Anti-Iraq war image depicting Tony Blair
What is incitement
or “fighting words
” and who does it? Some statutes state that it is illegal to incite others to commit crimes. Voices from both sides of the increasingly polarized political spectrum are accusing personalities or groups of having “blood on their hands”—yet the punditry continues to classify “peaceful protest” promoting hate as an exercise of free speech. I was stunned to discover that there are actual laws in the UK, Canada, and the US warning that such acts as spouting “fighting words” are tantamount to encouraging crime (though less so in the US). (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incitement
(on British law), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fighting_words
, comparing Canada and the US, with case law examples.)
Tell that to Hollywood writers, journalists, or to academics of any political stripe. It is not widely known that wealthy liberals, through their foundations, had resorted to better communication as the favored strategy in solving “the Negro problem” as it was called in Gunnar Myrdal’s famous book, An American Dilemma (1944), a study said to be a landmark in “race relations.” One of Myrdal’s less publicized warnings to readers was a direct threat to hidebound Southern conservatives. Myrdal was neither a revolutionary socialist nor, pace one biographer, an optimistic moralist appealing to Christian consciences. Rather, in one rarely quoted passage, the Swedish social democrat and economist was explicitly cautioning “Southern conservative(s)” who had better heed the lessons of history and to
“…begin allowing the higher strata of the Negro population to participate in the political process as soon as possible, and to push the movement down to the lowest groups gradually…also to speed up the civic education of these masses who are bound to have votes in the future.…political conservatives, who have been successful for any length of time, have always foreseen impending changes and have put through the needed reforms themselves in time. By following this tactic they have been able to guard fundamental conservative interests even in the framing of the reforms. They have thereby also succeeded in slowing them up; changes have not overwhelmed them as avalanches. They have kept the control and preserved a basis for the retention of their political power. Southern conservatives should further learn from history that, over a period of time, the conservative forces in society cannot afford to abstain from the tremendous strategic advantage of forming the party of “law and order.” This is such an immense interest for conservatism that if–for constitutional and other reasons–the law does not come to the conservatives even when they are in power, the conservatives had better come to the law.
“But the great majority of Southern conservative white people do not see the handwriting on the wall. They do not study the impending changes; they live again in the pathetic illusion that the matter is settled. They do not care to have any constructive policies to meet the trends. They think no new adjustments are called for. The chances that the future development will be planned and led intelligently–and that, consequently, it will take the form of cautious, foresighted reforms instead of unexpected, tumultuous, haphazard breaks, with mounting discords and anxieties in its wake–are indeed small. But we want to keep this last question open. Man is a free agent, and there are no inevitabilities. All will depend upon the thinking done and the action taken in the region during the next decade or so. History can be made. It is not necessary to receive it as mere destiny.” [End, Myrdal quote, his emphasis]
Myrdal, like his patrons, the Carnegie Corporation, wanted to forestall incitement by red agitators who, preying upon real grievances, would incite race riots and other forms of disruptive protest.
But these words were written in the early 1940s (probably by Myrdal, not Bunche, his chief assistant, then a radical), and we face a more subtle brand of incitement today. Its form is the cynical belief, shared by academics, movie and television writers, hip journalists, and perhaps many politicians (all catering to minorities and women, certainly not the white working class), that not only is everybody corrupt, motivated solely by the will to power, but that the American future is hopeless, for we are led by criminals masquerading as businessmen and the politicians who protect them. It is they, these bold [populist] speakers of truth to power, who give each other cushy professorships and other trophies indicating excellence in the arts, while inciting hatred of the American past and present, with no analysis of effective or ineffective social policies.
As published in Rolling Stone
Recall the worshipful popularity of The Sopranos, or that James Spader (“Red Reddington”) in the popular series The Blacklist, informs the female FBI agent he is protecting that the world is run by criminals. I have just seen American Hustle which ends with the lines “The art of survival is a story that never ends.” I assume that the writers view themselves as surviving in a specifically American business environment that rewards con artists like themselves. The same could be said of the hit Netflix drama House of Cards that weaves an intricate tale of secret deals between power-seekers who have zero interest in social policy, except for the obligatory nod to feminism through a failed effort to get anti-sexual assault in the military through Congress. In the fashionable bleak mood even Democrats are phonies. Holden Caulfield has won hearts and minds.
While stopping for a moment to eat lunch, I heard Neil Cavuto on Fox lamenting the cynicism of the young, who have lost faith and trust in [earthly] “leaders.” I am suggesting something different: that cynicism is a form of incitement. Rightists correctly blame POTUS, Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, and Bill de Blasio of playing the race card while (at times) calling for national unity. But there is nothing peaceful in the protests of black supremacists and their self-righteous, indoctrinated young white allies, masked as crusaders for social justice.
More than “faith” or “trust” in “leaders” we need to teach the young to distinguish between cynicism and healthy skepticism. Cynicism may produce well-made, clever and lucrative “art” and entertainment, but it is rational skepticism that leads to healthy, rational citizen participation in democratic processes.