Bad Thomas Jefferson! Bad!


So, setting the stage:
There’s been a lot of references to Thomas Jefferson used as support for “rebellion” of late—”rebellion” in quotes because people like Newt Gingrich seem to want to use it as red meat and then immediately walk it back, saying they meant only “political rebellion,” like Jefferson meant, not any of that nasty shooting and killing that someone might do but Newt wouldn’t want to be accused of fomenting.
I figured it was worth looking at what Jefferson really said, and posted a portion of this quote at my Facebook page:

The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.
…And what country can preserve its liberties, if it’s rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two?

One poster responded, “So basically, Jefferson’s contention was that every once in a while you have to kill a couple of idiots to preserve the nation?”
My response was: “Pretty much. That uninformed morons will rebel every now and then, and that’s okay, because it does remind the government that the people hold the ultimate power, and hey, it’s no big deal if you kill a few morons in the process of straightening them out. Keeps everyone on their toes,” adding:
“I don’t think it’s anywhere near close to the smartest thing Jefferson said. I just find it amusing that some people are quoting Jefferson as justification for ‘rebellion’ and they don’t seem to know what he really said about people driven by misinformed discontent.”
Minutes thereafter, this site got the following e-mail:
I just wanted to say that you’re one of my favorite comic book writers and that I love Astro City. I’ve turned several of my friends onto the comics and consider the Confessor story-arc to be one of the best ever.
So it saddens me to have made the decision to not buy any more of your comics. I don’t appreciate your comments on facebook about the “uninformed morons” that are “rebelling” against the government. But whatever. You won’t care about losing one fan.

I figured I’d respond here for a couple of reasons:
1. Matt, the reader, sent it here rather than, say, responding on Facebook.
2. I’m in general opposed to the idea of economic punishment, which is what sending the e-mail here rather than responding where he read my comments seems to be aimed at: “You don’t agree with me politically so I will reduce your income, and I’m letting you know so maybe you’ll feel punished at having offended me.”
So here’s my answer:
Matt, thanks very much for the kind words about Astro City. I’m glad you liked it, glad you shared it with others, and I appreciate your letting me know.
But as noted, I’m not wild about the message you’re trying to send, or at least that I think you’re trying to send. I believe the proper response to speech you don’t like is more speech, to vigorously debate ideas in the public square, as it were, rather than to try to silence people you disagree with by punishing them for that disagreement.
That said, you’re absolutely entitled to stop buying my books, for any reason you choose to. You don’t need to justify it at all; it’s entirely your choice. Me, if I felt constrained to stop buying books by people who disagreed with me politically, I’d start off by losing one of my favorites, Bill Willingham’s Fables, and I’d cost myself the work of Chuck Dixon, too, which I think would be a real loss. Bill rarely says stuff online that offends me, but Chuck does, Ethan van Sciver does…but I figure that’s their right, and I’d rather read their work than try to curtail their speech. I’m not buying what they say online. I buy what they write and draw. If I didn’t like what they write and draw, I wouldn’t buy it, but I’ll make my choice based on the material, not political opinions expressed outside the material. And if I felt moved to argue with them, I’d argue, pitting speech against speech.
But that’s my choice, not yours.
I do find it a little sadly ironic that in objecting to me calling people—I assume you’re referencing Tea Party people—”uninformed morons” who are “rebelling” against the government, you missed that I was summarizing Jefferson’s position, not actually agreeing with it. He felt that there would be people who would not be “well informed,” and that they would be “discontented,” all the more discontented based on how important the stuff was they were wrong about. And he felt that the proper response was to “set them right” and “pacify” them, and if people died in the process, he didn’t think that was too great a price to pay.
That was Jefferson. And I doubt he was referring to the Tea Party activists, because he’s been dead for a few years.
But to be fair, I do think the Tea Party crowd fits the first part of his definition pretty well, myself, protesting taxes at a time they’re at their lowest in decades (and while most of them feel their own taxes are fair), objecting to “socialism” without being able to define it, while they support Medicare and V.A. benefits, and so on. So if that’s the part you object to, well, I’ll stand with Tom, and you can refuse to buy either of our works. [His, though, are in the public domain now, so refusing to buy the Declaration of Independence wouldn’t cost him anything.]
I don’t agree with him that killing rebels is no great price to pay, though. I think anyone dying over this current political flap would be (and has been) a stupid and senseless tragedy, which is why I also see irony in people waving around the words of Thomas Jefferson to support “rebellion,” without understanding that Jefferson thought rebellion and subsequent pacification, with blood spilled, was a pretty good way to shake out the misinformed and educate the populace.
As for whether I care about losing one fan—of course I do. I’m glad of every reader I’ve got, I’m sorry at every reader I lose, and I’m pleased at every reader I pick up, which is why I’m glad that you shared Astro City with friends. Where I draw the line, though, is at letting readers dictate to me what I can and can’t say on Facebook, Twitter, this blog or wherever else. If I’m expected to muzzle myself rather than lose readers…well, in that case, yes, I’d rather lose the readers.
So thanks very much for your support, it’s greatly appreciated. And sorry to see you go. I hope you’ll reconsider at some point, and if you do, I hope you like whatever you pick up.

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