Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Reaction to the Reaction

So I haven't been on here for a while, but I felt like writing something, so here I am...

For those that have been living under a rock for the past week, today is Tuesday, January 11, 2011, and over the weekend there was what some are describing as a "massacre" in Tuscan, Arizona. The incident was perpetrated by a 22 year old man, who has now been described by many as mentally unstable, and possibly schizophrenic (and unarguably deranged). The young man came upon a small gathering outside of a local Safeway store, where local politicians were in attendance to meet with their constituents to answer questions and essentially be available to discuss any and all matters. The man had targeted Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, as he walked up to her specifically and shot her point blank in the head. Congresswoman Giffords survived the attack, but remains in critical condition, and her future condition is uncertain at this point. The gunman continued his attack with a barrage of gunfire, injuring approximately 14 people, and killing 6 (among them one of Congresswoman Giffords staffers, a federal judge, and a nine year old girl). The act was heinous in it's indiscriminate nature, and shows that while the young man may have specifically targeted Congresswoman Giffords, his ultimate goal was mayhem.
In the aftermath of the shootings, there were the typical platitudes from politicians of all stripes, condemning the horrific acts of violence (especially because it was aimed at one of their own), and pointing fingers as to who was really responsible for this crime, other than the young man with the gun. The usual suspects began to emerge; he had read the communist manifesto, he hated the government, he was a tea partier, Sarah Palin had crosshairs on her political map, etc. All of these were probably true, but they don't make for a very coherent political perspective. As the days went on, two different dialogues began to emerge. One was focused on actually unearthing the true facts of this young mans biography, in an effort to figure out why he would have done something of this nature, as well as further determine if there was some political cause behind this assassination attempt. The other focus took on a much more heated, but necessary, issue that has been brewing in our political climate since the election of Barack Obama. The issue was whether or not the political rhetoric had contributed to this senseless act of violence; if it had, how, and if it hadn't, was this still possibly a moment for reflection on the violent language and imagery that had become so ubiquitious in our political culture, not only during campaign season, but everywhere and at all times? The media began to refer to comments made during the election with unspecific references to guns and "taking people out" or "taking up arms". The politicians themselves decried the "left wing" media for their bias, and retorted that gun and war imagery has long been part of our campaign language, and therefore it was indecent to imply that this in any way contributed to the horrific acts of violence that took place.
But is it?
I will say first off that I do not think Sarah Palin or Sharon Angle - or any other politicians that using "vitriolic" language and gun imagery - are responsible for the murderous rampage over the weekend. I think it would be irresponsible to do so, and it doesn't do enough to condemn the guilty, and gives too much credit to those unworthy. However, I think it is important to recognize that the current political culture is a reflection of our national culture of violence and division. The media, politicians, entertainment, all like to put people into comfortable, definable boxes that they can then expoit for personal, political, or financial gain. The majority of the people in this country do not fit into a box, however, and are therefore unsure of how to react. Some people get frustrated with politics and drop out, some get frustrated with politics and get involved, and others are frustrated with politics, but begrudgingly tie themselves to a perspective that is most closely aligned with their own (though typically not fully). So when the media attempts to draw conclusions about who someone is based upon their purported political perspective, it seems spurious at best. But the media and politicians continue to do so because it's easier for them to compartmentalize people, and pander to a limited sector, rather than having to reach across personality, economic, geographic, ethnic, racial, cultural, and political divides. It's just easier to force people to decide what they are, than simply let them be what they are.
But I digress...
The reason the language and imagery is so dangerous is not because it caused the rampage over the weekend, but because of the reactions to the rampage that it causes. In the aftermath, social and political leaders call for a "cooling off" of the political rhetoric, but what they're really doing is trying to show that they are the party that can one up the other with compassion and objectivity, and therefore are better. This is wrong. Real leaders would take this as an opportunity to show abhorrance for the act of violence, while at the same time reaching to out to everyone - regardless of political affiliation - to have an honest dialogue about what happened, why it happened, and how to prevent it in the future.


Griffin said...

Unfortunately, it always takes tragedy for unity --- however brief --- to exist in our world.

mpm210 said...

You should follow my blog. Unfortunately, as I stated in the posting, I don't think this will lead to unity, but instead to more division.