Working Late Today

A long day of recording today, at New York’s Avatar Studios with my old pal Steve Khan. We’re in Studio ‘C’, working on Steve’s latest effort, with trumpeter Randy Brecker and percussionists Marc Quiñones and Bobby Allende. It’s getting late, and it doesn’t look like we’ll be done anytime soon, which of course leaves me scant opportunity for lengthy bloviation.

As always, however, I hate to send visitors away empty-handed, so here is an excellent post by Scott Carson on moral responsibility and the “false cause” fallacy.


  1. the one eyed man says

    Well, yes and no. If the Pope – or anyone else – makes a speech about how Muslims purportedly are violent, and this results in people being killed in riots, then the thing speaks for itself. Or if you want to be highfalutin: res ipsa loquitor. (Affected? Moi?) However, to suggest that all speech is innocent is misleading.

    Perhaps the best example is from a Supreme Court case in the late 1970’s regarding Skokie, Illinois, where one of six residents were Holocaust survivors. The American Nazi Party requested a permit to march through Skokie, which was rejected by the town on the grounds that the march was clearly provocative and its residents deserved to live without intimidation. The Nazis sued Skokie on the basis that their first amendment rights were being violated, and that prior restraint of speech is unconstitutional.

    Let’s suppose that a Nazi march caused Skokie residents to riot and people died as a result. Would you agree that the Nazis had some degree of culpability for the deaths?

    I don’t know whether the Pope or the Danish newspaper cartoonist were being intentionally provocative, and I don’t mean to equate them with the Nazis. However, the principle remains the same. Incidentally, the Court decided in favor of the Nazis, which I think is the right decision. I am an absolutist on the first amendment, which protects all speech, regardless of how repulsive it may be. The Nazis never had the march, despite winning the case. However, when you exit the realm of legality and enter the realm of ethics, I would suggest a very different conclusion: the Nazis are morally responsible for the consequences of their clearly provocative behavior.

    Posted November 28, 2006 at 5:51 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Peter,

    I don’t think I’d agree with that. I do think that neo-Nazis are morally reprehensible because of what they advocate, and of course the actual Nazis were morally responsible for their crimes. But if the American Nazi Party were to march through Skokie, and some Holocaust survivors, provoked to riot, flipped over a car, killing a young child on the sidewalk, the moral responsibilty for that killing would rest with the car-flippers, not the Nazis. This is not to say, of course, that the neo-Nazis aren’t despicable, and of course in this miserable example there would be plenty of culpability to go around.

    When we are provoked to violence not in self-defense, it is we who bear the responsibility. If marching through the street is to be considered protected “speech”, then we can’t use it as an exculpatory excuse to be violent ourselves.

    Posted November 28, 2006 at 6:15 pm | Permalink
  3. the one eyed man says

    Your thinking is, of course, thoughtful and consistent. However, let’s suppose that instead of killing a child, a holocaust survivor killed a Nazi marcher. In my opinion, there are times when verbal abuse is tantamount to a physical assault, and this is one of those instances. Had the black patrons who were insulted by Michael Richards last week gone ballistic on his ass, I think most people would think “well, he deserved it.” Ditto for our putative holocaust survivors and Nazi marchers.

    Posted November 28, 2006 at 7:04 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Well, there’s where we enter the fuzzy grey zone of justifiable violence. In some places, if you walk in on another man in bed with your wife, it is a matter of honor, and you won’t be punished for killing him.

    I think around these parts at least, the “sticks and stones” rules is generally in force: we are not legally justified in responding to speech with violence. Whether we are, sometimes, morally justified in doing so is another matter, about which we may form our own opinions.

    Posted November 28, 2006 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

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