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YET LET’S ASSUME THAT MEL GIBSON really does, on some level, think some of the things he said. There’s a larger question underneath this controversy: let’s assume there does exist an “inhibited” version of us, and also a chemically uninhibited version. Which one is the “real” person, and which is the artifice? Most of us are proud of our victories over our inner childishness; if I am in my heart a glutton with a lust for fried okra, but I manage to curb that impulse, enjoy okra in moderation, and drop ten pounds, that might give me a small sense of accomplishment. But whose was the victory? Am I the glutton, or am I the rational person who saw and acted upon the need to control my gluttony?
As both a Christian and a conservative, I believe all men are fallen and flawed. The institutions of civilization — Church, family, the law, civil society — help us steer away from our hearts’ jagged shoals. Each of us struggle with our own foibles, and our much more sinister demons — the impulses or attitudes we know to be wrong but cannot exorcise. But out of self-interested careerism, out of love for our families, out of religious obligation, or simply out of a fear of looking at ourselves in the mirror if we fail, we learn, most of the time, to work around the baser angels of our nature.
Then there is the alternative view of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, perhaps the ultimate progenitor of modern leftism. “Rousseau first made it fashionable,” a professor of mine once memorably lectured, “to despise one’s own culture.” Rousseau believed that man’s true character manifests itself in a state of nature — a pre-civilizational state. He wanted to get back to that authentic, primitive expression of our true selves and rejected the constraints and conventions of civilization as impediments to this goal. Hence the modern left’s emphasis on the virtue of “authenticity,” and on the need to escape from the cruel expectations of society in order to liberate our true being.
While some inhibitions are damaging or irrational, most of them are there for a reason. Our inhibitions are part of us and we ignore them — and suppress them, chemically or otherwise — at great peril. Me, I like my inhibitions. They’re part of me, and they usually keep the rest of me out of trouble.
I’VE WANDERED FAR FROM that Santa Monica road where this essay started, but ended up at a curiously political overlook of Gibson’s troubles. If one tends to think that our truest selves emerge only when our social inhibitions are removed, then one sees in Gibson’s drunken self his true and unencumbered self. It is not surprising that Christopher Hitchens, a man of the left, might jump to this conclusion.
But if one tends to think that our true and higher self is manifested in society, then one sees Gibson’s folly differently. Gibson may, given his upbringing, harbor prejudices that he knows are shameful and wrong. But he ordinarily pushes these evil thoughts out of his mind (after all, it’s not like he has a long track record of anti-Semitic statements) until one fateful evening where alcohol breaks down the barriers he built against them.
Gibson said some truly ugly, awful things and this column is in no way a defense of them. He deserves harsh criticism for his irresponsibility and carelessness, not only in driving drunk and endangering innocent bystanders, but in losing control of his mouth. Either he got drunk and said something stupid that he really never believed at all, or possibly he exposed a shameful part of his soul that should have been cut out or at least quarantined far away from the rest of his life.
Either way, his apology is only the tiniest step toward making things right again. His colleagues in Hollywood and the press are correct to demand he finally and unequivocally answers the questions about his views — completely, and completely sober. Let’s hope he will prove to us that his shame and contrition, not his booze-addled bile, is a product of who he really is.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?