Reacting to a phenomenal wave of activity across social media in the wake of cable network A&E’s suspension of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson for expressing his Christian view of homosexuality, many liberty activists have voiced frustration with the amount of attention a reality show can garner while — in their view — far more pressing issues persist. Some have even suggested that the entire drama has been orchestrated by the media to divert attention from issues like the implosion of Obamacare or the expanding NSA spying scandal.
Here’s a sample which exemplifies the sentiment of many:
I really wish people got half as outraged about things that actually matter as they do about stuff that happens on reality shows. I am so tired of it!
If you’re more upset that Phil Robertson got kicked off of A&E than you are that a US Drone bombed a wedding in Yemen last week killing 15 civilians, you might be part of the problem.
There’s an irony here which ought to command our attention. The essence of liberty emerges as the principle of individual rights, the recognition that each person retains the prerogative to form their own value judgments. The political left rejects that principle, insisting that individuals surrender their chosen values and adopt those deemed superior by an elite ruling class. Their willingness to wield force and compel others to forsake chosen values metastasizes from an initial conviction that people ought to think a certain way. Getting upset about how upset someone else gets about something you don’t think they should be upset about… it really says more about you than it does about them. It manifests from a latent bit of tyranny which would make others reorient their values.
These are friends of mine making the above comments. And God knows I’ve made similar comments in other contexts. While that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re all a bunch of tyrants, it should trigger a thoughtful consideration of why people value the things they value.
Why does Phil Robertson getting kicked off of A&E generate more public outcry than a bombed wedding in Yemen? It’s not hard to figure out. The Duck Dynasty audience does not live in a place where weddings get bombed. It’s not something they can relate to. However, they can relate to having their speech chilled by institutions hostile to their religion and worldview. Phil Robertson thus stands in for many who feel they too have been censured for their beliefs. People support him because they share his values and can relate to his ordeal.
It’s the same reason that every kidnapped pretty white girl makes the six o’clock news. A majority of the audience can relate their own fears to that situation. Such empathy is normal, natural, and perfectly moral. It takes nothing away from another issue, like whether American foreign policy should include the bombing of weddings.
I can’t remember the particulars, but vaguely recall criticism of George W. Bush for taking a vacation as president while people were dying in some far-flung corner of the world. We’ve all heard that kind of criticism in various contexts. It comes from the same philosophical place as the “white people’s problems” meme, which mocks those of European descent for being disproportionately upset about something which would matter very little in starker circumstances. It’s cute rhetoric and offers good laughs, but proves silly when presented as serious social commentary. Is it reasonable to expect a person to never enjoy themselves, to never have fun or take a vacation or smile so long as a single person somewhere in the world is enduring a tragedy? Have we become that pretentious in our collectivism?
The Duck Dynasty story matters to those with whom it resonates. That does not mean it has to matter to you. The beauty of the market is that we may each pursue our separate values without encroaching upon each other’s rights. In fact, that’s a pretty good working definition of tolerance.
See also from Bryan Preston: 4 Reasons Why the Duck Dynasty Brouhaha Matters