Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
I’m having a conversation today about the culpability of speech and rhetoric in the murder of Kansas doctor George Tiller.
There’s a trite, convenient argument you’ll often hear from people whose position on our first amendment is that there ought to be limits. You can’t yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater, they’ll say, and assume they have proved their point. And on the most basic level, this much is true: freedom of speech does not in and of itself absolve you of responsibility for what you say.
But the flipside, which people may often forget, is that with freedom of speech comes the freedom to not listen to that speech, as well as the freedom to speak in opposition.
We do not and should not put a legal penalty on speech that proclaims hate; such penalties mold in your hands a small clay viper, into which has been breathed life, and you can be certain that this beast will one day be turned on you. It is easier, certainly, to call for hate speech legislation, but just because it is easier does not mean it is better for you.
I’m no stranger to calling out incendiary rhetoric from the current strain of bully conservative that is slowly marching the Republican Party into the cold dark void of irrelevance. And in my more appalled, frustrated moments, I do wish out loud that they would shut the hell up. This is not, however, what’s best for me as a person nor best for our country. These people have always existed and they’ve always been these people. They are the same obnoxious grade-school punks who felt entitled to throw rocks at the first kid unfortunate enough to develop acne, the ones whose wit peaked with the creation of disgusting nicknames based on the names they already had. They do these things for attention and the feelings of superiority they receive from either respect or terror.
In a prouder society, since we cannot legally penalize the O’Reillys/Savages/Coulters/Hannitys/Limbaughs for demonizing and death-fantasizing, the most logical punishment should be a loss of livelihood. You are entitled to speak whatever you speak; you are not entitled to have a television show or radio hour or syndicated column to speak it.
I say “in a prouder society” because the reason media conglomerates tolerate these miscreants is that they make money. The contribute little but ugliness to the public discourse but they draw crowds, like Mexican donkey shows. We will never be rid of them until we as a society are willing to admit that such voices are the worst of us and not worth our attention, until we are willing to shout their voices smaller by glorifying, instead, the alternative to their divisiveness.
Pride is not the same thing as self-satisfaction. Pride is not about being complacent with who you are, it is about being confident enough in oneself to evolve.
We are to blame. We crowd the theaters ourselves, paying exorbitant amounts to watch somebody yell “FIRE!” and then trampling each other in our rush to the exits. Then we stand outside the building, buzzing, waiting in line to get the performer’s autograph.
George Tiller was murdered, allegedly, by a man named Scott Roeder. He was not murdered by Bill O’Reilly, or Randall Terry, or the ghost of Jerry Falwell. If we decide to hold these people culpable in some moral way then we as a society are also culpable, for allowing them to gain the heights of their influence in the first place. That’s a hard thing to admit, I know. The difficulty of admitting one’s mistakes is precisely why O’Reilly won’t do it–he’d much rather be ridiculous than wrong. As it has been clear for years now that we cannot depend on O’Reilly to better himself, it falls to us to better ourselves by pushing back, by turning away.