The Spectacle Blog

Ben Stein: The Passion of Mel Gibson

By on 8.1.06 | 10:51AM

The fascinating fact about actors is that they usually play who they really are. Mel Gibson played a crazy, angry, hard-drinking loner. That's who he turned out to be. An alcoholic. A racist of the worst kind. A bully. A braggart. A rich thug.

But let's also be clear about something else: he is going to be charged with driving under the influence. Probably he will be also charged with resisting arrest and seeking to flee the scene of a crime and also resisting a lawful order (or something similar). That's fine. That's what should happen. It sure looks as if he did all of these things, although some smart lawyer will try to get him off (probably some smart Jewish lawyer at that).

However, the anti-Semitic, hateful, vicious, sick things he said about Jews are not a crime. It is not a crime to say cruel things about Jews to a deputy sheriff. It is not a crime to ask a deputy if he's Jewish. These things are not nice. They're disgusting. But they are not crimes.

If we did treat them as crimes it would be all too close to making thoughts a crime, or to the worst crime in Orwell's "1984" -- "thoughtcrime." Preserving the right of people to speak freely about others unless it is incitement to violence is vastly more important than sparing the feelings of any group. We are already far too close with university codes of speech and self-censorship about racial matters to allowing and imposing "thoughtcrime" on this country. That would be, no is, the end of freedom. It's orders of magnitude more important than a pitiful alcoholic of the hopeless variety acting like a big spoiled racist baby. (By the way, I have seen far worse than Mel get well in "the rooms" and he is extremely welcome there in the brotherhood of the spirit, trudging the road of happy destiny.)

Let's get it straight: What Mel Gibson said was horrifying and he deserves the criticism of decent people. And he should not drive for a good long while. But punishing his words would be a disaster for the Bill of Rights. That's a much bigger matter.

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