In all the controversy over the Dana Jacobson issue, I suspect that it is all too easy to lose sight of what actually is important about it. What happens to Jacobson as a result of what she has done is important to the general public, but not because Jacobson is any serious danger to society. Of course not.
It is important because the response to her by her bosses and the elite in general represents what kind of society and culture we live in and whether we can cause positive changes in both.
It is not obvious that we can do so without much struggle.
We can all agree that what Jacobson appears to have said is reprehensible. The question then becomes, what should the various parties do about it?
In particular, how should Christians respond?
Certainly, Christians should serve as a model for others in the society—and this situation presents a great opportunity for Christians to lead toward a better understanding of how to deal with discord. This question of how society should react to offensiveness is actually a highly complex issue, about which I’ve been writing a good deal over the past few months.
Note that my observations in the present case actually centered on ESPN’s management and American elites in general, not Jacobson in particular. My point is that if people are going to be fired for one kind of slur, they should be fired for all kinds of slurs.
As you’ll know from my previous writings on the site and elsewhere, however, actually I strongly oppose all of this sort of hypersensitivity, and I think that pointing out the hypocrisy is a good way to try to get people to see that this identity politics is absurd and wrong. After all, if Jacobson is allowed to retain her job after saying something grossly offensive about and to Christians (if she indeed did so), then those who say equally offensive things about, say, blacks or homosexuals have to be given the same leeway, don’t they?
That, of course, would open the door to all kinds of strife.
Nonetheless, the immediate consequences of such an approach should not be accorded undue weight and overbalance both rightness and the long-term interests of society.
The point is, we either have to put up with vulgarity and offensiveness from all sources, or not do so. Equal treatment should mean equal consequences for equal offensiveness, whatever we may decide those consequences should be.
There is in fact a way to accomplish this.
We could institute manners and mores so that ours is a society where people can freely speak their minds, but they pay a price if the speech offends others—as long as the price is not exacted by government.
Unlike the Muslim opponents of Geert Wilders and Theo Van Gogh, Christians aren’t calling for Jacobson’s death and haven’t tried to kill her. They are calling for censure, and that is perfectly reasonable. The question then becomes what kind of censure, who should institute it, and what the reaction to Jacobson’s eventual response to the matter should be.
The answer to the all-important first question, in my view, is that the censure should be equal to whatever censure is accorded those who say equally offensive things about any other groups, such as blacks and homosexuals, to take two conveniently recent examples (the Imus and Hardaway cases).
That is essential if we are to claim ourselves a society that tries to pursue true and equal justice for all.
In a message to me which he has kindly given me permission to quote, National Review literary editor Mike Potemra expands on this point about the frequent hate-athons directed at an odd assortment of social offenders. Mike makes the very important point that identity politics threatens to turn each individual in society into an angry, scolding tyrant:
There’s a remarkably close analogy to Dana Jacobson in the controversy about Fox’s John Gibson making fun of Heath Ledger after the latter’s death a couple days ago. Shocking! Horrible! He must be fired!
In today’s "politics of the Thunderdome," we’re all encouraged to be little mini-Roman Emperors, with our thumbs-up and thumbs-down determining the fate of the gladiators. I look at Gibson and Jacobson and say, OK, my opinion (if anyone asks) is I disapprove, but am I really supposed to get all worked up because somebody somewhere is being a jerk?
Bill Bennett wrote a book a few years ago called "The Death of Outrage," whose title I think gets it 100 percent wrong—our culture today thrives on 24/7 outrage, with somebody new to hate every few days.
Mike has it exactly right. This all comes down to what kind of culture we want to have: a free culture, or one that is a slave to the state and a few self-appointed private-sector gatekeepers backed by enormous amounts of money—all of which reflects attitudes flowing out of what people are taught in the public schools.
A free culture will include much that we don’t like, but it will also include much that enriches us and brings joy. The current hegemony of identity politics in both the culture and society, however, is antithetical to cultural freedom and is in fact the greatest present obstacle to it.
Identity politics is stupid and wrong, and if Jacobson should skate, then those who say other offensive things should skate as well.
Of course, if you think that people are too freely offensive now, you might shudder to think what will happen when there are no taboos left.
But will there actually be no taboos left? Society can regulate itself quite nicely, actually, if government stays out of the fray. We need only recognize and accept the essentiality of equal treatment, and then live by that truth and teach it in our schools.
As I’ve said before on this site and elsewhere, instead of judging people’s actions on the basis of whom they hurt, we should judge them on the basis of how much they hurt, whomever they may hurt.
That’s the real issue here.