Tuesday, June 13, 2006

standards of behavior

In a comment at Xrlq, nk suggests this rewriting of Ann Coulter's statement about the Jersey Widows:
This broad, Ann Coulter, is a millionairess, lionized on TV and in articles and blog discussions about her, revelling in her status as a celebrity and stalked by wingnuts looking for her autograph. I have never seen anyone enjoying the deaths of the 9/11 victims and the grief of their families so much.
Patterico thinks this quote is so revealing that he posted it to his own blog and started a huge discussion about it. I responded
nk, your translation would annoy me, but not because it crossed some tenuous line of good taste, rather because it would be grossly unfair. If you think that Coulter’s statement was grossly unfair to the Jersey Widows (I don’t), then you would be properly annoyed at it.

To me, Ted Rall isn’t a slimebag just because he says mean things. He’s a slimebag because the mean things he says reveal a slimebag attitude. He despises what is good and defends what is evil. How he says it is only a distraction.

By contrast, Ann Coulter defends what is good and despises what is evil. And if she is too harsh in her criticism of what is evil, well, at least she’s funny –another difference between her and Rall.
and Patterico responded to me in a way that suggests he missed my point:
In other words, she is an asshole — but she’s *our* asshole.
Patterico misses my point because I haven't, up to now, clearly expressed that I reject his assumption that there is some relevant standard of civilized discourse that Coulter has violated. He must be making such an assumption, otherwise his intemperate words about Coulter cannot be justified.

My question to Patterico and the other critics of Ann Coulter is: what is this standard? Every night, millions of people tune into the Tonight Show and the Letterman show to watch comedians say offensive things about anyone who has been in the news lately. On these and other comedy shows, I've seen mockery made of the dead, of the maimed, and of the homosexually raped. South Park has made millions from doing and saying things more offensive than anything Coulter has ever said.

Well maybe entertainers are a special case? Obviously not; Coulter's words do not stand out at all in the realms of political discussion. Ted Rall is a nationally syndicated cartoonist. Air America is on the radio spewing bile every day. Some pretty rotten things have been said on Politically Incorrect. And it's not only on the left. Michael Savage has made a career out of saying hateful things, and Rush Limbaugh makes fun of people in pretty brutal ways sometimes. And then there are the political blogs. Nothing Coulter has said is particularly out of the norm.

And don't forget the Darwin Awards. This is a list of posthumous awards given to people who remove themselves from the gene pool through fatal acts of stupidity --entertainment from humorous death. For example:
The following mind-boggling attempt at a crime spree appeared to be the robber's first, due to his lack of a previous record of violence, and his terminally stupid choices:
1. His target was H&J Leather & Firearms. A gun shop.
2. The shop was full of customers - firearms customers.
3. To enter the shop, the robber had to step around a marked police patrol car parked at the front door.
4. A uniformed officer was standing at the counter, having coffee before work.
Upon seeing the officer, the would-be robber announced a holdup, and fired a few wild shots. The officer and a clerk promptly returned fire, covered by several customers who also drew their guns, thereby removing the confused criminal from the gene pool.
No one else was hurt.
What do you think the odds are that this man has family members who are devastated at having people laugh at his death? And how many of the people who are attacking Coulter have laughed at this or stories like it?

My point isn't that all of this is OK, but just that there is no cultural standard that Coulter has violated. There just isn't. I don't mean to imply that no one can ever exceed the bounds of good taste in what they say, I'm just pointing out that what she said was fairly mild, given cultural norms, even by the most uncharitable reading (the one that Patterico insists on).

I'll bet South Park could do an episode on the Jersey Widows where one of the husbands shows up --he wasn't actually in the twin towers that day-- and the Widows get together to kill him and hide the body, and Patterico wouldn't say a thing, or he'd say how funny it was. It probably would be funny.

No, I think the conservatives who are so upset about this aren't really upset because Coulter has violated some standard of proper behavior. What they are doing is trying to behave towards her like they behave towards Michael Moore and Ted Rall and the other slimebags of the left. The urge to objectivity is admirable but they are doing it in the wrong direction. There is nothing objective about standards of behavior. Social norms are determined by the subjective choice of groups of people. By contrast, good and evil are objective (or at least that's what conservatives believe) and that's where you need to look for your objective criticism of leftist thugs.

Ted Rall isn't a slimebag just because he drew a cartoon that mocked someone's death. If Rall had drawn a cartoon about the Darwin Award above, would anyone have cared? Imagine that he drew a cartoon about some would-be terrorist, an actual man who got himself killed by being overly aggressive and stupid. That would be OK, wouldn't it? If there is any cultural norm here, it is that mocking violent people who get themselves killed through stupidity is OK. And Rall didn't violate that cultural norm because that's exactly what he thinks of Pat Tillman.

The reason Rall is a slimebag isn't because of what he drew, but because of what he thinks of Pat Tillman. It's not because he mocked someone that he thought should be mocked; it's because of who he thought should be mocked. Pat Tillman was a professional football player who gave up a very good life to join the Army after 9/11. He wanted to be a Ranger --a very dangerous job-- because he wanted to use his physical skills to defend his country. Tillman was killed by friendly fire, in action against the enemy in Afghanistan. Pat Tillman was a hero, and Ted Rall is a slimebag because he doesn't understand that Pat Tillman was a hero.

By contrast, Ann Coulter said some unkind things about a group of women who have used their husband's death as a way to get media attention, then used the soapbox to hinder this country's defense and aid the enemy, and further exploited their husband's death to immunize themselves from criticism for the slimebag things they have done. By shining a spotlight on the actions of these women, Coulter has done a good deed.

So no, Patterico, I don't just mean that Coulter is *our* asshole. I mean that she is objectively a good guy and Rall is objectively a slimebag. It isn't how they say it, it's what they say.

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