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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

Too Far

I wonder what "freedom of speech" means when any time someone says something that people find objectionable, that person is pressured to apologize for it. The latest incident, of course, involves John Grisham and his statements to the effect that punishments for viewing underage porn do not always fit the crime. Wouldn't that be a shocker if it were true? I mean, no one who ever got busted for marijuana possession has received a stiffer sentence than they deserved, right? American law and its courts are always just and fair -- just ask Randall Dale Adams.

What brings all this home to Goodreads and BookLikes is comments like these, which I've lifted from CNN's story about Grisham's apology.

"The day that you came out in an interview and said that watchers of child porn get too stiff of a penalty for it (you said 10 years was too much) makes you someone that I cannot support nor no longer want to read," a reader named Kendra Benefield Lausman shared on Grisham's Facebook page; another posted that she's taken her entire Grisham library to her "burn barrel" with the intent to set the books on fire.

"How do you think child porn is made?" a poster named John Kelly asked on Grisham's page. "Someone is still getting hurt you imbecile. I'm sad to say that I will never purchase, nor consume, one of your books ever again. I am disgusted."

Sound familiar? It certainly should, as many times as readers have posted similar comments about whatever author has most recently pissed them off in some way. Invariably, the defense goes something like this: "Oh, sure, he has a right to his opinion, but I have a right not to support him, too." Or, more clearly, I have a right to grandstand for a cause I believe in.

Because that's all it is, grandstanding. I think we all know that if the Shadow accompanied us through life, telling us of the evil lurking in the hearts of all the men and women we "supported" in one way or another, we'd box ourselves out of our right to pursue happiness. Unless, of course, our happiness is not dependent on frivolities like food, fuel, entertainment, and a house to live in.

And don't tell me that what you don't know doesn't hurt you. You do know it. You know it very well. You know it because you're a human being and you understand that human beings are not all sweetness and light. You know that the people who brought you the computer or smartphone on which you're reading this aren't all saints. You are absolutely positive that some of them harbor thoughts much worse than the one John Grisham voiced. And yet you aren't smashing the computer, you aren't trashing the phone. Even though your knowledge of this goes far beyond reasonable doubt, that it is, in fact, a certainty.

Can it be simply that, to your knowledge, the geeks aren't making their views public? I hope not. For here's something else you have no doubt of: if the geeks had as many microphones shoved in their faces as Grisham, they'd eventually say something objectionable, as well. In the real world, that kind of potential is indistinguishable from the actual.

It's one thing to disagree with what someone has said, and quite another to make ridiculous threats about withholding "support." For one thing, the story changes -- and not in a good way. Grisham's comments should have made people think about our laws and sentencing in child porn cases, but instead it's now all about Grisham's bottom line. Psychologists call that deflection, and, as we all know, deflection is a problem because it turns our attention away from the real problem, whatever it might be.

As a society, we condemn others for restricting the free exchange of ideas. Which is a wonderful policy, even though we should be condemned ourselves for our hypocrisy.