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Other views: Bill Maher's tiny point

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Kathleen Parker
May 14, 2014

WASHINGTON--When my neighbor gleefully reported that Bill Maher had dedicated a searing monologue to me for a column about the Donald Sterling/Cliven Bundy rants, my first thought was, Nah. If I tussled with everybody who tossed a brick through the window, I'd never get the draperies hung.

My second thought was about something my father said to a drunk who was looking for a fight: “I'm too old to fight,” my dad said, peering over his half-moon glasses. “But I'd be glad to step outside and kill you.”

Dads.

I've decided to respond to Maher because I agree with him on his central point that we should fight the scourge of privacy invasion.

But my point was a little different than Maher's characterization, if perhaps unclear to literal minds. One would think that someone who has so artfully mastered snark would recognize sarcasm, as when I wrote that “speaking one's mind isn't really all it's cracked up to be.”

Assuring his audience that speaking his mind “is absolutely everything it's cracked up to be,” to which I would only add “and much, much more,” Maher said people would miss speaking their minds. Perhaps, but how would you know?

I think, Bill, that you and I are talking about different minds. As noted in my column, any uncertainty about the value of always speaking one's mind vanishes upon reading online comments. Have you read yours?

Maher further objected to my suggestion that the potential for exposure by being unwittingly recorded forces us to select our words and edit our thoughts more carefully. But don't all adults edit their words and thoughts to some degree? Oh, wait, no.

Southerners are perhaps too obsessed with trying never to offend while entertaining the most dastardly thoughts. Everyone knows that “Bless your heart” means anything but, depending.

But Maher would rather be a Mormon than have to be “always editing,” as he put it in his monologue. Listening to 100 horrific rants of Bundy, he added, would be better than being Mitt Romney.

Bill, Bill, Billy, honey. Obviously, the consequence of self-editing isn't to become a cliche. Sometimes it just means being a little bit clever.

Certainly, those un-clever fellows Sterling and Bundy would be better off had they kept their thoughts to themselves. Do they have the right to express them? Absolutely, but the obvious consequences make my point. This isn't a matter of government oppression of free speech but of private citizens condemning their neighbors for expressing thoughts that have been historically harmful.

Yes, Bill, people should be able to think what they want in the privacy of their living rooms, not that our thoughts are necessarily good company. Most of them percolate unbidden from the unconscious and intrude upon our sense of order. Self-aware people examine those thoughts and wrestle them into submission. The rest are on TV. (Kidding, kidding, sheesh.)

Urging people to think before they speak is hardly East Germany, as Maher said. This is what parents teach their children every day. Don't write something in an email that you wouldn't want others to see. And while we're at it, don't post idiotic pictures on Facebook if you're looking for a job.

This is common-sense advice based on reality. It's too bad Sterling's “friend” recorded him saying offensive things. Too bad he thinks this way. Too bad he doesn't have better friends.

Maher wondered whether I ever get together with my girlfriends, drink too much wine and say things I wouldn't want broadcast elsewhere. Well, yeah, that's why I call them friends. Indeed, I would be shocked if either of them ever repeated (or remembered) a word.

Finally, my point wasn't that we should surrender to Big Brother. As I've written and spoken often, we have become a dangerously voyeuristic society driven by the narcissistic urge to know and be known.

Translated: Basically, we're borderline sociopaths with a spy factory in our pockets.
Barring legal action against thought thieves posing as “friends,” the solution is not so easily imagined. Until we conceive of one, it seems minimally rational to recognize that any electronic interaction carries risks.

In the spirit of modern friendship, meaning we're not really friends, I leave you, Bill, with an open invitation to stop by the Olive Street stoop next time you're in D.C. We'll drink too much wine and speak our minds freely with an assortment of neighbors who definitively will not bore you.

And I promise, I won't tell a soul.

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.



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