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War Against the Dixie Chicks

Rules of Engagement.

by Barnabas
April 30, 2003

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War Against the Dixie Chicks_Barnabas-Rules of Engagement.
...a campaign of hatred directed at three of the most talented women in the music industry. Bruce Springsteen occasionally gets flack for his political remarks, but he doesn't get called a slut. — Jim Lewis in Slate, about The Dixie Chicks.
I am going to borrow a line from Miss Manners. A couple of decades ago she answered a snob who wanted to maintain distinctions of social class in her church. Miss Manners said, “Miss Manners wonders just what kind of church you have there... but Miss Manners’ religion requires her to think well of people.”

Those who dare to wear a cap that says “ethicist” on it share her plight. While we are not required to think well of people, we need to be on our guard against the fallacy of imitating the very behavior and speech we are criticizing. So the most I can say to those who have attacked The Dixie Chicks is, “Barnabas wonders just what freedom you think you are defending, since it is not the freedom of speech.”

I knew nothing about The Dixie Chicks until the current brouhaha; I lost track of popular music before they were born. I didn’t know that they are, according to Slate, “three of the most talented women in the music industry.” So what I have to say is about as unconnected to personalities as it can be.

One of the Dixie Chicks made a negative remark, in public, about the President. Those who were outraged by it responded with an undeclared war on these young women. They did more than disagree vigorously, but set out to do actual harm to their careers, reputation, and livelihood—as Slate called it “a campaign of hatred.”

Such an attack is immoral -- nothing righteousness about it, no matter how outrageous the original words or how high an opinion the attackers have of their own moral position. Rules of engagement in argument apply in argument as they do in war, but they’re not the same rules. In argument you demonstrate that the position of your opponents has no merit. In war you seek to destroy the opponents themselves. That is why wars are supposed to start because of something your enemy did, not because of what he said. Otherwise they can start over anything. Austin Farrer offered a perfect illustration of responding to words with violence: “He called me a Scotsman, so I shot him through the head.”

So here are a few of the rules of engagement when argument, not war, is called for.
  • Ideas are answered with ideas. If you have no ideas, stay out of the argument.

  • Fighting words—that is, words intended to inflame or provoke, like name-calling and insult—are not ideas.

  • Intimidation, threats, symbolic demonstrations like the smashing of cds, the organizing of boycotts, and similar strategies are not ideas either; they are fighting words translating into actions.
In a free society, an expressed opinion is not a threat unless it includes a specific plan to harm others. Without that, it is simply free speech. If in an argument you resort to intimidation and violence to silence this speech, you are showing your distrust of freedom. Neither are you showing anyone that you are right and your opponent is wrong, but only that you are meaner.

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