Saturday, August 1, 2009

Post No. 130a: Never Underestimate the Power of Laughter


In theory, if thoughts we share in our articles, truly constitute Common Sense, then the approaches recommended should be able to stand the test of time, and be applicable to new fact situations as they arise.

Earlier this week, before we had fully gotten beyond the Harvard professor arrest incident, there was something else added to the mix. A Boston police officer generated an e-mail describing the black professor as a "jungle monkey."

(Early, and apparently now discounted, reports suggested that the words "banana-eating" were also used.)

He was immediately suspended, and the Boston Police Chief stood up to distance his department and the city from the comments, as Jack Nicholson noted in the movie Chinatown, “…quicker than the wind from a duck’s ____."

In June of 2008, we posted the following article, which we believe is also applicable to the comments of the embattled officer.

© 2008 and 2009, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

We are all aware of the numerous instances, during the past year, where prominent individuals were severely criticized for comments that some termed “offensive,” or “inappropriate.” One of the most widely covered was the comment by Don Imus regarding the predominantly black female basketball team which won the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship.

Ironically, in that instance, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who typically argues that there are numerous ways to view situations, recommended one of the harshest forms of response, thus suggesting that there was only one “right thing to do.”

Many commentators suggested various responses to deal with the offending speakers, essentially saying that we as a society need to make a statement and ensure that folks do not regularly engage in such speech.

The ladies in question were the essence of grace. They had, after all, just brought home a national basketball championship to an academic institution that invests precious little in sports championships of any sort. Their composure and compassion under attack shamed Shock Jock Imus into a rarely observed heart felt apology.

Most reasonable folks would agree that there was virtually no explanation, or justification, for his statement that would have made sense to us.

Following the revelations about the comments of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Rev. John Hagee, the talkingheads had much to say about how the respective candidates should have responded.

However, no one suggested that their churches be “taken away.” It is our understanding that Wright is retired, and thus there is nothing to take away, and Hagee is far too integral to his church's existence to remove him from the church which he built.

However, following the mocking, by a Catholic priest, of candidate Clinton in Chicago recently, not only did the local Archbishop chastise the priest, but so did a representative of a group of Catholic women. She said, in essence, that the priest’s comments did not reflect the Catholic faith, did not reflect the Catholic Church, scandalized them, and that he should have his church taken away from him.

Ever since she reacted in that fashion, some of us thought of this issue in free speech, legalistic terms. Of course, our most senior Fellow, the Laughingman, brought us back to reality, and provided instant clarity to the whole situation.

“The worst conceivable way to silence one with whom we disagree is to stop him from talking. By doing so, you create a martyr to his similarly warped followers, and take him off the radar screen of the rest of the public.

"Had we, as a society, a bit thicker skins, we would broadcast these lunacies far and wide, with an appropriate apology to the more sensitive among us, demonstrate a little Common Sense for our fellow man, and let the fringe element drown in the laughter and public ridicule generated by their own thinking or lack thereof.

"Along with the right to free speech comes the right to make a public fool of oneself; and like the naked, fools have little or no influence on society.”

Yesterday, we heard a news report regarding some Minnesota high school kids who took a Confederate flag to school. The kids were banned from their graduation exercises because of their conduct.

One of them, as he sat on the back of a pick up truck, said that he was about as far away from being a racist as one could get. However, they both said that they wanted to make a statement about independence, and the freedom of one to express oneself.

Appearing on CNN yesterday morning, we're sure that they now have a following consisting of hundreds of thousands of sympathizers. It probably would have been better to simply let them attend their graduation ceremonies, assuming that no further conduct was involved which might have lead to violence or some other disruptive behavior.

We considered entitling this article, “Ignoring People – A Novel Thought,” and then we recalled that as Americans, we always have to make sure that we punish folks with whom we disagree. It, unfortunately, is built into who we are as a people.

Perhaps once we learn to ignore those making statements which we consider offensive or inappropriate, they’ll flog themselves, and we as a public will find no need to punish them.

In the immortal words of the famous Forrest Gump; “Stupid is as stupid does.”

