Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Personal freedom along with the pit and perils of social media

Without a doubt stupidity is the greatest threat to freedom. In this age of rampant and instantaneous social media, like blogspot, my forum of choice, from whence I post links to Facebook that, in turn, go out over Twitter (btw I tweet @ deacondodge), we can all weigh in all the time on anything that strikes us. I have no problems or issues with this, except that it may have the effect of making us less free. Take the example of Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Rashard Mendenhall’s response to the reaction of so many to the death of Osama bin-Laden, which he expressed in several separate tweets:
"What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side...

"@dkeller23 We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style

"I believe in God. I believe we're ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge.

"Those who judge others, will also be judged themselves.

"For those of you who said you want to see Bin Laden burn in hell and piss on his ashes, I ask how would God feel about your heart?

"There is not an ignorant bone in my body. I just encourage you to #think"

There is all kind of hullabaloo being made about these statements, prompting Art Rooney II, the spokesperson for the family who owns the franchise to have to say publicly: "I have not spoken with Rashard so it is hard to explain or even comprehend what he meant with his recent Twitter comments. The entire Steelers' organization is very proud of the job our military personnel have done and we can only hope this leads to our troops coming home soon." I could have grabbed a number of examples of just this kind of thing to illustrate my point, like one of the multiplying stories about how political correctness is enforced by employers monitoring social media.

Mendenhall is certainly skating on thin-ice by intimating that perhaps bin-Laden, KSM, and a consortium of others we kind of lump together as al-Qaeda were not behind the 9/11 attacks, the attacks of the U.S. embassies in Africa, and much terror and violence throughout Central Asia. They are guilty by their own admissions and by that fact alone, their murderous run needed to be brought to an end. Being charitable, it seems that the main thing Mendenhall sought to express was close to what was said by the spokesman for the Holy See, Fr. Frederico Lombardi, SJ: "In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred."

It bears noting that Rooney is not Mendenhall’s direct supervisor. He is not even Mendenhall’s boss’s boss. As the owner, he is the player's boss’s, boss’s boss. Nonetheless, Rooney felt the need to counter Mendenhall’s statement, a sure indication that he was worried people would think the running back tweeted for the whole Pittsburgh organization. Now, only a foolish person would think Mendenhall was tweeting on behalf of anyone except Mendenhall. This is precisely where the stupidity factor that endangers our freedom, something far too often exhibited by members of our so-called fourth estate, comes into play. I remember a wise teacher once saying, "The good thing about stupidity is that it is remediable."

So, even though when it comes to bin-Laden Mendenhall is clearly up-in-the-night, I hope we would all accord him the freedom to speak out on a matter about which he obviously feels strongly. Moroever, members of the news media would be wise to realize that he is a football player, just as they had to be reminded that places are called dangerous, well, because there is danger. As with actors and other famous people with no particular expertise, it would be difficult for me to care less what a NFL running back thinks about such matters. After all, I am quite certain, given his martyr-complex, that Charlie Sheen has some thoughts on all that has taken place these past 48 hours.

All of this prompts me to look at my own situation: I blog as a Roman Catholic deacon. However, I have an extensive disclaimer that I entitled "Integrity Notes." In these notes I make it clear that, while I blog as a member of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church, incardinated in to a particular diocese and assigned to a specific parish, what I post does not express the official views of the Church, my diocese, my parish, my bishop, my pastor, etc. Further, I am quite certain that, despite making every effort to be responsible in what I write and post, there are undoubtedly times when one or all of those entities would disagree with me. This is fine by me. I do not remember waiving my right to free speech when I was ordained back in 2004. So, how about, when asked, instead of feeling the need to "set the record straight," Rooney just said that as far as he is concerned Mendenhall has the right to express himself freely and that he does not speak for anyone but Rashard Mendenhall?

I am also prompted to make a few further observations: By the large, people in the Middle East and Central Asia want liberty, modernization, education, and economic prosperity. However, many want it without importing the destructive elements of Western culture. As people of faith in that culture, don’t we struggle mightily with this same trade-off, wanting all the benefits of things, like the internet, even while being opposed to readily-accessible pornography and on-line gambling and the like?

Figures like bin-Laden resonate with many people for many of the same reasons that so many in the U.S. are drawn to Christian fundamentalism, because they both vocally and actively resist what many see as the societal decline brought about, at least in part, by the effects of technology. One does not have to be a fundamentalist, however, to believe something Peter Hitchens reiterates quite often, namely that without faith and without stable families the development of personal conscience is stunted, private life is diminished, all of which results in the need for the power of the state to be increased.

However, while one group seeks to accomplish these ends peacefully within a constitutionally democratic system, the Islamists seek to do so by violent overthrow of that same system followed by the imposition of a world-wide caliphate. The trouble is you cannot build a peaceful and prosperous future on such a negative and backwards vision precisely because it squashes the other, conflicting, aspirations of so many.

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