Tuesday, April 29, 2014

It's only words...

Mike Pesca sounds an opinion that I've heard from others, so Mr. Pesca is a convenient stand-in here for the opinion (nothing against Mr. Pesca, IOW).

The sub-headline at Slate says Donald Sterling shouldn't lose his property because of what he said.

Why not?  What is so sacred about property?

Chris Hayes said on his show that, after the financial collapse, finally some rich guy was going to be held accountable for what he did.  Except, thanks to the weird wonder that is sports financing, Mr. Sterling stands to make 10 times or better (so I've heard) on his original investment in the Clippers, despite the fact (again, so I've heard) he never had any interest in whether or not the team won any games.

This is accountability?

The argument Mr. Pesca advances is that Mr. Sterling is the victim (well, almost) of a recording that may have been illegal, or a conversation that was supposed to be private.

Well, yeah, and so are e-mails and handwritten notes.  There's a price to be paid for telling someone exactly what's on your mind.  If I told someone what I really thought of my supervisor, or one of my students, and what I really thought was offensive to them or others, I'd probably lose my job and the Mike Pesca's of the world wouldn't write columns about it.  Nobody would even worry that what I'd said, I said in private.  When I was a pastor, I was careful to not even say things to my wife that might get repeated, even by her (though she is the sole of discretion and absolutely trustworthy), because I worried about hearing my words repeated by someone else.

Okay, I told her things I never told another soul, but not on the phone; and besides, she's my wife.

You talk, expect someone to hear what you said.  You get angry and let your inner racist off the leash, expect it to catch up with you.  Is the problem here that Mr. Sterling's words were recorded for posterity, or what he said?

I really don't think he has any defense in the court of public opinion that his words were not meant for publication.

So back to the team; is this too harsh, to punish a man for offensive ideas by taking his property away?  John Kerry said "apartheid" and "Israel" in the same sentence, behind closed doors, and Ted Cruz is calling for his resignation.  The difference is, there's no comparison between what Kerry said and what Silver said, and besides (again, per Chris Hayes) the words have been used by Israeli politicians as far back as 2007.  Jimmy Carter wrote a book about it, and while there were howls of indignation, Carter is not persona non grata in the world.

But, again, the difference is in what was said.

Does Mr. Sterling deserve to lose his property?  Yes, especially when that property involves the employment of so many African-Americans.  How do they work for a man like that now?  How does the league, which is what makes Mr. Sterling's property a viable team, and therefore valuable, to tolerate such statements from an owner?  It's not like Mr. Sterling is a janitor.

Call it the Aristotle tragedy thesis.  As Aristotle understood, tragedy can't happen to the janitor; who cares besides the janitor's family?  Tragedy has to happen to a person of some importance, and they must suffer a reversal of fate, or of fortune.

Mr. Sterling is not a tragic figure, because he won't take responsibility for his mistake.  He will likely blame others, probably starting with his mistress who taped the phone call.  And he won't suffer a reversal of fortune; he'll make money on the sale, no doubt, even if it is a forced sale.

But should we value property so highly, that it seems heinous to take away property for such an offense?  Is that who we are?  Is property the ultimate value, to be taken only from drug dealers and dope peddlers, but not from rich white bigots, who won't be any less rich, or white, or bigoted if the NBA forces the Clippers to find a new owner.

The idea, though; the very idea that revoking ownership rights is a step too far; that's almost as disturbing as the bigotry.

No comments:

Post a Comment