Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Tale of Two Hecklings

So two undercover drama critics in New York City attended the "Shakespeare in the Park" production of Julius Caesar in order to disrupt it by denouncing the cast and audience. Some people are referring to them as "free speech advocates" for this action, which is rather problematic, since disrupting someone else's free speech is hardly free speech. On the contrary, it's an instance of the "heckler's veto" that we have deplored when it was used to prevent Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at Berkeley in February.

Yes, but I have to ask myself why I feel so differently about the actions of these two than about the "hecklers" (rioters, actually) who kept people from hearing what Milo had to say. Is it just because I am a hypocrite, and feel more in sympathy with the position of these two hecklers, and with Milo, than I am with the Berkeley thugs or the Julius Caesar crowd's revelling in assassination porn (if you just woke up from a coma, the producers are using the play to depict the murder of Donald Trump to the infantile glee of their audience)? No doubt my hypocrisy is part of it. But I also see some objective differences between these two hecklings.

(1) The two Caesar hecklers are named Laura Loomer and Jack Posobiec. No one knows the identities of the Berkeley rioters; they appeared in hoods.

(2) Loomer and Posobiec did no violence to anyone's person or property. The Berkeley rioters both hurt people and destroyed things.

(3) After the two were escorted from the scene by security, the play continued, so its "message" was delivered. Milo's talk was cancelled.

(4) The "message" that raised the hecklers' hackles was not an actual idea that you could express verbally: it was the mere depiction of Julius Caesar as Donald Trump, so that his assassination could be presented as a kind of editorial cartoon. This is speech rather in the same way that exotic dancing or burning flags is speech: it is protected, legitimately, but I would call it peripheral rather than core free speech. Milo's speech, by contract, would clearly have been core free speech: a man standing up to speak his opinions, including opinions about public policy, in plain language before a crowd who had come to hear them.

(5) Loomer and Posobiec knew that they would get no sympathy from the local government of NYC: they really were, at least in their minds, speaking truth to power. The Berkeley rioters knew that Berkeley would be on their side rather than Milo's. They were using power to counter truth.

(6) Last, and to my mind most important, Loomer was arrested and charged with trespassing for her outrageous behavior. The Berkeley rioters were not charged. I've read that the Berkeley police stood by watching as they did what they had come to do. One of the most important aspects of civilly disobedient protest actions is that the person who performs them is engaged in minor infractions of the law and is willing to accept the punishment that the law applies for such disobedience. Martin Luther King did so, Henry David Thoreau did so, Loomer did so; the Berkeley thugs did not.

I don't see Loomer and Posobiec's actions as examples of free speech. In a society that properly safeguards and respects free speech, their actions would not be permitted. But then, neither would the Berkeley rioters have gone unpunished. And with the Left glorying more and more in perverse, demented fantasies of violence against the Right, and with shots having now been fired in an attempt to murder a Republican congressman, I can't help but feel heartwarmed by these two standing up and delivering their own message to the sick, snobbish theatergoers in Central Park.

The worthy Robert Kroese says such tactics are stupid and don't work, and that's probably true; but it's not like I have a tactic that would work in my shirt pocket. If he has one in his I wonder that he's not using it. The not-so-esteemed David French says I'm guilty of tribalism for defending these two. I've never been in favor of tribalism; but then I've also never lived through a civil war when New Yorkers in Central Park cheered on the murder of people like me. This is not where we want to be. But it's where the Left has brought us.

No comments:

Post a Comment