A little decency
On microphones, malcontents, and the platforms given unnecessarily to people who aren't actually making society a better place
A bloviator with a broadcast audience has been caught on record ranting against a sign in a child's classroom which said "The world is better because you are in it." His cantankerous rejection of the merit of that sign was merely that "What has any fifth-grader done to make the world better because he or she is in it?"
■ It is a misfortune that broadcasting outlets still prop up the reach of people who are so eager to dismiss the humanity in others. The remark itself was offhand and self-evidently not particularly well-developed, and it's not the first time a broadcaster has said something remarkably stupid because those were simply the first words to pop into their head while trying to stretch out the clock.
■ But it doesn't take much heavy-handed scrutiny to ask a basic question: If someone took a seat next to you in a public space -- a hotel bar, an airplane seat, or in a pew at church -- and offhandedly chuckled to himself, "What good is a ten-year-old girl?", would you not be alarmed by both their judgment and their fundamental decency? What kind of civic decay are the advertisers and program directors of the world encouraging when they deem a commentator of that sort to be worth propping up and placing before an audience five days a week, for three hours a day?
■ Putting aside the obvious objective rebuttals to the question of what good a fifth-grader has ever done for the world (Mozart had already performed solo concerts by that age and was about to write his first opera), there is a much simpler moral refutation. It is that every life has value, intrinsically, and without any regard to what they might have "done to make the world better".
■ Most people are inclined by nature to try to be good and to try to do well, at least for themselves and their families, but often for broader social circles and even for complete strangers. Fifth-graders have done great good: Saving everyone on a school bus from likely disaster, saving a choking classmate, and donating the profits from a home-based business to children's hospitals. But doing that sort of good isn't a prerequisite to their humanity.
■ An enlightened view of personal responsibility, of course, compels everyone to do his or her duty to try to create more good in the world than they extract. But creating some sort of measurable net good in the world neither confers humanity, nor does failing to do so detract from it. Wantedness isn't a precondition for intrinsic human value. And that human value does, indeed, make the world better.
■ A person who dismisses the fundamental worth of others' lives, whether in the midst of a carefully-scripted rant or in passing remarks meant only to fill the time, is not a person worth elevating for larger audiences to heed. When we grant blowhards a platform, we implicitly co-sign with their worst impulses. The First Amendment assures the right of Americans to hold and announce really bad ideas. It does not, however, require that those bad ideas be shamelessly elevated.