In olden times blasphemers and others were placed in the pillory or stocks and subjected to public abuse. People could throw anything they wished and the victim could not move. Besides rotten fruit and fish, people threw rocks and faeces. If the victim was kept for days, this abuse could be fatal.

With the advent of social media we have invented a new kind of public piling on used to punish people for things such as racism the public finds offensive. It is a growing practice that raises fundamental ethical questions. It could be used against atheists as well as racists.

I have no sympathy for Donald Sterling, the racist owner of the Clippers basketball team—he seems like an ugly personality completely unworthy of sympathy—but the remarks attributed to him were made in private.

I am uncomfortable with the notion that private thoughts and statements are a sufficient reason for public sanctions. When someone makes racist comments in public, they may be a detriment to the business or public office they represent, and they may be punished by removal from their position, but private thoughts and comments are a different matter to my mind.

What happens after something like this is made public, is that everyone piles on and there is no going back to the previous state of affairs. People add insults as a way of patting themselves on the back for not being racist and showing that their own hands are clean. That seems craven.

I'm interested in what people here think about this question. Should we punish people for saying things in private that the public considers offensive? Should people be punished for what they think?

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I've never felt any "white guilt."  I do recognize that I have prejudices--or rather, the vestiges of prejudices I encountered while growing up--but I've made a conscious effort for decades never to act out those prejudices.  It's not that I don't want to seem racist, I don't want to be racist.

Not long ago, I developed an interest in gyroplanes and found an instructor nearby, an ex-Marine who lived in an old barracks at a little-used airport.  I loved the first lesson, buzzing the treetops and swooping low along the river.  He was a good and surprisingly patient teacher.  But afterward, a couple of his friends stopped by the hangar, and the N word started to fly, along with hatred of Obama.  It was disgusting in its meanness and ignorance.  I really wanted to learn to fly gyros, but I won't go back.

Isn't it possible to be genuinely sickened by the unfair treatment of others, whatever the group?  Or are my thinking and writing and teaching in which I criticize racism, sexism, religious bigotry, homophobia, etc., all just pretending?

Craig

I've never felt any "white guilt."  I do recognize that I have prejudices--or rather, the vestiges of prejudices I encountered while growing up--but I've made a conscious effort for decades never to act out those prejudices.  It's not that I don't want to seem racist, I don't want to be racist.

A great many white people are overwhelmingly concerned with not seeming racist.  Thus, the "modern pillory".  They are aware of how stigmatized any prejudice is, and their concern when the subject comes up and around black people is to say the right thing somehow, so as not to seem racist.  That sense of constraint is very obvious.  It's a sense that one is constrained to not come from one's center, not be truthful, on this particular subject, because saying what's actually on one's mind is dangerous.  It's a kind of oppression that makes white people act really strange around black people.    And the natural rebellion against that constraint, generates its opposite, the impulse to stereotyped racist sentiments as a kind of rebellion.  Thus the social stigma perpetuates racism.  The stigma gets in the way of processing the effects of the media in generating racial stereotypes and people's personal reactions to the racial situation. How do they, for example, feel about being part of an "oppressor class" as a white person?  
All this may not have much to do with you.  My experience has been with white people who weren't making a career out of working with black people.  Where I live, there are only about 10% black people, so most white people don't have much familiarity with black people and seem to see them totally through the lens of their race.  I've often seen white people acting strange around black people, although they don't seem to have racist intentions.  It's a  very liberal area, and any obvious prejudice would not be OK - but even so,  it seems like it would be quite a weird experience to be black around here. 

Isn't it possible to be genuinely sickened by the unfair treatment of others, whatever the group?
Of course it's possible.  Not only that, humanity doesn't have much hope if we aren't able to care about people who look a lot different from us.  So not only can you be OK and genuine, you are part of the hope of humanity!  
In White Guilt, Shelby Steele does sound like he doesn't give liberal whites any credit for good intentions or caring.  His viewpoint seems very bitter and jaundiced, and one can only imagine the experiences that did that to him.  But what he says is quite valuable and insightful, even if one doesn't agree with large chunks of it.  

Craig, I'm with you and I know you are not pretending. Like you, I have never felt any "white guilt."

No longer with my wife of 9 years. We live apart now. When we argued the N word never came up. There is no reason for it to ever have come up, period.

Ficking Chucken, I am a firm believer in leaving behind tyranny in whatever form it takes and burning bridges as I go. On the other hand, jumping from the fire of USA to take on the fires that simmer in Europe may be jumping from the skillet into the fire. I am not sure where I would go to avoid theist's hatred. 

I don't know if this was in the other comments - I've been following loosely.

One thing I found interesting was this conversation was with, and recorded with Sterling's girlfriend.  Who, in the "old days", would have been referred to as his lover.  Sterling's wife has sued his girlfriend to get back some possessions. 

Much of the press has problems with his private racism, but not his public adultery.  I'm not judging.  For all I know, his relationship is open, and all are happy with it.  The super-duper rich have their own rules.  I just find it's interesting to think of the social change here.  How many politicians have been pilloried in the past few years for extramarital affairs?   Or texting selfies of their private parts, presumably with consenting adults. 

The 10 commandments forbids adultery.  Jesus said, don't even lust in your heart.  The bible has no problems with racism, and sets examples of localized racism, such as telling the Hebrews to slaughter the Canaanites for no reason other than the Jews were chosen, and the Canaanites were unchosen.  Our supposedly christian society seems to have changed it's priorities.

I'm just glad more people consider racism as the vile attitude that it is.

I'm just glad more people consider racism as the vile attitude that it is.

Granted that racism is a vile attitude, should racists be coerced into changing their minds?

I cannot go that far. I support preventing racists from acting against the objects of their prejudice or making their attitudes the basis for laws or rules in institutions. I believe institutions can be held to a high standard of non-dsicrimination, but I cannot see using force to make people change their minds. That is too easily extended to other areas and goes against fundamental freedom.

To my mind there should be no limits to freedom of thought, some limits to freedom of speech in public arenas, and definite limits to freedom of action where actions hurt others.

"should racists be coerced into changing their minds?"

I think racists need to be confronted by questions to look at their beliefs in clear, concrete, specific ways. i.e.

Do you really believe that you are superior to someone whose skin is a different shade of brown than yours? What supports your claim? 

Do you actually think that Homo sapiens exist as superior to other living forms? What is your basis for claiming this? 

Do you genuinely believe that a supernatural form of energy exists? What makes you think that? 

Do you in fact that the bible reflects the word of god? How do you know?

Do you in reality believe that god exists? Why? 

The trouble I have is that so many who militantly make claims of supernatural forces at work on the Earth are those who have not read outside their belief system, do not associate with those who believe something differently than they, and who live in a cocoon of thought that can't even imagine thinking outside the fibers of the casing. 

I wonder if a caterpillar knows there is such a thing as a butterfly? 

I wonder if a devout religious knows there is such a thing as freethought? 

Confrontation differs from coercion. Confrontation, it would seem to me, aims at changing minds voluntarily through questioning. It may in some cases provoke a negative reaction, but it does not attempt to punish those who refuse to change. It is, in a sense, an attempt to educate.

The success of the civil rights movement was due at least in part to non-violent resistance to segregation and discrimination. When people saw peaceful marches brutally attacked, they knew on which side the wrong lay.

When I bought my home, I made a public commitment to terms of the contract. When I bought my car, I signed a paper in which I publicly declared that I would live to the contract. When I exchanged marriage vows, I publicly stated I would live to the terms of the agreement. 

I care not if men and women have sexual interactions, I care that a public contract is violated and few seem to object when one breaks the terms of the contract. If a man or woman wants to have sex with another than a spouse, publicly make known that the marriage contract is broken and pay whatever penalty goes with breaking contracts, and then go out and have sex, freely, without hesitation, and without accusations of breaking a contract. 

Exactly! To state what one thinks in the public arena invites criticism. If one is strong enough to think for oneself, one is strong enough to take the wind that follows. I am not interested in remaining silent in the face of ideas with which I do not agree. 

Sterling wasn't speaking in public, he was having a phone conversation with his girlfriend that was (probably illegally) recorded by his wife, and the recording was publicized. 

Making use of illegally obtained information seems unethical and perhaps it's illegal, or should be. 

Also, did Sterling ever actually treat his basketball team badly? 

Ben Stein described the actions against Sterling as accusations of "thoughtcrime" (from Orwell's 1984) - where people are accused based on their thoughts and private actions.  If Sterling was fair in practice to his basketball team, I agree. 

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