Regarding the first rule and the First Amendment

Try not to be an asshole.

That’s always the first rule. That’s Rule No. 1. No matter what the topic, no matter how specific or how general, Rule No. 1 is always Rule No. 1.

This Austin, Texas, homeowner is, and should be, protected by the First Amendment. But no force on earth can protect him from the consequences of violating Rule No. 1.

It comes first not because it’s the most important, necessarily, but because unless we hear and heed Rule No. 1, we’ll probably never find out what any of the other rules are. No one will want to talk to us long enough to tell us.

Rule No. 1 is not, cannot and should not be legally enforceable. It should always be a rule, but it should never be a law. No state should ever attempt to compel or coerce us to obey Rule No. 1.

If we break this rule, then, we should never be imprisoned or fined. There should never be legal consequences for violating Rule No. 1. But there will always be consequences — consequences that are far more immediate and, in some ways, even worse than any legal sanction. The price we will pay if we break Rule No. 1 is that we will become assholes.

That’s a fitting punishment. Probably some kind of tautology, actually. But it’s also a brutally harsh and inescapable punishment. Don’t let this happen to you. Rule No. 1 is important.

Now, there seems to be some confusion about the relationship between the first rule and the First Amendment. Let’s address that.

The First Amendment is a sacred thing. That’s the part of the U.S. Constitution that acknowledges that we humans have the undeniable right to freedom of speech and to freedom of conscience and that no American laws may ever pretend otherwise.

These are vital rights and vital freedoms. If the laws of any country do not recognize and enshrine such freedoms, then that country doesn’t really have either freedom or law. People all over the world have marched and fought and died to assert and defend these freedoms, and they were right to do so.

And if those freedoms are to mean anything — if they are to be real — then they must also mean that we are free to break Rule No. 1. Freedom of speech and freedom of conscience mean that we all have, and deserve, and are endowed by our Creator with the inalienable and self-evident right to be assholes. No government, no king, no state, and no just law can ever deny us that right.

But while we are and must be free to violate Rule No. 1, this freedom, alas, does not protect us from the automatic and inexorable penalty that the rule itself imposes on all who freely violate it. We are free to be assholes. But we can never be free to do so without thereby making ourselves assholes.

The First Amendment articulates sacred principles on which we should never compromise. Yet the First Amendment leaves the first rule unchanged. Try not to be an asshole.

  • VMink

    So my thought processes upon seeing the picture went like this: “Uh… odd.  An empty chair hanging from a tree.  What?  Hanging from a tree?  Like… lynching?  But why an empty chaFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUU…”

    So what is a legal, First Amendment-compliant, Rule #1-appropriate response to this sort of sick asshattery?  Because tying that guy to said chair in the middle of a rain (not thunder) storm sounds mighty appealing.

  • aunursa

    Off topic: The Massachusetts Senate Debate is on live on C-SPAN 3.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    Or as Salman Rushdie said on The Daily Show the other night: “Even jerks have the right to free speech, but they’re still jerks.”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    But yes, this is a pet peeve of mine.  The First Amendment says that you say (almost) anything you want without legal consequences.  It doesn’t say you can do it without ANY consequences.
     

  • cjmr

    I”m going to have to watch the debate online later, as my children are using our TV.

  • dhubghall

    Uuuughhhh.  I just looked up his address and am ashamed to realize he lives very close by.
    I feel the need to apologize.  Austin is normally better than this!  I guess All I can do otherwise is pray that he learns Rule #1. 

  • hidden_urchin

    There you go. That’s the word I was thinking of.

  • http://kingdomofsharks.com/ D Johnston

    Response? Be glad you don’t live on his street.
    The greatest punishment for being an asshole is that you have to live with the worst person you know.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Can someone explain to this non-Texican why the chair and the rope is inflammatory and assholish?

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    @Invisible_Neutrino:disqus  At the Republican convention, Clint Eastwood gave a “speech” where he addressed an empty chair as though the (African-American) President was sitting in it.

  • Launcifer

    I imagine it’s a reference to Clint Eastwood’s appearance at the Republican Convention, where he directed a somewhat rambling set of remarks to a chair, which was supposedly standing in for Barack Obama. Hence the lynching of the empty chair.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Ah. :O *is disturbed and enlightened*

    *is also uneasy*

  • LL

    Eh, maybe his neighbors (if they are so inclined)  need to invest in some huge “4 More Years” or “Obama 2012″ signs. What’s amusing to me is how unfunny almost every joke Republicans make is. I know Fred has explored this, so I won’t belabor the point, but it’s amusing how they seem to think they’re fucking hilarious. It’s like the guy at the party who’s convinced he’s the coolest guy there, so of course nobody wants to talk to him because people like that are usually giant douches and he’s saying to himself, “What a bunch of losers, I’m supercool, why isn’t anybody trying to chat me up?” Or the jerk who thinks he’s so smooth with the ladies, who is in actuality an offensive dipshit, but when women don’t line up to sleep with him, THEY’RE  the ones with the problem. They must be lesbos or feminazis or some other clever-only-to-themselves labels Republicans have dreamed up for the rest of us dopes who don’t realize how goddam brilliant they are. 

