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June 21, 2004

Shock: Oliver Willis Actually Makes a Good Point

It's an altogether obvious point, but let us not quibble. When a horse adds 2 + 1 together and gets 3, you don't carp that he didn't precisely solve Fermat's Last Theorem or split an atom.

Laurence Simon unfairly compares the South Korean hostage begging for his life with the Italian hostage who told his captors Iiet u sangua.

Two points:

1) The Italian hostage was about to be killed, and he knew it. His bravery in the face of death is laudable, but a man who knows he's about to die may become liberated from fear when he comprehends his unavoidable fate.

On the other hand, the South Korean hostage does not yet know he's definitely going to die, and someone can and should be sympathetic to a man trying to appease his captors and thereby find a way to survive.

2) What Fabrizio Quattrocchi did and said is laudable not because he exhibited commonplace courage, but because he displayed uncommon valor. Quattrocchie set a high bar for dignity and defiance in the face of death; let us not pretend that all men are capable of such. His death is laudable precisely because few men have such outsized balls.

You would praise a man for risking his life to enter a burning building four times to save people trapped therein. You certainly wouldn't praise other men for not doing so -- indeed, you'd probably denigrate them -- but you also wouldn't taunt them as sissies.

We might all like to imagine we'd respond as Quattrocchi did, but until we're faced with that situation, imagining is very cheap and also very safe. And by suggesting that that's the sort of thing that any man could or should do in that situation, we denigrate Quattrocchi's defiance as run-of-the-mill and mundane.

Update: I don't want to pick a fight with Laurence Simon, although I stand by my (now modified) statement that this comparison was unfair.

He seems to be saying that he didn't intend this comment to denigrate the South Korean hostage. I'll take him at his word; no one wants to get into that tedious "But you saaaaaaid" crap.

But, if he only intended to point out the exceptional courage of Quattrocchi, there were clearer ways of doing so. He might have said, "Watching the spectacle of the South Korean hostage -- an average man with average courage -- being forced to plead for his very life highlights the courage of Fabrizio Quattrocchi, who told his captors in no uncertain terms what they could do with themselves and how vigorously they ought to do so."

I can only repeat: I don't think it's fair to apparently denigrate this South Korean hostage, who is probably only doing what 95% of the population would do in his stead.

And I think that Simon's post also unintentionally denigrates Quattrocchi, at least as written (if not as intended). We praise exceptional courage because it is, in fact, exceptional. If we choose our words poorly and suggest that it is not exceptional courage at all, but rather the normal default-level of courage that we all should have and be judged against, we denigrate that courage.

Ace Backs Off Update: Laurence, I'm not so much "backing off" as generously affording you a dignified path of retreat and re-statement.

I'm a big believer in helping someone to untangle his own ego-driven impulse to prove himself blameless from the more-important need to correct and re-state what has been wrongly or badly written previously.

I'm good like that. Ask anyone. I'm all fuckin' heart.

digg this
posted by Ace at 05:17 PM

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