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Tag Archive: Scapegoating

Ziegler’s Death of Free Speech

Posted: Monday, April 27, 2009 (11:21 pm), by John W Gillis


I had the radio on in the car one day, a couple months ago, when I caught part of an interview with a filmmaker named John Ziegler, who was promoting a film on the 2008 U.S. Presidential election called “Media Malpractice,” which he purported would demonstrate decisively just how in the tank the popular media was for Obama. I’m not sure a documentary is really necessary to make such a point, but the guy sounded funny, so I figured I’d check the local library system to see if there was a copy available I could request.

ziegler_deathoffreespeechThey didn’t have a copy of the documentary, but they did have a couple copies of a book Ziegler had written a few years ago, called “The Death Of Free Speech: How Our Broken National Dialogue Has Killed The Truth And Divided America,” so I requested a copy, and gave it a read.

The essence of the book is a demonstration of how the irrational moralism we call “political correctness” has eroded our culture’s appreciation for – and even understanding of – freedom of speech. I would add that it has also contributed significantly to a serious dumbing-down of our dialogue, as well as of a loss of respect for the truth – neither of which claims would be disputed by Ziegler. However, as much as I would have liked to like this work, it is simply not a good book.

No small part of the problem with the book is that it is really, first and foremost, about John Ziegler, and his trials and tribulations as a misunderstood and oppressed talk radio character. Furthermore, the entire book is just a series of anecdotes – some of which may be interesting, but the sum of which fail to constitute a rewarding whole, in much the same way a platter full of Twinkies would fail to constitute a rewarding meal. It might be unfair to criticize him for not writing the book he didn’t write, but when a book’s subtitle purports to tell “how” something comes to be, a little analysis might not be an unreasonable expectation. There’s simply not much there, despite ample subject matter. This book even has an index, though it is such a light-weight work that its inclusion seems unnecessary, if not a tad contrived.

Then there is the matter of the writing just not being very good. This guy’s not a writer, he’s a whiner, an agitator, and a wiseguy – and it shows. Even the editing is poor, with numerous sentences and paragraphs showing obvious traces of cut and paste procedures that nobody bothered to go back to clean up.

In truth, I was also put off by a number of his libertarian prejudices, as he perpetuates several of the hoary dogmas of the left as related to religious faith in the public square, such as the canard that “organized religion” is responsible for most of the world’s bloodshed. I’ve already returned the book, and cannot remember any specific examples off the top of my head except for one rather comical one.

Anyone who spends any time these days defending Catholicism in public is accustomed to having the recent clergy sexual abuse crisis hauled out by critics of the Church as a kind of talisman against having to take seriously anything someone in the Church says, regardless of how serious it might actually be. In discussing the outraged response of the Archdiocese of New York to an act of on-the-air sacrilege-for-entertainment within the sacred space of Saint Patrick Cathedral, Ziegler pulls out the obligatory talisman by saying something along the lines of “how can they waste their time complaining about this when THE CRISIS happened!” But then, incredibly, he goes on to claim that the clergy sexual abuse crisis is clearly the worst scandal in Church history!

Ignoring the irony that THE CRISIS as an issue specific to the Catholic Church (as opposed to an issue common to almost every institution during the “sexual revolution” and the rise of “therapeutic man”) is actually a product of the exact same anti-critical, obfuscating, politically motivated, media-driven left-wing group-think that Ziegler wrote this book to complain about, the claim that this is anywhere near the worst scandal in Church history just exposes a complete lack of historical credibility on his part.

In terms of scandal, a small fraction of priests committing grave sins and an episcopal bureaucracy that bungles the response would hardly seem to hold a votive candle to the spectacle of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” presenting three rival claimants to the papal throne, to use just one of many possible candidates from the first half of the second millennium. Many other examples abound, and the current situation is really just a blip on the radar screen in the big picture – as outrageous as that undoubtedly feels to the happy consumers of “politically correct” moralism – where nothing is more important than having properly defined victims, except having appropriate scapegoats put in their place.

What might be unprecedented in history, though, is the public disregard for truth that simmers under the surface of Ziegler’s book, like volcanic lava threatening to erupt onto the surface of society with devastating toxicity and lifeless scorching ore. It’s just not clear to me whether Ziegler’s approach is more part of the solution, or the problem.