    It’s also funny how, when you ask people about something that was clearly meant to get a reaction (like some assholish comment or behavior) they get mad at YOU. They’re not rude for saying/doing something rude. YOU’RE rude for pointing out that it’s rude. Because yeah, they have a right to say/do assholish things, but if you’re not going to guffaw along with them, then shut up. 

  • Jessica_R

    As I am not kind I see a homeowner who should be having to regularly clean the tp out of his gutters and trees and smashed eggs off his windows for the foreseeable future. Imagine being a POC and having to explain what means to your child, or being a POC child and knowing all to well what that means. What a motherfucker. 

  • Morilore

    ‘Public ridicule’ only goes so far when the asshole’s friends and family very likely (albeit not probably) agree with him and he’d get support for this sick shit.

    That’s if you presume that the response to this behavior should start with “try to get the asshole to change his ways.”  One is better off starting by expressing solidarity with the people (plural, and many) getting shit upon.  Public ridicule of the asshole is appropriate in that regard.

  • VCarlson

    I saw this story linked in another blog I read.

    Because Disqus does not allow anyhting ither than typing when using a mobile device (I assume), I can’t paste in the link and some associated text. The link was from Wonkette, and it seems this jackass is at least consistent. He won a “Yard of the Month” award from his HOA August 2010 for an effigy made of teabags hanged, and with a “watermelon flavor” sign on its neck and additional signage incase that was too subtle.

  • http://cantleaveunsaid.wordpress.com/ Dave Buerstetta

    Apparently there was a similar incident over the weekend at a park in Centreville, Virginia: http://www.bluevirginia.us/diary/7662/photos-symbolic-lynching-of-nobama-at-bull-run-park-this-weekend

    In that case, whoever hung the chair had the “decency” to add a “Nobama” sign to the chair so as to remove all doubt regarding message intent.

    Back in Austin, chair lyncher Bud Johnson is (predictably) saying, “it was never intended to be racist.” Riiiight. Of course not. Once again it’s somehow a worse offense to call someone racist than to actual be racist.

    I just…I mean…who *does* something like that?! I know, I know. Fred supplied the answer: an asshole. I think I’m more inclined toward Jessica’s word for him/them.

  • Lori

     

    He won a “Yard of the Month” award from his HOA August 2010 for an
    effigy made of teabags hanged, and with a “watermelon flavor” sign on
    its neck and additional signage incase that was too subtle.  

    So it’s an entire neighborhood of openly racist assholes with a sick sene of humor. Lovely.  And the rest of Austin is so nice.

    If I lived in Austin (which I seriously considered at one point) I’d go out of my way not to even drive through that neighborhood. If offered the opportunity I’d point out that people like them are the reason a lot of folks think Texans are assholes.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    To which, I assume, their passion extends to just so happening to be very interested in trying to ‘prove’ the Unconstitutionality of Obama’s Presidency?

  • Lori

    Which has nothing whatsoever to do with the color of his skin, nosiree Bob. They would say that exact some thing about a white guy who couldn’t prove he was born in the US. Please to ignore the fact that John McCain was not born in the US.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    If the laws of any country do not recognize and enshrine such freedoms, then that country doesn’t really have either freedom or law.

    And here I was thinking that I was free, when all the time I live in a country with neither freedom nor law. Huh.

    You know what, Fred? The right to unfettered freedom of speech may be enshrined in your Constitution, but that doesn’t ipso facto make it a universal truth about which there can be no debate.

    Personally, I’m kind of on the fence about a right to free speech. Argue for it from first principles and we may well end up on the same side. But few things rile me more than Americans declaring that freedom is only and exactly as they define it. Back off.

  • Matri

    The greatest punishment for being an asshole is that you have to live with the worst person you know.

    Except they come from Bizarroworld, and love the worst person they know.

