King Carlin of the Island of Norm

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Disclaimer: All characters are fictional. Any resemblance is purely coincidental. No intention of malice is intended towards anyone. All names that are inspired from real-life individuals, have only been inspired in their names and likeness. The Island of Norm does not exist in real life. Since this is for educational purposes, all photos taken from Google Images which are pasted here are fair use. 

Figure 1: The Island of Norm

Figure 1: The Island of Norm

In the centre of the Adriatic Sea, towards the eastern coast of Italy, lies the prosperous state of the Island of Norm (Figure 1). The island is named after the discoverer of the island, Norm MacDonald (Figure 2), whose character traits of being intellectually strong yet relatively unknown became the way the island envisioned its place in the world. This island is the favoured stop for shipmen who sail the seven seas. Little is known about the island and its people as it has stayed away from controversy by deliberately avoiding conflict with other nations. Yet, despite its apparent isolation, it is connected with its neighbours (and the world) via limited trade, and backdoor diplomatic channels which are used only to maintain minimum contact with other nations to facilitate the free movement of its people and goods across the globe. Most importantly, the island is connected to the world via the Internet.

Figure 2: A portrait of Norm MacDonald, the discoverer of the Island of Norm

Figure 2: A portrait of Norm MacDonald, the discoverer of the Island of Norm

The island seems to have a self-replenishing and self-sustaining political and economic system in place, which allows it to not really care about being part of global systems like the UN, or capitalism. However, the only fuel for its sustenance seems to be the regular output of ideas, as they are used to further the innovations of said self-replenishing and self-sustaining systems. This output of ideas comes from its inhabitants who travel around the world extensively for education and leisure. When they come back, they bring with them the only thing the island needs — a wide variety of ideas. The ethos of this island is such that it holds the rule of rigorous intellectual practice supreme. 

The governance and overall well-being of this island lies solely in the hands of its ruler, King Carlin (Figure 3). He is a just ruler, well-liked by everyone under his rule. His rule over the island is eternal, as the intellectual existence of King Carlin is eternal. He has never betrayed his subjects, and he never will. He carefully deliberates every decision of his, and thus whatever decision he arrives at is understood by the people of the island to be the best possible decision given the facts of the matter. Once newer facts are presented, such decisions can be subjected another round of deliberations.  

Figure 3: King Carlin addressing his subjects

Figure 3: King Carlin addressing his subjects

Figure 4: Forrest Gump — the first patient of the COVID-19 virus on the Island of Norm

Figure 4: Forrest Gump — the first patient of the COVID-19 virus on the Island of Norm

On 3rd February 2020, the first case of a person being infected with the COVID-19 virus was recorded on the island (Figure 4). It was suspected that the virus came to the island from a sailor from neighbouring Montenegro, and the people of the Island of Norm were wise enough to harbour no ill will or prejudice towards the people on their island who were of Montenegrin origin. King Carlin, unlike the people in charge of other nations, was quick to contemplate what to do about the situation at hand. He set up a committee to learn more about the virus and to work on possible ways of tackling it and halt its spread. King Carlin also sent out his Senior Information Officer, Jerry Seinfeld, to go around the island and bring back his keen observations about what is happening on the island so that King Carlin could plan what actions he was going to take next. Jerry Seinfeld returned after five days, on the 8th February 2020. By this time, two girls, Mary-Kate and Ashley, also tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. This was enough to ring the alarm bells at the court of King Carlin, as he realised the urgent need to stop the spread of the coronavirus before it caused an all-out health crisis on the island.

“King Carlin! I arrive with observations from the island,” said Jerry Seinfeld as soon as he saw King Carlin after his trip around the country. “It is my assessment that one issue is of critical importance, and we must take corrective action before it’s too late.”

“What is it, Jerry?” Only King Carlin can call Jerry Seinfeld solely by his first name. 

“What can we do?”

“What can we do?”

“There is a malaise of misinformation on our island. Despite reports from your committee showing proper information about COVID-19 is being disseminated to the public, some people are still considering hoaxes and fake news to be true. They are believing in unscientific ideas that may compel them to act in ways that further spread the virus. Their fears have overcome their otherwise intellectually inclined minds. People are beginning to wonder whether lockdowns and testing are necessary. Also, some people are using their right of free speech to talk about things that are not of such importance, which is detrimental to the cooperation required to protect this island given the global pandemic. I don’t know, King Carlin, what can we do?”

While King Carlin understood the value of free speech in any society, and promoted it on his island to a degree that wasn’t seen in any other democracy in the world, he also understood that the ensuing panic and inefficiencies emanating from absolute free speech could be devastating as it could lead to the whole island being infected by the virus. This could be especially harmful for the island as its carefully curated and managed self-replenishing and self-sustaining systems could crumble. If this happened, then it would put the very existence of the polity in danger. Thus, King Carlin was contemplating whether he should temporarily curb some amount of free speech (if not completely ban it) on his island, till the COVID-19 crisis was tackled. While King Carlin knew that his orders would be followed by everyone on the island due to their trust in him, being the just ruler that he is, he knew that he had to deliberate the question properly before announcing his judgement. 

