Honest commitment to free speech must include the willingness to defend even (and especially) indefensible speech. Muzzling an idiot is no solution. Refuting him is.
Isn’t that the real question of the day? Not just with Sterling (although he’s the hot topic) but in any place where opinions are clashing? How do you respond to someone you fundamentally disagree with?
We have imported all the worst habits from internet chat-rooms and reality television into our real-world interactions. They are mirroring the superficial, angry polemics of a comment thread. We have fused voyeurism into our culture. We have exchanged rule of law for “the tribe has spoken”. And we will pay a price.
Look at Sterling’s case. Knowing my politics — and his — he probably wouldn’t cross the street to pee on me if I were on fire. That’s ok, I doubt I’d enjoy his company, either. He is, if depictions are accurate, a philandering, racist, pig. He’s also supported Democrats. Almost nothing about this guy makes him a “natural ally” of mine… almost nothing.
In a similar sense, almost nothing about one John Adams made him a natural ally of those accused in the Boston Massacre. But his commitment to the Rule of Law, compelled him to seek Justice, not Vengeance.
Are we seeking Justice with this case? Or Vengeance?
Since Sterling’s the perfect scumbag, it’s easy to skip straight to the judgment and penalty phase, right? (Often the same people who chide Christians to “judge not”!)
We have words spoken — however obnoxious — in a private conversation, secretly recorded without the speaker’s knowledge, and their public release for personal motives unknown to us by (apparently) the “other woman”.
Is there evidence that Sterling — for reasons racist or otherwise — has harmed anyone? Then let them go to the police; and he can face his accuser in court.
Or have we forgotten that the purpose of law enforcement and the legal system was to to take such decisions out of the hands of the angry mob, and into the hands of an impartial third party; one which maintains (we hope) a commitment to due process, balancing concerns of both the aggrieved and the accused.
But seriously, we don’t want impartial, do we? We want him to pay. We aren’t asking for justice, but punishment. Someone might ask: why should a bum like him get fair treatment, anyway? Simple: because any one of us might be society’s scapegoat one day.
For all I know, the audio may have been released either to hurt and/or embarrass him, or for personal profit by the one who released it. There are States where such recordings are illegal. I can’t imagine that it would ever be admissible in court.
Had the leaked recording included, let’s say, business secrets instead of anti-social ramblings, would we be ok with the leaking of this audio? Not if it were something boring like that.
Have we come to the point where privacy no longer matters? Have we seen one too many reality shows with 24 hour surveillance of contestants, or “leaked” sex-tape by someone trying to make a name or a buck that we’ve lost any sense of a right to privacy?
Poor Richard Nixon– born ahead of his time. Was his biggest crime doing it forty years too soon?
But what of the penalty Sterling is facing? He said reprehensible words. He holds (it seems) reprehensible views. The League wants to put him as far away as they can. Why? Because being associated with a person (or behaviour) they morally object to can affects them, too. (If you rejoiced in the destruction of certain religious cake-makers, please take note.)
I’ve not seen the legal contracts NBA owners and the league sign, and I know nothing of their mutual obligations. But it seems his character didn’t blindside anyone. His private conversation did more to disqualify him than his previous deeds. Does that not strike you as ominous?
And what was the punishment? He cannot visit the team he owns — where they practice or where they play, he faces a lifetime suspension, they have fined him 2.5 million dollars, and they are trying to force him to sell his property. (Do they even hold the power to make such a ruling?)
Are any other people held to this new standard? Spike Lee? Bill Maher (story link)? What about offenses other than Thought Crime? This list names people like Gilbert Arenas and Delonte West who — even for WEAPONS charges — were not permanently suspended from the NBA.
So much for that old children’s rhyme.. Sticks and stones? That’s only a minor offense… but words? That will REALLY hurt you.
Think Sterling’s a scumbag? That’s fine. Refuse to play. Don’t watch the game. Picket it, even. Make a campaign go viral. Pressure the Sponsors. That’s all above-board and fair game.
Seek a restraining order, against him if you like. But only judges — not nervous businessmen protecting their own bottom line and public image — give restraining orders, and for good reason.
Should pissing off the wrong P-C policeman shut you out of your own company? Ever? Should a third party tell you when you must sell your own property? Ever?
Has trial by media finally replaced trial by a jury of our peers?
If you remain silent for a scumbag like him…who could possibly speak up for you once the precedent is set?
Image: Courtesy of: http://steigan.no/2013/10/15/fascismen-i-ulike-former/