Celebrity Gossip and Moral Reasoning (part 1)

Posted: Friday, April 4, 2008 (12:05 am), by John W Gillis


If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.”

The preceding quote from Catherine Aird is always good for raising a laugh, and there’s a certain ring of truth to it. Having read the Bible, I’m well aware of the kind of role horrible warnings can play in human history. But any real estate agent will tell you that location is everything. Translation: context matters – a lot.

Ty Burr wrote an Ideas piece published in the Boston Sunday Globe this past weekend that I found quite disturbing. The basic premise of the piece was that Mr. Burr thinks his two young daughters are learning important life lessons – moral lessons – from watching the travails of celebrity starlets. At the root of this mistaken belief is the evidence that his children watch, with thorough (and probably dramatic) disapproval, the predictable flame-outs of their popular heroines, and are therefore able to stitch together a kind of cause-and-effect moralism that links either certain behaviors, and/or perhaps celebrity itself, with eventual failure – moral and practical.

There are at least three fundamental flaws in this line of reasoning. The first stems from a lack of understanding of the quite central role of “flame-out” in the ongoing spectacle of merchandised gossip, commonly referred to as “news,” that I like to call “Celebrity Psychopath of the Week.”

My term is intended to be understood very broadly, as a sarcastic mockery of the marketing that propels the product (and it is nothing if not a product). It doesn’t require an existing “celebrity,” it can create them, and the almost ritualized debasement of these unfortunate souls takes place through an ordeal that can take considerably less or considerably more than a week. The point is that they are held up before the public eye to be the object of gossip, the object of projected psychological needs for both attention and punishment, and, ultimately, the object of ridicule and contempt. They are, in a nutshell, scapegoats.

Not all celebrities fall into the scapegoat trap, and as I mentioned above, you don’t need to be a celebrity to become a scapegoat (becoming one will grant the celebrity, however fleeting), but it does seem to be a fundamental characteristic of the notion of celebrity in liberal society, and existing celebrities make excellent scapegoats – especially ones that are most successful in attaining the power of “stardom.” Our culture loves to see the successful fail – and fail miserably (especially those whose success is rooted in sensuality, as opposed to, say, hard work).

The truth is, we build them up to tear them down. This thought is by no means original to me, nor can it be seriously challenged. We couldn’t tolerate the failure of all our celebrities – our social fabric would collapse – but let’s be very clear: we require a steady diet of falling out, of failure, of those people, who make us feel insignificant, losing their marbles and getting their comeuppance. Celebrity Psychopath of the Week. I don’t know if OJ Simpson or Michael Jackson had the longest running tenure starring in this ongoing ordeal du jour, but there is always somebody starring. Always.

Why is this not a good moral classroom for Ty Burr’s daughters (or for mine)? If it’s behavior that adult society engages in routinely, shouldn’t it be considered appropriate for girls (OK, that line is a setup for a forthcoming post!)? Even at the level of common sense, the answer to the question should be obvious. I’m dumbfounded to realize that anyone might think that engaging in celebrity gossip can build up the moral fiber of a young woman – or anyone else.

However, I’m willing, for the sake of argument, to provide a brief argument as to why celebrity gossip cannot provide a genuine moral education. In fact, I can state it extremely briefly: gossip is sinful, and sin is immoral, not a means to moral growth. Some may find that explanation overly brief (and too similar to the argument from common sense – let’s call it the argument from common decency), so I will (briefly) extrapolate.

The voyeuristic obsession with celebrity in and of itself is grounds for serious moral criticism, but to focus specifically on the judgmentalism that Mr. Burr seems to think represents a moral victory over the implicit threat that these fallen starlets might by poor example lead his children over the precipice of moral doom, I have to point out that the soap opera of Celebrity Psychopath of the Week is psychologically rewarding because it allows the (paying) audience to satisfy both envy’s lust for vengeance, and pride’s appetite for contempt. It lacks any semblance of charity, and it uses the troubles of other wretched human beings for self-satisfaction.

For as much as it might satisfy certain human desires, and provide what is undoubtedly some kind of a framework for developing moral norms, it must be said that scapegoating is morally repugnant, and spiritually devastating. Cynicism is not morality.

I will follow up on this post, to address the other two major flaws I see in Mr. Burr’s evaluation: the problem of subjective objectivity, and the problem of defining morality without reference to virtue.