09 November 2009

Don't You Feel Responsible?

drops merging
Image credit: Focus.aps.org
The Hate Crimes bill recently passed as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act, and President Obama signed it into law. I've blogged on the ridiculous nature of "hate crime" legislation before, but now a larger connection is materializing in my mind, bringing with it a fresh sense of urgency.

As the FCC is looking to the Net Neutrality Act to enlarge its dominion and neutralize the perceived threat posed by speech that is just too free, it's worth considering how hate crime legislation will interact with that speech crackdown, particularly in the style of attack widely favored by the mass media.

When a lunatic grabs a gun and shoots security guards in a museum, or a lunatic threatens a Federal facility or an abortion clinic, the mass media rush to find a way to blame (conservative-ish) rhetoric and/or a (conservative-ish) pundit for inciting the violence.

That agenda is hardly hidden. As just one example, in a recent interview with Glenn Beck, Katie Couric asked him whether he wouldn't feel responsible if someone who happened to listen to his show or attend a Tea Party, did something stupid and violent.

The aim of that propagandist line of questioning is to blame those advocating oppositional ideas for violence - even when those same advocates are actively discouraging violence.

How far will we go in blaming ideas and groups for the behavior of individuals?

If ideas considered political are squelched because of individual renegade behavior, how much longer will it be before we see an even broader application of the same line of thought that the mass media is using today?

Take, for example, the case of someone who is murdered solely because of their same-gender sexual orientation (the spark of the Hate Crimes bill). The criminal who killed that individual is not just guilty of murder, but legally of a hate crime. Odds are that the attacker attended a Christian denomination at some point in his life. Christian denominations generally preach that homosexual behavior is a sin.  Don't you Christian preachers feel responsible for that attack?  Don't you see how your judgmental doctrine of "sin" encourages attacks on homosexuals?

Aside from basic causal logic, the unsound line of "don't you feel responsible?" questioning necessarily dismisses that individuals are responsible for their own behavior.

Accountability for our choices is the primary check on individual behavior; and as the foil to statist control, it must be fought by those advocating greater government control of our lives.

Is the nefarious nature of the "don't you feel responsible?" approach clear yet? Particularly as our government is arguing for even greater control of our speech, I am concerned that not just freedom of speech, but the freedom of conscience that leads to accountability will be disdainfully swept aside in a frenzied media search to blame someone - anyone - but an individual for that individual's actions.

Collectivizing responsibility that belongs with an individual will eventually imprison us all.


Ann said...

very well said, Krista. I am so upset lately with the fact that more and more, responsibility is NOT on individuals. As you put it, it's on anyone BUT them. And you're right. It's enslaving our entire population.

Chantile said...


Jen said...

You can see how far this has gone when an emotionally unstable jihadist shoots up a military base, and the media attempts to blame the victims for his actions.

Carissa said...

freedom of conscience... where have I heard that phrase??

Oh, here it is:
"all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE" D&C 134:5

According to good old wiki:
"Freedom of thought (also called freedom of conscience and freedom of ideas) is the freedom of an individual to hold or consider a fact, viewpoint, or thought, independent of others' viewpoints."

Charles D said...

Krista, if "ideas and groups" did not have a significant effect on the behavior of individuals, we would have no advertising or public relations or politics for that matter. Ideas do matter, particularly when they are purveyed through the television screen regularly to millions of people.

The violent acts you mention are of course the work of deranged individuals, but those individuals do not cogitate in a vacuum. We know that millions of people can be moved to violence or the tolerance of violence by propaganda and mass hysteria.

I don't want the government telling Fox or Clear Channel what political subjects should be avoided or what opinions should not be voiced, but I also don't want a climate of violence in this country that forces government to surround us with SWAT teams in order to keep us safe.

I wish Americans simply rejected the kind of divisive hate-filled speech that makes people feel justified in violence against others, but they don't. At the very least, we need to make it clear that such violence is never justified and will never be tolerated.

Krista said...

Charles D - First, thanks for commenting! :)

Second, your thoughts are interesting; please allow me to explain where and why I disagree.

I'll totally grant that ideas matter, especially as they are so effectively propagated through the mass media.

And I'll grant that people *are* grouped in a limited fashion, in marketing circles, for the purposes of marketing, PR, etc. (Note: I don't think it's such a good idea - and really, it's probably part of why politics is such a messed-up field - to group people in such an individually-varying field as politics.)

That said, I see a HUGE difference between sending me a coupon for infant formula because I bought diapers - or even marketing a product within my zip code - and lumping non-criminals in with a criminal by some common trait.

Re: violent acts - *no one* cogitates in a vacuum. Yet the vast majority of individuals do not commit violent crimes. The question, for me, is not what the criminal's environment was like and how I can make sure no one has an environment like that, but whether that individual is accountable for his actions, or someone else is.

It's the individual.

If you disagree, then here's my follow-up question: For the purposes of this post's example, would you take the position that Christian preachers *are* responsible for Matthew Shepard's murder?

I see lots of people condemning violent acts, and no one (at least in my menu of media consumption) encouraging them. Is there something I'm missing about society and widespread media consumption, where people with soapboxes are encouraging violence? Are we seeing mass hysteria?

Additionally, I'm not entirely comfortable with your addition of "such" to the word violence; is there some different category of individual violence that you feel could be justified or tolerated?

Re: government control of media - It's interesting that you call out Fox and Clear Channel, rather than, say, CNN or MSNBC. ;) To the issue at hand, though, you propose what I consider to be invalid alternatives: censorship or a climate of violence. (Your assertion that the government surrounding us with SWAT teams is a way to keep us safe would take another discussion entirely... ;)

As far as I can tell, I don't believe in government censorship. There are neither "political subjects to be avoided," nor opinions that "should not be voiced." Does the word, "thoughtcrime," sound familiar? If so, you'll know that it was not an indicator of societal well-being.

You wish that Americans would reject "divisive" and "hate-filled" speech. Does division necessarily imbue one with hatred for others? I don't believe it does. I can drive a Toyota without hating Ford owners, or vice versa... at least in most areas of the country, right? ;)

What do you believe would qualify something as "hate-filled" speech? Do you believe that most Americans hate?

I don't. And I don't think that speech should be censored even if it *is* "hate-filled." Instead of masking over opinions to create a society as artificial as the housing bubble, let people speak openly. Ugliness, exposed, will eventually wither. We have nothing to fear from honest opinions, and much to fear from dishonest ones. :)