© 2008 and 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

36 comments:

  1. "Had we, as a society, a bit thicker skins, we would broadcast these lunacies far and wide, with an appropriate apology to the more sensitive among us, demonstrate a little Common Sense for our fellow man, and let the fringe element drown in the laughter and public ridicule generated by their own thinking or lack thereof.

    "Along with the right to free speech comes the right to make a public fool of oneself; and like the naked, fools have little or no influence on society.”

    A fine sentiment. However, I should state that is is just as much in the power to laugh at the fools, as to choose not to associate with them.

    Part of that ability to "not associate with them" is perhaps in firing. Or quitting. In the case of Hagee, while his position makes him too "important" to fire - it is certainly within the ministries power as members to leave, or to even vote him out.

    The police officer who is racist, the student who shows up with a confederate flag, sure, they have as much right to say as stupid and racist and hurtful things as they want.

    Of course, it is also the right of the community not to want to have anything to do with them. We're not putting them in jail, or saying they can't have their say. But we do reserve the right to say that they will not participate in our schools so we can "tolerate" their stupidity and racism, and we certainly don't need to have them in our police force to "tolerate" their bigotry.

    Freedom of speech is not license of speech. The young man here is certainly welcome to have his beliefs regarding the flag - but not to make those beliefs a referendum upon other students ability to learn. He can do outside of the school and say and do as he pleases. The moment he takes it *into* the school, he can - and should - face censure, and his excuse of "help, help, I'm being repressed" is a poor excuse for performing the equivalent of running into a room screaming "NIIGGGGGEEEEERRRRRSSSS!", then whining that "Hey, it's free speech!" when they're put into detention.

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  2. As a card carrying, flag flying, Confederate descendent.
    I must say there is a time and a place for everything !
    The mentioned Graduation was not the time nor place,
    To display the battle flag.

    I as much as anyone love to forward the colors. But in the proper setting.

    I fully understand the negative reaction by Black Americans to the flag.
    In years gone by and even today the battle flag is used as a tool of
    Ignorance and hate.

    But we who fly the flag out of ‘love” for our ancestors and their fight
    For States Rights. Look at the flag in a different perspective.

    I would suggest toe two young men attend an S.C.V. meeting
    Do some research and find out Both sides of the flags meaning !

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  3. Seems every group or affiliation is currently in a state of 'extreme sensitivity.' There are enough cases where frivilous acts of insensitivity toward another group are given great amounts of public scorn, that egregious acts of racism, hate, etc. get 'masked' in the backgrould noise.
    In 'crying wolf' too often, important issues get lost in the shuffle. And so it goes...

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  4. Displaying a confederate flag in public should be considered an act of sedition, and a form of hate speech, and it should treated as such under the law. Ancestors of mine died taking that foul banner down into the dust where it belonged (and still does.) Waving it around today dishonors and mocks their sacrifice for the United States of America. Those who died under it died in shame and disgrace, defending an abomination and a false ideal. Some things are best not brought up in polite company and the "Stars-and-Bars" is a prime example.

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  5. John Hummel wrote: "I should state that it is just as much in the power to laugh at the fools, as to choose not to associate with them."

    First, thanks for visiting us and leaving a thoughtful comment. Second, we "sorta" agree with you in theory, but view the responsive action differently.

    Instead of firing someone, or suspending them, or filing a civil rights suit, how about simply permitting the audience to avoid, shun, or ostracize them as you say. We assume that will deliver the message and serve a deterrent function.

    Viewers, listeners, or followers of media or public personalities have the right and ability to let their feelings be known about offensive conduct by simply turning them off, sending in letters, making comments on blogs, or not buying the products of their sponsers.

    Schoolmates offended by statements of a schoolmate can simply distance themselves.

    If a commercial establishment engages in offensive conduct, the public can simply refuse to shop there, and the business will get the message through decreased sales.

    In other words, leave it up to the audience who is theoretically offended.

    We say theoretically offended, because let's say 75% of the people hearing or listening to the alleged offensive language, actually agree with it, but did not choose for some reason to express it.

