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When The Shoe’s On The Other Foot


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Jonah Goldberg

WHEN THE SHOE’S ON THE OTHER FOOT
My e-mail in-box provides the best evidence to date that hate-crime laws will lead to nothing but ruin. I have gotten about a dozen e-mails about Jesse Dirkhising.

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Who is Jesse Dirkhising? Well, you wouldn’t know it from the press, but he was a thirteen-year-old Arkansas boy who was horribly raped and tortured over a two-day period about a month ago. He was tied up by two homosexual “lovers” who stuffed Jesse’s mouth with his own underwear, wrapped the gag with duct tape, tied him to the bed, and then repeatedly sodomized him in various ways. The boy eventually died from asphyxiation while the murderers were making a sandwich in the kitchen.

Obviously, this is the sort of crime that makes even death-penalty opponents scratch their trigger fingers. Of course, this is the sort of crime that reminds us that there are real monsters in the world (See G-File 7/9/99). Of course, next to the tragedy of a small child dying a slow, painful, and frightening death completely alone save for the laughter of jackals ringing in his ears, every other injustice seems small and petty.

But there is another tragedy. It is the inevitable feeling of rage that people feel at the selective outrage of the media and the identity politics Brahmins. Readers ask me, “Where is the outrage we had over Matthew Shepard?” Indeed, why does the horrible murder of one gay man warrant thousands of hours of news and millions of gallons of ink while the snuffing of this child by two gay men warrants a few local wire reports and the angry shouts of a few radio hosts?

The tragedy is not the lack of coverage. The tragedy is the question itself.

Indeed, the logic of hate crimes demands people to ask such questions. The Washington Times, to its credit, has paid attention to the murder of Jesse Dirkhising. But look how the conservative paper has covered it.

On Friday, the Times headlined, “Media tune out torture death of Arkansas boy; Homosexuals charged with rape, murder.” The news wasn’t Dirkhising’s murder, it was the coverage — or lack thereof — of the murder. Joyce Price, the author of the story, questioned gay leaders and media experts about the double standard. “This has nothing to do with gay people,” David Smith, the spokesman of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, told the Times.

Well, why doesn’t it? If the cultural or ethnic status of a victim warrants wall-to-wall coverage in one instance, but that same status is utterly irrelevant in another case, it’s only understandable that some people will notice. Which is what is so pernicious with identity politics in general.

If one side of an argument claims that their ethnicity, race, or sexual preference makes them special, those left out of the “coalition of the oppressed” will feel slighted. Their racial consciousness becomes heightened. They will start counting slights and insults in the same way. They had Matthew Shepard, say the people sending me e-mail; well, we have Jesse Dirkhising.

This is the path to Bosnia. This is the ghost of ancient conservatism rearing its ugly head. The evidence is everywhere. They are the ones who use phrases like “people of color,” which is grammatically and logically indistinguishable from “colored people.” With the cult of victimization coming full flower in this country, we have put certain groups on pedestals instead of on equal footing.

In their worst manifestations, they have adopted a vile European conservatism that even our “slave-holding, misogynist” Founding Fathers thoroughly rejected. They follow the thinking of the arch-reactionary Comte Joseph de Maistre, who served as the continental champion of conservatism against Edmund Burke, the father of Anglo-American conservatism. Known as the first and most forceful philosopher of the counter-revolution, de Maistre was an ultra-monarchist — confident in the king’s immutable otherness. He rejected the French and American Constitutions because they recognized a universal mankind of the all-men-are-created-equal variety. De Maistre found this ridiculous: “Now, there is no such thing as ‘man’ in this world. I have seen in my life French, Italians, Russians … But as for ‘man,’ I declare that I have never met one in my life; if he exists, it is entirely without my knowledge.”

It isn’t hard to imagine that any one of a hundred prominent academics might say, “I have seen in my life white Americans, black Americans, black female Americans, hermaphroditic gay Americans — but as for “American,” I declare that I have never met one in my life …”

We have had such aristocracies before. In the old world that de Maistre revered, anyone caught violating “sumptuary laws” — which circumscribed wardrobe, speech, deed, and if provable, thought — could be summarily executed. Henry VIII, for example, declared that no man below the rank of earl could “wear cloth of gold or silver, or silk of purple color” in an effort to maintain a color-coding system for the lower classes. Speech codes were in effect everywhere, dictating every syllable of polite conversation. This is where formal tenses and even the royal “we” come from. In Japan, the emperor even had his own personal, unique language. Offending the ear of a nobleman was often a worse crime than killing a peasant — at least the punishment was likely more severe.

Our new aristocracy may be comprised of people who historically have been victims, but so what? That may make it feel more noble, but it is still wrong. And, as tempting as it might be, the Right shouldn’t be enticed into playing that game.

Which brings us back to poor Jesse Dirkhising. As the Times story suggests, it seems clear that, at least at some level, the media doesn’t want to report on this story because the perpetrators are gay. If this had been two white men with a black child; if this had been two straight men torturing a gay teen; if this had been Christians brutalizing a Jewish kid, if, if, if, one suspects the coverage would be different. It may not be, as some suggest, that the press is interested in protecting gays — the media isn’t that monolithically conspiratorial. Instead, it could simply be that the media doesn’t think Jesse Dirkhising is news, while those hypotheticals would be. The result is the same.

And the only way Jesse gets into the headlines is as an example of media bias offered by angry conservatives.



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