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Hogarth judge

December 2017

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Apocalyptic Price

Enough of this wretched witch hunt

I hate the way this country treats artists.  We went through something similar during the McCarthy era, and it appears we're due for a rerun.  Kevin Spacey, in the last analysis, is a talented actor. I enjoyed The Usual Suspects, even if American Beauty was not my cup of tea, and Seven is something I never want to see again.  Likewise, nothing anybody says about Woody Allen is going to tarnish Bananas or Sleeper, and nothing anybody says about Roman Polanski will diminish the achievement of Rosemary's Baby or Chinatown. Judgmentalism and witch-hunts are a national vice going way back, I fear. And they really need to be resisted.

I was there for "Satanic ritual abuse". The media and lots of people were all about "believe the victims" back then, too. And people went to prison for no reason, and lives were ruined.  If I can do anything to head off a similar episode today I will. It does seem to me already that we need to be asking smarter questions about stale stories.

Creative and talented people are also often messed up people. It comes with the territory, and they absolutely need to be given some slack. What would contemporary America do to Van Gogh or Picasso, I wonder? All I want is that we step back a minute before we condemn people.

Punishment is always optional. The option to let it slide is always there. It always needs to be weighed against the question of 'what good would it do?' And when the incidents involved all happened twenty, thirty years ago, there's no hurry either.

There occasionally is some substance behind a moral panic, I will agree. But the way Americans treat people while caught up in a moral panic ought to frighten everybody. Woody Allen is a national cultural treasure. So would Roman Polanski be, if we hadn't chased him away to the safety of Poland, where their morally conservative government recognizes that there are other things to be weighed in the balance beside something that went down in the 1970s. Even Harvey Weinstein deserves more breaks than the media are giving him.

Some claim that 'accountability' makes the world a better place.  But a much bigger part of making a better world involves giving people breaks, giving them room to breathe, not multiplying the things they do that are considered wrong, not labelling them with derogatory labels. Othering generally does not improve things. You resist it, not with the people you've been told to tolerate, but when you refuse to judge people who are not only foreign, but seem evil and misguided to you according to the norms of your culture, which they don't wholly share.

I am rigid, but I am capable of changing my mind. I changed my mind about gun control when I realized that the guns were the totems of a strange culture I perceived as a threat. I tried to swallow my fear and anger to see things from a different perspective. There are many ways where people can attempt self discipline, and some will work better for them than others; this is mine.

There is a truth in the core of egalitarian progressivism, but that truth is that you have to let everybody speak in their own voices. Your 'tolerance' is phony unless it is extended to your 'others', to those you hate and fear. And an important part of allowing people to speak in their own voices, and truly listening, is that you have to be willing to entertain their excuses. This is where contemporary identity 'progressives' don't get it, I think.

Again, punishment is always optional, always subject to the tally of whether any earthly good will be done by carrying it out. There actually seldom is. The urge to punish people is another aspect of human cruelty that won't always be resisted but should be anyways. We do wrong when we rush to believe Roy Moore's accusers but are aghast at George Takei's. One is a member of my tribe; the other is the enemy. People shouldn't judge matters by these allegiances, even if it's rightly hard to find fault with them for doing that.

I try to have empathy and show genuine kindness to all sorts of messed-up people. This includes most of the rich, powerful, and authority figures. They too, suffer. And I understand the impulse to look at them as a cultural enemy and existential threat. To hang various labels on them, especially the labels of 'power' and 'privilege' which describe the threatening enemy.

Those people, too, deserve a break. You should listen to their excuses, and take them as seriously as you take your own.



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