    Who says that it is conduct that our society is unwilling to tolerate. The fact that 25% of the listening public finds it offensive arguably should not dictate the response, although we acknowledge the noble and high minded goals being pursued.

    Anytime you suppress people's true thoughts and feeling about issues, you potentially create the environment for other problems to develop in the long term. That resentment will fester and prove to be a cancer within your organization.

    Isn't it better for us to know their true feelings on these issues?

    We've always said that forcing merchants and public accommodation facilities to open their doors to black folks was a tactic loaded with potential problems. A substantial segment of our population has resented it ever since. It would have been far more powerful, in our view, to simply have black patrons walk down the street or go around the corner to an establishment that was willing to accept them without force or coercion.

    We thought that we were making such significant progress in racial relations, and yet recent events suggest that we still have major problems. "Relations" is not just about what the folks in power want to do or think is right, but about people actually getting along and interacting with one another voluntarily.

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  6. Thanks True Confederate for your participation. In our view, the flag issue is tricky. We've often argued that the time and energy that black folks have expended in opposing its display, could have been better spent engaging in other far more pragmatic and less symbolic activities to improve the plight of black folks.

    We appreciate the whole "power of symbols" argument. However, there is a limited amount of time in a day, month, or year. The resources expended protesting might have been better used creating more jobs, tutoring students, inventing something, or simply making more money to reinvest back into the black community through the creation of black commercial institutions.

    Now, back to the flag. That flag has two faces. An argument can be made that it is about states' rights and independence, and that slavery just happened to exist in those states that wanted to make their own decisions about law and governance. But others are offended by its display.

    In light of that, is there ever an appropriate time to display it when the general public might attend, or should it only be displayed in those circumstances where we are assured that everyone in attendance is okay with it?

    We don't know. We're just generally against suppression of ideas and expression of ANY sort. We believe that it always has a potential, long-term downside.

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  7. Steve:

    Thanks much for your participation. You wrote: "There are enough cases where frivolous acts of insensitivity toward another group are given great amounts of public scorn, that egregious acts of racism, hate, etc. get 'masked' in the background noise. In 'crying wolf' too often, important issues get lost in the shuffle.

    Nuff' said.

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  8. Rodak:

    The flag arguably has two distinct meanings: (1) slavery and its attendant sub-issues; and (2)states' rights / independence. If something has two meanings, one legitimate and respected, and the other less so, at least according to some in power and with ability to put their message across, should both be suppressed through the use of the total ban?

    Hypothetically, what if a tightly controlled, secret poll were conducted, and it determined that 51% of the population would support a return to slavery but is afraid to openly express that sentiment out of fear, would you still have the same position about the flag?

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  9. It's always nice to hear someone's opinion from outside. Thank you for doing that!

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  10. Haven't the lunacies been spread far and wide already? Haven't the Glenn Becks and the Sean Hannitys been embraced with open arms rather than drowned in public ridicule and laughter?

    If we try to send the sources of the lunacies out for public ridicule and they come back with book, radio, and television contracts, do we not have to change our strategy? When things like an email from a police officer describing a black person as a "jungle monkey" leads to a debate as to whether the author should be terminated from his job, ignoring the lunacies may not be the best medicine.

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  11. Kane:

    Welcome. The lunacies of which we spoke were the seemingly inappropriate comments of people, such as Jimmy the Greek, Don Imus, and the Boston Police Officer. There is a commonality of "position" in connection with each one of these individuals. They are in positions where we don't expect them to make racial slurs about members of the viewing audience. To some extent, society expects better from them. If Sarah Palin, Matt Lauer, Hillary Clinton, Regis Philburn, or Howie Mandel had made similar statements, calls for their resignation or withdrawal would explode.

    Glen Beck and Sean Hannity arguably fall in the same category as Rush Limbaugh. They're arguably "entertainers" who have found a certain angle to draw viewers. To some extent, they are shock jocks and we expect the "unusual" out of them. However, Imus was a member of that group also, and it was perceived that he crossed the line. If Beck, Hannity, or Limbaugh clearly made a racist slurs, they would be called out on the carpet also.

