A Louisiana man says something most people assume Louisana men think; uproar ensues
Phil Robertson, one of the men in A&E’s Duck Dynasty, said some things in an interview with GQ that I wasn’t going to comment on except that they’ve taken over my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Duck Dynasty is one of the highest-rated cable shows of all time, including the highest-rated “non-fiction” show of all time. I don’t watch it, so I won’t speculate as to the appeal of the show. Suffice it to say, from what little I’ve seen, it features Robertson’s family which acts consistent with all the stereotypes you’d expect from rural Louisiana hunters. Here are some of the quotes that have caused the uproar in my social media worlds:
“It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong. Sin becomes fine. Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
There has been a backlash, and then a backlash to the backlash. The backlash called out Robertson for “hateful” and “bigoted” views, calling for a boycott of A&E and the show (A&E suspended Phil from the show immediately). The backlash to the backlash castigated the backlashers for punishing Phil for his exercise of First Amendment rights. Both sides have gone way overboard, and I’ll address some of these points in the always-popular bullet point style.
First, the easiest: nobody’s First Amendment rights have been violated. I haven’t seem many reasonable people argue that they have, but just to spell it out: the First Amendment protects you from the government’s interference in your speech; it does not protect you from reactions of private individuals who may choose not to associate with you as a result of your speech.
Second, most people I’ve seen invoke the First Amendment used it correctly: Robertson WAS exercising his First Amendment rights when he said what he said, and that’s exactly what he’s being “punished” for. That doesn’t mean his First Amendment rights were violated, of course, since that can only (with a few exceptions) be done by the government.
Third, while I am a free speech absolutist, I’m starting to grow uncomfortable with the strength of the backlash that is unleashed against those who air unpopular views. This is magnified when the unpopular views go against the liberal elite that is hyperrepresented in the media. Yes, you’re entitled to petition A&E to cancel the show, or fire Robertson, and you can arrange for a boycott of whatever duck-related items the Robertson family manufactures – that’s the flip side of free speech and free association – but these sorts of things have serious effects on real people, including those entirely unrelated to Robertson. The show’s employees, advertisers (and their employees), the Robertsons’ employees, and their various suppliers would suffer from any effective boycott. How much of this collateral damage is permissible to silence an unpopular viewpoint? More importantly, should Robertson (or someone poorer) lose his livelihood for holding these viewpoints?
I’ll end this with Brian Doherty’s excellent formulation of the dilemma:
There may have been a good reason why classical tolerance of expression was summed up in the epigram: “I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it!”
That has a different feel than: “I disagree with what you say, I think you are evil for having said it, I think no one should associate with you and you ought to lose your livelihood, and anyone who doesn’t agree with me about all that is skating on pretty thin ice as well, but hey, I don’t think you should be arrested for it.”