The Corner

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Perpetual Issues

Megyn Kelly in 2015 (Brendan McDermid / Reuters)

My Impromptus today is a mélange, a grab-bag, as it’s supposed to be. It begins with notes on the Megyn Kelly affair — have you followed this? — and ends with notes on Florida. (Not political notes, but cultural and natural ones.) In between, you have the politics of Halloween, a political prisoner of Putin, etc.

Re the Kelly affair and our censorious culture: Do you remember this line from Ring Lardner? “Shut up he explained.” These days, that could practically be our national motto.

In this column today, I spend a little time on the question of influence, as I did in my previous column, as it happens: Are individuals responsible for their actions? Of course they are. Are they islands, immune from influence? No, no. Influencers make a difference. I think we all recognize this.

Most of us, I think, would acknowledge that people can influence others for good. Does it not follow that they can influence others for bad? Parents want adults to set good examples for their children. Why is this? Because no man is an island, and people are influenceable, for good or ill.

And I hope it’s not too controversial to say that some people are more influenceable, more impressionable, than others. So, while individuals have responsibility, to be sure, others play a part. To use a simple example: It would be wrong to give a drunk a drink. Sure, he drank it — but you gave it to him, which wasn’t cool.

Let me make a point I have made many times over the years. It’s a point that a lot of us conservatives made in the 1990s. I made it in a 2001 essay, here. This is how we knocked liberals (progressives, McGovernites) in the ’90s.

They took great offense at the idea that song lyrics, rap lyrics, had an influence on the young. Tipper Gore, what a fogey, what a dolt! (Mrs. Gore was doing the Lord’s work, for a while.) But Joe Camel, the cartoon character who advertised cigarettes? Why, the sight of him would get young people hooked on cigarettes, and he had to be effaced immediately!

You see the contradiction. It’s human, probably, to acknowledge influence where you want to, and ignore it where you don’t. To censor when you want to, and be all laissez-faire when you don’t.

I suppose I should say a word — at least one word — about the synagogue massacre. (I wrote my column before it occurred.) Synagogue massacres are supposed to occur in Buenos Aires, carried out by Iran and Hezbollah. But American nazis can handle it here, in Pittsburgh. Wherever you live, and at whatever time, there is no alternative to eternal vigilance. There just isn’t.

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