    Another point: It is one thing to make a slip which arguably might be interpreted as racist and therefore inappropriate. It is another thing to make a statement, as did the Boston Police Office, which leaves little room for alternate interpretation.



    Are you suggesting that we employ some other

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  12. Inspector:
    The Confederate flag does NOT have two meanings. The states do not possess the right to leave the union and/or to make war on the federal government. (That's kinda what the Civil War was about, y'know?)
    The Confederate battle flag is a symbol of sedition and insurrection. Period.

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  13. I understand that you and I would see a Limbaugh or a Beck or a Hannity as simple jesters entertaining those willing to stomach their rhetoric, but what about the "dittoheads" who drink the Kool-Aid? What about their impression on the American public and their shaping conservative public opinion (or at least perception)?

    Take, for example, the birthers movement against Obama. With all the evidence stacked against the movement, it is still featured nightly on news outlets such as CNN. This isn't Fox News anymore. It has reached the mainstream and must be beaten back into its proper place. Ignoring it will simply allow it to overtake public opinion, like dandelions on a lawn.

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  14. Rodak:

    Perhaps we were presumptous to suggest that the flag can be viewed in two ways, neither of which is acceptable to you. Let's assume that those who display and wave the Confederate flag attach a meaning to it other than the meanings which you or we ascribe to it. Are you suggesting that they should not be able to display their flag for any of their chosen purposes, because the symbolic meaning which you attach to it amounts to sedition?

    Should other groups be prohibited from displaying flags or other symbols which suggest opposition to our government or way of life?

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  15. Kane:

    Thanks again for visiting us. Two points of clarification:

    (1) Are you suggesting that the "dittoheads," as you call them, are incapable of sifting through the messages and discarding or ignoring certain ones, and thus need protection from the messages?

    (2) Are you suggesting that some entity or agency should have that responsibility, and approve ahead of time the content to be disseminated, something akin to a board of censorship?

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  16. Let's assume that those who display and wave the Confederate flag attach a meaning to it other than the meanings which you or we ascribe to it.

    Okay. Now let's assume the same about a Nazi flag...

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  17. Rodak: As for the Nazi flag or symbol and using the construct that we suggested, it would no longer be the "Nazi" flag per se, but a flag containing the same image or symbol previously used by that earlier group, but which is NOW used by others for a different purpose or message. Would you suppress it, thus in effect saying that any symbol or image has a one time purpose/message lifetime meaning, and can never be used again?

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  18. "We considered entitling this article, “Ignoring People – A Novel Thought,” and then we recalled that as Americans, we always have to make sure that we punish folks with whom we disagree. It, unfortunately, is built into who we are as a people."

    Very nice quote that adequately sums up the article. I enjoyed this post and appreciate you sharing it at Blackademics. Keep up the good work.

    Love and Struggle...Work and Study,
    Olokun Shangol Olugbala

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  19. I do not believe censorship should be applied in any circumstance, but oftentimes if people listen to something that they agree with, they will not search out alternative viewpoints. The issue here is that what Hannity and Limbaugh (who calls his followers "dittoheads" - not my wording) discuss are opinions, not facts. It's when their audiences begin to take them as facts that we run into trouble.

    Let Limbaugh and Hannity and Beck spew their rhetoric, but there needs to be a counteracting force to it; bring some balance into the universe. That's where speaking out against them comes in, rather than ignoring them (which, admittedly, would be much nicer and easier). It's fine if they stay where they belong: in crankdom where people can go to either laugh or listen. But they've invaded the mainstream (as much as they try to feign outrage at the MSM that has created them), and they've brought with them their baseless ideas.

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  20. Thanks much Olokun Shangol Olugbala for your taking the time to participate in our forum. Return often, share our URL with others, and share your thoughts should you be so motivated.

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  21. No, I'm not saying that any flag should be suppressed such that displaying it (under most circumstances) would be illegal. What I am saying with reference to the Confederate flag is that, like the Nazi flag, it should be universally considered to be in very bad taste to WANT to display it. And that it is certainly nothing that one should take pride in as part of some kind of cultural heritage.

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  22. I.e., right-minded Americans should view the Confederate flag in the same way that right-minded Germans today view the Nazi flag.

