In Jan. 15 IssueNews-RegisterBy John Thompson, Columnist
I can't help it; seems that every time a madman goes on a rampage these days my first thoughts are whether or not it was an unhinged right wing nut motivated by the violent rhetoric so common in politics today that set him off.
It was no different the other day when I heard some young man went to congressional member Gabrielle Giffords' meet and greet at, ironically, a "Safeway" grocery store in Tucson, Arizona. Since I could only get the reports via radio, I was kept in the dark until later when I got internet access.
At that time an interesting phenomena began. After seeing bloggers everywhere posting the screenshot from Sarah Palin's website touting gun related imagery in targeting congress members who voted for Obama's health care bill, I myself reposted it. But my written responses were more moderate.
If you've taken the time to read Jared Loughner's postings you know the young man was mentally ill.
He was not in complete touch with reality. Given his age he may very well be an undiagnosed schizophrenic; and having been around more than one, this guy seems to fit the bill.
What is surprising to me is the lack of ability to accept, by some, that violent rhetoric can have unfortunate consequences.
Conservatives are quick to point out that actions have consequences, liberals like to point out that actions also have causes.
It's the ability to recognize the 'cause' part in the 'cause and effect' that's put sensible, reasonable people in the crosshairs of those who increasingly are creating their own alternate reality, right wing universe.
And yes, if you are conservative and your immediate reaction to my using 'crosshairs' as the term of choice as using inappropriate imagery, then you've inadvertently accepted the premise of those who say it can be used irresponsibly.
Is Jared Loughner responsible for his actions? Putting aside the mental illness issue, yes, and as such he will be held responsible for his actions. I've not heard anyone, and I mean anyone, argue that he shouldn't be. But to argue that using irresponsible imagery in politics does not have consequences is being purposefully na´ve, ignorant, or obtuse. Actions have consequences, they also have causes.
One argument is that violent metaphor is used in American speech all the time yet people don't normally go around killing, and this is true. But there's always a limit, and we know, or at least used to know, where it was appropriate. Sure a political candidate may "target" a district. A football team may "smash" their opponent.
A boxer can say he's going to "kill" the other boxer even. But when Mike Tyson said he was going to eat his opponent's children we had the ability to recognize he'd stepped over a boundary into the weird and disturbing.
Honestly it would all be a bit of semantic silliness if it weren't for the vehement and dogged denial of the far right in owning up to any accountability. One argument is that the left does the same.
While I certainly wouldn't deny it, there's a difference, say, between the oft used example of Obama's quote "If they bring a knife, we bring a gun," he said in a speech, and what we hear on a pretty constant basis from some factions of the right. And no, I wasn't concerned.
But if I heard Obama saying that or similar 24/7 on multiple forms of mass communication, then yes, some sort of law of proportion comes into effect and I'd be worried.
Equating the two is the same nonsense that led the "no tolerance" policy in schools to having children who drew a gun on a piece of paper, or brought a butter knife or aspirin to school being suspended.
Let's us a different analogy; let's say we're all in an insane asylum (this shouldn't be difficult to imagine these days). One inmate is constantly screaming how the other inmates should rise up and kill a guard.
Daily, incessantly, in many ways he pushes and cajoles his fellow inmates to kill a guard. Eventually it happens; one of the inmates rises up and kills a guard. Tell me… tell me who in their right mind would say that the only responsible party is the person who carried out the crime?
Of course the one who did it would be held responsible. But so would the inciter.
Seriously, you don't hear politicians saying "It will be a holocaust at the polls," or "I will dine on his guts this November." It would be so disconcertingly out of place that public reaction would not be favorable and the politician would not win. Except these days using ultra-violent rhetoric in politics is gaining acceptability, even favorability.
People are demanding it's their right to freedom of speech. There are those among us who have seemed to have forgotten that temperance in action and speech is a virtue.
Now I'm no fan of an intrusive, overbearing government.
But if you want to see just that, you keep cheering on the Palin's, the Beck's, the Limbaugh's and the even worse, often much worse lesser known's who push fear and violent rhetoric.
If human psychology could not be influenced then our whole consumerist societal construct would not exist, as advertising agencies would have no ability to influence.
In fact it's that we are so all consumed by psychological influence that we lose the ability to reason, to utilize critical thinking. Meditate on that.
In my own estimation it's the fact that psychological influence is so overriding that we see the same, often fallacious, arguments being made that holding violent rhetoric responsible is like blaming McDonald's for an obese person's eating too many Big Macs. No, of course it's the individual persons fault.
But if I have limited access to healthy food, yet easy access Big Mac's pushed in my ears and in my eyes 24/7, eventually they'll end up in my mouth. I hope you can spot my analogy there.
It is the unwillingness to accept, in the larger picture, the consequences of decisions that have often flummoxed me.
Loughner's gun is a great example. His particular gun and clip allowed him to spray bullets from an extra capacity clip. Now, I'm not anti-gun.
But I will tell anyone every time that we have to be willing to accept that one of the consequences of having a society in which easy access to easy to use weapons that can literally kill dozens in seconds is that it will happen. As I constantly find, people are not willing to accept those consequences… beyond putting it all on personal responsibility.
Well personal responsibility won't bring back that little 9 year old girl. Now accept it.
If you'll notice; I never talked of the madman's political views, nor have I condemned violent political rhetoric, instead questioning our denial of reality.
For now, gone may be the days of political pragmatism with the American people, ushered in the days of political nihilism.
And that's all right with me.