No Shades of Gray?

Sometimes I find PZMeyers over the top in his denunciations of religion (especially when he tars all with the same brush and goes on to demonize even those who merely point out that error), but this time he’s right on the mark and expresses it most eloquently.

However, although there are no shades of grey with regard to the abominable nature of what occurred in Afghanistan in response to Terry Jones grandstand play, there certainly are with regard to how Jones and others around him should be judged. (Or for that matter how Meyers himself might have been judged if more of the wrong people had paid attention to his acts of deliberate blasphemy.)

I do believe that one who taunts a wild animal is responsible if that animal kills people as a result, and although if that animal is a person or crowd then the responsibility of its tormentor does not detract from its own primary responsibility, neither does the responsibility of the perpetrators detract from that of the stimulator. The only excuses are ignorance of the likely consequences and/or necessity of the stimulating action.

If someone (perhaps insane) held a hostage with the threat that performance of a certain unnecessary act would cause him to murder the hostage then we would certainly be right in assigning blame to anyone who performed that act and/or facilitated its communication to the madman. But this might be tempered by uncertainty as to the effect and the extent to which the act was truly gratuitous as opposed to having some degree of “necessity” for the actor or communicators.

But even in morally unambiguous cases would there be any legal recourse or sanction? And if there were to be such a prohibition, how could it be reconciled with freedom of speech and communication?

In many jurisdictions there is a crime of “Reckless Endangerment”, but usually with limited scope of application which might not cover even the local hostage example let alone one involving extra-territorial consequences.

One cannot imagine legislating against actions just because some might consider them insulting, but might not willful communication of such actions at least be subject to some criterion of necessity? (just as the cry of “fire” in a crowded theatre would generally not be considered to be protected by a claim that it was a legitimate artistic or political expression)

No matter how bright the light or how deep the shadow it seems there’s always a penumbra somewhere.

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