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  23. Rodak: To paraphrase your position, and correct us if we are wrong, the Confederate flag and the Nazi flag should have some special status, vis-a-vis other similarly situated flags and symbols which convey, what you (or some agency or institution responsible for monitoring such things) perceive to be negative or inappropriate messages. If we have unduly narrowed the class of such flags or symbols, please provide us with example of other flags or symbols which you would prohibit.

    You further indicated that "no one should take pride in that type of cultural heritage." We may be wrong Rodak, we get the impression that millions, not just hundreds or thousands, do. Is their pride misplaced? If so, who gets to decide that it is?

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  24. Rodak: "Right minded Americans... and right minded Germans...? Sounds like Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity-speak re patriotic Americans and loyal Americans. Can the left criticize the right for a particular pattern of thinking and expression, and then employ it themselves?

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  25. I don't criticize the right for being "right-minded" where that is actually the case. I certainly don't say "everything goes"--"you're right so long as you think you're right"--"do your own thing." If somebody thinks that White Supremacy is "right-minded" I call him on it. If he thinks that marching in front of a synagogue with a Nazi flag, or burning a cross on someone's yard is right-minded, I call him on it. This isn't rocket science.

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  26. Botton line: convince me that black southerners take pride in the Confederate flag as part of their proud heritage, and I'll admit that I was wrong-minded about being right-minded.

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  27. what an intriguing dialogue and one in which i would enjoy participating i am sure but the time constraints of today do not allow - but please carry on in my absence - i look forward to checking back later - in the meantime - i wish you well - jenean

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  28. Jenean / Gypsywoman: Thanks for your visit even though you did not have time to comment further. Check out some of earlier posts during the winter, and you'll see some real lively back and forth.

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  29. Kane:

    You indicated that there needs to be a force or various forces to counter-balance the message disseminated by some. How much is enough? How far to the left should these forces be? Should some agency monitor this balancing act to ensure that equal time is achieved?

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  30. I'm not saying that there should be an organized, government-run force to ensure that the American people are not subject to drivel (though a lot of the nuttier viewpoints have been given significant amounts of airtime since the Fairness Doctrine expired without renewal during the Reagan Administration).

    The problem with trying to balance things out like mass media exposure to certain subjects is that to a degree it is intangible. Measuring minutes only goes so far; in my opinion the current birthers movement should receive no airtime, others may think it should receive ten minutes. Does that mean we cap it at five minutes to be fair? These things can't be measured.

    The point I'm trying to make is that the American public should act as its own seive and weed out the irrelevant/irresponsible. For example, the officer who referred to Gates as a jungle monkey is now suing Boston PD, the mayor, and the commissioner. If he is not explicitly made aware that his actions were wrong, he will continue to damage this society (such as tie up our already ballooning court system with meritless lawsuits). Ignoring him would only make him think that he may be right.

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  32. Kane:

    You essentially stated that the comments of Boston Police Officer Garrett "damaged society." What activities of other individuals in our society (apart from obvious criminal behavior) damage society, and who or what agency should make that determination?

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  33. Kane:

    You essentially stated that the comments of Boston Police Officer Garrett "damaged society." What activities of other individuals in our society (apart from obvious criminal behavior) damage society, and who or what agency should make that determination?

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  34. Displaying a confederate flag in public should be considered an act of sedition, and a form of hate speech, and it should treated as such under the law. Ancestors of mine died taking that foul banner down into the dust where it belonged (and still does.) Waving it around today dishonors and mocks their sacrifice for the United States of America. Those who died under it died in shame and disgrace, defending an abomination and a false ideal. Some things are best not brought up in polite company and the "Stars-and-Bars" is a prime example.

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"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

"Experience Isn't Expensive; It's Priceless"™

"Common Sense should be a Way of Life"™

Opportunity to Serve as "Guest Author"

This forum was designed to be YOUR forum for the civil exchange of ideas by people with all points of views. We welcome the submission of articles by all of our readers, as long as they are in compliance with our Guidelines contained in Post No. 34. We look forward to receiving your submissions.