moral relativism taken to dangerous extremes

Yesterday the Globe and Mail ran an editorial titled "A Disgrace to Journalism". It began:
The journalist who threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush is being hailed as a hero by some Iraqis, but he is a disgrace to his profession and should be fired by his employer. The fact that he has not been dismissed, and is instead being treated as a martyr by the television company he works for, says a great deal about its standards of journalism.

It goes on to say that "to its shame," Al Baghdadia, Al-Zaidi's employer, is defending him, and "to their shame," organizations like Reporters Without Borders did not "condemn the attempted assault".

While this is not surprising, I find it no less wrong-headed and maddening. As we see all too often in our society, order and decorum are what matter most. When millions of people take to the streets to protest an immoral war, what matters is whether or not the protesters were peaceful and how many people were arrested. The violence, destruction and injustice being perpetrated by the state are secondary. How did the crowd express its anger? Was order kept? Did they behave politely?

I can't blame this on the mainstream media, as in this case it reflects what too many people believe and have been conditioned to react. In comments on my original post about the shoe-throwing, I learned that "two wrongs don't make a right" has become a standard response to the incident.

This is the same moral illogic that says war is wrong, but war resisters should be punished because they signed a contract. It's the same moral illogic that condemned human rights protesters when they dared to disrupt the Olympic torch relay.
A commonly heard sentiment goes something like, "Now that the protests have turned violent and protesters are committing vandalism, I question my support for Tibet!" . . .

The authoritarian streak in so many ordinary people amazes me. Some people are so besotted with order that their moral code runs for cover when the voice of the people gets too loud. If you are in such a huff because a protest turned rowdy or (heaven forbid!) somebody's property was damaged that you would actually stop sympathizing with people struggling against an occupation, I have to question your core values.

What is this "order" so many people hold so dear? Sometimes it's fear. Capitulation. Submission. Sometimes it's allowing the state to be more important than the people who it purports to represent.

Here are some replies to the G&M editorial that ran today.
Your editorial points to the harm done to a free press by Muntadar al-Zaidi's flying shoes. Of course, a lot of people around the world have been wondering for a long time where the "free" press was, particularly in the United States, in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

The real disgrace to democracy and freedom is when the press does not play its role in questioning leaders, parrots the official neo-con line and plays down anti-war protests across the globe.

Shahid Salam, Toronto


Just because your country is invaded and destroyed and hundreds of thousands of your people die in the ensuing mayhem, just because your countrymen are tortured, just because your national infrastructure remains in ruins, all without provocation, is no reason to be rude and throw shoes.

Better for journalists to behave as they did at the outset of this war - as enablers and toadies.

J.C. Henry, Mississauga


They say "the pen is mightier than the sword." Well, it looks like a flying shoe wins hands-down. Muntadar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi who threw his shoes at George W. Bush, expressed the helpless outrage of many around the world. It was only in 2006 that Mr. Bush signed the Military Commissions Act, giving immunity to U.S. government officials. What are a couple of flying shoes?

Helen Sadowski, Edmonton


The Globe thinks the shoe-throwing journalist's behaviour unprofessional and calls for his firing. Etiquette trumps honest rage at the deaths of uncounted thousands.

Rick Taves, Wheatley, ON


Larry Gambone said...

And few things are more hypocritical than right-wing moral relativism. In the same way that shoe throwing is deemed worse than killing hundreds of thousands of people, right-wingers will go on about the deaths of embryos the size of match heads and ignore thousands of real, living children killed by bombs. One could come up with numerous examples - how it is wrong for the govt. to give money to working people (socialism!) but it is a very just and moral for government to give it to the rich in the form of mega-projects, military nonsense or bail-outs (free enterprize.) etc and etc.

laura k said...

Larry, very true - and very important. Thanks.

Unknown said...

We all do things we regret when we're angry. Certainly, there was plenty of legitimate reason for anger here. However, that changes nothing of the fact that these kinds of actions do nothing to solve the root problem. Put simply, throwing the shoe might make the person throwing it feel better in the short term but, in the long run, the problems remain.

That being said, I think throwing the shoe was of no benefit whatsoever; all it did was make a farce out of a legitimate issue and make the shoe thrower look like an unstable crackpot. Having said that, as a man who only recently said and done a number of things he regrets right now, I can't really stand in judgment; I might've done the same thing in that person's place.

That doesn't change the fact that the act was pointless, though.

laura k said...

These kinds of actions do nothing to solve the root problem.

I don't think anyone is arguing that one act of expression actually changes anything. But you could say that about almost any form of protest.

Especially when it comes to stopping a mighty empire invading and occupying a much weaker country, people feel helpless, and most actions they can take are merely symbolic.

Protest has a cumulative effect. You can single out any act as insignificant, but the whole is greater than any of the parts.

all it did was make a farce out of a legitimate issue and make the shoe thrower look like an unstable crackpot.

This is very far off base. To me and to millions of people all over the world, there was nothing farcical, and there is no reason to believe that Al-Zaidi is either unstable or a "crackpot". Millions of us would love to have the opportunity to do the same thing. But perhaps using a knife, or a grenade.

laura k said...

Also, there is no reason to assume that Al-Zaidi regrets his actions, although if he's being tortured, that might lead to some regret. But not because what he did was wrong.

allan said...

I can't really stand in judgment

Is that so?

"these kinds of actions do nothing to solve the root problem"

"throwing the shoe was of no benefit whatsoever"

"it [made] a farce out of a legitimate issue"

"the shoe thrower look[ed] like an unstable crackpot"

"the act was pointless"

impudent strumpet said...

It doesn't matter if the action was helpful or beneficial or productive or whatever. We all do dozens of things every day that are pointless and don't help anything. The question here is whether the reaction and consequences are appropriate and commensurate.

laura k said...

As usual, Imp Strump says it better and more concisely.