Sunday, January 10, 2010

Post No. 143c: 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.

Yesterday, Democratic Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid apologized for what he characterized as "a poor choice of words" in describing the prospect of then- candidate Obama to win the Presidential election in 2008. Reid purportedly suggested that Obama's chances were enhanced because of his light-skinned complexion and absence of a particular dialect. Reid sought to head off a furor destined to occur with the scheduled distribution on Tuesday of a book which outlines the comment.

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

© 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

14 comments:

  1. A well reasoned post. No doubt I like it because I agree wholeheartedly with the Laughingman but we'll look beyond that. I would take issue with this sentiment:

    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.

    The concept evident in those words is that this is somehow uniquely American, a result of our heritage. This cannot be further from the truth. Indeed, the unique thing about this country is the concept of Freedom of Speech. A concept rarely found in any other country when our nation was formed. It is human nature, which knows no borders, which fosters that urge to silence those whose views anger them or offend what they believe to be common sense. It is our heritage which struggles against it.

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  2. What is far more disturbing than Reid's comment itself, is that elected officials, paid with taxpayer dollars, would spend valuable time criticizing Reid, or any other politician who just happened to say something offensive, inappropriate, or stupid, instead of tending to the important business of the nation.

    And this applies to members of ALL political parties.

    And why do they do it? To advance the long-term positive and material interests of the nation? No. Pure and simple grandstanding for their political purposes. They ALL should arguably be voted out at the next available opportunity.

    As for we citizens, we should never underestimate the power of laughter, and ignoring people.

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  3. Was it Reid's comment we were talking about? We ignored, for the most part, Biden's similar comment. I think even our outrage at how politicians waste so much time playing petty political games is something contrived a bit by political spinmeisters who go on TV news shows and talk about how the 'important business of the country (or the people) is being ignored' while this petty politics is played. The sad truth is that a great many of us love the petty politics, just read some of the more political blogs. The Daily Kos and Huffington Post didn't get famous because of their great reporting. Same for the various "stars" of cable TV and talk radio. I mean, what was Air America if not spite, spin, and political posturing? What is Limbaugh or Beck or Hannity? What is the Jon Stewart show? No, truth be told, we love this stuff. the essence of it has seeped into everyday life, the "dozens" of our youth is now the core of our sitcoms and our basics of our camaraderie of our social interaction. Insult is the new compliment and the foundation of modern culture.

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  4. We spent a substantial portion of this day surfing through the blogosphere, and reading over 50 blogs containing posts regarding the Harry Reid misstep.

    What we found most fascinating was the large number of people who, based on his statements alone, branded him a racist. Fascinating, absolutely fascinating.

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  5. As many of you are aware, we spend an extensive amount of time on Twitter to acquire some sense of the issues about which people are talking on a daily basis.

    Of course, Twitter does not claim that it has representative samplings of people who have something to say. And yet, we sometimes have to simply laugh out loud.

    Over the past couple of days, we have seen hundreds, if not thousands of tweets regarding the Democratic Party's long history of racist comments, only to witness a roughly comparable number of other tweets regarding the Republican Party's long history of racist comments.

    That large numbers of citizens think that one party or the other has the corner on the market, or a monopoly, on racist statements is fascinating in and of itself; that large numbers of citizens are actually keeping track is even more interesting.

    Consider the notion that a country which engaged in the slave trade, and the practice of slavery and Jim Crow discrimination over a relatively lengthy period of time in its history has evolved into one where simply making statements about race is potentially fraught with all sorts of public relations and other complications.

    What an evolution....

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  6. Inspector, I was considering the notion that human beings are capable of being totally without any prejudice or bigotry... oh, let's just say "clear of eye and pure of thought"... so that others, in their own kind of bigotry and prejudice, can label them as racists or whatever based upon an utterance (or utterances).

    I was amused to read somewhere that an assistant to Sen. Reid claimed that the remark was made "not for publication" to the author of the book. I pondered... How does that change the sentiment behind the words?

