Thursday, June 22, 2017

Protecting the Vile

I had a disturbing encounter this evening with a person who mistook one of my comments. This person was a conservative, someone who knew nothing about me and the fact that I have written on the dangers of radical Islam for over a decade, extensively, under a pen name.

In response to a call from someone to ban the Muslim advocacy organization CAIR (Center for Arab-Islamic Relations), I had suggested that banning wasn't the answer, since banning organizations starts us down a dangerous road, as Americans. The conservative in question jumped on me, shrieking that I was defending an organization of "pedophiles" who believe in beheadings and female genital mutilation. When I explained that they had in fact misunderstood my tweet, they screamed that I was being condescending and repeated the accusation that I was defending the likes of CAIR.

It got me thinking about something that has become more and more disturbing as the country's political stances grow further apart, and the rhetoric gets hotter and hotter. There seems to be a trend amongst young people - with the best of intentions - to "ban" anything they don't agree with. We have to ban organizations, ban houses of religion, ban publications (the Koran), ban even ideas. These people are the product of an educational system that has failed to help them understand why our First Amendment exists, and specifically what it protects. Furthermore, they seem to have no comprehension of a world where we have tossed that most important amendment away.

Out of this zeal to ban what we don't like, rises movements like the current Antifa movement and its droves of indoctrinated, wide-eyed and loud-mouthed eighteen year olds, who storm the buildings and auditoriums hosting conservative speakers at college campuses. For two years, those of us who do understand the value of the First Amendment have cringed to watch these incidents, and grown nauseous at each failure of school administrations to stop it. This casual determination to allow the silencing of speech - and thus ideas - is terribly dangerous to our entire way of life. But how do you communicate that to an entire generation that never learned the concept of freedom of expression? They have grown up free to speak their minds - they never had to pause to question that ability. Worse, they have never had to stop and consider the real potential evil of forcibly taking it from another person.

It was a small light in this dark, turbulent political night we have been living in, when this week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against censorship of freedom of expression, stating that no right exists to prevent another person or entity from using a brand name that others may find offensive. Apparently, a pop band made of Asian musicians, which calls itself "Slant" was sued by some social justice warriors who just had to point out that the name could be interpreted as a racial slur; they appointed themselves the PC police and took the poor kids in the band to court, with the attempt of actually forcing them to change their name - something the band has stated they use with a sense of pride. (But never mind how the people with the slanted eyes actually feel about it. What has that to do with anything, in this world where we must correct others for thinking the wrong thoughts?) The ruling of SCOTUS is an enormous pro-First Amendment statement. The owners of the Washington Redskins, to name just one nervous entity - not to mention their many fans - are breathing a hopeful sigh of relief.

This is not about allowing anyone to be insulted. It isn't about supporting an offensive slur, gesture, or book. What it is about is freedom and respect. It's about giving each other the respect to back off and allow another to decide what is right and wrong for them; it's saying that we cannot appoint ourselves to be the thought monitors of other people.

I have been more than a little disturbed by the public celebrating this past week when a conservative journalist, Laura Loomer, rushed the stage at a Central Park, Shakespeare in the Park performance of Julius Caesar in which the lead character is a Trump lookalike, and of course undergoes the inevitable assassination. Conservative talk show hosts were cheering Loomer right and left, for standing up for civility. But from where I stand, she was simply lowering herself to the same tactics the Left has been using for two years, and somehow doesn't understand the hypocrisy.

In this political climate, it's always going to be the other side who is wrong. It's always their hypocrisy when they perform exactly the same act that we ourselves might feel morally justified in doing. That's why it is so imperative that we hold ourselves to a higher standard. The problem is, we lose all legitimacy to complain about protesters interrupting conservative speakers the next time that happens, when today we applaud the likes of Laura Loomer, who did exactly the same thing. Remember, the 1st Amendment doesn't exist to protect speech we like, it exists to protect the most vile of speech. If we start censoring this thing... why not that thing, and the next and next?

Then it gets very messy, because the question becomes - who decides what speech is going to be acceptable? The Left? The Right? No... THE GOVERNMENT. And then there we are, in Big Brother territory. We just can't condone the actions of Loomer, if we want to stand for Freedom. It's true that the First Amendment comes with exceptions - but these are inevitably exceptions that have to do with imminent public safety - never with censoring ideas. Never.

Some might argue that when the protected speech has to do with killing our president, it's gone too far. There have been cries of "inciting violence" - a totally inaccurate application of that legal concept (the violence in "inciting violence" must be under very specific conditions, and it must present immediate public danger). But actually we have already said as a nation - through previous rulings of the Supreme Court - it hasn't gone too far. We allow for example the burning of a flag - an act that so many of us find so vile and heartrending that it is almost beyond words. But because it doesn't pose immediate public threat, it is protected expression. We have decided as a nation, that the expression of a passionate political idea - no matter how disgusting - is more important than is stopping the expression of that which some may find objectionable.