King Carlin summoned to his court the two most renowned moral scholars of the Island of Norm (and possibly even of the world) — Jon Stewart and Dave Chappelle (Figure 6). While Plato held that what is just is what is moral, King Carlin’s philosophy is the opposite. He believes that what will be the moral act to do for each individual is what should be encoded in law, as what is moral is what should be just. Thus, Jon Stewart and Dave Chappelle were summoned to discuss the moral ramifications of curbing free speech on the island till the COVID-19 crisis is adequately dealt with. 

Figure 6: Jon Stewart (L) and Dave Chappelle (R) in the court of King Carlin to discuss about the COVID-19 crisis.

Figure 6: Jon Stewart (L) and Dave Chappelle (R) in the court of King Carlin to discuss about the COVID-19 crisis.

“Gentlemen, you have already been briefed about the situation we are here to contemplate today. I ask you for your moral deliberations regarding the issue, as we cannot descend into being like all the other nation-states of the world, which reek of immorality. What do you think, Jon? Is it moral for me to expect Normies* to curb some amount of their freedom to speak their mind?” Only King Carlin can call Jon Stewart solely by his first name. 

  *[People of the Island of Norm are called “Normies.”]

“Well, King Carlin,” said Jon Stewart, “I agree that this is a matter of dire importance, given that our self-replenishing and self-sustaining systems are in danger. I believe it is these very systems that give us the inspiration for what is to be seen as the moral thing to do. This is because if you look at these systems, they are the perfect example of balance between creation and destruction. They create enough to adequately provide for us Normies, yet it doesn’t create so much that such creation causes the rotting and destruction of the systems themselves. This is the nature of things – that anything that is a virtue is so due to it being balanced. As Aristotle said, every virtue exists in an intermediary position between the states of excess and deficiency. Thus, anything that is ‘good’, if not exercised in the correct amount, would cease to be ‘good’. If we are to look at freedom of speech as a virtue, then it too exists between the states of excess and deficiency. If we were to provide too little freedom of speech, then it would be tyrannical and oppressive. However, if such a freedom is unleashed with no control or sense of moderation, then it will lead to the kind of troubles that Jerry Seinfeld has alerted us about. What counts as a virtuous level of freedom of speech, in my opinion, depends on the context in which said speech is to occur. Thus, irrespective of what level of freedom of speech we have had before COVID-19, given the crisis at hand, it is incumbent on Your Eloquence to restore the virtue of freedom of speech by ensuring it doesn’t veer into the territory of excess. Thus, I’d strongly advise to curb speech that spreads hoaxes and fake news, along with speech that voices opinions against cooperative efforts in combating the coronavirus. This is because, while in normal circumstances belief in hoaxes etc. may at best cause people to veer into bouts of irrationality, and the questioning of cooperative efforts can be seen as a healthy debate about our social organisation, in the time of such a crisis these things are far less innocuous for they push us into an existential threat.” 

King Carlin nodded, but did not let a word out. He didn’t speak for a while as he processed what Jon Stewart had said. Then, King Carlin turned to Dave Chappelle and said, “What is your take on this, Dave?” Only King Carlin can call Dave Chappelle solely by his first name.

“I don’t know where to begin, George.” Only Dave Chappelle can call King Carlin solely by his first name. “I disagree with Jon Stewart’s idea of morality being a function of the context. If morality is to be seen as a set of imperatives, as Kant saw them, then only those moral imperatives which are categorical, which implies those statement that are unchanging, and unconditional irrespective of context, are the statements which we should use to justify morality. If that is the nature of ethical statements, then we should disregard the proposition that moral expectations from Normies should change just because we are in the midst of a crisis. Now Kant, gave us four such imperatives. One imperative formulation stated that we should not use people as a means to an end, but we should see them as end in themselves. However, I feel that the way we are discussing about what people should do to ensure that the island survives, reduces Normies as mere means to an end.” 

“Dave Chappelle! I’ve known you for many years,” said Jon Stewart. “We have even gone on tours together, addressed many crowds. I know you to be a funny man. But I am unsure whether this is one of your jokes or not. How are people being used as means to some end, when such an end is their eudaimonia? Also, if morality doesn’t change with context, then how do we account for the bad things that emanate from doing good things in the wrong contexts? What if you crack a joke on any of our friends, say Doug Stanhope for example — which in normal situations would be an acceptable thing to do — wouldn’t it be inappropriate if you crack a joke on Doug Stanhope’s expense in front of him when he is feeling sad, or worse, during his funeral? Wouldn’t it be disrespectful? Wouldn’t it cease to be a ‘good?’” 

