Harrell Carter v. Bill Way: The Fallacy of Taking Offense

Dec 4, 2012

I’ve been watching the “news” since it happened, an incident covered by the media with damn near the same scrutiny as a murder or rape case.  In case the reader was lucky enough to be spared this descent into vapidity, shortly after the 2012 election, local radio host, historian and, best I can tell, all around nice guy Bill Way posted a comment on Facebook which read as follows.

A short message to Obama voters. To vote for him with a 9.2 unemployment rate, $16,000,000,000 in debt and an israeli war, a pimp walking prez married to cheetahs daughter…expect what you will most certainly get. bye bye medicare. hello homeless. I love America except for the idiots.

So what is your first thought after reading that?  If you happen to be Harrell Carter then Bill Way’s derision of Obama means he is obviously a member of the KKK and revels in the thought of lynching every black person he meets?  Well that would have to be the conclusion reached by the local branch of the NAACP and their leader Harrell Carter judging by the massive shit storm they called down as a result.  I’m obviously exaggerating their conclusion but calling press conferences and demanding punitive action be carried out by the management of WNWS over a Facebook post, you have got to be kidding!  The assumption that race motivated the comment is nonsense.  Way was addressing “Obama voters” and Obama would never have been reelection in the absense of a substantial percentage of white voters; otherwise known as the non-colored people Carter’s organization does not advance.  This however is beside the point as my real aim is to address Harrell Carter’s claim of being offended by thoughts and words.

A Jackson Sun article published on November 19th stated that “NAACP leaders have objected to recent comments made by a local radio show host on his Facebook page.”  More specifically the President of the local chapter, Harrell Carter, a former talk show host himself, stated that Bill Way’s post were “derogatory.”  In a perfect world where everyone possessed egos able to withstand more abuse than a single sheet of tissue paper, the proper response to Harrell Carter by everyone else would have been “…and the problem is?”  You see, Carter’s subjective finding that Way’s words were derogatory is irrelvant to the truth or falsity of the statement.

Alas we do not live in a perfect world, not even close.  As Christopher Hitchens said, the problem is that “our prefrontal lobes are too small. And our adrenaline glands are too big.  And our thumb finger opposition isn’t all what it might be.”  In the same Jackson Sun article Carter stated that “Mr. Way does have the freedom of speech, […] but we cannot condone those statements.” which is an idiotic statement.  Harrell Carter seems to think that we should live in a free and open democratic society but he also never wants to be offended.  I like to think 99% of the people who will ever read this can see the fallacy of that position, but for those who missed it allow me explain.  One cannot simultaneously support free speech on the one hand while attempting to penalize someone for speaking that with which you disagree on the other.  Free speech means sometimes having to hear or read views and opinions you might not like.  (Yes Harold, that includes views from real, actual racists, none of which host a radio show at WNWS, sorry to burst your bubble.)

So we have Harrell Carter and allegedly every card carrying member of the NAACP with their panties bunched up in a collective knot; but over what?  Words on a computer screen, that’s it!  From the inquisition-like manner with which Harrell Carter reacted, calling emergency meetings like Superman calling up the Justice League, something dire must have resulted from Bill Way’s comment.  Did Carter or an NAACP member unwittingly expose themselves to Way’s anti-Obama blasphemy and contract some debilitating illness?  No, it was much worse, THEY WERE OFFENDED!  (DUN:DUN:DUN!)  Harrell Carter would have been better off presenting a counter argument to the points made by Bill Way, but as he was unable or just to damn lazy, he decided to play the victim.  The easy out in any debate is to slander your opponent and Carter’s trump card was to portray he opponent as racist.

Harrell Carter, with the assistance of the local NAACP, thus began appealing to political correctness as a means of infringing the intellectual freedom of another person.  I would ask Harrell Carter, what’s wrong with being offended?  When did “sticks and stone may break my bones” stop being relevant?   Isn’t that what we teach children?  That’s what we teach toddlers for Christ sake!  “He called me an idiot!”  “Don’t worry about him, he is a dick!”  Now we have adults screaming “I WAS OFFENDED!  I WAS OFFEND!  AND I HAVE RIGHTS!”  So what, be offended, nothing happens.  You are an adult, grow up, deal with it!  “I WAS OFFENDED!”  I don’t care!  By what standard are we to judge something as offensive?  How do we make it an offense to offend people?  To whom do we grant the power to determine what is and is not fit to be heard and read by the public?  Being offended is subjective, it has everything to do with you as an individual, a collective, a group, a society, a community, your moral conditioning, your religious beliefs, what offends me may not offend you and you want to punish people over this?  The whole notion is antithetical to liberty itself, the only remedy requires everyone to surrender authority over their thoughts and words of another.

Bill Way is not the bad guy in this drama, think what you will about his views they are just that, his personal view.  Nobody, including Carter, has suffers injury.  The fact that Harrell Carter felt it worth his and the NAACP’s time to petition Way’s employer to take punitive action would be laughable if it were not sad that we live a time where complaints presented by the NAACP are not critically examined on the merits but accepted as gospel truth.  Was there any measurable harm done Mr. Carter?  If not, then please mold your fragile ego and vapid complaint into a suitable shape before reinserting into the orifice of ignorance from which it was pulled and return when you have matured into an adult capable of addressing criticism with reason.

I was pleased to hear Bill back on the air this morning and glad that Carter did not achieve his goal of removing Way from his show.  I didn’t agree with how management groveled and bemoaned Bill’s “mistake” but it was a business decision so I cannot blame them.  To those who would assume I am some Bill Way fan boy I am anything but.  I don’t agree with Bill Way on a number of his positions, his claim that homosexuality is choice comes to mind.  The intellectually honest approach would have been to address the merits of what was asserted, not abuse the political power of an organization over which you happen to preside as a means to resolve a personal vendetta; that’s called being a dick.

Harrell Carter and the NAACP would do themselves a service to remember one very important fact about the free speech he and his fellow members purport to support.  It’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to listen, and to hear.  And every time you silence someone you make yourself a prisoner of your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something.  In other words, your own right to hear and be exposed is as much involved in all these cases as is the right of the other to voice his or her view.  Indeed as John Stuart Mill said, if all in society were agreed on the truth and beauty and value of one proposition, all except one person, it would be most important, in fact it would become even more important, that that one heretic be heard, because we would still benefit from his perhaps outrageous or appalling view.  If the view is right, you are granted the opportunity to exchange error for truth; if it is wrong, you gain what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

Please feel free to leave a comment and let everyone know what you think.

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4 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. vulcan alex
    December 4th, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    Good analysis and with many issues in Jackson that need attention that this gets the attention that it has says much about the people and organization involved.

  2. James
    December 4th, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    How do you know that “NO” harm was done to Mr. Carter? Where did Mr. Carter say that Bill Way is a member of the KKK?

  3. John Tremblay
    December 4th, 2012 at 5:17 pm #

    Mr. Carter is the one making the claim, the burden of proof is upon Mr. Carter to support any claim of harm. That is not to say someone cannot harm someone with speech, we have libel laws for just such a thing.

    I believe if you read my article closely you will realize that I never claimed Mr. Carter actually said Bill was a member of the KKK. I said that that must be the “conclusion reached by the local branch of the NAACP and their leader Harrell Carter judging by the massive shit storm they called down as a result.” Which was followed immediately in the next sentence by “I’m obviously exaggerating”. As in I was being intentionally facetious.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. John Tremblay
    December 4th, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    I updated the settings to allow commenting without approval. I intended to do that a while back.

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