I was probably about ten years old. If you're too old to remember, or too young to understand, let me tell you that ten-year-olds get some pretty crazy ideas. My crazy idea is that I had a super-power, and my power was super-human resistance to bee and wasp stings. This was based on the fact that I had been stung once on the arm and didn't consider it "that bad".
|The common wasp (Vespula vulgaris): the Samuel L. Jackson of insects. I laugh at them.|
So my ten-year-old super self and a group of friends were running the hills in the village where I grew up, and we came across an old wrecked car. VW Beetle, to be specific. The old bug was rusted and had no wheels, and on the path alongside it where someone might walk, one of the cars doors was stripped from the wreckage and laying across like some kind of manhole cover. To a bunch of ten-year-olds, an abandoned car is an amazing thing; we can't sit in the driver's seat of our parents cars, but here we could all pile into the old beetle and I could crank on the steering wheel, wrestle the stick shifter into any position I liked, and make all kinds of engine sounds with my mouth. Good times.
|It was really not in this good of a condition.|
Eventually, one of us noticed that the stray car door had a couple of wasps buzzing around it. They would come out, hover around, and then retreat back under the door. It was pretty apparant that there must be more of them under the door. Ten-year-old Super Joey, full of confidence that he was, immune to the worst that these wimpy little bugs could do, decided that he must protect all of his young friends. That would mean disturbing the wasps so that they would go away from the car.
After getting all my cohorts to stand back, I took advantage of the fact that the door was on a path, and made a nice long run up to the door. Then, using my other super power (super speed, of course), I ran down the path and did a beautiful two-foot jump directly onto the door, bouncing off the other side and resuming my sprint across the path.
|If I had a cape like this guy, things probably would have worked out differently.|
For future reference, if you have the occasion to run across a wasp-infested car door, I offer you four words; Do not look back.
As I turned to inspect the carnage, one of the defending troops was able to catch up with me, and managed to get me with his stinger right on my eyelid. I have no words to express the pain that I experienced as a ten-year-old boy being stung directly on my eyelid by a wasp. But I can describe the next use of my super powers, which was to apply my remaining super speed to get my ass, swollen eyelid and all, directly home where I could bleat into my mommy's shoulder for the rest of the day.
|"Cut me, Mom!"|
If I could go back in time, I would have some advice for ten-year-old me; I'd tell him, "Don't be such a dumbass." Maybe not in those words, of course - it would be something more nuanced. But the truth is, I didn't have super powers, and kicking at wasps is neither a good idea for the wasps nor the kicker.
Unless you've been living in a bubble, you've probably heard that Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame has come under fire lately for some homophobic comments that he made in an interview with GQ. Admittedly, I don't watch Duck Dynasty and I care very little for what happens to the Robertson family, but I do see a lot of people springing to the man's defense which troubles me a bit.
|Hey, Phil. With that thing in your mouth it looks kinda, well, you know..."|
There is a misunderstanding among a lot of folks over what freedom of speech means. I hope that I can make my story about the wasp nest explain some things. There was no law preventing me from jumping on that door. I was intent on attacking the wasps, and I would not have understood any sympathy for the wasps, because... you know, they're wasps. None of my juvenile friends thought it worth the effort to stop me, and they probably could not have restrained me. I did it, and I faced the consequences.
Now, I'm sure Robertson didn't mean any ill will towards gays. In his mind, they're sinners, and they should know they're sinners, so why would they be offended? After all, they're only gay people. His racist, sexist and homophobic comments all seemed fine to him, because can claim ignorance - he would like to say that he's just some duck hunter.
I find this attitude repugnant. Being oblivious to the "other" is not an acceptable defense.
|More people taking advantage of their right to free speech.|
So we have Robertson speaking his mind to an interviewer. The interviewer could have omitted the comments - I'm guessing that Robertson has said all kinds of hateful things over the years that have been left on the cutting room floor. But the comments were not omitted, they were published. And they are offensive, causing those who have been offended are retaliating. The offended parties includes his employer. There is nothing implied by the concept of "freedom of speech" that says you will not face consequences for your words - only that you should not be prosecuted or discriminated against. And Robertson is now facing the consequences.