  • Joel Hanes

    But but but

    Isn’t it part of Fred’s point that really there’s no need for anyone else to punish this person; that choosing to be an asshole is its own sufficient (and awful) punishment?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Riastlin-Lovecraft/100000678992705 Riastlin Lovecraft

    First off all, after clicking the pic and reading the article, I do agree he’s quite an arsehole. However, as a white dane living in Denmark, with no recent (= after the middle ages) history of lynchings (that I’m aware of)….I did find the display a little funny. Morbid and in bad taste, but funny. I could go on with a long rant about danes not understanding the concept of things being sacred on anything other than an intellectual level here,but it might be kinda off topic, and I’d probably stick my foot in my mouth a few times along the way. I am sorry if me finding this amusing offends anyone, it is a result of me not having a lot of perspective on racism :/

  • Münchner Kindl

     Which is where I see the problem – a lot of people are assholes who have influence / money to isolate them from consequences.

    And “inciting hatred”, as we call it, can lead to violence, which does have an affect on people who get injured. Saying that assholes have to live with the consequences doesn’t really hit it, esp. if they get to feel self-righteous because their neighbours agree with them, or for “daring to speak the truth”.

    If Smith tells Jones “kill all blacks/ muslims/ gays”, we consider that incitment to murder and Smith will be charged with the crime of murder, because Jones without the inctment might not have acted. (Jones will of course also be charged).

    So if a rabble-rouser tells 100 followers “All blacks/ muslims/ gays should be killed”, and one goes out and does, the rabble-rouser should also be held responsible.

    After all, shouting “fire” in a crowded theater is also forbidden despite 1st amendment because it’s recognized that this is dangerous to the safety and well-being of people. But shouting “All … must be killed” is allowed? This seems to me like two measures for similar things.

  • Grey Seer

    Seconding Pepper’s comment here. I’m British, and I’m reasonably sure I don’t have an enshrined-in-law right to free speech etc. And yet I’m fairly certain that my country does, in fact, have freedom and law. Funny how that works.

    Though I still find it darkly humorous that Orwell’s old house can presently be seen through about seventy different CCTV cameras.

  • The_L1985

     “But 1st Amendment says you’re supposed to agree with me!  STOP MAKING FUN OF ME WAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!”

  • The_L1985

     Wait–this is related to Clint Eastwood trolling the RNC?

    So, whom is this guy lynching in effigy? Clint, or Obama?

  • Michael Cule

    I believe that with the incorporation of the European Human Rights Charter into British law we do have a legal right ot free speech in the UK. It is not very deeply enshrined mind you: I don’t know if anything outside of Magna Carta is.

    And the chairs hanging from trees thing reminds me of the lassie in DEAD LIKE ME who kept hanging toilet seats from trees to commemerate her sister’s grisly and peculiar death. But then I’m a geek.

  • Beroli

    Well, at the RNC the chair stood in for Obama while Clint stood in for Clint, lynching a white man would lack the (hideous) historical context, and I somehow doubt that homeowner has a sophisticated enough mind to understand the concept of trolling.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I find it rather darkly amusing how fast people leaped to the BUT BUT BUT handwaving when some smart aleck pointed out McCain was born in Panama.

    Albion Tourgee was the first man to coin the term “white privilege” when he wrote about the way white skin color acts as a kind of passport to gentility of treatment, and I think he would have rather pointedly written that Barack Obama could have been born John Smith in the middle of Nebraska and people would still have  tried to find ways to deny him the same hand-waving dismissal of whether his birth origins disqualified him from the Presidency.

    Shit, if Ah-nuld wasn’t so visibly foreignly German I bet he could have gotten away with running for the office, too.

  • Ross Thompson

    Shit, if Ah-nuld wasn’t so visibly foreignly German/Austrian I bet he could have gotten away with running for the office, too.

    There was, for a while a Republican push for a Constitutional Amendment that would get rid of the pointless and discriminatory requirement that a president be born in the US, so that Arnie could run. And that got somehow sidelined in all the noise about where Obama was born…

  • Tofu_Killer

    I will try to explain.

    This isn’t funny at all, even in a morbid sense, because Texas has lynched blacks  in living memory. This has nothing to do with sacred cows, it has to do with a very basic violation of respect for his neighbors.

    It’s a coded violation of decency that has become oddly respectable because of who the president is racially and who is opposed to him.

    An analogy; this is if Denmark elected a Jewish leader and someone opposed to that party dressed an image of that leader in clothes from a concentration camp and a big neon star of David and put that in their front yard next to a sign reading “THIS WAY TO THE GAS CHAMBER”.

    It’s imperfect, but the sentiment is the same.

  • http://ifindaudio.blogspot.com/2010/02/joe-hill-sung-by-paul-robeson.html Murfyn

    Slightly OT, but I’ve been reading Akhil Reed Amar (he writes about the Constitution) and it seems that the one thing the Constitution does, its entire purpose, the demand for which it is the supply, is . . . wait for it . . . Federal Government.  Yeah, who knew?

