Sunday, January 09, 2011


Sunday Reflection: Just words

Over the next few days, I imagine that we will hear from several directions that angry and divisive political rhetoric doesn't cause violence.

I disagree. I disagree because I think words are important, that they imbue our lives with meaning, that they damn well do inspire action.

This belief, that words inspire action, is at the heart of my faith. The Gospels, words in a book, are at the heart of my beliefs about God and human relationships. I certainly do hope that they inspire action. So do most Christians.

And if we believe that those words of love can change the world, why do we doubt that words of contempt and anger can inspire violence in the weakest among us?

As Christians, we accept that words shape lives. With that comes a moral duty to use them carefully and gently for what is just.

I think the problem is that any time incendiary rhetoric is used, it has a potential to stir people up. That's why it is used, and I'm not saying it doesn't have a place...

But when obviously mentally unstable people hear what is otherwise just fiery rhetoric, they can take it to unreasonable extremes, like what happened today.

And while no one shares moral responsibility for the actions of another, we do need to realize that our world is made up of narratives told by our words, and choose them carefully, something we're all guilty of.

Being responsible is hard, and we can all stand to do a better job at it.
SO SCARY. 6 people. Holy Crap.
The right wing of American politics - led by the NRA - is going to trot out the old saw, "Guns don't kill people: People kill people." Well, guess what... people who can't get guns can't kill people WITH them, and a lot of people who have guns should not!

I am not a lawyer, just an opera singer. But I cannot see how a system of rigorous background checks, firearms training, and gun registration would in any way go against either the letter or the spirit of the Second Amendment. If you pass the background check, take a safety training course, and register your gun(s) with the local authorities, you're good to go.

And I am disgusted by any politician or political movement that would put "targets" in cross-hairs. Yes, I'm talking to YOU, Sarah. Shame on you!!!
The killings undermine the concealed carry argument. I am sure many in that crowd were carrying. No one did anything.
This is true in so many ways.

For one thing, bullying starts, and often consists of, simple rhetoric. The older generations of schoolchildren pass it on to the younger generations. Generally, bullies do not come exclusively from households of abuse. Nobody is born a bully. Most just hear the rhetoric of others that they have been steeped in for years and take it to heart.
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100% agree with you Osler and Lane.
I wish that that most people understood the message behind the words rather than taking literal meanings to extremes. But we can't really go about getting rid of certain words of phrases because of the occasional nutjob. I will also point out that it seems more and more like people have to use the fiery rhetoric to motivate people to do anything. With everyone so inundated with their us weeklys, oprah, and TMZ, it is a sad commentary that one has to be an extreme version just to get on TV and get noticed by the public at large.

Do y'all think there is any way around that? Being nice and sane just doesn't make the news cycle.

Talltenor, I think your anger towards gun control is out of place. A guy like Loughner would have been able to pass all of those checks and get a gun... it wouldn't have made a difference.
And for those truly hell bent, no restrictions could have prevented him from getting a gun and going on a rampage.

Anon 9:15 - Your post has no basis in fact and is really out of place. Check your stats and see that in states with concealed laws, only a small percentage of the population actually carry guns. Furthermore, it's not likely that many at the local safeway on saturday morning would be carrying, not to mention that most there were less likely to be permit holders seeing as they were there to support a democratic candidate.
DDA (nice new moniker!)--

Actually, my own experience has been that you can be part of the news cycle with a gentle tone. I'm not exactly photogenic or famous, but I have had the chance to express my views directly in several newspapers, CNN, Good Morning America, NPR, and several other outlets.

It can be done.
Censorship is wrong. Being conscientious in our word choice, of our own will, is not only responsible, but wise.
DDA you express your belief that most people understand the message behind words, not taking them at face value. I assume you talk about those listening to a message and in that case, what about someone delivering the message? Someone with whom a large number of Americans identify with, listen to, admire and support. Someone like say...the charismatic Sarah Palin, who connects with the adoring crowds and delivers with great aplomb messages made of words Sarah Palin herself barely understands the meaning of. What is your comment, as a person who sees the value of symbols, on her much popular website Action Committee map of districts marked with cross-hairs, rather than dots or flags or highlights pick a symbol of action other than a gun's telescope.
Also, DDA, Giffords was a moderate/conservative Dem. There could have been a lot of CCW holders there. But they weren't bodyguards, would not have had guns drawn, and would have been slower to react than the shooter. Even had everyone there had a gun, the best they could have done is shoot the guy after they recovered from the initial shock.