“What is ‘good,’” replied Dave Chappelle, “cannot depend on the consequences. The only thing that is good without qualification is the good will. It is in that light that you see the supremacy of the categorical imperatives. And it is in that light that you judge the arguments of moral relativism. Besides, if morals are relative, then you cease to have any stable sense of morality.” 

Jon Stewart, who was known as the island’s most trusted spokesperson before he chose a reclusive life, had seen enough in life to be able to grasp Dave Chappelle’s arguments. After contemplating Dave Chappelle’s words, Jon Stewart spoke 

“We are both then essentially talking from two distinct premises,” replied Jon Stewart after contemplating Dave Chappelle’s words. “In the paradigm in which you operate there isn’t a possibility of overdoing a virtue, which makes the idea of moderation seem redundant. But we know by observation that there is such a thing as overdoing something.” 

King Carlin silently took in what both of them had to say. And then King Carlin spoke. 

“If I were to consider what you are saying, Dave, then the virtue of free speech should be uniform irrespective of whether or not a pandemic exists. Doing that would deal with the absolutist stance you are taking. And if we are to consider your argument that humans are not to be seen as means to an end, then it seems to me that it would make us reconsider many laws that require the assistance of Normies towards the greater good of the island. The question then is, can individuals be trusted with acting towards the greater good? If they cannot be trusted with such actions, is there a moral way to get them to?

“On the other hand, Jon,” said King Carlin, “your idea of moderation does have merit, since we see it in our surroundings, especially in our self-replenishing and self-sustaining systems. I sit here contemplating whether that is moral justification enough for me to suspend certain freedoms of speech till we deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

“King Carlin, oh my dear King Carlin,” said King Carlin’s assistant Stephen Colbert (Figure 7). “We must not lose sight of the fact that there can be possible ways to stop the damage of the COVID-19 crisis without altering the freedom of speech of Normies.” 

Figure 7:Stephen Colbert — Assistant to King Carlin — seen here having the famous ‘Intelligence Juice’ which is a delicacy of the Island of Norm

Figure 7:Stephen Colbert — Assistant to King Carlin — seen here having the famous ‘Intelligence Juice’ which is a delicacy of the Island of Norm

“Yes, Stephen, you’re right. However, at this stage we are taking Jerry’s assessment that free-flowing freedom of speech is at least to a certain extent negatively impacting our fight against the crisis.” Only King Carlin can call Stephen Colbert solely by his first name. 

King Carlin reverted to addressing Jon Stewart and Dave Chappelle, and proclaimed:

“As I see the situation currently, Jon’s argument of free speech moderation seems to be the more valid option. In part this is because the moral dilemma we are dealing with in this case does concern actual consequences. Hence, I do agree with Jon’s assessment that Dave’s argument is also valid, as it differs from Jon’s argument only due to initial premises. If the idea of upholding rigorous intellectual practice is the ethos of this island, then should we also allow people to conduct themselves in a way that goes against intellectual practice, and spoils the ethos of our island? Yes, people are emotional beings and to expect them to be devoid of them is also erroneous. However, must we not make a distinction between feeling certain things and acting on them? If the only thing that is good without qualification is the good will, why must we see everything that is not the good will as necessarily bad? Can there not be a gradation or spectrum of what we consider to be ‘good’? If we use that as our premise about the nature of good virtues, then we can justify the move of curbing some amount of free speech till such time as we have dealt with the crisis. Yes, our aim here is not to take a utilitarian approach to say that maximum wellbeing for Normies is what we shall consider as moral. But we choose this action of curbing because absolute free speech is causing an imbalance which must be reverted. I thus proclaim all speech that spreads fake news and hoaxes about the COVID-19 virus to be made illegal.” 

The people of the Island of Norm happily agreed to King Carlin’s verdict. They realised that it was important to find a balance between their emotions and their actions. While King Carlin initially saw the ruling as a vindication on the imbalance of the freedom speech, he soon realised that the ruling also restored the balance of emotion in an individual. Individuals were thus allowed to talk about their feelings in the free therapy clinics spread across the island. However, they were also made to strike a balance between their emotional and rational sides.

As Forrest Gump, Mary-Kate, and Ashley recovered from the virus, the King’s swift actions insured that no one else was infected by the virus and soon enough the island was rid of the virus in a matter of weeks. The island declared a day off to celebrate the victory against the virus COVID-19. As people cheered along the streets “Long Live King Carlin”, King Carlin was already preparing for a discussion to reconsider the limits on free speech that he made during the crisis. 


About the Author

Sankalp Vohra is an aspiring academic. He was part of the Young India Fellowship at Ashoka University, before which he completed his graduation in Economics from University of Delhi. His academic interests lie at the intersection of philosophy and psychology as he is curious about the various facets of what it means to be human.