Monday, January 10, 2011

Arizona Assassin - Fueled By Political Rage?

The grim and deadly attack on a member of Congress, a child, a Federal judge, and the public in general all gathered for a question and answer session with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is prompting much speculation and debate - especially on the notion that America's current political climate is a hothouse of hatred and blossoming violence.

Let's be honest about one thing - America, along with the most of the planet, is a world of political violence. People do horrifying things to one another while claiming to pursue higher purposes.

The assassin's motives and "reason" are largely unknown at this time. That may change, or the speculation may forever muddy the questions about his motives.

In the last few years, certainly, the language and ideas swirling together in the realm of politics has been vicious, violent and hateful. But, seeking blame and/or reason for the heinous attack makes a chilling error, according to some thoughts from Slate writer Jack Shafer, whose thoughts bear the headline "The awesome stupidity of calls to tamp down political speech in wake of the Gifford's shooting" -

The call by Sheriff Dupnik and others to take our political conversation down a few notches might make sense if anybody had been calling for the assassination in the first place, which they hadn't. And if they had, there are effective laws to prosecute those who move language outside of the metaphorical. I can't be overly critical of the sheriff. After all, he's the one who has spent his career witnessing how threats can turn into violence: gang wars, contract killings, neighborhood rows, domestic disputes, bar arguments, and all the rest.

The great miracle of American politics is that although it can tend toward the cutthroat and thuggish, it is almost devoid of genuine violence outside of a few scuffles and busted lips now and again. With the exception of Saturday's slaughter, I'd wager that in the last 30 years there have been more acts of physical violence in the stands at Philadelphia Eagles home games than in American politics.

Any call to cool "inflammatory" speech is a call to police all speech, and I can't think of anybody in government, politics, business, or the press that I would trust with that power.

Shafer also adds sarcasm to his article (perhaps not the wisest decision given the deaths caused by the assassin) -

The wicked direction the American debate often takes is not a sign of danger but of freedom. And I'll punch out the lights of anybody who tries to take it away from me."

In response, Alex Parene at Salon provides a host of speakers, videos and more to catalog the constant drumbeat in recent years for violence against those in government:

At what point do the people tell the politicians to go to hell? At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?

At some point soon, it will happen. It’ll be over an innocuous issue.

Parene's list is hardly complete, but it provides a good glimpse of those seeking power being willing to offer language which is meant to incite action, from /radio/TV/internet rants and from politicians too.

When this is the bed you make, you can't be too shocked when monsters hide under it."

And Arizona is certainly in the grip of political and unprecedented financial turmoil on almost every front, as this article from Harper's in 2010 clearly indicates - cutting out programs to aid the sick, the poor, those seeking public education and much, much more.

Just last week I wrote about how the cable "news" outlets present information as a battle between two forces locked forever in combat - but it's a "battle" created to gain ratings, not to report information for the public good. So these tactics too bring distorted realities forward. It's a game in which we all lose.

Will we continue to fall under the intoxicating spell of anger or will we begin instead to demand better of ourselves and of those who claim to speak for us?

SEE ALSO: Newcoma writes about the tragedy and the questions left in it's wake.

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