In olden times blasphemers and others were placed in the pillory or stocks and subjected to public abuse. People could throw anything they wished and the victim could not move. Besides rotten fruit and fish, people threw rocks and faeces. If the victim was kept for days, this abuse could be fatal.

With the advent of social media we have invented a new kind of public piling on used to punish people for things such as racism the public finds offensive. It is a growing practice that raises fundamental ethical questions. It could be used against atheists as well as racists.

I have no sympathy for Donald Sterling, the racist owner of the Clippers basketball team—he seems like an ugly personality completely unworthy of sympathy—but the remarks attributed to him were made in private.

I am uncomfortable with the notion that private thoughts and statements are a sufficient reason for public sanctions. When someone makes racist comments in public, they may be a detriment to the business or public office they represent, and they may be punished by removal from their position, but private thoughts and comments are a different matter to my mind.

What happens after something like this is made public, is that everyone piles on and there is no going back to the previous state of affairs. People add insults as a way of patting themselves on the back for not being racist and showing that their own hands are clean. That seems craven.

I'm interested in what people here think about this question. Should we punish people for saying things in private that the public considers offensive? Should people be punished for what they think?

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I do think it's scary that what people say and do in private can become public at any time due to modern technology.  Do we have to suppose that every time we open our mouths we are being recorded?

That being said, I'm not sorry that that idiot is banned.  But who recorded that and gave it to the media?  Is that legal?

I agree that the NBA is better off without Sterling. He's a despicable person from all that I've heard. The speed with which the whole thing happened is amazing—the tapes were released on Friday and on Tuesday he was finished.

I mentioned this in an earlier reply, but the recording was given to the gossip site TMZ and the sports gossip site Deadspin; they ran with the story almost immediately (as in early Saturday morning). From what I've read, the recording was made illegally under California law; why the person who made the recording did it isn't clear.

No doubt we haven't heard the end of this one.

Mindy, you can count on our communication being available to anyone who wants it. I discovered the genealogy records show my father and his mother being married to each other. Not all communication is accurate. 

That said, how does one deal with not being able to control who has access to our records?

1. Put no trail online.

2. Talk to people privately and personally in the open air with no trees or shrubs nearby and lots of ambient noises. 

3. Write everything on paper with disappearing ink and burn it as soon as the other reads it. 

4. It gets kind of ridiculous, doesn't it?

I can see how racist attitudes in a basketball team owner would bother basketball players a lot, since most of the basketball players are black.  I'm not sure if it would be likely to have a practical effect on them, but maybe it would.

However, I wonder whether there's a rush to judgement on this.  Sterling's side claims that this is a accusation that may have been fabricated for revenge.  Banning him for life on dubious evidence, if that's what's happened, is unfair. 

If Sterling had better advice on handling the media, he might have fared better. He needed to make a statement to the effect that his sentiments were recorded in the middle of a disagreement with his girlfriend without his knowledge and that he said many things he regrets. He needed to do that right away, instead he let the storm build without making any comment. One wonders what he was thinking.

Given Sterling's history, it's not likely he was thinking at all.

I like your principle, Allan, and I take it seriously. Your statement, " People add insults as a way of patting themselves on the back for not being racist and showing that their own hands are clean " is probably true, and it may be true for me. However, adding comments in support of people who have been put-down, discounted, trivialized or demonized seems to me to be an expression of disapproval of racism, sexism ... or whatever. Remaining silent in the face of bigotry, public or private, is not the answer. 

I feel strongly about this because of the way silent bigotry is as harmful as public bigotry. It exists as an undercurrent of thought that goes against our stated goals of equality of opportunity for all. I know, we have never had that goal fulfilled in this country and probably never will. On the other hand, if one remains silent in the face of evidence to the contrary, that undercurrent can be strong and influential. 

When I lived in Texas, people would be so polite and proper with Mexican, until there were no Mexicans within earshot. Then the ugliest racism poured from people who feigned support of equality. 

I also think of the silent support of family violence until the doors and windows close and the emotional, mental and physical violence begins. Civil behavior is not only a public stand, it is a private one. How do we stamp out pre-judgment? By making a loud noise in face of such behaviors wherever they occur. 

Obviously, I am not speaking as an attorney, but as a person who has witnessed and experienced hatred of one toward another because of traditional values. 

Silence is an essential part of bigotry.  In theory almost nobody advocates being unfair.  But the unfairness happens anyway - because it's sneaky, because people don't think they're discriminating when they are.  People want to look good, so they "toe the line" on racial issues - and figure that's all they need to do. 

people would be so polite and proper with Mexican, until there were no Mexicans within earshot. Then the ugliest racism poured from people who feigned support of equality.

And the Mexicans probably knew exactly what was going on. 

I am not supporting Sterling at all, just questioning the process in which everyone feels free to pile on.

There are certain accusations which can destroy a person's reputation and no amount of countering will clear the air. One is child sexual abuse, another is racism. Here in California we had the McMartin case in which fantastic charges were made of child abuse and Satanic rituals in 1983. In 1990 after the most expensive criminal trial in all United States history, no convictions were obtained and all the charges were dropped. However several lives were ruined in the process.

Those accused may be innocent until proved guilty, but that is only in the eyes of the law. In the public eye they may be judged guilty instantly and suffer consequences no matter how the legal case ends. It's mob justice, but it makes money for the media.

A long time ago a member of our family was accused of rape by a young woman who had spent the night with him and needed to explain it to her boyfriend. The young man accused was subjected to abuse by friends and others on his campus who valiantly took up the young woman's cause. When he came up for trial, the accuser did not show up. The judge had the bailiff call her and she said she was too busy to testify. The truth was she was afraid to testify falsely under oath. The charges were dismissed with prejudice, but the young man could not return to his campus where sentiment ran strong against him no matter what the legal conclusions were. People are too quick to assume guilt on the mere basis of accusations.

Alan, what you stated reminds me of the trial, in the 1950's, where CBS news correspondent John Henry Faulk filed suit against a private 'investigative' agency, backed by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, having accused Faulk of being a communist. After 5 years in Court, Faulk finally won the defamation suit. But, after the verdict, his most salient question was something to the effect of, "Now, who do I see about getting my reputation back."

Exactly! That is a fundamental question!

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