Over the weekend, the United States saw an attempted assassination attempt – an act of terrorism – committed. A democratic congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, was attacked and gunned down; multiple people including a judge and a young girl were killed in the attack, and the prospects of a full recovery for Giffords is yet to be determined.
I recently read quite a simple yet powerful quote:
The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins. – Oliver Wendell Holmes. (US Supreme Court Justice.)
Over the last decade or so I’ve seen a trend coming out of the United States which I find highly disturbing. Violence. Violence in speech. Violence in music. Violence in TV. Violence in movies. Violence in computer games. Violence in console games. Violence, violence, everywhere.
But heaven forbid if a breast, or bum crack be shown on television. Heaven forbid if someone says “fuck”. Or “shit”. Or “cunt”.
It’s terribly immoral after all to swear, or to reveal even a fraction too much of the human body.
But making a movie where someone has to mutilate themselves in order to be saved from a torturous imprisonment, that’s OK.
Making a TV show about a serial killer is OK.
Making a movie about alien creatures bursting from the chests of children is OK.
Making a computer game where the player gets points for say, running over and killing prostitutes, that’s OK too.
And so, apparently, is it OK for people in the public eye to drag politics into the realm of violent rhetoric:
To the teams that desire making it this far next year: Gear up! In the battle, set your sights on next season’s targets! From the shot across the bow – the first second’s tip-off – your leaders will be in the enemy’s crosshairs, so you must execute strong defensive tactics. You won’t win only playing defense, so get on offense! The crossfire is intense, so penetrate through enemy territory by bombing through the press, and use your strong weapons – your Big Guns – to drive to the hole. Shoot with accuracy; aim high and remember it takes blood, sweat and tears to win.
That’s from a note on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page, dated 29 March 2010. That’s also her italics, not mine.
Enemy? Is she talking about the Taliban, or Al-Qaeda? Apparently the United States has a far more deadly enemy – democrats!
The politics of the United States has become the compromised by the politics of hate. There’s evidence that both sides of politics engage in it, but it’s appears to be a trait more vociferously carried out by extreme right wing thinking. Maybe that’s just what gets reported in the media – but hell, violence in the media is part of the problem, so it remains a valid observation.
Post-event, there’s all sorts of crazy cover-up stories. Sarah Palin’s aides insist that the “targets” used in her campaign targeting democrat seats were “surveyor’s marks”, yet Palin’s tweet from before the shooting directly contradicts this:
Remember months ago “bullseye” icon used 2 target the 20 Obamacare-lovin’ incumbent seats? We won 18 out of 20 (90% success rate;T’aint bad)
Note the word: bullseye. Not “surveyor’s mark”. Note the sinister rhetoric in the other versions of the map (seemingly being removed out of shame):
We’ve diagnosed the problem…
Help us prescribe the solution…
Oh sure, Sarah’s just talking about voting people out … via a “battle”, with “sights” on “targets”, where there’s a “shot across the bow”, then people are in “crosshairs”, and you must go on the “offense” and “penetrate through enemy territory” and “bombing through the press” and using “your strong weapons”.
Oh no, that’s not violent at all!
In the craziness that followed, there was a strong voice of reason:
“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry… It’s not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. And that’s the sad thing of what’s going on in America. Pretty soon, we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serve in public office… Let me just say one thing, because people tend to poo-poo this business about all the vitriol that we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech. But it’s not without consequences.”
That was said by the local sheriff in Arizona, Clarence Dupnik. (Quote sourced from Deus Ex Malcontent.) Already of course, some right-ring figures are calling for his resignation for daring to politicise this issue. Only he didn’t start the politicisation of it; someone with a gun who apparently attempted to assassinate a politician had already politicised it. The issue already is politicised, but like Oz screaming “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”, some would scream that any attempt at any logical correlation should just be ignored.
I am in my own politics a very left-leaning individual. I vote green for the most part these days, seeing in Australia that the new third power in Australian politics is about the only one with a suitable social conscience for my ideals. But my condemnation of the violent rhetoric and violence in the media doesn’t come from a condemnation of the right – it’s a condemnation of all hate.
I said in an article some time ago, “I’m tired of all the hate“:
Have we learned nothing in all these centuries of supposed “civilisation”? Some will argue “there are things worth fighting for”, but that ultimately leads to “things worth dying for”, and that ultimately leads to “things worth making other people die for”; ultimately none of these are either productive or moral.
If any one good thing comes out of the shooting in the United States, I would hope that real people there, the decent people, will demand an end to the politics of hate, and an end to the egregiously violent rhetoric. The United States places too much emphasis on “freedom of speech”; it’s time for recognition that the freedom of speech stops at which point it becomes the freedom to incite violence, just the same way that a US Judge declared that his right to swing a fist stopped at the other person’s nose. Gary Hart, writing for the Huffington Post, summarised it best in “Words have Consequences“:
Those with a megaphone, whether provided by public office or a media outlet, have responsibilities. They cannot avoid the consequences of their blatant efforts to inflame, anger, and outrage. We all know that there are unstable and potentially dangerous people among us. To repeatedly appeal to their basest instincts is to invite and welcome their predictable violence.
So long as we all tolerate this kind of irresponsible and dangerous rhetoric or, in the case of some commentators, treat it with delight, reward it, and consider it cute, so long will we place all those in public life, whom the provocateurs dislike, in the crosshairs of danger.
The United States does not need revolution; it had that centuries ago. It however is in desperate need of some evolution. An evolution of moral attitudes towards violence.