Monday, January 10, 2011

when I think of the road we're traveling on, I wonder what's gone wrong

So by now, everyone's heard about the shooting in Arizona. Six people were killed, including a 9-year-old, and 14 were injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

There's a lot that's been said about the shooting, much more than I can say. A sampling here:

Slacktivist: "Deadly Violence in Arizona"

Paul Krugman on the "Climate of Hate"

Gail Collins on guns

Feministe on rhetoric

Ta-Nehisi Coates's musings on Loughner

Whether or not Loughner was influenced by the increasingly vitriolic rhetoric over the past few years, and whether or not he saw Sarah Palin's map with crosshairs, let me state the obvious: words are powerful things, and we ought to think before we speak. Or write. Because, hello, language shapes the world. And once we start thinking that it's acceptable to use incendiary, violent language in our political rhetoric, we make it a little bit easier for things like this to happen.

It's also rather frustrating that so many people have jumped to the conclusion that the shooter is mentally ill. Slate has an article about this. (Full disclosure here: I've worked with people who were severely mentally ill, including a few with paranoid schizophrenia. And while they work with, I usually didn't fear that they'd be violent.) And really, would it make it better to think that our mental health system has failed someone so, so completely?

In better news, this gives me a little hope.


  1. Your points are good ones and I like your qualification "whether or not he saw..."; I think Palin's website was vile, but I also think the way many of my more left-leaning Facebook friends have jumped on this to point fingers is also vile. It is a tragedy and an opportunity to reflect on the violent language used on both sides of the aisle to rile up the most vocal members of their "base" but the connection is tenuous at best, and clearly there was more going on.

    We should not turn it into an oroboros of sorts where calling out one case of foul political imagery becomes an opportunity to accuse people of opposing viewpoints of being murderers. Whether Loughner was mentally ill by the clinical definition of the word (and it does an extreme disservice to those who struggle with serious debilitating mental illness to claim he acted out of insanity if he did not), it's valuable to remember that he is one man and that there are millions with Tea Party leanings who would never, ever go on a shooting spree or phone in a death threat. That is, we can reasonably assume that the vast majority of people would not take Palin's targeting reticules as an incitement to literal violence because most didn't. (It's possible that the fact that the country didn't break out into an assassination spree was a statistical aberration, but it's unlikely.)

    Violence against people of opposing viewpoints is probably considered less acceptable now in the US than in any point or place in history. Hopefully figures as public as Palin will take this as a lesson in the future to back down from violent rhetoric, but ultimately it cannot and should not be viewed as the "cause" of this tragedy. Game Designers receive death threats all the time for balancing games poorly; games reviewers for reviewing them "wrong." Some people just have no idea how to cope with people they disagree with. They certainly don't need encouragement from national leaders, but also /they don't need encouragement from national leaders./

    I think the Tea Party is wrong about a lot of things in very serious ways, but I think most of them are just worried about the same stuff as everyone else and are just trying to use our political system, such as they interpret it. There are checks and balances in place to keep them (and others, even on the left) from doing too much harm, and we have the freedom to listen and to espouse our own opposing views. It doesn't always work 100% the way we want it to. In fact, that's the point: while a benevolent and capable absolute ruler is perhaps the best form of government, malevolent or incompetent rulers are much more common in any system and do much more harm; our system is designed to protect against absolutism in any form. It can be frustrating, but ultimately it prevents the most harm while still allowing good.

    And there are always disturbed, if not mentally ill, people on the fringe of society who will take any excuse (good day, bad day, rainy day, sunny day) to act out in harmful, anti-social ways. Let us counter them not by pointing fingers, but by being the disturbed, if not mentally ill, people who are willing to act out in the self-destructive ways of loving our neighbor as ourselves, praying for those who persecute us, and turning the other cheek.

  2. Looking over my post, perhaps I should get my own blog instead of using yours for over-long comments. :/

  3. Hey, I'd be sad if you *didn't* leave long comments on my blog. Always gives me stuff to think about.

    I do find it frustrating that we (er, that's a general "we," not you and me) find it acceptable to use violent language when we are opposing or disagreeing with others. Actually, I think Giffords' opponent's ads are a good example of that.

    Also, this tragedy's stirring up a ruckus about gun control, which--well, as a city-dweller, I'm for. There's really no reason for a person to be carrying around a semiautomatic.

    Tim Wise has an interesting post here:
    Wise says that Loughner's "likely schizophrenic." I'm not sure if that's true or if it's just an amateur diagnosis, like so many going around (*sigh*). But I think he's got some good points in there.