"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."


Glenn Reynolds:

Barack Obama:
"Impossible to transcend."

Albert A. Gore, Jr.:
"An incontinent brute."

Rev. Jeremiah Wright:
"God damn the Gentleman Farmer."

Friends of GF's Sons:
"Is that really your dad?"

Kickball Girl:
"Keeping 'em alive until 7:45."

Hired Hand:
"I think . . . we forgot the pheasant."

I'm an
Alcoholic Yeti
in the
TTLB Ecosystem

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Intersection of the Despicable and the Silly

I am confident that it has only been in my own lifetime that we have adopted the despicable practice of the publicization of private grief. By this I mean the routine insistence that the mother of the boy who has been shot down in the street be asked, “How do you feel?” and the video tape of her response broadcast as a matter of course on the evening news.

I imagine – or insist that there must have been – a time when everyone involved understood that to the extent the underlying events (the crime, the accident) merited public attention, the grief of friends and relatives could not possibly add anything relevant to the public. Moreover, basic decency would dictate that intrusion at such a time would be a scandal. I insist that there was a time when no such individual would permit it, when no policeman or neighbor would stand by while it happened, when no legitimate journalist would demand it. Indeed, I insist that this would be one of the basic ways one might distinguish between The Washington Post, on the one hand, and the National Enquirer, on the other.

But times have changed. Now, not only is the microphone shoved routinely into the face of the grief-stricken mother but, as often as not, that mother agrees to sit down and be interviewed on camera within hours of the event. And then seems eager for the attention, and indifferent to the spectacle. Perhaps this is the consequence of living in the world created by Oprah, and Jerry Springer, and Montel Williams, where reality is somehow not really real unless we see it on television.

The only proper thing to do is to avert your eyes from this public display, with love and pity for the victims, including those on camera.

I am similarly confident that it has only been in my own lifetime that we have seen the rise of the celebrity expert. By this I do not mean the true expert who, as a consequence of that special expertise, becomes famous. The Chief Medical Examiner of New York or Los Angeles might become famous, or some particularly wacky scientific genius (Richard Feynman comes to mind). Instead I mean the celebrity – the movie star or sports figure – who presumes to deliver himself of his opinions on subjects having nothing whatever to do with their special talent.

On what basis ought one to listen particularly to the political views of Barbra Streisand, or Susan Sarandon? Why should I care? While certainly entitled to form and hold their own opinions – however bizarre – those opinions have behind them no special experience, no special study or expertise so as to legitimately command attention. If it is my opinion that the war in Iraq must be prosecuted with great energy, and it is the opinion of Ms. Sarandon that the troops ought to come home today, the Universe ought really to be at quits, since her opinion cannot possibly outweigh mine, or vice versa. It is plainly absurd for anyone to care what Robert Redford or Meryl Streep think about agricultural pesticides.

The only proper thing to do is to ignore such nonsense.

But today we have the intersection of the despicable and the silly: the publicly grieving celebrity expert. We have this:
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Michael Berg, whose son Nick was beheaded in Iraq in 2004, said on Thursday he felt no sense of relief at the killing of the al Qaeda leader in Iraq and blamed President Bush for his son's death.

Asked what would give him satisfaction, Berg, an anti-war activist and candidate for U.S. Congress, said, "The end of the war and getting rid of George Bush."


"I don't think that Zarqawi is himself responsible for the killings of hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq," Berg said in a combative television interview with the U.S. Fox News network. "I think George Bush is.

"George Bush is the one that invaded this country, George Bush is the one that destabilized it so that Zarqawi could get in, so that Zarqawi had a need to get in, to defend his region of the country from American invaders."
His son having been murdered by thugs, Mr. Berg runs to the microphone thrust eagerly into his face, and uses the celebrity unaccountably awarded to him to expound opinions for which he has no particular basis. Cindy Sheehan and “the Jersey Girls” are other examples.

Let me put it plainly, if perhaps not so harshly as has been done by others: If my son is killed by a falling meteor, I do not become thereby an expert in astrophysics, entitled to be heard on questions involving orbital mechanics, or the budget for NASA. And if my son, or my spouse, is murdered by terrorist thugs, I gain no special knowledge regarding military, political or diplomatic matters.

Comments on "The Intersection of the Despicable and the Silly"


Anonymous chesty said ... (4:51 PM) : 

however our society consistenly does give special status to the feelings of victims' family members when it comes to murders. take a look at one of our primary justifications for the death penalty: "the victims' family need closure and healing." thus if my son is killed by a thug, my opinion regarding the killer does suddenly gain extra weight (versus the opinions of joe public). in fact, it gains sufficient weight that society is willing to put a man to death in order provide for my peace of mind.

furthermore, if the murder of my son is an indirect consequence of actions or policies by one of our leaders--a soft on crime, liberal judge had prematurely released that thug from prison, for example--then my voice again merits special consideration. when my son is killed, it isn't just he that's a victim. i am also a victim. and it isn't just the thug who is responsible, but also the leader who created an environment which allowed that known thug to murder my son. thus i have indirectly become the victim of actions taken by our leaders. and as someone who has been victimized by the policies of a leader, shouldn't my voice count more than joe public?


Anonymous the shadow said ... (9:57 PM) : 

The societal justifications for criminal punishment are generally said to be retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation. The last, of course, does not apply (in our temporal sphere) to imposition of the death penalty. The "peace of mind" of the victim's relatives seems relevant only to weigh the gravity of the crime in order to mete out an appropriate punishment. We don't free criminals whose victims have no relatives, or who are of the opinion that the victim deserved to die.

And "root causes" do not cause crime. Some individual is responsible for inflicting the evil, except in the sense that we are all (fallen and depraved) to blame.

It's also not entirely clear to me how it is that someone who is "victimized" by some policy or other thereby gains a greater voice in public policy. Whether you are a victim, after all, is also a debatable matter of opinion. Besides, I’m sure you don’t think that I should get more votes just because I’m a greater victim of, for example, the income tax than are you.


Anonymous 180 patrol said ... (9:15 AM) : 

What does the G&S staff think about those Ann Coulter comments?


Anonymous chesty said ... (4:44 PM) : 

well it seems you're willing to concede that the opinions of victims' families do gain special consideration in our society (specifically the justice system) system, if only in determining appropriate punishment. my only contention is that the opinion of victims' families is elevated to a special status--by virtue of being far more pertinent--over those of people who are in no way effected by the crime.

and certainly--hopefully--our government does give greater consideration to those who have been or will be effected (or "victimized") by its policies than to those who have and will not be. certainly everyone has, and should continue to have an equal vote. but when we as a society deliberate a possible course of action (medicare reform, lets say) i would hope we all recognize that there are some people whose opinions we should regard as being more relevant than others.


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