Laura Loomer is wrong. If she wishes to complain about students banning conservative speech on campuses, she must allow a Julius Caesar Trump, and furthermore she should allow the audience the respect to view the play and make up their own minds. (It is worth noting that the play's entire theme is anti-assassination and anti-violence; the assassination scene is intentionally performed as tragic and emotionally alarming). And those who want CAIR banned are wrong. CAIR is suspected to be a funder of Hamas, and has been declared a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia. But in this country - where we don't regulate the thoughts of citizens - and where CAIR has yet to commit a violent act - we don't ban organizations for their ideologies.

We have to start correcting our younger generations when they talk about "banning" what they don't agree with. Our forefathers - and in cases like my father, our ancestors - shed their very blood for the idea that a person should be free to express themselves politically as they choose. We can't let these commitments to the First Amendment change, if we want to remain America.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Value of a Few Forgotten Virtues: Katie McHugh and Modern Millennials

Reporter Katie McHugh has a big problem. It isn't, as she might imagine, that her voice has been silenced.

McHugh was fired - according to her - by conservative online news-site Breitbart, when in the aftermath of tragic terror attacks in London she posted to Twitter what some consider "racist" remarks. As usual, the liberal Left screams "racist" when anything inflammatory is posted toward the Muslim community - "Muslim" not being a "race", notwithstanding.

This tweet started it all:
McHugh objects that she was simply stating the truth (as she sees it). Funny thing is, on its surface, if one considers it from a purely logical point of view, it is true. But unfortunately McHugh inores the obvious fact that, in a culture that has assimilated Muslims for centuries - and only recently has a radical jihadist issue terrorized the nation - you can't demand that all Muslims be eliminated from the population. I have to believe she understood her own irony, and was using the hyperbole to make a more forceful point.

But McHugh is an employee of a major news outlet that has a reputation to protect. Breitbart is not a government-funded organization. She doesn't work for a publicly-owned entity. This is where McHugh's immaturity catches up with her: her employer has every right to set standards for their employees, and particularly for those who are most visible to the public and working for a communications outlet. I would argue that although she might consider her Twitter account private, she is a voluntary public personality, and as such represents her employer and should consider their image as well as her own when tweeting.

Strangely, McHugh is as much a product of her age group as are the millennials who pontificate screaming into the faces of their educational and intellectual superiors, on college campuses. This sense of intellectual arrogance that young adults possess is alarming - not only because it is so distasteful to the rest of us, but because it is so counterproductive to successful navigation into and through adulthood. Believing that your own beliefs are infallible and unchangeable, is perhaps common to every young generation. But the current one seems particularly arrogant and definitely far more militantly vocal about it, and far less able to measure their own words.

I wonder what the dynamics are. Does the advent of social media and the opportunity to get up on one's soapbox and scream at strangers, with no real correction or accountability or consequence, help to form minds that never question themselves? Is it that we have raised a few generations of kids now that were only hesitantly told "No!" or only occasionally corrected, or maybe never told to be silent in the presence of adults or others who knew more than they did? Is it that their high school teachers and college professors model behavior that is intolerant of other points of view?  Is it a mix of all these things?

The notion of humility as a virtue, in the traditional understanding of that word, is something that needs to be revived. How many modern parents would even know what that word means? How many young adults do?  At its most basic, Humility is an ability to see your own abilities and worth beside those of other people, and accept those things others do better than you do, as well as your strengths. It is a realistic sense of yourself, including your intellectual capacity and your possible lack of insight or life experience. It may be argued that true humility better enables a person to appreciate others, and also to appreciate his or her own unique contribution.

Humility is beneficial first to the one who cultivates it within himself. When internalized as a virtue, it encourages a person to stop and consider the limitations of her or his own opinion, before publicizing it and facing embarrassment. Or loss of the respect of others. Or firing.

McHugh has posted some good pieces at Breitbart, and she may even have some interesting ideas and valid points to make. But she lacks the humility to consider the limitations of her own voice and experience, and the humility that might have caused her to stop and measure her words more carefully, before she hanged herself with them.

At present, she is loudly protesting her firing quite publicly. I wonder if she has considered how unprofessional or fit for another news position that makes her appear? No one hires a troublemaker, after all.  With all the typical recklessness of today's millennial, she rages about, decrying her own victimhood without considering how doing so will harm her. Regardless of how she feels about it, or whether Breitbart was right or wrong - the truth is that Breitbart did what any private employer can. I hope that McHugh received some warning before this happened, or at least had been given in the past some idea of the expected employee conduct as regards social media and other public communications. But whether this happened or not, McHugh can't control what Breitbart has done, while she can control the conduct she chooses for herself from this point on.

McHugh's tweets lacked tastefulness. They were obviously intentionally provocative, and I think she meant them to be sardonic and even funny. They weren't. They fell flat because they danced too close to meanness and unfairness, and lacked tact, good taste, and common sense. They came from a young mind that hasn't yet learned the value of temperance, the benefit of humility. A statement being true isn't all that matters: the truth of it has to be weighed against the necessity and fairness of it and any fallout that may result from its being voiced.

From the looks of things so far, McHugh may be too much a product of her own generation to exercise much of those virtues - temperance, fairness and humility - in the near future. And in that, she has much in common with other millennials who lack that subtlety of understanding that leads to the kind of nuanced communication skills which would earn them the respect they so loudly - and too often undeservedly - demand.