Saturday, January 8, 2011

The fuse of discourse

We all make jokes.  We say malignant things that we don't mean.  Every one of us at one point or another has probably made the comment, "Someone should just shoot him/her" or "they ought to be shot" or something along those lines about an elected official.  It's inherent within our rights to express such disdain for politicians.  But when it gets real...
As you have no doubt heard by now, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D, AZ) was shot in Tuscon earlier today, as were a few other people.  The situation is still fluid and I have read conflicting reports as to just how many are dead and wounded, but the last update was that Giffords went through surgery and is expected to pull through.  Amazing considering she was shot in the head.  Little has been released about the gunman and without the facts, we can only speculate as to his motivation at this point.  Given the fact that it the shootings took place at an event for a congresswoman, the running theories are political in nature.

I wrote a scene like this for my 2010 NaNoRiMo project about a new American Civil War.  I'm not trying to sound conceited or self-important, but it always unnerves me when I see something that I wrote happen in real life.  Makes me think I should be writing porn.  But I digress...
I'm no seer.  Not really.  This sort of thing was inevitable in the cauldron that has been American politics for the past decade.  Both sides of the spectrum have been spewing such bile and hatred at one another that I've tuned it out as commonplace.  Issues like health care and immigration seem to be bringing that out in us.  But what we saw today is not how a democracy is supposed to work.  In a democracy, everyone votes and then you the individual must live with the results.  I have a special disdain for Sarah Palin.  Yet if she were to be elected president (shudder), I am not going to shoot her.  Disagreement over politics is not justification for violence.

Speaking of Ms. Palin, let's take a look at what she had to say about Rep. Giffords after Giffords voted "yes" on the health care bill: click here.  Yep.  That's a gun sight on Giffords' district, along with the districts of several other representatives.  That web page has since been changed, removing Gibbons' name and the crosshairs, but one vigilant Tweeter managed to get it out beforehand.  Additionally, Palin had this to say on Twitter last March: "Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!"
Now one thing needs to be made perfectly clear: Ms. Palin never called for the deaths of Giffords or anyone else for that matter.  Never.  But my field of study is Rhetoric and Composition.  When political discourse is collocated in the same space as a word like "reload" or the symbol of a target, it's difficult to infer a benign interpretation.  If someone placed a gun sight over where I live, I'm not going to take it as a compliment.  In fact, the primal survival instinct would probably take over (as it has in all conservatives according to Arianna Huffington.)  Context context context.  It matters.  It helps to create our reality.  When you advocate for  "Second Amendment remedies," I cannot see how any rational, educated person would not imply that you are talking about gun violence.  Again, no call for such action is ever specifically made, but it is the context that is clicking and cocking.  No one may be wishing death or violence, but those can be unintended consequences.

And one quick word on the issue of guns.  It was William Burroughs who said "After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it."  One gun owner committed a horrible crime today.  Thousands of other firearm owners didn't and never will.  Gun ownership was not the root cause of this incident.  It was perhaps, with all this pending on the outcome of the FBI investigation, the product of an "us vs. them" war of politics and culture.  One so surreal that even Burroughs himself might have felt sadly at home.  One that mournfully seems to bear out that high school doesn't ever truly end as Clarence Page recently wrote in The Chicago Tribune.  Sarah Palin is our homecoming queen and she is given a free pass on nearly every jackass thing she says because there is a contingent out there that loves her.  John Boehner is captain of the football team, still fighting a hangover from last night.  Barack Obama is the smartest kid in the class and we'd all hate him if he didn't play such damn good basketball.  And we bully and bludgeon to get our way.

What does this say for our future?  The story I wrote, the one I referred to earlier, took place in the future.  If my fiction continues to come to pass (and I really hope that it doesn't), we're looking at a civil war.  At the very least, we're looking at stoked fires in an already superheated sociopolitical landscape.  Think about this.  If the methods we saw today continue, in tandem with already present shouting matches in forum boards and news sites across the Internet, why would anyone want to be involved in the democratic process?  People could become both less engaged and more poorly informed than they already are. 
At breakfast this morning, I was asked to make predictions for the coming decade.  I came up with precious few positive ones and was chastised for it.  Then this news story broke.  I'd like to be optimistic but the reality of our situation keeps preventing it.  

1 comment:

  1. On Facebook, Dr. Rich said: "My one hope for our society is that most people I know are all bark and no bite. The twitter generation is far more likely to talk trash and not actually do anything that would even remotely put themselves in danger (unless they could get on YouTube for it)."

    Best quote on this I've heard today came from an interview on MSNBC: in an influenza outbreak, the weak and the already infirmed are taken out first. The rhetoric of fanaticism does the same thing to the mentally weak.