by Jake Block
You decide to protest some cause that you find personally insulting, so you choose to show your anger by setting fire to the flag of the United States. You “rip that rag” from the nearest flagpole, dowse it in the flammable liquid you brought with you to the event, scream your motto, “DEATH TO WHATEVER,” strike the match and… Burning the flag is legal, as a form of protest.
The United States Supreme Court, in Texas vs. Johnson (491 U.S. 397 (1989) and reaffirmed in US vs. Eichman (491 US 310 (1990) has ruled that it is unconstitutional for a government (federal, state or municipality) to prohibit the desecration of a flag, as it is considered “symbolic speech.” However, this does not protect the protester from ancillary charges stemming from illegality, i.e., burning a flag that is not personally owned by the protestor, as in taken down from private property or otherwise stolen, or if in burning the flag, it is in violation of a broader based prohibition against burning in general.
So, owning the flag, you decide to protest and as you set the cloth ablaze, you are immediately beaten senseless by someone for whom your burning of the flag is at least as repulsive as the situation your are protesting. Sure… they’re breaking the law in assaulting you, and I’m sure that they are shaking in their boots as they walk away from you, laying there on the ground calling for a cop. Bring up the sound of R.L. Burnside singing “It’s bad, you know.”
I feel for ya, but you have run square in the chest of the Principle of Expected Consequence, or otherwise stated, an average person could have logically expected consequences resulting from their action. This isn’t concerned with the legality or even the morality of the consequence… just that one could (and should) extrapolate that his action could and probably would result in reaction. In expecting a consequence, one can at least try to mitigate the results. For most people, “mitigation” at this point boils down to whining and complaining to anyone who will listen how “THEY,” or “THEM” censored them or denied them their rights.
The Principle of Expected Consequence extends to just about every facet of our lives, far beyond social protest. If you go out on a date with a woman for the first time and, upon taking her back to her apartment, grab her breast and go in for a kiss, shoving your tongue down her throat, you have to know that there will be a consequence. Now, in your mind, you’re expecting this woman you hardly know to melt into your arms, begging for more as she drags you into her apartment, shedding clothes along the way. In this case, I would urge you to consider the much more likely consequence of a knee to the crotch and a kick to the face as you sink to your knees in pain. “Thanks, hon… nice date.”
You’ll tell your friends how this hottie was all into you and then she went into “psycho bitch mode” when you called her bluff. You didn’t even see it coming. Mitigation. The problem is that you could have avoided the painful kick by simply using common sense and realizing that your action was almost sure to result in a reaction. And even if for an instant your mind told you that this might not be a great idea, your lack of analytically astute decision making let you down and the unexpected… although predictable… action was brought into play.
On and on it goes, day in and day out. People do offensive things because they figure it’s their right, either by law or because they’re being adversarial to the law or custom of the land. And I’ll give it to them. They may have the right, or take the right, but in doing so they also must consider the consequences, right or wrong, for what could happen to them if they do something that is designed to be offensive to someone else who might respond and respond in force. Then they play the victim, but in this world, my friends, there are no victims, just volunteers.
The real problem isn’t that shit happens, but that you don’t even consider that it COULD. It’s the Principle of Expected Consequence. You may not like it, and you may not respect it, but I’m here to tell you, you’d better EXPECT IT.