Should there be a statute of limitations? For some crimes, yes, for others no, and we can argue about which is which. But should there be a statute of limitations on purely moral accountability for saying and doing stupid things? No doubt US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh cracked some no-longer-acceptable jokes back when he was in college. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wore blackface at a party eighteen years ago. And when I was sixteen I read Atlas Shrugged and declared myself John Galt. Fortunately I’m not running for office. But are my colleagues entitled to throw my intellectual immaturity back then in my face today?
But why confine the question to time-since? Why not ask the same question about place and context? In the classroom I’m strategically outrageous, but I say the most horrible things imaginable to my friends around the dining table. Am I answerable for these remarks outside my dining room? If I were running for office, am I entitled to declare such private behavior an accountability-free zone?
That, of course, is up to the electorate, and their answer has been a resounding no. There is no public/private distinction in politics. Nor in religion. Nor, apparently, in celebrity. You can whine that you wanted to be a musician, full stop. Or an actor, or an athlete. That you didn’t sign up for the prurient judgment of the Great Unwashed. Well, suck it up, because that prurient judgment is among the wages of success.
On the other hand, this exposure to the prurient judgment of the Unwashed is precisely what discourages the most qualified people – by which I mean myself, of course – from entering politics. And so what we get instead are the bottom-feeders, people like Kavanaugh, who have to lie about what they’ve said or done in the past or privately, or people like Trudeau, who have to feign contrition for what was, let’s face it, racist only by the lights of those who have an interest in it being so regarded. If blackface trivializes the suffering of African Americans, laughing at an episode of Seinfeld trivializes the Holocaust. After all, where does Jewish humor come from if not millennia of anti-Semitism?!
What Trudeau could have done was issue a simple “Fuck off!” and then carried on with his campaign. But calling out these virtue-signalers requires more balls than are available in Canada. A shame that!
The word “racist” has been subject to considerable inflation in recent years, to the point of banality. What used to mean someone who disliked or even persecuted people of another race is now much wider. I don’t think Justin Trudeau was a racist 18 years ago. It may have been in poor taste to wear blackface even then, but poor taste costumes don’t mean the wearer hates or considers inferior or persecutes the race of the person whose costume he is wearing.
Unfortunately, Trudeau accepted the “racist” label and apologized. His apology enhances and confirms “racist” inflation.
THe word ‘racist’ is just the tip of the iceberg of this kind of Orwellian inflation. For example, a ‘terrorist’ USED to be someone who targets an enemy’s civilian population with a view to pressuring its government to accede to his demands. Now it means anyone who attacks a civilian OR miliary target but is unauthorized to do so. I could move on to ‘colonialism’, ‘injustice’, ‘consent’ … The list goes on and on. Ah, so much philosophical work to do, so little time!
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Get to work. The world needs more philosophy.
And don’t forget ‘misogynist’ and ‘homophobe’.
not so much racism but perhaps some redress for his unrelenting and smug virtue bullying.
The redress lies with the voters next week.