    It is all about image, I suppose. The fuss has become about that now and we are once again distracted.

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  7. You know Douglas, there was one word which you used in your comment which we initially thought so perfectly and succinctly described much of what we think is going on in the political arena today.

    It caused us to look back at two events: (a) the last time that we awarded our Commenter of the Month Award, which was roughly April of last year, and how long you've been a loyal and productive contributor to this forum, which we had difficulty determining but know it to be at least 18 months.

    The word is DISTRACTED.

    But then, we started trying to apply it to the political arena.

    If we claim that our political leaders are supposed to lead, many would say that is not their role, and in fact should be left to other mechanisms.

    If we claim that our political leaders are supposed to be solving problems, many would say that solving problems is not their responsibility, and in fact should be left to other mechanisms.

    If we claim that our political leaders are supposed to plan for the nation's future, many would say that planning is not their responsibility, and in fact should be left to other mechanisms.

    Some would argue that there should be as little government as possible and necessary, some would argue none at all, and some would argue that more is needed.

    Some would argue that only local politicians should control, and others federal.

    As we think through this whole issue which might be characterized more properly as one of REPRESENTATION and not leadership, then why do we allow our politicians to make decisions, and not just send official "spokespeople" to express the interests of the constituency, much like the Chamber of Commerce has an official spokesperson.

    Perhaps at the end of the day, we're not quite sure what our politicians are distracted FROM, since each one of us has a different view of their role. If we as citizens have such varying interpretations as to what our politicians are supposed to be doing, then how can we expect the politicians to know.

    They just probably do whatever THEY consider best which eventally evolves into some less than clear concept...

    So Douglas we imagine that the issue is "distracted from what," which suggests that the "what" is easily definable.

    Thanks, as always, for making us think further about issues....

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  8. The "what", my friend, is almost always definable after the fact but rarely before. The political art is much like the magician's in that respect. Or, maybe the actor's.

    You have mused wisely with your questions about what our politicians do. Do they lead? Do they represent? Are we of one mind at defining their role in society? We want them to represent our interests and make the decisions we think we would make if we were sitting in their seats. How does one represent a constituency that is not just one homogeneous community?

    Aren't we really much like a herd of cats?

    No, I think not. But I do think we are a vast herd of many kinds of animals with varying temperaments with multiple "alpha" animals leading a dizzying array of sub-herds (with groups of independent-minded members inside them). There is no common cause, no strong sense of unity except at times of perceived great peril, no core belief in what we are.

    As soon as we try to believe we are truly a "melting pot" of cultures and beliefs, movements break out to demand it not happen, that we not suppress cultures but revere them and keep them separate.

    What we may be is a bit schizophrenic and hearing too many voices telling us we must be, and do, too many things. I fear the medicine we may take if the voices grow too loud.

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  9. We've noted numerous calls for Harry Reid to step down. Assuming that a standard can be crafted, applicable to all speakers from any particular group whatsoever, when should elected officials lose their jobs for statements potentially offensive to some groups?

    Assist us in developing a standard applicable to those individuals in the media, such as Don Imus, and indicate whether the same standard should apply to entertainers, such as Michael Richards formerly of Seinfeld.

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  10. Does the fact that the comments made by Harry Reid can be repeated without hesitation in the print and visual media, without censorship or modification, mean that a different standard should be applied to the speaker than statements made by others which are not as freely repeated?

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  11. That drive-by out of the mainstream media outlet CNN is focusing its attention now on the Haitian earthquake, while the fair and balanced Fox New continues to hammer Harry Reid.

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  12. We spent a substantial portion of this day surfing through the blogosphere, and reading over 50 blogs containing posts regarding the Harry Reid misstep.

    What we found most fascinating was the large number of people who, based on his statements alone, branded him a racist. Fascinating, absolutely fascinating.

    ReplyDelete

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