Saturday, April 14, 2007

Imus at Midnight

Imus in the Morning, Imus in the Evening, Imus at Suppertime. Don Imus and his wayward way with words is one of several topics that have gotten a lot of attention recently in posts written in the buddhoblogosphere - which, like cable news shows, is on 24/7, pouring over every turn in the story as it developed. Other recent topics of high interest in the community of Buddhist &/or Integral blogger have been postmodernity and the legacy of Kurt Vonnegut - but I've no time for them tonight. Tonight, I must blog [and flog] Imus.

He’s Imus to Avoid; A complete impossibility *

By now, the road to unemployment for Imus seems to have been certain from the beginning. His words were so offensive and directed at such noble young women and spoken on national TV - no less - he was foredoomed. In this our age of YouTube, constant talking pundits on cable news and a bustling blogosphere, the hounds of war were loosed. Too, with the quick ability to dredge up his past offences and make these well known, and the certain, focused attention of those yapping ambulance-chasing pitbulls, Jackson and Sharpton, who would not let up [for reasons noble or remunerative or debatable, you make the call], there was nowhere for Imus [or CBS or MSNBC or the sponsors of Imus’s radio show] to hide.

Matthew Dallman of The Daily Goose took a liberty-for-all line on the Affair Imus. He chose to quote some National Review bullshit and then tamely wrote,
People can say whatever they want, about whomever they want. It is one of the consequences of a society that upholds the importance of the idea of liberty. Whether people should say whatever they want is a whole other question that involves the golden rule of treat others as you would have yourself treated, as well as the responsibility that ensues from one's words. …

This episode dramatizes clearly that political correctness has far from died in our America culture. This is sad, but we must keep up the fight against it.
Bill Harryman of Integral Options CafĂ© and his WH blog behind the Zaadz wall chirped in support of Dallman’s post with these words in his April 13 speedlinking roundup: “[F]or what's it worth, I think Imus is an idiot on his best days, but speech must be protected, even when it is moronic, or especially when it is moronic.”

For my part, I think Dallman’s post demonstrates ignorance. People certainly cannot say whatever they want about whomever they want. Or, I should say, not without a chance of arrest or a lawsuit for slander or liabel. Dallman should educate himself a mite about the Supreme Court. There are limits on liberty when rights associated with it bump up against others of Americans’ rights that honor truth and privacy, at-will employment and uses of public airwaves.

Also, while the ongoing Civil Rights movement is associated with some extremes of political correctness on college campuses and in society, social pressures since the mid-60s have been a substantial [and compared to what was before, spectacular] success in bringing freedoms found in the Declaration of Independence to black citizens, and in freeing white citizens from prejudice and hatefulness. There is a further distance along this road that we must trod. Societal pressures, including impositions of political correctness, have proved healthy. Forward, ho! Liberty has and will continue to thrive in the midst of all this, with libertarians like Bill Maher [and Matthew Dallman] batting back extreme instances of Orwellian PC madness.

Jay, The Zero Boss, hones in on this idea: “[C]onservative pundits who point to the use of negative language in parts of the African-American community as an excuse for Imus’ behavior are as guilty of racist stereotyping as Imus was.”

The misnamed tinythinker wrote in peaceful turmoil:
It's easy to get riled up over a single event that can be magnified into a rallying point that symbolizes a bigger issue, but it's hard to keep being interested and involved over the long haul over such isolated incidents because you can't keep running forever on outrage and indignation. It takes much effort to organize and to educate as opposed to railing and ranting. I am not suggesting that the civil rights leaders involved in this case do not do these other things, but that is the unsexy, low-ratings, and vital work of advancing equality in this country. And all of that organizing and educating is pointless if it doesn't spur people to act, not simply in major rallies, but in their everyday lives.
Sounds right. But I think my counterpoint to tinythinker, written as a comment, is correct, also:
Exposure of these problems, though, does help. The amazingly successful movements for Civil Rights and women's rights came through just this kind of exposure and pressure. It is hard slogging, and success does not appear to be acoming if we look at things over a short period of time, but in the longer view society does move forward from the dirty business we see from this Imus flap and others similar to it.