  • Launcifer

    The real problem with the analogy is that anyone doing something similar to what you’ve described in Denmark – or pretty much anywhere else in the European Union, for that matter* – would stand a chance of being found guilty of a criminal offence under prohibitions against hate speech.

    I have to admit that I sort of sniggered when I saw the picture, not because it’s funny – it isn’t – but because there’s something fundamentally absurd about the fact that whoever hung that chair in that tree is not guilty of a criminal offence when we all know it’s essentially an attempt to incite violence of a racially aggravated nature.

    Whilst I generally admire the notion of freedom of speech, I have to admit that there are certain things that one should be prevented from saying, either to or about another individual or social group, for a whole host of reasons. This is one of those things.

    __________________________________________________________

    * I am aware of the fact that not every government in the European Union would seek to prosecute the matter due to varying attitudes surrounding the perceived acceptability of racism and racial hatred in a given society, but it doesn’t change the fact that it would still be down on the statute books as a criminal offence.

  • OriginalExtraCrispy

    I’m kind of surprised the Secret Service isn’t investigating this as a threat against the President. 

  • hidden_urchin

    The right to unfettered freedom of speech may be enshrined in your Constitution, but that doesn’t ipso facto make it a universal truth about which there can be no debate.

    I’ve always kind of looked at the flip side of that too.  What does the fact that the US has to have these things spelled out in the Constitution say about us?

    I’ve always been more impressed by countries that can run just fine without certain things being explicitly stated to be honest.  If freedoms can be upheld without being enshrined in some high document then that would suggest that they are embedded in the culture rather than being imposed by some authoritarian force. 

    I think that’s my biggest problem with the US idolization of the Constitution.* It should be a symbolic document spelling out cultural values instead of the end-all authority dictating those values because its weakness is that it is a piece of paper and therefore limited bycontext.  It has no judgement, no compassion, and it is hard to change to adapt to a changing world.  If we treat it as something other than a symbol then we get people arguing that US citizens don’t have a right to food or healthcare because “it’s not in the Constitution.”**  It also means that it is possible to take away rights just by erasing them from the document or by changing the document to deny them those rights.  This is a particular problem since the document is frequently held as above criticism and so any discussion of its limitations is immediately halted.

    In short, instead of focusing on the values we’re focusing on the paper.  That’s not a good thing.

    *I guess I’m talking mainly about the Bill of Rights.  These days they seem to be synonymous.

    **Yes, someone made that argument in a discussion I had a few months ago.  For some people in the US, unless the right is spelled out in the Constitution it does not exist and is not a matter of concern.

  • Tofu_Killer

     The Bill of Rights is an artifact of its time.  The reason those rights of citizens are spelled out so carefully is because they were novel at the time. Unprecedented.

    Those same principles are now mainstreamed through the American insistence that these rights are natural rights granted by our Creator, and our promotion of those natural rights as essentially Human Rights.

  • Vermic

    Reading hundreds and hundreds of political cartoons (there’s a thread on a message board I frequent devoted to the worst of the worst) has so crushed my sensibilities that my reaction to the chair display was “Wow, that’s slightly clever.  Reprehensible and shameful, but slightly clever.”

    Tofu_Killer is right, however, that this is not at all funny.  Nor is the fact that this guy’s winning awards from his HOA for this shit.  He’s getting awards from his neighbors (conventional definition) for being a complete asshole to his neighbors (Christian definition).  And I don’t know whether to be disturbed that there’s this pocket of horrible humanity festering and reinforcing itself, or relieved that all the assholes are next door to one another as opposed to, say, you or me.

    In that [Virginia] case, whoever hung the chair had the “decency” to add a “Nobama” sign to the chair so as to remove all doubt regarding message intent.

    Now there’s someone with a future in political cartooning.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Yeah. Considering the way the Secret Service has been happily investigating all kinds of specious omgthreats against Dubya Shrub, you’d think they’d jump all over this one.

  • Hawker40

    I thought rule one was “Never act uncautiously when confronted by a smiling small bald man.”

  • Jim Roberts

    I think Fred is making an argument that a decent country has laws protecting some variety of free speech. It doesn’t have to protect all speech, or all speech in all circumstances – even the first amendment doesn’t do that, it does have limits – but . . .

    A government can do one of two things. It can say, “Within certain boundaries, say what you want to.” Or, it can say, “You can say these things without getting in trouble.”

    A country that “enshrines” free speech is one where the weight is given to freedom of speech over censorship.