I don't see gun control or the lack of it as a problem. I see the problem in that a guy with strong antiauthoritarian beliefs got caught up in antiauthoritarian fervor and went off the deep end, and frequent political mudslingers ended up with the eggs on their face.
The guy was a crazy person. Go watch his YouTube video. He is a crazy person. And, as every semi-responsible journalist has pointed put, his insanity isn't based on a political ideology. Unless paranoia and psychosis is an ideology. Using this as a political football with which to attack Sarah Palin or anybody else is just as irresponsible as what you claim those people do.

When John Hinckley shot Reagan he didn't do so because Democrats called Reagan racist, homophobic, senile, dangerous, and a hater of poor people everywhere (I know, it's hard for you to believe that politically divisive rhetoric wasn't invented in the 2000s). He did it because he was a crazy person. Just like this guy.
Anon 2:56: READ my post again. I said I wish people took words for their meaning and not taking them at face value.
As for your question about Sarah Palin using crosshairs: It does not to me, a reasonably sane person, mean anything and I don't take it as a call to arms or an invitation to shoot anyone.

I would hope that you will be just as ridiculous during the next election and spout off when a democratic pollster uses the words "target district," "gunning for his seat," "take him out of the equation," etc.

I'm with Anon on this. It was irresponsible to talk about politics the way Palin has. No, it didn't make you want to kill, but you are not the only person in Palin's audience-- it included some people much less restrained. In addition, the Tea Party people's hatred and vitriol did create a toxic atmosphere.

RRL-- you were what, 3 when Reagan was shot? I remember it. People did say that the overblown rhetoric was a problem. They were right. They were also right when they said that people like Abby Hoffman were irresponsible when the wrote hate-filled screeds against Republicans, and that these words inspired crazy people like the Weathermen and the SLA.

Look, dude, I'm apparently not very popular with the Dallas DA right now. I have no problem with a good political tumble, and I can both dish it out and take it, if we are talking about policy disagreements and actual facts. But people have crossed the line of late, and that does have consequences.
I'm upset at posters on sites like Democratic Underground and DailyKos that said things like "BlueDog Democrats are dead to me" or calling them traitors.

That's wrong, like cross-hairs on Congress districts are wrong, because they create environments where Hinkleys or Laughners can go from eccentric crazies to dangerous crazies.
DDA: My thoughts on gun control (note: "control," not "disarmament") have been in my mind for years. That it took this despicable attack in Tucson for me to put thought to keyboard, well... I guess it was a catalyst.

The Professor and I are only a year apart in age. I remember, too, the day Reagan was shot. Words, and vitriol, were definitely in the air.

RRL: No question, this guy was a crazy person. And I fully expected the Palin crowd to point this out, as they have done. But really, cross-hairs on posters? REALLY???
Osler - I didn't say that people at the time didn't take the position that the rhetoric leas to Hinckley shooting Reagan. What I said was that if they said that then they were wrong. And what history has shown is that he was just a crazy person.

All I know is this, I don't want to be the one drawing the line between unacceptably divisive discourse and acceptable political speech, and I don't want any of you doing it either.

And no, I don't think the targets on Palin's website are a big deal. We constantly use gun metaphors in this country. And have forever. Long before Palin, parties "took aim" at certain candidates or districts and "targeted" them for defeat. And the only people that think any of that means you should actually go out and shoot someone are crazy people.
I am so saddened by the shooting in Tuscon, the injury to so many and the death of the 6 bystanders; including the federal judge and the 9 yr old girl who was born on 9/11/01.

This young man, you can call him crazy or not, was obviously influenced by (in some way) the rhetoric of today.

The use of cross hairs on a map means to me something is a target. It is a universal symbol. It can be used in many contexts but it still sybolizes the person, place or thing it is placed over is a 'taget' of some type (good or bad).

Word matter and people make a choice when they select words.
Guns are fine unless
you ever plan to use one.
Then they cause death.
I just read this:

I just don't know what to say. I am in no way a fan of Sarah Palin. In fact, she makes my skin crawl. But, why is she responsible for this maniac's actions? My first thought is that people, alone, are responsible for their actions. I can hear inciting remarks and choose to act on them in a way that is legal and just. I can ignore them.

