Sunday, June 13, 2004

I’m incited

(I started off just linking to this article with a short, huffy: “Bloody French!” comment, then thought about it a little. Then some more. Then talked it over with M. So it’s turned into an essay. Looks like this blog is going to be one of those ‘big posts every few days’ and ‘just interesting observations on life once in a while’ ones. Better that than telling you the flavour of marmalade I had for breakfast every day, eh?)

Brigitte Bardot has this week been fined by the EU for ‘inciting racial hatred’.

I really do take issue with is the idea that one person can ‘incite’ another into an action and that they are as responsible as the person who acted for the consequences of that action. I see it as treating the intervening person - the human that actually took the action - as a mindless conduit between the ‘inciter’ and the victim of the action.

The idea of incitement fails to take into account that the person who was ‘incited’ into an action is a fully cognizant human being. We’re not talking about winding up a toy car and pointing it in the desired direction, we’re talking about instilling an idea or ideas into someone’s mind and then them deciding to go and do something with those ideas. Whether or not the ‘inciter’ also suggests a course of action, as long as the ‘incited’ has the power to act freely, they are solely responsible for their actions.

We are all continually bombarded with opinions. Some better formed than others, some better communicated, some that make sense, some that are completely laughable. The power we all have is to filter them, consider them, accept and reject them as we see fit.

Matthew and I sat down to talk about this last night, as I found it to be a pretty interesting exercise. We came up with the following scenarios that may be pertinent to the discussion, as each would currently be considered ‘incitement’. We agreed, though, that only in the last can the person generating the idea be held jointly accountable with the person actually carrying out the action.


1 – The ‘inciter’ publishes works (physical books, pamphlets or web pages, blogs etc.) and simply distributes their ideas to an audience. Someone in the audience is triggered to action by a concept in the writings.

Clearly, here the ‘inciter’ has no contact with the ‘incited’, they merely happen to produce the work of fiction or non-fiction that triggers the ‘incited’ into an action. If someone is already inclined to a point of view or already leaning toward taking action, sometimes all it takes is something correctly worded to reinforce their point of view and set the chain of events in motion.

In this situation, the ‘incited’ acts of their own volition. They make the choice to agree with the ‘inciter’s notions and then make another choice to perpetrate some action that they believe to be in line with the idea/s.

(If we really wanted to ban anything that would trigger thoughts that could possibly lead to undesirable action, we would have to make the distribution of any ‘subversive’ ideas illegal. Many works of fiction would have to be banned as they describe situations and thoughts that are not essentially ideal. Anything that is not completely in line with the current government’s policies would be off limits. Philosophical works would also be banned lest the populace somehow think its way into some unforeseen course of action.)

2 – The ‘inciter’ actually interrelates with the ‘incited’, describing his ideas and their reasoning. This would be best illustrated in the relationship between a mentor and his pupil or a master and his acolyte. The student specifically spends time with the teacher to learn what he considers to be valuable knowledge.

This kind of situation happens quite often outside the strict teacher/pupil scenario. Most of us are keen to learn and enjoy talking with those who hold firm views and are able to explain them. I can list quite a few people in my life who have taught me things over time and long, long, long conversations.

This kind of knowledge/opinion transfer can also happen with leaders of movements, political parties, groups and cults.

Clearly in this scenario, as long as the student is free to act of his own volition, he is completely responsible for his actions – even if their root cause is the ideas that the teacher has instilled in the student’s mind.

(If this were policed, we would not longer be allowed to voice non-state-vetoed opinions aloud to others.)

3 – The ‘inciter’ interrelates with the ‘incited’, describing his ideas and suggesting courses of action.

This scenario is just like the one above, however the ‘inciter’ also describes his ideas for solutions to whatever problems he sees around him. This could be as mild as peaceful protests or as violent as state-instituted gas chambers.

Irrespective of the stupidity or evil of those ‘solutions’ to problems, the student still has the power to accept or reject them as solutions. He further has the choice to personally act on them.

(If this were policed, we would no longer be able to debate with friends our ideas as to fixing the state of the world.)

And here we come to the last – the only example that is true incitement:-

4 – The ‘inciter’ forces the ‘incited’ into action or instructs the incited, with or without exchange of money/items of value.

Here, the scenario changes quite considerably in one of two ways.

4a - Where earlier the ‘incited’ had the choice to act, now the ‘incited’ is threatened with some harm if he does not commit the action the ‘inciter’ wishes performed.

In this case, the ‘incited’ is not left with a valid choice. Ignore all the silly Hollywood movies showing a moral struggle of a victim instructed to do something at the point of a gun. The moral responsibility is no longer the victim’s, as the choices are not theirs – merely the false choices of a false scenario invented by the perpetrator of violence against them.

So here we see that the fault, hence the responsibility, is solely that of the ‘inciter’.

4b – The ‘incited’ is instructed as to a course of action and agrees to fulfil it either of his own volition or is paid to fulfil it (he becomes a proxy of the ‘inciter’).

Here, both are party to the action and jointly responsible for its repercussions. The ‘incited’ because he is still free to make the decision to take the action, the ‘inciter’ because he is fully aware of and supportive of the action before it takes place.


I glance at my bookshelf and shudder to think at how many books I have that may ‘incite’ me into some course of action. The Creature from Jekyll Island might make me want to find the nearest Rothschild and take vengeance for years of murky dealings with America’s money supply, The Skeptical Environmentalist might provoke me to lob things at the nearest dreadlocked hippie freak or his besuited representative at environmental conferences, The Prince might induce me to start a bloody war to take over the world …

We know that the literary world is scattered with more opinions than there are stars in the night sky. If we turn to websites and weblogs, that number considerably increases – the latter often being completely uncensored stream-of-consciousness musings from people of considerably far ranging political and personal points of view.

So why is it that Bardot has been singularly attacked for deigning to publicly state her opinion?

It’s very clear that she is not actually ‘inciting’ anyone to do anything. She is merely stating her (let’s face it, slightly scatterbrained) opinion on a contentious topic.

It’s also a patently silly accusation. ‘Inciting racial hatred’. Racial hatred is not an action, it’s an idea, a thought, an opinion. She is essentially being charged with potentially changing someone’s mind.

The reason I think that this court ruling is so very dangerous is that it sets the precedent for anyone who is particularly upset or disturbed by an author’s opinions to take legal action against that author for the crime of…of?’s an interesting one. There is no crime – simply the possibility that someone in the future may pick up the tome or read the website and perhaps decide on a course of action because of the arguments presented in the writing.

I think Bardot’s crime was to be a celebrity author stating rather silly opinions at a time when it’s not simply immoral but illegal to hold sexist, racist, homophobic or otherwise intolerant world views.

I would go into the last statement in more detail, but that would take another three pages to fully explain. Another time, then.

(Edited for grammatical errors 14/06/04 @ 16:18)

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