    It may also be that Fred’s forgetting the progress that’s been made – the blasphemy laws in the UK were eliminated in 2008, yes?

  • Carstonio

     Elsewhere, when I’ve pointed out how Southern Strategy euphemisms work, I’ve been told that the welfare rolls include many more whites than blacks and that I’m the one assuming the opposite. The ability to pick up on the message behind the euphemisms doesn’t equate to agreement with the message. What the chair means is that the hateful homeowner would have used an Obama effigy if he thought he could get away with it.

  • Vermic

    I’ve always kind of looked at the flip side of that too.  What does the fact that the US has to have these things spelled out in the Constitution say about us?

    It also means that it is possible to take away rights just by erasing them from the document or by changing the document to deny them those rights.

    IIRC, this was one of the original arguments against a Bill of Rights — that once you specify “The federal government cannot deprive you of rights A, B, and C,” you implicitly concede to the government D, E, F, and any other rights you forgot to mention.  You are also implying that the federal government would normally have power over A, B, and C, and the only reason it doesn’t is because you specifically said it wouldn’t.  In the end, though, the arguments in favor of the BoR won out — people were sufficiently concerned about safeguarding those rights that they wanted the law to make specific mention of them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    For some people in the US, unless the right is spelled out in the Constitution it does not exist and is not a matter of concern.

    Those people are reading the Constitution very selectively; specifically, they’re deliberately disregarding the Ninth Amendment: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”  That’s open to an awful lot of interpretation, of course; it was referenced in concurring decisions to Griswold vs. Connecticut and Roe vs. Wade as a basis for the right to privacy, but conservatives like Scalia indignantly reject that view of it.

    Edit: The original reason for including the Ninth Amendment was likely to address the objection to having a Bill of Rights that Vermic noted in the post just above this one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    The UK’s lack of a strong free speech guarantee has become problematic in recent years because it allows for an unreasonably restrictive libel law that places the burden of proof on the accused, something that would be blatantly unconstitutional in the U.S.  See http://www.libelreform.org/ for information one how this law is abused by big corporations, scientific and medical fraudsters, etc. to silence their critics.

  • http://www.facebook.com/susan.paxton.94 Susan Paxton

    This idiot and the others need to be charged with hate crimes.

  • The_L1985

     I thought it was “Never start a land war in Asia.”

  • Münchner Kindl

     

    I’ve always kind of looked at the flip side of that too.  What does the fact that the US has to have these things spelled out in the Constitution say about us?

    I’ve always been more impressed by countries that can run just fine
    without certain things being explicitly stated to be honest.  If
    freedoms can be upheld without being enshrined in some high
    document then that would suggest that they are embedded in the culture
    rather than being imposed by some authoritarian force.

    Actually, I would formulate this a bit different:
    Values must be enshrined in some document. The reason that the US spells them out is for history; and from history we know that if you don’t spell them out, they can be taken away without recourse. The example that immediatly comes to my mind of course is the Weimar Republic: very good constitution with all necessary rights – but idealistic (because it was based on the failed revolution of 1848 in the Paulskirche, not on a constitution tried in real life*), so there was no mechanism for citizens or parties to protest to a court (analogy to Supreme Court or todays Constitutional Court) when during emergency measures rights were taken away.

    AND Values must be entrenched in the citizens’ consciousness. When something is done, the population must stand up as one and say “We don’t do that!” (torture people, assassinate people, search people, ban people from flying, …) or they must “You can’t do that!” (beat suspects by cops, treat blacks different than whites, …)

    That’s where foreign policy by the US in the past often fell down: as long as a country had nice rights on paper, it was considered “democracy” and dealing with it was fine. Critics called this “democracies light” because a nice paper and some elections don’t make a democracy without guaranteed rights. If like in Belarus, those who campaigned against the winner are arrested after the election, it’s not a democracy.

    In a book by british author Gavin Lyall, “Shooting script” that takes place in those South American countries that have a revolution every other year, the British character is talking with a Latin American one about why a revolution to get rid of the current suppressive regime and install the good heroic guys instead won’t change anything, as long as the population – everybody – believes the only way to get rid of the old regime is a violent revolution. He compares it to Britain where people simply wouldn’t accept some things – and as long as everybody in South America does not believe this, revolutions will keep on happening, no matter how sincerely the new leaders want to introduce democracy.

    * The US did have a phase of this: the original Freedom papers or what they were called, drafted first, were idealist and thus had problems in practice, but because time passed between the Declaration of independence/ Freedom papers = first draft and the final constitution, the founding fathers had seen what didn’t work and could make changes.

  • VMink

    Which is why certain parties have been fighting tooth-and-nail against hate crimes legislation in the US.


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