I suppose I have been wrong to not listen to a word Palin has said. Maybe if I had, I would understand the connection that this writer makes. I just don't.
“I wish that most people understood the message behind the words rather than taking literal meanings to extremes. But we can't really go about getting rid of certain words or phrases because of the occasional nutjob”
...Because in this case that occasional nutjob killed someone's daughter, someone's father, someone's loved one. You and I being among those lucky ones who do not have to deal with a funeral tonight. If you in turn READ what I said, was that behind a message and behind words stands a person usually. And any person who is in any position holding any kind of clout should be responsible with the power affixed to that clout and dispense it in a mindful way, including the occasional nutjob out there who may have me or you in their crosshairs next time.
Anon 2:56
This situation deeply saddens me and those effected and their families have weighed heavily on my mind. Still, I fail to understand how it serves as a useful example in a conversation about the state of American political discourse. According to the most up to date coverage of the investigation, there is no indication that the assailant was motivated by anything happening in the unfortunately divisive world of politics. As RRL has said, he was spurred on by insanity—not Sarah Palin.

That said, I agree that those in a position to provide commentary in a public forum (politicians, pundits, professors, etc.) have a responsibility to demonstrate a fundamental respect for human dignity and the value of life. Our democracy is dependents on the free exchange of ideas—and as Lane has rightly pointed out, censorship is simply un-American—but not all ideas are created equal, and we are responsible for our words.

Professor Osler, I too deeply value words and their meaning. For example, I study classical languages not because I love the five Latin noun declensions or the ever complicated Greek verb, but because I want to understand my own linguistic heritage. Words do have meaning, and we should exercise prudence in their use.
Words That Matter:


That's a pretty good list!
I have loved your comments for years. Not this last one.
I liked Lane's list. Which I'm sure only reinforces why Anon didn't like it.

By the way, I think all words matter. At least to someone.
My list was a continuation of Scott's, not mean to be exclusive. Still, those are some of my favorite things.
As the anon who didn't like Lane's list, I can't stop thinking about the mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, husbands and friends who have to face their new reality. Politics and barbecue aside, they have to wake up tomorrow.
Good job guys!

May we always remember that life might be a box of chocolates, but it is not a dress rehearsal.
At a time like this the most important and effective word is: LOVE
Words don't need to be censored, they just have to be spelled out for those incapable to discern the meaning beyond their face value.
Richard Nixon ,in what was described as a stroke of political genius, created the phrase "silent majority". He warned the nation that the "minority" of others wanted to take what the majority had. He appealed to our most ignoble instincts. It worked.
I have, since Pres. Obama's election, listened to tennis friends talk about our democracy being threatened by others (immigrants, blacks and gays). They now say that the solution will have to be with the "GUN" as they are being told that it may be the only way to protect themselves and their stuff. They are not considered crazy by others in the group. This is considered reasonable thought.
When enough public figures ask us to fear or hate others, people listen, and bad things happen. Michigram is right the word we should be hearing is LOVE.
Ok I know this comment is late But ... My husband Bill used to live in AZ He said it is like Texas but with Crystals.. said there are like three kinds of people there mainly: Retirees, ultra Conservatives, and New Age people... BUT that almost all of them are carrying.
WHY Didn't anyone in the crowd stop him? I am really asking. I am almost sure some of them had to be carrying.. I know they tackled the guy... which was good...
But.. for ex: I know ONE PERSON who regularly carries a gun. I think that had she been there, and had been armed she would NO DOUBT have taken her gun out and shot that guy. Seriously! We have talked about it before!! Like what would she do if she were ever in one of those VA Tech- type situations or Like that LUBYS incident a looong time ago in Tx Remember that? I asked her.. What would she do and she said she would not have hesitated and would have taken the guy out...
BUT THEN This guy in AZ he had like a Semi Automatic that fires like tons of bullets really fast so... that is no match for like a regular gin I guess?? I don't know... Maybe it all went down too fast But WHY don't congressional people have like Security?
So if this guy turns out to be a lefty (complete with a satanic shrine in his yard..., do we blame Obama for his rhetoric? Shown below:

** Obama: “They Bring a Knife…We Bring a Gun”
** Obama to His Followers: “Get in Their Faces!”
** Obama on ACORN: “I don’t want to quell anger. I think people are right to be angry! I’m angry!”
** Obama to supporters: “Hit Back Twice As Hard”
** Obama on the private sector: “We talk to these folks… so I know whose ass to kick.“
** Obama to voters: Republican victory would mean “hand to hand combat”
** Obama to supporters: “It’s time to Fight for it.”
** Obama to Latino supporters: “Punish your enemies.”

