James Leroy Wilson's blog

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Tearing People Down

Three things that bother me about the Michael Phelps pot-smoking scandal.

3. in a free society, Phelps would not have been committing a "crime," because a free society would let you do what you will for your own life, so long as you don't violate the will others have for their own lives. Some will say that with freedom comes "responsibility" and define the freedom out of existence: they want to make "freedom" mean "for your own good, as judged by me" or the "common good." But even then, they're all wet when it comes to marijuana. When he let himself go during his break after the Olympics, Phelps' diet and drinking probably has done much more harm to him than the weed.

2. Even if pot-smoking is wrong, how is it more wrong than drunk driving? Why is Phelps facing more heat now than four years ago, when he had his DUI? I know there are problems with DUI law. I know wonderful people with a past histories of DUI convictions. Nevertheless, even the most unrepentant drunk driver would have to concede that the potential negative consequences of drunk driving far exceed that of smoking pot.

1. Why take this picture to the press? And why did the press run it?

Rhetorical questions, of course. And I firmly believe the press was acting within their rights to run the picture. It would create buzz and make money for them; in their position I'd probably do the same thing.

But it's just another example of what we like to do in our culture: tear people down.

And not just politicians like Eliot Spitzer, whose whole life was dedicated to tearing people down by the score. It's makes sense to tear people like that down, as a matter of self-defense.

But we tear down people who haven't harmed anybody, like Michael Phelps. Mainline Internet news pages believe it's worth their while to mock actresses who show up at a premiere or an awards show in a dress that offends some fashion critic. Most reality tv shows involve tearing people down for all to see.

The negativity in the media isn't just about wars, catastrophes, and the economy; they will embarrass, mock, or be hyper-critical of any famous figure at the first opportunity.

It's one thing to say that the targets are getting paid, most often paid very well. But just because you're well-paid doesn't mean you "had it coming."

My concern is that the tear-down media culture poisons the mind and poisons one's values. What does it matter to you what Phelps does on Saturday nights, or what Tom Cruise's opening weekend box office gross is?

To enjoy the humiliation of a successful person who's done no one harm, is no different to enjoying watching a child cry. In both cases, it suggests that you are suffering inside. And those in the media who facilitate such humiliations must also be suffering inside.

Heck, we're all suffering inside about something. We're all hypochondriacs, in the sense that that which we're the most concerned about - health, getting rich, freedom, or whatever - is the very thing we're most angry at God or the world for not delivering to our satisfaction. That said, the habit of large numbers of people in taking satisfaction from humiliating others does not bode well for liberty. Those who condemn Phelps do not respect Phelps' private life. And this means, fundamentally, they don't respect themselves or their own private lives. They will be less troubled by privacy invasions.

And I think the American people have proved this for several years now.

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