Speech and Consequences

Addressing the recent Duck Dynasty fooforah and issues of free speech.

The patriarch of the A&E reality show Duck Dynasty, a self-confessed former drinker and ultimately reborn evangelical, shared his personal views on sin (and life in the south) during an interview with, of all things, GQ magazine. The media, from blogs to network news programs, went ape.

Before continuing, I want you all to think about that for a second.  We are on the cusp of the 14th year of the 21st century;  China just soft-landed a probe on the Moon;  India just launched a Mars probe.  Google is busily acquiring the hands that will enable its monstrous (secret) AI to manipulate its environment; scientists are on the verge of unlocking some of the deepest secrets of our universe and yet –

our public discourse is dominated by the fallout of a reality show star’s interview in a men’s style magazine.

Can someone please tell me when the Three Stooges became the model for our current reality?

I’m not dismissing the larger debate(s).  I am pointing out the sick irony of the situation – that such debased and valueless pursuits as reality TV and style should be the medium of these messages.  It’s disheartening and sickening to be forced to realize that such things still have currency with my fellow humans (enough so to be a multi-million dollar property), depressing to realize that such being the case strongly suggests that we all have a long way to go – a very long way to go – before the labels “mature” and “evolved” can justifiably be applied to the human species.

Beyond that meta message:  free speech.

Phil Robertson, creator of the Duck Commander duck call and founder of the Duck Dynasty, is free to express his opinions on any subject he cares to address.  Individuals who disagree with those opinions are free to express their dissatisfaction and distaste.  GQ magazine is free to interview anyone they so choose, consumers are free to purchase and read or not, A&E is free to manage their program lineup in any manner they feel best serves their business model;  groups of individuals are free to protest publicly and other groups of individuals are free to protest the protest.

What hardly anyone seems to be taking into consideration is that no one is (or should be) free from the consequences of exercising their right to express themselves.  The two go hand in hand and yet when we discuss these things in public, more often than not we expect approval, applause and agreement with our point of view.

Patrick Henry understood full well the consequences of exercising free speech he didn’t even have a right to.  “Give me liberty, or give me death”.  Uttering those words was treason and punishable by death.  He chose to risk the courage of his convictions and paid a good full measure for doing so.  Sometimes you do have to pay the piper. Compared to being hung for treason, being booted off a television show is a small price to pay for one’s beliefs. (Henry was not hung, but he was hunted.)

Corollary to our desire to express ourselves while remaining free from consequence is the false proposition that every opinion has value and a rough equivalence with every other opinion.   This is not and has never been true.  Informed opinion has more value than opinion based on ignorance.  Mr. Robertson’s opinions are based entirely on ignorance.

Mr. Robertson expressed opinions based on his perception of the teachings of evangelical Christianity.  Within that context and relying only upon that set of beliefs, Mr. Robertson engaged in speech antithetical to its teachings, summed up (nicely) by the admonishment to “judge not, lest ye be judged”.  Christian teaching reserves judgment to its divine patriarch.  It proscribes certain behaviors for its adherents; it suggests mores and cultural imperatives; it offers examples for proper and correct behavior – but it reserves the judge’s seat to a place not of this world and to entities of non-human form.

Certainly Robertson had the right to say what he said.  And certainly those who his statements hurt have every right to object and exercise their right to free speech, every right to express their outrage (as Robertson expressed his own in the interview) and every right to make him subject to the consequences of his expression of free speech.  Just as others have every right to try and do the same to them in return.

If we’re lucky, the balance will eventually tilt in favor of truth over ignorance.  Hopefully, those whose unpopular views are based on ignorance (or an ignorant misunderstanding of their beliefs) will learn that expressing themselves publicly has consequences.  Hopefully, doing so will have consequences.

Hopefully we’ll stop producing reality TV shows.  And maybe we’ll even stop celebrating ignorance.  Maybe.

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