Saturday, May 21, 2005

Column on Words and Pictures not being Sticks and Stones

Words and Pictures don?t Justify Violent Response

Tibor R. Machan

It?s not only some people in the Middle East who go crazy when they get
offended. You can see this kind of thing happening in many crimes of
passion right here in the good old US of A. Men and women who are upset
with what they are told or shown?such as, ?I don?t love you anymore? or
?Please just get out of my life? or some sensational images?often refuse
to deal with the rejection or offense in civilized ways.

Not only that. Entire special interest organizations are now being led by
people who respond to criticism by demanding harsh measures against the
critics. And, of course, we all have heard of those criminal defense
tactics whereby attorneys try to convince juries that their clients did
the crime because of a movie or book or something else they read or saw.

Whatever has happened to that simple but true notion that sticks and
stones may break your bones, but words?and pictures?will never hurt? The
idea behind this is that while emotions might be prompted by words and
pictures, any civilized human being ought to know how to turn away from
them and move on. This is what being a human being, with powers of
self-awareness and self-control, is about.

In anyone?s life there will be many occasions when he or she will become
upset from being called names, having favorite ideas demeaned by others,
derisive references to one?s favorite movies, teams, books, paintings, and
so forth. Any time I read a review of a book or movie or play I like, I of
course get annoyed. Most recently a prominent journal, in which I myself
have published several papers, took off against one of my favorite
thinkers and I went about wounded for a couple of hours. Then there is
always someone telling me I have behaved badly in the face of some event I
should have dealt with differently. I have lost friends, too, because I
wrote things that have offended. And upon that, I myself was accosted with
some harsh words. So it goes, but it should never break out into violence.

Our lives, as noted before, are replete with people hurling invectives at
us, dissing what we like or praising what we hate. But, yes, we can walk
away from these, shake off the insult or ad hominems, realize, after a bit
of mental and emotional shock, that no one owes us to be loved, cherished,
or agreed with about even the most precious matters.

Yet we find that political correctness is nearly abolishing the idea of
freedom of thought and imagery. Saddam Hussein, a mass murderer and
vicious dictator, is depicted in his shorts and this is supposed to be a
major crime for which not just someone who may have sneaked the photo
should apologize?for sneaking it, not for what it contained, mind you;
Newsweek admittedly misreports what some Americans did to a copy of the
Koran and this is supposed to excuse crowds of people going on a rampage?
What is going on here?

I suppose the lesson, not often enough taught?because that itself would
appear to be offensive to some?is that human beings can always regress to
savagery. There is no guarantee that they will be guided by principles of
civil conduct, by restraint and proportionality of conduct. To words, in
short, one responds with words, not with sticks and stones. Yes, words can
produce painful emotions but that?s no excuse whatsoever for losing one?s
cool, for going ballistic.

This is one of the problems with all those erudite analyses about how
terrorism is produced either by the terrorists hatred of liberty or by his
or her taking umbrage at American foreign policy measures. Neither
justifies terrorism?which is lashing out violently, sometimes with mass
slaughter, at totally innocent people. Terrorism is a kind of venting on a
grand scale and whatever other objective is associated with it does not
manage to make it anything better. Like toddlers who throw a fit, smashing
toys and even beating up smaller siblings, terrorists are out of control,
only they are adult human beings and have no excuse to offer for their
vicious conduct.

It would be very welcome if most commentators stopped providing excuses
for blowing one?s top and called for civilized, adult conduct on
everyone?s part who is feeling badly about something that didn?t cause any
damage but merely?even if wrongly?upset some people. This may help reduce
both crimes of passion and terrorism.

No comments: