Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Republican Dennis Prager advocates shooting graffiti "taggers"

Start with an untenable, extreme position; defend it in spite of its obvious flaws; then posit it as representative of a basic distinction between left and right. That's exactly how Republican radio chatterer, columnist and opinion-mongering cottage industry Dennis Prager ends up writing what must be one of the most howlingly funny examples of unintentional self-parody in recent memory.

from Townhall.com: Dennis Prager "On Shooting Taggers: Why Conservatives and Liberals Differ"

Earlier this month Andrew Sullivan, a well-known writer, once in the center, now on the left, nominated me for what is apparently his lowest badge of distinction for defending citizens who shoot to wound graffiti vandals, or "taggers," while committing their vandalism.

Under the heading, "Malkin Award Nominee," Sullivan provides a quote from my radio show:

"'So you will now say -- I hear the voice of an ACLU member -- 'Dennis, do you think that this guy should have shot these people spray painting graffiti on his shop?' To which my answer is yes. I do. Not to kill. Not to kill. But if he shot them in the legs or in the arms I would have considered the man one of the great advancers of civilization in my time. And that is what divides left from right. Because anybody on the left hearing this would think that this is barbaric whereas I consider not stopping these people in any way that is necessary to be barbaric.' -- Dennis Prager, on his radio show."

Mr. Sullivan provides no commentary because, as I predicted in the excerpt he cites, what I said is so obviously morally offensive to him, no commentary is necessary. It is self-indicting.

To those on the left.

Their differing reactions to graffiti vandals further clarify the philosophical differences between liberals and conservatives.


(C)onservatives tend to view higher civilization as more fragile than the left views it. Conservatives believe the line between civilization and barbarism is under constant assault and is not necessarily enduring. That is one reason the right tends to have a higher regard for the police than does the left. Conservatives see the police as "the thin blue line" that separates civilization from barbarians.

So, it is natural that conservatives would see graffiti as vandalism, as an undermining of the very notion of higher civilization, as a public scorning of the common good, as essentially an "F---- you" to society.

Liberals are far more inclined to see graffiti as a mere nuisance, or even as an example of the downtrodden trying to have a voice in a civilization that oppresses young people who are usually members of historically oppressed minorities.

To the conservative, graffiti is an assault on civilization; to the liberal, graffiti is the result of civilization's assault on those who paint the graffiti.


My first wish is that taggers be arrested and punished. I also wish for world peace and a cure for cancer. But the real-life choice is almost always between taggers getting away with their vandalism and an irate citizen taking action. Given the destructive nature of tagging -- the moment one sees graffiti, one knows one has entered a largely lawless and violent environment where thugs terrorize innocents -- I prefer something, even if violent, rather than nothing be done.

I have no desire to see a graffiti vandal killed -- my position has always been that only those who cause death deserve death (that is why I oppose the death penalty for any crime except murder). But if enough taggers are wounded, their assault on civilization will decline dramatically. And if one accidentally dies? That would be a tragedy. But here is the bottom line: More innocent people will die if tagging is not stopped than if it is. Graffiti unchecked leads to worse crime.

Those who deface private and public property are not otherwise decent kids who are oppressed and not allowed any other form of self-expression. My sense is that the vast majority of graffiti vandals are headed toward, if not already involved in, a life of sociopathology, including violence.

Indeed, increasingly those graffiti vandals do engage in violence. Citizens who so much as flash their headlights or yell at them to stop have been shot and sometimes murdered.

As in so many other areas, with regard to taggers, right and left see life through opposing moral prisms. On the left, the tagger is viewed as society's victim; on the right, society is viewed as the tagger's victim.

If graffiti can reasonably be countered with small arms fire, what would be appropriate for misuse of eggs, toilet paper and shaving cream on mischief night? Bow and arrow? Machette? (Note for non-U.S. readers: that's a reference to the night prior to Haloween, when young troublemakers traditionally make a mess.)

Based on Prager's use of the phrase "(m)y sense is..." directly preceding his assertion that taggers are violent, his conclusions are better described as "truthy" than true. Readers of this blog or Prager's prattlings should feel free to request from Prager evidence to the contrary. His email address is DennisPrager@DennisPrager.com.

(By the way, did anyone else notice that Prager gratuitously uses the "F" word in his piece, albeit without its other letters -- this in a piece that supposedly defends tradional values of public behavior? WTF?)


Tim (Random Observations) said...

"Opinion-mongering?" How is that different from what bloggers like us do, except that he's got a wider audience? A rather odd slam.

I completely agree that normal gunfire is not an appropriate response, as it has potentially lethal consequences, and not just for the 'tagger'.

But what of the core argument that attempting to wound or inflict some kind of non-lethal unpleasant or painful result on such a person would be appropriate? Isn't that what the state would do anyway, one way or another, if they were able to catch them?

And isn't the tagger also doing just that, when they destroy someone's property and force that person (the property owner, taxpayers in general) to pony up rather sizable expenditures to repair their damage?

Another: If using "F" as an abbreviation for an epithet is wrong, then why are you doing it too?

On the other hand, if it's wrong to even allude to something unpleasant, without naming it directly, then do you also conclude it's just as bad to say, on the air (say) "He used a word I can't print" (where the listener could probably guess) instead of saying the word directly?

Or do you just think we should all say any words at all, at any time?

And is it just as morally bad to allude to someone else swearing in public, as it is scream such epithets yourself? Your article seems to imply no distinction at all should be possible.

Adam Holland said...

tim random observations:

1) Context! I said Prager's an opinion mongering cottage industry. Check out his line of opinion based products available for a price on his website.

2) I don't equate citizens shooting each other over minor offenses with citizens being subject to law enforcement. Neither does the law. Why do you? Your arguments about this are entirely specious. Would you really would prefer that sort Dodge City atmosphere to one with reasonable law enforcement? That's not a pro-law-and-order argument.

3) While I don't generally use the F word on my blog, I don't object when others do unless they portray themselves as moral guardians, like Prager does. His use of the F word is hypocritical, no? Remember, he wasn't quoting anyone, he was expressing his opinion of what graffiti taggers are "saying to the world", whatever that means.

Tim (Random Observations) said...

"Check out his line of opinion based products available for a price on his website."

Okay: So it's wrong to make a living offering opinions & associated stuff? I guess that would also indict pretty much the entire opinion industry, right and left: almost everyone on NPR, Keith Olbermann, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, Michael Medved, DailyKos, Coulter, etc. -- and any bloggers who have for-profit ads, swag, or tip jars on their sites.

I guess, while I'd disagree, I'd respect your view as incredibly pure, provided you really do take guys like Keith Olbermann proportionally more to task. (I mean, $4 million a year is a lot more than Prager would seem to be making.)

"I don't equate citizens shooting each other over minor offenses with citizens being subject to law enforcement.... Your arguments about this are entirely specious. Would you really would prefer that sort Dodge City atmosphere...?"

Err, perhaps you missed the part where I agreed that lethal gunfire is NOT an appropriate response to grafitti?

But if you're referring the question I actually asked (read it above) YES, I do think things would be better if there were more citizens' arrests, or were allowed to use something less than lethal force to defend property outside their home.

You imagine I'm in favor of "Dodge City"? As opposed to what, the utopian paradise our inner cities are today? Washington DC, for example, has all kinds of restrictions on use of force and protection of property, gun ownership, etc. In contrast, places which allow force to protect property seem to have, at least as far as I can tell, *lower* rates of crime.

Asking if I'm in favor of "Dodge City" entirely bypasses the (rather reasonable, I would think) question as to which policies produce the higher crime rate.

"While I don't generally use the F word on my blog, I don't object when others do unless they portray themselves as moral guardians, like Prager does."

You don't portray yourself as a moral guardian??? Rather an incredible assertion, given the number of moral matters issues you raise here. Sure, you don't chastise people for swearing -- but you chastise them for quite a number of other offenses you see as wrong. See this entire argument itself, for example.

Or perhaps one only acts like a "moral guardian" if one chastises someone else over the *wrong* issues? What an equally odd argument.

"His use of the F word is hypocritical, no?"

What public use is that? I'm not aware of any such use, nor have you given evidence of one. He only referenced other people using it, obliquely, as you have just now.

(It appears you're still evading my question regarding the difference between referencing something obliquely and actually doing it.)

"Remember, he wasn't quoting anyone..."

I agree entirely that it was a paraphrase. But I think it was, quite frankly, a reasonable one. He believes that tagger's attitude is a rough moral equivalent to a middle finger raised towards society as a whole. (Indeed, sometimes grafitti SAYS that as well as implying it, so it seems a rather uncontroversial assertion.)

If so, I then I don't know how one could communicate that without at least obliquely referencing the underlying meaning. If I said: "Grafitti is the moral equivalent of a 'golly gee, I'm dissatisfied with society'" it would not at all imply the same thing.

So, again, how is your referring to that obscenity any different from his? It would seem your answer is that you feel:

(a) You have decided he is a "moral guardian" and you are not, even though you both speak against behavior you view as troublesome or immoral.

(b) Given the above, you may thus permit yourself to do things you feel such opponents should not do.

Er, okay then. I'm convinced!


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