The Culture of Tyranny
February 3, 2000
can you defend an oaf like John Rocker? a friend asked me
recently. I dont disagree with you, but when you take up his
cause youre 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 Courts evisceration of libel law in the name of the
First Amendment, you cant 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 Baseballs commissioner, Bud Selig.
The sentence also includes sensitivity training, on top of
the psychological examination Rocker has already submitted to. Selig said
that Rockers 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. Hes an abrasive man, like a lot of
athletes nowadays. But that doesnt justify New Yorks 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
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 didnt apply to Ted Turners
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 arent 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
cant prove he isnt 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 dont 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 dont 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
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 mans 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.
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