused of rape, today she has reconciled with him, and she is imploring Caroline de Haas to stop harassing him”, with no mention of the consequences of psychological alliance brought on by Stockholm Syndrome, fear, anxiety, shame, and embarrassment often felt by survivors of abuse.

Finkielkraut is a public figure broadcast on national French TV and he has the power to influence those watching what many are interpreting as a very serious debate.

Of course, imposing legal boundaries on speech is not the same as critiquing speech, or taking subsequent action because of speech. So though not everything Caroline de Haas says has to stick, when she declares “You can not say that” in response to Alain Finkielkraut’s absurd rape joke-comments, she has a point in that it is a question of morality and responsibility, rather than legality.

Finkielkraut is a public figure broadcast on national French TV and he has the power to influence those watching what many are interpreting as a very serious debate. One would have hoped that such a framework deserved some consideration for the moral responsibility and authoritative power held by a public intellectual.

Amsterdam’s consumerist and eco-unfriendly fast fashion

Whilst Amsterdam can boast an environmentally-friendly profile in many ways, with its trams and metro lines powered by green electricity, and its minimal waste vegan shops like the Little Plant Pantry in West, the city seems to turn a blind eye to the ongoing promotion of fast fashion. In fact, it seems to incite it.

Kalverstraat, Amsterdam // Flo // Basic Snitch

It’s really no secret that Amsterdam is famous for a few things; the ins-and-outs of so-called shady and über-cool coffeeshop joints is the first cultural practice I’m harassed about when I speak of living here. Followed by the Anne Frank House, cheese, canals, pancakes, stroopwafels, oh yeah and the Nine Little (Shopping) Streets.

Declared the 17th most expensive street in the world a decade ago, the Kalverstraat maintains its motto of “Shop. Never stop.” Never.

I’m now fairly well-acquainted with shopping in Amsterdam as I am lucky enough to live nearby and work as a copywriter for a space listings company. Almost all of my writing has been for retail locations on the 9 Straatjes. This freelance job includes researching pretty much every shopping street in Amsterdam, including the Kalverstraat, which is the most expensive street in the Netherlands in terms of rent prices. Declared the 17th most expensive street in the world a decade ago, the Kalverstraat maintains its motto of “Shop. Never stop.” Never.

The thing is, sometimes I like shopping. It has been ritualised as an activity performed with friends, and it symbolises community and gathering. Of course, the practice is also deeply connected to holidays and celebration. When we are so exhausted, when we are so inconceivably underpaid and virtually impossible 40-hour work weeks are a bitter leftover from wartimes where women stayed at home, most of us glorify days off and count the minutes till our shifts end.

As a practice that also bonds parents with children, it comes in the form of your first pair of heels, or your first suit. It brings friends closer together by way of bracelets, lends itself to couples in search of flowers and jewellery, it proposes sales to its clients, and discounts to its employees.

So when I take issue with shopping, it isn’t the social aspect I think of first – though it holds a reprehensible, elitist, and segregational power which is stronger than its capacity to unite – but the capitalist, consumerist, and frankly, unethical and environmentally-harmful idea that fast fashion is the only way to go. The idea that we constantly need more, that the only solution is to never stop buying. And as many of us truly carpe diem for the Outfit Of The Day at the expense of our future, even the wokest of instagrammer vegans are constantly #gifted fast fashion.

Zahra Fatina writes for VOLTA magazine that the fashion industry is amongst the largest culprits of global capitalism and exploitation. She points out that even thrifting and second-hand shopping is only a thorny indirect alternative, with little means of verifying that the clothing has been ethically sourced or produced.

Kalverstraat welcomes more than 40,000 visitors every Saturday. Its sign sends a terrible message: the only trees we care about are the ones that are no longer standing.

More than just an ethical and financial burden, fast fashion is also bad for the environment: clothing is wasted and pollutes landfills, chemical dyes can seep into the ground, and as of right now, the textile industry is the second greatest polluter of local freshwater in the world.

As more and more critiques of fast fashion surface, people are starting to pay attention to important voices. London-based artist Elizabeth Thilling began her anti-fast fashion campaign Project Stopshop in 2017 during her time at university; what she calls a “visual exploration of fast fashion consumption” highlights the absurdity of extreme consumerism. In a similar vein, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg also advocates for a “shop-stop“, or, refusing to participate in the practice of shopping unless you absolutely need to.

And yet, despite all of our united individual efforts, despite thousands marching for action on climate change in The Hague, and Amsterdam standing tall and proud of its environmental efforts, the Kalverstraat welcomes more than 40,000 visitors every Saturday. Its sign sends a terrible message: the only trees we care about are the ones that are no longer standing.

How dare you incite us when we are in the midst of an environmental crisis.

We have long been told now that individual choices won’t make much of a difference. Perhaps thrifting or stopshop campaigns won’t be impactful, but the Kalverstraat sign that Amsterdam chooses to hang and light up is displayed to thousands everyday. That sign does have impact.

I’m not suggesting you shut down your shop, I’m not saying I will never buy a t-shirt again. But don’t have the nerve to incite a society that has already plummeted to the depths of consumerism to take it a step further, to continue, or to start its consumerist journey today. How dare you incite us when we are in the midst of an environmental crisis.