Nonetheless, I am uneasy with the idea of pillorying individuals, even those as deserving as Imus. But the public [ie, newspapers and TV pundits] pay attention to stark examples, and the slow movements of culture [the REAL success] goes unnoticed.

Both Peter of The Buddha Diaries [link] and Terrance of The Republic of T [link] took special note of an opinion piece in the New York Times by Washington Week host and News Hour interviewer Gwen Ifill. Ifill, an African-American, was verbally lashed by Imus earlier in her career when she was the Times’s White House correspondent. Imus said, “Isn’t The Times wonderful. It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House.”

In her piece, Ifill was her usual calm, kind, thoughtful, non-egoic self, but ended things with sterner words:

So here’s what this voice has to say for people who cannot grasp the notion of picking on people their own size: This country will only flourish once we consistently learn to applaud and encourage the young people who have to work harder just to achieve balance on the unequal playing field.

Let’s see if we can manage to build them up and reward them, rather than opting for the cheapest, easiest, most despicable shots.

In one of his three posts on the Imus matter, "Right Speech: The Imus Flap," Peter, in The Buddha Diaries, offered some direct connection to how Buddhist principles hook up to the issues:
There's a good reason for the Buddhist teaching on Right Speech, the third of the eight path factors in the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to the end of suffering. The principle of right speech includes "Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter," so I guess that Imus's remark falls squarely into the last three categories to be avoided: it was divisive, abusive, and certainly qualifies as idle chatter. Had Imus spoken in full consciousness of what he was saying, I'm sure the words would not have left his mouth.
Like tinythinker in peaceful turmoil, Peter was not optimistic in The Buddha Diaries for follow-through and a healthier society on the heels of the nattering TV discussions and finger waggings
It seems to me that all of us, black and white, would do well to start the healing, not with denial but with truthfulness and clarity about ourselves--an admission that is sadly lacking in today's debate, but which might prove a much-needed first step toward an exchange of Right Speech with each other. I'm not optimistic, though, that Buddhist wisdom will prevail over indignation and retribution in this particular scrap, nor that those involved will be able to let go of the attachment to outcomes that might allow a peaceable resolution.
Bodhipaksa in a post called “Buddhism: Beyond Good and Evil” in Wildmind prints a recent letter written to a prison inmate that says this about Imus:
The words good and bad are inevitably misleading, because rather than simply looking at our actions and seeing whether they lead to happiness or unhappiness, we look at our actions and judge them. Then we judge ourselves as being good or bad depending on which kinds of actions we’ve performed.

I was thinking about this the other day in regard to Don Imus … He’s said that he’s a “good person” because he does good things, and in fact he does do a lot of things that benefit others. But if he’s a good person because he does good things then does that also imply that he’s a bad person if he does bad things? Is it a question of adding up the good and bad? And who decides whether being kind to one person balances out being unkind to another? The joy of one may be nothing compared to the hurt and shame of the other.

… from a Buddhist point of view it makes no sense to talk about a “person” being good or bad, or even skillful or unskillful. A person is by necessity far too complex a phenomenon to reduce to such a simple label. …
James of the venerable Genius of Insanity was unusually late to this story, posting on Hillary Clinton opportunistically using the tumult to score points for her presidential bid.
Boy she doesn't pass up an opportunity does she? Why is she going to meet with them?? What does she have to do with this whole affair? Nothing. Did she care about them before this controversy? … This move has me calling, "bullshit." She already looks conniving and meeting with these women isn't going to help that image. It's all about her and that's more than apparent. She plans everything out too much--and it shows.
That's it, a wrap, folks. A taste of how the buddhoblogosphere interpreted the Imus Flap, with a little (too much) of my butting-in commentary.