RE: The Stranger, on Eminem & Elton

From: Matt Jensen (
Date: Fri Feb 23 2001 - 14:37:13 PST

On Fri, 23 Feb 2001, Tom WSMF wrote:

> Here are the points that have cropped up in this thread that seem worth
> discusion/deabte...

Cool, my own opinions are...

> --Where does your right to think a thing is unmoral end, does it extend
> out to make that thing unobtainable or does it simply extend to viglient
> discourse.

It depends on the thing, the nature of its immorality, the nature of the
harms it causes. Everything needs context, which is why I prefer to
discuss these topics as precisely as we can. In my view, Eminem's albums
are on the 'offensive content' plane, not the 'violent crime' plane or the
'malicious libel' plane. The appropriate response is to observe his right
to speech, but you needn't 'respect' the actual content. Out of the 20 or
so possible responses to Eminem I outlined, I suggested the two I would
engage in. Some of the others, such as consumer boycotts, also respect
first amendment rights, but I don't have the energy or inclination for
those actions currently.

> --Can a society live in a state of disharmony over the moral and social
> implications of its internal differnces and still maintain an envioronment
> for free and open exploration and growth of the items of disharmony.

It's one the beauties of (some) modern societies that we've been able to
maintain a general balance like that. Not perfectly, and sometimes it
takes action to put things into better balance, or to find new balance
points. On the whole I think we're getting better. So I think it can
generally be done, but we're always faced with new, tough calls, and
that's part of the work of a free society.

> --Can a valid opinion be formed without the benifit of first hand study of
> the points that make it up, ie is meta data or second hand data
> quantatitve enough to form opinions.

It's a complex question. And even more complex if you decide that you
don't want to 'vote with your dollars' for something you expect to
disapprove of or be disgusted by. Maybe if public libraries had better pop
music collections (in this case), that subissue would subside. For music.
You'd still need to pay admission into the Brooklyn Museum of Art to get
first-hand experience of their latest controversy. Although I've seen
photos of it on the Web, and I feel that's enough to understand it.

But on your main point, should you have to endure, or even emerse yourself
in, something you find unpleasant in order to form a 'valid' opinion?
Perhaps a rule of thumb can be that you need at least some direct
knowledge if you're going to be active about condemning it.

Take the curmudgeon in "Green Eggs and Ham". He's minding his own
business when Sam-I-Am comes along and pesters him. The curmudgeon's
experience with, or expectations from, green meat are unpleasant, so he
repeatedly turns down Sam-I-Am's entreaties. He just doesn't want to be
bothered. Eventually he gives in and tries the food (a friendlier
response than getting a restraining order).

Now let's look at someone more active. In "Horton Hears a Who", the
Wickersham Brothers seek to rope and cage Horton, and to boil the
dustspeck on his flower. Not only do they not believe people live on the
dustspeck, but they think Horton's opinions threaten their society. The
songs go further than the book, suggesting Horton is anticapitalist, among
other things.

The point is, the Wickersham Brothers don't make a *serious* effort to
listen to the dustspeck before trying to boil it. With extreme action
like that, they are morally obligated to seriously study and understand
that which they intend to condemn. (Assuming for the moment that they are
the official LEA of the jungle, etc., etc. Those folks could do with some
checks and balances against involuntary commitment.)

-Matt Jensen

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