Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Offense is in the Eye of the Offended

The current brouhaha over NFL players’ various postures with respect to the singing of the national anthem and attention or inattention to the flag has the Hatcher inspired to share more opinions no one ever asked for. 

The first observation which should be obvious to everyone but seems to always be lost is that criticizing an act of free speech is not a call to take away free speech.  You are entitled to speak freely, but you’re not entitled to never face criticism, which is of course something everyone understands when they are doling out the criticism.  That understanding seems to get lost when it is your own speech being criticized, and the leap to claim some mantle of victimhood with your fundamental rights being deprived is just evidence that your speech can’t be much worth listening to.

When Trump called for owners to fire their players who chose to use the national anthem as a protest venue, the NFL players in many cases doubled down with more joining the fray to make the next week a protest of Trump’s purported call to take away their first amendment rights.  A private employer has a right to restrict the free speech of its employees while on the job, and Trump was calling for such private employers to exercise that right.  He was not bringing the cold hard hand of government down on said players to restrict their first amendment rights.  The fact that protest then morphed into a protest of a straw man only serves to prove that really good football players by and large manage to get college degrees without mastering the basics of logic.  But then again, they are not alone in that regard.

All that said, mark me down in the column that says that while I disagree with this chosen mode of protest, I don’t care so much that I won’t watch the NFL or that I will hold certain players in contempt for their actions.  (If I don’t watch the NFL, it would be due to the damage Roger Goodell is doing to the reputation of gingers throughout the land).  You are allowed to disagree with someone without wishing that all manner of tragedy befall them, despite the fact that the social norms of Facebook debates seem to suggest that any degree of disagreement entitles you to extreme righteous hatred. 

Hating everyone you disagree with politically reduces people’s value to a function of opinions they hold that in most cases are not well thought out, or even particularly important in the grand scheme of their own life.  So now you’ve become aware of one voter who may choose opposite to you in a population of 300 million, and for that reason you choose to hate someone who for all you know may spend all his free time rescuing cats caught in trees?  Hate people because they beat defenseless puppies – it’s a pretty safe bet that is probably very well correlated with being an asshole in all phases of life; but voting R or D doesn’t correlate strictly with any virtue or vice.

The counter-argument to peaceful or even admiring tolerance of such protests is that those who take the most offense to such protests, soldiers and their families who have sacrificed their lives for the country, are at least culturally (if not legally) entitled to a veto over such acts as outside the pale of acceptable behavior.  That puts those who claim offense in the position of judging the unseen motivation of the act itself, notwithstanding the fact that most NFL players do not likely view their own kneeling during the anthem as disrespect to soldiers, or even perhaps the country as a whole.  Some would no doubt say that they are doing what they are doing out of a love for their country, and that a small peaceful act that may call attention to an issue where America can improve is an act of love rather than disrespect or hatred.  Personally, I’m inclined to believe the best motivation underlies actions that I still disagree with, rather than assuming the most sinister of motives truly applies.

With respect to the underlying issue sparking these protests – which I take to be a claim of systematic police abuse of African Americans – it is instructive to see that those in sympathy with the protests for this issue tend to deny the implicit veto claims of those offended by such protests.  That same crowd, however, is not above granting that veto power in certain circumstances.  For example, many who fly the Confederate flag insist that it is not for white supremacist reasons, and that they do so to identify with ideals held by the old South that are distinct and apart from slavery.  There were many natural tensions economically and culturally between the North and South that went beyond slavery, some of which still persist, making non-racist motivations at least plausible.  And yet, and rightfully so in my opinion, the visceral offense that such flag waving causes to African Americans is such that despite the possibility that someone might wave that flag for sincerely non-racist motives, there must be some other way to identify your allegiance to the forgotten virtues of the old South that does not provoke or offend.  But one must recognize that this puts one group (the offended) in the position of vetoing another over perceived motivations, even if the perception is inaccurate.  And the same argument can be made with respect to the flag issue – the visceral offense felt by a group we should hold in high esteem should be enough to call for a different mode of protest.

Finally, Trump was an ass in calling for the players to be fired, but he is a consistent ass, and he was playing like all politicians to his base, which regards the flag protests as a step too far.  Given the fact that it is very well paid athletes making such protests, he chose a safe target.  I am firmly convinced he knew when he said it no single owner would heed the call, and that he would do nothing beyond making additional blowhard statements decrying the cowardice of the owners.  That said, there is no doubt his statements feed into the overall Facebook debate culture in going so far as calling for the denial of people’s livelihood over a difference of opinion.  I’ve never seen that from a Republican before, and it is not pleasing to see it now. 

If you feel the same, and you are a person on the political left, I would ask you to consider the treatment of Brendan Eich, the former CEO of Mozilla, who was essentially run out of his livelihood over a stance against gay marriage made at a time when said stance was in line with that of every single mainstream Democratic politician in America, including Obama and both Clintons.  Or consider the occasional baker or florist who over the same issue have seen their livelihoods jeopardized by the state or a mob that seeks an extreme form of retribution over a difference of opinion.  In these instances, it was not mere tough talk on Facebook or a political rally that posed no real threat, and I hope I am wrong in assuming that few on the left viewed these ramifications as extreme and unjust.  


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