Yesterday, I received this email from Patrick:
Am I wrong in this? Look at my comments on her site.
I agree that he was incredibly stupid. I disagree that he is responsible for the deaths of the U.N. people and any soldiers. We can’t walk around on egg shells based on what others may do… right?
I value your opinion so I kinda wanted to see what you thought…. her site, your site.. this email… doesn’t matter to me.
And this was my quick, off-the-cuff response that deserves a little more fleshing out:
My stance on responsibility is pretty linear and simplistic – unless you have some kind of out-of-the-ordinary relationship going on (parent/child, military superior/subordinate, etc.), the only person responsible for a person’s actions is that person him/herself.
Yes, the Muslims “warned” the world that there would be repercussions if the Korans were burned, but they made the choice, of their own free will, to attack UN workers and any soldiers – the jackass down in FL did not hold a gun to their heads and force them.
All that said, burning a book is a blitheringly stupid thing to do, but if they were his property, and the burning took place on his property, more power to him, and screw anyone who would either (A) tell him he should not, or (2) make personal choices and then blame him.
Might do a post on this tomorrow…
For those of you who do not want to read any farther, let me just quote Ayn Rand and say, “And I mean it.”
To begin with, let me clarify that I do not at all agree with the burning of books – any books. In a day and age where damned near every bit of data contained within a printed tome is also replicated on a remarkable resilient, backed-up, and omnipresent computer network, torching books is a futile gesture indeed, a waste of perfectly functional products, and a general waste of everyone’s time and effort intended solely to generate publicity and attention. HOWEVER, if the person doing the burning owns the books in question, and if the burning takes place on his property (or property he has permission to execute the burning upon), and if the burning is accomplished in a fashion that does not directly endanger anyone else or any other property, then not only does the person in question have the right to burn the books, he should burn the books if that is really what he wants to do. I am not one to tell another person what they can and cannot do with their own property, and while I hate to see still-usable materials wasted, it is their money.
Likewise, since it seems to matter, I am a Navy veteran, though I never had “boots on the ground” over there.
All that said and clarified, forgive my repetition, but unless there is an extraordinary (in the original definition of that word) situation, an adult human being is responsible for his actions, and his actions alone. Period, full stop, end of story. There are, of course, exceptions for military/police situations, guardianship, insanity, and so forth, but unless you have been ruled mentally incompetent, had responsibility delegated to you in a previously-agreed-upon fashion, or voluntarily accepted responsibility for others, the only one to blame – and congratulate – for your actions is you. As such, Pastor Terry Jones is the only person responsible for finally following through on his promise to burn a Koran.
HOWEVER, that sword cuts both directions.
Just as Pastor Jones is responsible for torching the Koran, so too are the militant Islamic radicals responsible for their actions. Yes, they “promised” divine retribution and rioting and all the rest of that bulldren almost a year ago when Jones first made his announcement about having the massive bonfire, but so what? No one forced them to follow through on those threats. Jones did not hold a gun to their heads and make them do anything. Of their own free will, and by their own personal volition, those radical nutjobs decided that the appropriate response to someone meaninglessly burning a book is to hold massive riots, shoot some UN workers dead, and apparently even go so far as to put a bounty on Pastor Jones’ head (no, seriously – how crazy is that?). However, that was their decision, and thus their responsibility, and Pastor Jones bears absolutely none of it, whatsoever.
To be certain, if the fire Jones started burned down an office building and killed three UN workers, he would be personally responsible for each and every one of those deaths. However, he was not the one who picked up the gun and shot those people in the head (apparently they were not beheaded, for what little that may be worth); instead, that heinous crime was perpetrated by scumbags who knew exactly what they were doing, and were looking for any excuse to get away with it. As James Kirchick recently said:
It is one thing to say that Jones’ Koran-burning was a stupid and offensive thing to do. He is not Rushdie, after all, whose “provocation” was the exercising of the creative spirit. It is another thing entirely, however, to move to the accusation that Jones is culpable for the murderous acts of people half way around the world. People who riot and murder at the burning of a book do not need a pretext to act like savages. That’s exactly what they already are.
This blame-shifting is logically no different than the despicable balderdash the anti-rights nuts attempt to field when they try to blame all law-abiding firearm owners for the actions of a few criminals… after all, if we were not constantly pushing for larger and better protections for our individual rights, those criminals would not procure firearms so “easily”, and would therefore be unable to perpetrate their crimes. Uh, no. The actions of a criminal are the criminal’s alone, and regardless of whatever tool he decides to use, my exercising my rights (whether I “should” or not) does not make me in any way responsible for those actions. Or, as Alan recently put it:
You know why the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are in in danger?
Because it’s a fucking WAR and the enemy is trying to kill them!
Not because some jackass in the US burned a book.
Those frakwitted radicals in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq and whereverthehell else seem to dedicate significant portions of their lives looking for any and all reasons to completely fly off the handle and kill themselves a few white men just for the gos-se and giggles of it; you might as well blame every single American still breathing for this recent round of barbarism if you are going to try blaming Jones exclusively.
So while Nicki and I may agree on a great number of things, we are going to have to completely disagree on this point – we should never abandon our individual, Constitutionally-protected rights (remember, a right delayed is a right denied, and a right unexercised is a right lost) simply because some deranged barbarians looking for any reason to murder some folks might use our exercising those rights as an excuse. In the end, I may not agree with how a lot of people decide to exercise their rights, but so long as their doing so does not directly harm another human being, I will defend to the death their right – and ability – to do whatever it was they were doing. That is all that is asked for living in a free society.
(Amusingly, my stance on personal responsibility also paints the sham trial Pastor Jones held for the Koran as the farce it is – a book can no more be responsible for a person’s actions than Jones can be for the willful actions of others. And ’round the world turns.)