The Culture of Tyranny

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February
3, 2000

“How
can you defend an oaf like John Rocker?” a friend asked me
recently. “I don’t disagree with you, but when you take
up his cause you’re just begging to be called a racist yourself.”

Well, being
smeared as a “racist” is just part of the game these days.
Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s evisceration of libel law
in the name of the First Amendment, you can’t do much about
it. But the worst thing you can do is to accept the role of defendant
and let yourself be intimidated by the ethos of laissez-faire libel.

Rocker, the
Atlanta Braves’ star relief pitcher, has now been fined and
suspended for the early part of the coming season by Major League
Baseball’s commissioner, Bud Selig. The sentence also includes
“sensitivity training,” on top of the psychological examination
Rocker has already submitted to. Selig said that Rocker’s unflattering
remarks about New York “offended practically every element
of society and brought dishonor to himself, the Atlanta Braves,
and Major League Baseball.”

Personally,
I disliked Rocker from the first time I saw him pitch. He’s
an abrasive man, like a lot of athletes nowadays. But that doesn’t
justify New York’s fans in spitting on him, pouring beer on
him, and throwing batteries at him. Neither do his opinions about
New York justify Selig in punishing him and, particularly, humiliating
him as a thought-criminal in need of a Soviet-style “cure.”

If Rocker had
broken some well-defined rule, it would be one thing. But Major
League Baseball, as far as I know, has no speech code. Selig himself
has brought dishonor on the sport by trying, in a totally arbitrary
manner, to impose taboos on the expression of opinion – taboos
that didn’t apply to Ted Turner’s crude jokes about Catholics,
the Pope, and Poles. (Turner, the Braves’ owner, has apologized;
but so has Rocker, unavailingly.)

Rocker has
been roundly condemned as a “racist” even though he never
mentioned race. But liberal invective is routinely accepted as free
speech.

The episode
throws a lot of light on the prevailing thought-crime code. Thought-crimes
differ from ordinary crimes in several respects.

First, they
aren’t defined. Nobody knows exactly what “racism”
is; it can mean anything the accuser wants it to mean. And it rarely
refers to overt acts; usually it refers to the alleged thoughts
or attitudes of the accused.

Second, nothing
has to be proved – and since the word has no clear definition,
nothing can be proved. So the accuser bears no burden of proof,
as he would in cases of ordinary crimes. The accused is presumed
guilty as long as the accusation is sufficiently strident. And,
given the vagueness of the charge, he can’t prove he isn’t
racist.

Third, and
most important, nobody ever has to pay a price for making a false
or reckless accusation. Nobody is ruined or disgraced for making
loose charges of “racism.” Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton
continue to thrive after making far more wild charges than Joe McCarthy.

You don’t
have to worry about being falsely accused of murder, because everyone
knows what murder is, there are clear procedures for testing the
charge, and anyone who makes a false accusation against you can
be sued or even jailed. But everyone has to worry about being accused
of “racism,” because these safeguards don’t exist
when that poisonous charge is leveled.

If you really
think racism is a serious matter, you want the word to mean something
definite and you want to make sure that innocent people are safe
from false charges of it. Otherwise, the word merely becomes a weapon
that can be picked up and wielded by opportunists and tyrants to
create a climate of intimidation.

Which course
describes the methods of those who profess to oppose racism in America
today? The answer is obvious. Charges of racism are made so promiscuously
that everyone has to walk on eggs to avoid incurring them. And no
accuser has to worry about any penalty for damaging an innocent
man’s good name.

Such a situation
can only breed such thought-police as Jackson and Sharpton, paving
the way for tyranny. It may not frighten the Ku Klux Klan, but other
people will learn to speak guardedly in multicultural America.

Sobran’s
Reactionary Utopian archives.
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Joseph
Sobran (1946–2010), conservative turned libertarian, was one
of the most significant American writers. See his
website
and his
intellectual journey
.

The
Best of Joseph Sobran

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