On words and responsibility.

I’ll admit that I’ve been following the news coverage on the Arizona shooting with a mixed reaction of indignation and disgust and horror and anger. This post is not about the shooting as much as it is about the discussion of whether or not this senseless violence has been an inevitability given the vitriolic political discourse present in our culture.  It has been suggested by some people on tv that now is not the time for a discussion on the nasty tone of politics, but rather, we should be talking about gun control. While I do think gun control is always an important topic, I wholeheartedly disagree. I think that our nation must address the former issue as well. This is something I’ve written about before, and recent events is making it all too clear that if we do not begin to take a hard look at this problem now, then when?

At a certain point after the 2008 elections, I stopped watching a lot of the cable “news” shows. They seriously eroded my peace of mind. The facts were disturbing enough, but the tone was so ugly. There are some truly low and hateful people out there who talk long and loud, and for some reason–and I’ll never understand why–our culture can’t seem to get enough of it.

I did my best to unplug from it, but I still make an attempt to be reasonably informed. I always walk away disappointed, not necessarily in what is or is not happening in Washington DC, but for what passes for “journalism” and “reporting.”

For the past two days I’ve sat with my gut wrenched. I know that the shooting in Arizona was the act of one deeply disturbed man, but I can’t help but feel anger. Anger at those who are most certainly not crazy who have helped amp up the rhetoric and atmosphere to the point that this has “felt” like it could have happened at any time this past two years. Did Jared Loughner choose violence because of a particular website? No. But just as shit and filth foster the growth of disease, so does hate speech and fear-bating foster an environment of extremism and violence. I won’t say that Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly engage in hate speech, but they certainly feed the pidgeons enough berries to keep the shit coming. And I do hold them accountable for what they put out in the world, violence or no violence.

I’ve seen the “Take Back the Twenty” website. I am fairly certain that if I found something similar in one of my students notebooks–a list of students’ names or pictures with cross-hairs (or surveyors marks…but, please, let’s not insult one another’s intelligence. Her camps campain rhetoric has been laden with gun terminology for a long time) through those names–that it would have been considered threatening/hate speech. Plain and simple. Palin has an infuriating habit of answering her critics by wrapping herself in the flag and hiding behind troops, saying that she has the right to say what she wants, however incaccurate or just plain wrong, because troops have died for her right to free speech, and therefore a criticism of her is somehow an unpatriotic “insult” to the fighting troops. Regarding the assertions that her “Take Back the 20” website was perhaps inflammatory or inciting, she invoked the spectre of a suffering future generation saying, “our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this.” See what I mean? With that kind of posturing, anybody who criticizes the website’s cross-hairs graphics must not care about the peaceful future of children. Riiiight. If she stands by what she has said, and what her website has put out there, why even bring kids into it? BUT! We can’t criticize her–for the children. I call B.S.

So, yes, I am angry. I am angry that in our culture, the more negative a person is, the more he/she rewarded for being so. And yes, I am aggravated that good people continue to listen to these people. Why? Because they say something that “sounds” right? Because they say something that has a yarn, or thread, of truth in it? Nevermind that there is one thread of truth in a tapestry of hate and ugliness.

Here is where the rubber meets the road for me: We will never be able to stop one sick person from taking violent action, but we sure as heck can, and should, insist upon civility in political and public discourse. If or when the discourse can not be civil, it should either be conducted in private or it should be discontinued until civility is possible. But we have failed to do so.  Don’t get me wrong, I support their right to say whatever they want. I am angry that anybody is listening to them. I am angry that we have emboldened them so that their rhetoric of fear and ugliness has made them powerful and/or wealthy. I just. don’t. get. it. 

Paul Krugman expressed it perfectly in his column yesterday when he wrote:

“Of course, the likes of Mr. Beck and Mr. O’Reilly are responding to popular demand. Citizens of other democracies may marvel at the American psyche, at the way efforts by mildly liberal presidents to expand health coverage are met with cries of tyranny and talk of armed resistance. Still, that’s what happens whenever a Democrat occupies the White House, and there’s a market for anyone willing to stoke that anger.

But even if hate is what many want to hear, that doesn’t excuse those who pander to that desire. They should be shunned by all decent people.” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/opinion/10krugman.html?_r=1

Right now, I am more angry at those fear and hate mongers than I am at Jared Loughner . I realize that I’m probably wrong in that. Maybe my priorities are messed up, but that is how I feel. Maybe because this has been a personal issue for me for a long time, since I have been criticized by some of my own family for not listening to Limbaugh and O’Reilly. So, yeah, there’s definitely some personal baggage fueling this rant.

We need to start holding these people accountable. If not now, then when?

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2 thoughts on “On words and responsibility.

  1. It’s not just the right wing, watch MSNBC sometime. The sad fact of the matter is, we watch or listen to these shows. They get the ratings, so advertisers will buy time to advertise on these shows, which keeps them in business.

    So is the indictment on those who appeal to the mass’ baser instincts or is it on “us” collectively for encouraging such behavior?

    And we can’t dismiss the Internet’s role in all of this. It’s easy to post things on the Internet that you’d never say in real life, because there is no personal accountability when you can hide behind a screen name.

  2. I have been saying for years that THE MAIN problem with broadcast media today is that it is a consumer-driven product, and not a competitive enterprise to inform and educate. Each cable network has identified its target audience and bases its programming on their preferences, much like cars, clothing, and breakfast cereals.

    I agree that MSNBC can be slanted, but I feel that the ones I referenced in this post and the one to which I linked, are by far the worst. The reasons why are elaborated better in the older post. But as I wrote then, I have pulled away from all of the cable networks as much as possible because I can’t listen to any of it without having to deal with The Ugly. And as much as I hate to admit that I am no longer very well informed on some of the issues–I had to make a choice: Keep watching and live in a state of near-constant agitation. Or back off and try to get my news fast and quick or from print news (which is not perfect, not as thorough, but better at relating facts more and commentary less). This is challenging because I have more to do than hours in a day, but still, I try.

    As for the internet’s contribution to the vitriol–I agree with your point 100%. The lack of accountability is a big problem. That is why I don’t write much about politics–because I *will* take responsibility for what I’ve written here. So I choose my words carefully and am always mindful of what I DON’T know. I do not typically read internet sources for political news, so I did not give much consieration to it when I wrote this post.

    Your question is a fair one: Who am I pointing the finger toward here? I’ve been thinking it over and my answer is everyone. I suppose I can’t blame the talking heads for trying to make their buck, but they make their money by creating dirision, not just report it. And for the record, I don’t watch reality TV for the same reason. I do my best not to validate people when they act their worst or encourage others to act upon their base natures. So, yes, I am really frustrated at the public for tuning in and making some of these people so influential through their listenership/viewership. Doing so just feeds the beast–Or rather, maybe we’re the beast and they are just feeding us the “candy everybody wants.”

    But either way, this post was more of me voicing my long-held desire to turn the noise down…or turn it off. I can choose not to watch, but there are millions of others who will, and so the vicious cycle continues.

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