Logo for Joe Sobran's newsletter: Sobran's -- The Real News of the Month

 The Cheap Pathos of Civil Rights 

June 8, 2006 
paragraph indent“The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates said, probably after reading the morning papers. It never ceases to amaze me how passionately we all (I emphatically include myself) get caught Today's column is "TKTKTK" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.up in the most trivial, ephemeral matters, like summer flies buzzing around the freshest dunghill.

paragraph indent“How small this will appear a twelvemonth hence!” Samuel Johnson remarked about the latest news of his day. I forget what it was — probably something political. It’s in politics that men are always aggravating the hopeless tangle of their laws, obscuring the simplest principles and making a mockery of liberty.

paragraph indentTake our civil rights laws — please. The term civil rights has come to mean the opposite of what it suggests. People think it means individual freedom, when it usually means government power used in behalf of large groups (anyone Ted Kennedy calls a “minority”). Some lawyers specialize in the field of civil rights, always a bad sign.

paragraph indentIf freedom means anything, it means the natural right to choose your own company. This is precisely what civil rights denies. If the government dislikes your choice of associates, in a business or a school perhaps, it can punish you for the offense of “discrimination.”

paragraph indentNow, discrimination used to be a perfectly good word. It meant the ability to tell things apart. We praised people for being discriminate or discriminating. You discriminated “between,” not “against.” Then the word unfortunately became associated chiefly with invidious forms of discrimination. Now its primary meaning is almost forgotten.

paragraph indentIn the 1993 movie Philadelphia, a homosexual lawyer contracts AIDS and is fired by the law firm he works for. He sues, claiming he is a victim of discrimination — that is, a victim of others’ decision to avoid him. He doesn’t even suggest that the firm has violated any agreement it had made with him. Discrimination is bad, that’s all, and it overrides the firm’s right to choose and dismiss its members.

paragraph indentNeedless to say, the film stacks the deck emotionally. The homo is shown as an entirely sympathetic character. We aren’t told, let alone shown, how he got a fatal disease — innocently, we are invited to assume, since there is apparently nothing wrong with sodomy. His case is taken by another lawyer, a very nice black man who, however, has to overcome his own prejudices against homosexuals (and lesbians).

[Breaker quote for The Cheap Pathos of Civil Rights: The tangle of the laws]paragraph indentThe firm’s senior lawyers, on the other hand, are shown as a clubby group of smug hypocrites (all white, by the way) who, among themselves, make nasty comments and jokes about homosexuals. They lie about why they fired the homo. Obviously such men can have no right to freedom of association. They are guilty — of discrimination. And of general unpleasantness, too.

paragraph indentThe good homosexual finally wins his case in court. Then, alas, he dies. We are supposed to feel that his cause has been vindicated because he’s such a decent, pitiful fellow and his enemies aren’t. Hollywood honored the film with several academy awards.

paragraph indentIt’s pretty hard to miss the symbolism of a black lawyer defending a homosexual. The torch is being passed to a new generation of victims. The blacks have already won their civil rights; now it’s the homos’ turn.

paragraph indentAll of which leaves the original question unanswered. Or rather, the answer is assumed without argument. Do we have the right to choose our company? No, says the movie.

paragraph indentIt could have been a much better drama if the law firm had raised the principle in court instead of lying about the facts. But that would have been quite unrealistic, because the principle at stake is long gone. The only question left is which side can make the strongest assault on the audience’s tear ducts.

paragraph indentMovies like Philadelphia don’t need, or want, emotional complications any more than intellectual ones. What if the hero had had some rough edges — self-pity, promiscuity, contempt for others’ rights? What if his adversaries had been scrupulously honest and even regretful about firing him?

paragraph indentNever mind. The movie matches the level of debate we are now seeing in the U.S. Congress, where defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman is called — what else? — “discrimination.” You expect cheap pathos in the movies, but must we endure it in politics too?

paragraph indentCome to think of it, I guess we must. You know what Socrates said about democracy.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of Griffin Internet Syndicate

small Griffin logo
Send this article to a friend.

Recipient’s e-mail address:
(You may have multiple e-mail addresses; separate them by spaces.)

Your e-mail address:

Enter a subject for your e-mail:

Mailarticle © 2001 by Gavin Spomer
Archive Table of Contents

Current Column

Return to the SOBRANS home page.

FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.

Search This Site

Search the Web     Search SOBRANS

What’s New?

Articles and Columns by Joe Sobran
 FGF E-Package “Reactionary Utopian” Columns 
  Wanderer column (“Washington Watch”) 
 Essays and Articles | Biography of Joe Sobran | Sobran’s Cynosure 
 The Shakespeare Library | The Hive
 WebLinks | Books by Joe 
 Subscribe to Joe Sobran’s Columns 

Other FGF E-Package Columns and Articles
 Sam Francis Classics | Paul Gottfried, “The Ornery Observer” 
 Mark Wegierski, “View from the North” 
 Chilton Williamson Jr., “At a Distance” 
 Kevin Lamb, “Lamb amongst Wolves” 
 Subscribe to the FGF E-Package 

Products and Gift Ideas
Back to the home page 


SOBRANS and Joe Sobran’s columns are available by subscription. Details are available on-line; or call 800-513-5053; or write Fran Griffin.

Reprinted with permission
This page is copyright © 2006 by The Vere Company
and may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of The Vere Company.