Are Words More Harmful Than Actions? A Contrarian’s View

Are Words More Harmful Than Actions? A Contrarian’s View

With all the talk of violent rhetoric inspiring real bloodshed, the recent manslaughter conviction of Michelle Carter in Massachusetts just adds fuel to the controversy. Granted, the case of Carter, now twenty, who urged her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to take his own life, is not the same as violent political speech, but the question remains: can words kill? Most conservatives don’t think so, including Rush Limbaugh in a recent rant. But one can also make the case that words do kill, and those whose language is hateful and lethal should be held accountable. Limbaugh adamantly opposed the verdict and hoped that it would be overturned. This sets a dangerous precedent, he said, given that Carter was miles away, urging Roy on via texts. The young man was responsible for his own death. Her behavior was reprehensible, according to Limbaugh, but he went on to lampoon the idea that according to liberals, Roy was a victim. Limbaugh has always been a vocal proponent of the idea that individuals should be held accountable for their actions, and not blame them on the words or persuasion of others. That is, indeed, a hallmark of conservative thought. On the other hand, a hallmark of civilized thought, accepted by everyone but the occasional grenade-thrower, is that you can’t yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater. In other words, say pretty much what you want, but not if your words cause immediate, foreseeable harm. Some will argue that the ‘crowded theater’ analogy doesn’t work well here since Carter was not urging a mob to mass violence. True, but to the extent that the analogy does...