He has now been suspended from his job. Why is that? He works as a celebrity; his job is to speak on behalf of Duck Dynasty and A&E, and he has gone off message. If you are someone responsible for public relations at A&E, you would not want these comments to be what your viewers bring to mind when they watch Duck Dynasty. This man is not a plumber or a carpenter who is being criticized for overzealous evangelism on street corners on his weekends, this is an individual using the avenue that has been made possible by his position as a public persona. He is spreading a message that is discriminatory and contrary to the message that his employers wish to be associated with. It is not only Robertson's freedom of speech that needs protected here, but also A&E's - if he is paid to be their spokesperson, and he does not deliver their message, then they are right to correct him.
|Now if they could just come up with an idea more original than this.|
So freedom of speech can backfire. But it still must be protected. As the quote goes, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” If someone wants to say something that I disagree with, I am free to object, but I will not stop that person from speaking. However, just because you are permitted to say it does not mean you should. This is where non-Phil-Robertson-types use a little thing called "discernment".
Sometimes when the consequenses have been weighed and the message is important enough, someone will decide to speak out even their words will be unpopular. If Robertson had it to do over, I'm guessing he would not have said those things to GQ. I'm sure he would still go on about other things that I disagree with, because he feels the message is important and saying some other things would not have him pay such a steep price. Similarly, I know that some people take offense to things I write in this blog - I watch the pageviews drop after I write something controversial, and I'm sure that some of the people who read such posts and do not read any more are going to be more reluctant to say "Hi" to me on the street. That is a a price I am willing to pay because I feel that the things I am talking about are things that I need to talk about.
|SHUN THE NON-BELIEVER!|
I compare this with the recent attempt by Center For Inquiry to enlist Pattison Outdoor to run a billboard campaign in Vancouver. CFI is an organization that promotes a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry and humanist values. In a nutshell, they are atheists, and the billboards they wanted to place in Vancouver were encouraging people to loo to themselves as a measure of what is good, rather than God or the Bible. Religious people often take offense to even the suggestion that there may not be a god, and Christians are sensitive about criticisms of the Bible. These are things that CFI had weighed out and decided that getting their message out was more important than avoiding offense of these people.
|I think Dave is somewhere after II Thessalonians.|
Unfortunately, Pattison Outdoor is owned by an evangelical Christian and decided that it would reject CFI's advertisements. This would not be such a big issue if Pattison did not have a near monopoly on advertising space in Vancouver. Of course, CFI used this rejection to get the maximum publicity for themselves by going to every media outlet they could. And who could blame them? But the fact remains that CFI has a message, and they were prevented from speaking. Whether you believe in God or not, others should be allowed to express their beliefs. That, my friends, is a genuine free speech issue.
CFI ended up taking their billboards to CBS Outdoor, the company that pretty well owns the remainder of Vancouver's billboards. CBS accepted the campaign without issue, and the signs are currently up in Vancouver. CFI is laughing now, since they got a whole load of free publicity, which helped them to get their message out. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that they went to Pattison in the first place, knowing the man's personal views and hoping to get rejected. You could say that they kicked a wasps nest, knowing that the display of wasps circling around the nest is what they wanted all along. I consider this an example of exercising good judgement, something that we have already established to be lacking in Phil Robertson's actions.
When we talk about free speech, people often think that means that they are free to say what they want, when they want, without consequences. But that is not the case. It is especially complicated when your livelyhood is to deliver someone else's message - sometimes you just have to keep your mouth shut. But if you do trample on a wasp's nest, don't be surprised if you get stung.
And Phil: don't be such a dumbass. That's a message from forty-year-old Not-So-Super Joey.