The Normative Power of Law and the Emotional Power of Drama
Suppose you accidentally click on a link and wind up seeing the raunchiest, most grotesque pornography imaginable.
What do you do?
You probably close the link and perhaps bark at whoever linked you to it.
But do you attempt to have the site shut down?
In all likelihood you do not. And that doesn't mean you approve of the pornography, or even tolerate it.
You don't attempt to have the site shut down, or stir up a rage, because you know it will be futile. The law has spoken on this point; and where the letter of the law hasn't spoken, the actions of thousands of LEO's and politicians have. There will be virtually no action taken against pornography, ever.
So you don't attempt to get the site shut down because the letter of the law, and the actions of those enforcing it, have informed you that it is a situation you'll just have to live with.
The law has become normative. You may not agree with it (or, of course, you might). But you have internalized the teaching of the law, just as a student internalizes the real rules of his school, what he can get away with, what he can't.
The law has taught you what you will have to accept, what you will have to work around, what you will have to teach yourself to ignore and come to peace with.
The law is normative. It establishes our norms.
The law is currently establishing a new norm. Some -- liberals, chiefly, are quick to line up to embrace the new norm.
The new norm is that certain religions -- oh, why be coy with the plural? One religion -- shall have the protection and sanctification of state power.
One religion, and one religion only.
Piss Christ is being shown in New York City again. There are few calls for the exhibit to be banned, and none for the artist to be arrested -- or vigorously investigated to find if there are any breaches in his past to be arrested for.
Because we know the law and the action of government in executing the law would not be responsive. Not even a little bit.
The law is normative. We have learned there is no point protesting Piss Christ, or any thousand "slanders" against the Prophet of Christianity. We have learned that we will just have to live with it, and, if such things offend us, learn to control our tempers, and learn to avoid certain things that might otherwise give us pleasure, like museums.
What norms are the laws currently teaching the most extreme and intolerant members of Islam?
That they must respect other people's rights to engage in free speech? That they must accept that their religion, like any other, is subject to critique, disrespect, and even hate?
No. They are learning that threatening violence, or actually engaging in violence, is not futile at all, but rather achieves the precise goals they seek (a de facto prohibition against Islam or Mohammad, and no other religion).
The law is normative. This is what it is teaching. This is the lesson it is currently filling minds with.
Violence works. Intolerance -- at least intolerance with a brown face -- is justified and even noble.
And Islamic values are superior to American ones. After all, when the two come into conflict, which values win out?
Why would an Islamic immigrant choose American values over Salafist ones when the American government itself (and lesser governments within America) proclaim that Salafism is superior to Americanism?
The law is normative. It teaches. It compels. It forbids. And its compulsions and prohibitions become internalized.
The law in America is championing Salafism.
If our goal is encourage a more moderate, pluralistic, freedom-oriented brand of Islam, why would our government champion Salafism? Why would it emasculate the more moderate style of Islam, and create a Conquering Hero out of Salafism?
The law is normative. The law creates certain expectations of behavior, and rewards those within the law, and punishes those without it.
What expectations of behavior is the law currently creating? That we should all respect each other's rights to express our beliefs, or that we should engage in violent behavior to suppress others' rights, knowing if we destroy enough property, or kill enough human beings, the American government will begin championing our beliefs, making them part of the official legal code of the nation?
A fire dies without oxygen. It is the expectation of government action -- of "winning" a government sanction or concession-- that drives these protests and these riots. And this jihad.
Drama is the anticipation of action. It has been so since before the Greeks. Drama is not the action; drama is the question of whether the action will be taken, and what consequences it will have.
As Hitchcock observed, a bomb's detonation isn't drama; that's just spectacle. The drama comes with wondering if the bomb will be detected before it explodes.
Human beings are driven by drama. Millions watched that stupid car chase today because they didn't know how it would turn out. Millions watched a boring static helicopter shot of a not-terribly-fast-moving car for hours, because they didn't know how it would turn out.
Drama feeds the emotions.
When Rush Limbaugh made a joke about Sandra Fluke being a "slut," the story was kept alive for weeks.
How? Dude called a 30-year-old activist a "slut" for humorous effect. How does that turn into a three week storyine?
Drama. The quip itself cannot sustain interest, but the invented, contrived jumped up drama around it can.
Will Rush apologize? That's a two day story. Now we can anticipate whether he will Stay Strong or Buckle Under Pressure. Drama -- the anticipation of action.
Two days later -- will the people who will never accept his apology accept his apology? Drama -- wondering whether this apology will be deemed adequate by people whose livelihoods depend on their deeming it inadequate.
A week after that -- will sponsors drop his show? Will it drive him off the air? Drama -- will he win or lose? Will MMFA win or lose?
And thus a three-second sentence, without any consequence whatsoever, becomes a storyline for a month.
Drama. Unscripted morality plays for the politically invested.
Now, why has this YouTube video remained a story? Why do people continue to demonstrate over it?
Drama -- will they win? Will they prevail in getting the United States to impose blasphemy laws? To arrest and prosecute the blasphemer?
It's that drama that sustains their passions.
If they knew the answer -- if they knew from the first moment the answer would be "No" -- there would be no drama.
They would realize their actions were futile, and therefore silly, and therefore unmanly, as serious men do not indulge in childish tantrums that accomplish nothing.
But what if there is a genuine hope that their actions could shape US policy, US free speech law, and US law enforcement action?
What if the Administration gave them just enough encouragement to let them know: If you keep this up long enough, we just might wind up tailoring the Constitution to protect your religion?
Drama. It feeds the passions. It creates interest. It invests what would otherwise be a childish (or thuggish) bit of acting up with heroic purpose.
And that's what Obama has done: He has poured the gasoline of heroic purpose onto the flames of anger.
He has invested the demonstrators with stature and nobility.
He could have just said "No." He could have made it plain that in no universe would a US president ever betray the Constitution in order to appease a mob.
Instead, he told them just the opposite: Maybe we will.
And, in fact: We now have.
Will this lead to fewer demonstrations, and less violence, or towards more?
When you reward a behavior, you get more of it.
That seems a well-settled point.
The law is now rewarding those who would break it.
The law is normative.
It's teaching people that terrorism is justified.
It is teaching people that the future must not belong to those who slander The Prophet of Islam.
And it is teaching, finally, that 9/11 was, like any other spasm of violence against those who do not bow to Islam, a justifiable expression of dissatisfaction with United States policy and American values.