We could also blame shooter video games or gangster rap (or I guess pot and Hendrix since those seem to be his passions). I think this incident is really more an issue of law enforcement and that the Tucson Sheriff was blame shifting with his ignorant comments. He's making another Arizona Sheriff look sane. Political rhetoric may be an issue in our culture, but who has shown that rhetoric was cause of this incident and what rhetoric specifically? I wholeheartedly agree that words have great significance, but it doesn't look like this guy was watching Palin's Alaska.

And talk of AZ being the epicenter for bias/hate is ridiculous to me. AZ is in the middle of some of the major legitimate debates in our country (housing/economy/immigration/etc.), but it sounds to me like people are trying to use this incident to silence debate.

Other Kendall

Most reasonable people I know (and I agree with them) aren't partisan-- they are saying that the divisive language should be scaled back on both sides.
"And any person who is in any position holding any kind of clout should be responsible with the power affixed to that clout and dispense it in a mindful way, including the occasional nutjob out there who may have me or you in their crosshairs next time."

The point, Anon, is that if you are mindful and dispense said clout in a mindful way, then you cannot predict, prepare for, or anticipate the "occasional nutjob that may have you in their crosshairs." Nor can a reasonable person do anything to prepare as that nutjob is unpredictable. Not saying hello could be enough.

There is also nothing, nada, zip to think that he was motivated by anything Palin or the millions of racist, meanspirited, hateful, etc etc tea party types said or did. yet that's all the blame seems to be placed right now, and no one is asking why?

Why are we speculating that it's because Palin put her in the cross hairs? Why can't it be as simple that he's crazy and didn't like his congresswoman? Why does a national figure automatically get the blame as the catalyst when no such evidence exists? I'm not saying that it wasn't a factor, but I simply don't know. Why all the blame without evidence?
WHether the brown shirts are on the Left or Right does not matter. At various times, they have populated the Left and at other times the Right. Demeaning, dehumizaing language, ad hominem attacks, and verbal onslaughts which threaten bodily harm or death are irresponsible especially when the people who are financing them know full well that it will bring about violence.

Sixties' radicals were wrong to blow up buildings at the University of Wisconsin, they were wrong to incite violence in Chicago in 1968 and at Kent State in 1971. Their shameful behaviour in holding N. Vietnamese flags aloft while spitting on US Veterans is an eternal monumnet to their stupidity and inhumanity, only outdone by reports of said individuals calling the grieving families of dead soldiers to tell them that their loved ones were indeed baby killers.

Their tactics, ironically enough, have been fully embraced by the radical right in this country whose dislike of "big government" goes way beyond sensible and well-reasoned conservative arguments. And yes, for my liberal brothers and sisters, there are such arguments.

The radical right is just a reconfigured and unrepentant reactionary force rooted deeply in nativism and racism.

Nixon and Reagan, thought they could manage and manipulate this force. To their credit, they kept it in check.

Conservatives ought to look to a real hero like TR with his view of Americanism, and not to the extremes who have nothing constructive to offer.

Lefties and Right Wingers need to be more accountable, for the extremists who push in either direction.
Am I "OT" (perhaps b/c my posts always come so late)?

I don't find many people who don't have a pretty well defined ideological/philosophical viewpoint...but perhaps that's because I'm a law student.

I also think the bigger issue is that we seem to have more crazy people than ever in our society and our society seems worse prepared to deal with them.

Other Kendall
A single moment
of silence In every school.
How many wondered?
A single moment
of silence In every school.
How many wondered?
DDA is that a Palin chip I see on your shoulder?
I merely gave the Palin twit as an example of irresponsible demagogues who have no idea what they're talking about but reel in the power they feel from the response their mindless blabber elicits.
Plus I think your "national figure" need not worry about the blame game, her party is the master of ceremonies at that particular game nowadays.
Your favorite Anon,
"the Palin twit"
"no idea what they're talking about"
"their mindless blabber"

And yet somehow she gets the blame?!?

I've never been a Palin fan, but I've been less of a fan of those that seek to demonize her. What has she ever done to you to require such spite?
1 Corinthians 13 - the "love chapter" that is so often read at weddings, has meaning here and starts with: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I have become a sounding brass or a clinging cymbal."

Unfortunately, too many Americans choose to respect the "noise" that is offered daily instead of shun it. For me, I am more open to hearing an argument or an opposing view when it is presented in a calm manner with love and respect.
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