Monday, January 10, 2011

It Will Happen Again

Saturday was a strange day. Sarah and I both learned of deaths in our respective families. Sarah lost a great aunt, and I lost my grandmother, who had been declining steadily in recent years.

That was also the day political violence exploded in Tucson, Arizona. My friend Christopher slept in that morning, got up, and was on his way to his neighborhood Safeway to buy some groceries when he learned that the store was a crime scene. Congresswoman Gabbi Giffords was there to speak with local constituents, and a young gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic handgun. Giffords was shot through the head. A federal judge and several others were killed, including (in a development fraught with potential allegorical significance) a 9-year old girl who was born on 11 September 2001.

It takes time for information to develop in a case like this. Doctors won't know what kind of recovery Giffords will have, and the gunman is being investigated. Early impressions are that he may be mentally ill. There was time for the media to fill, and a lot of people feeling terrible about what happened, and so people have been flapping their gums.

In the heat of the moment, there have been some valid remarks made about the prevalence of gun-battle rhetoric in political debates and campaigns. Candidates make much of firing guns and using metaphors of war and violence instead of debating policies. Sarah Palin has taken heat for an old ad (that was controversial at the time) "targeting" congressional districts using a map and crosshairs to show certain districts.

It is an over-reach to assign direct culpability for this shooting to media figures. There is something to be said, all the same, about right speech. Culture is human-made and we do have choices about the kind of culture we live in. We can decide that in a country where it is rather easy to get hold of a gun, and where there is a long history of political violence, the casual "lock and load" rhetoric and branding of political rivals as enemies of America using fear tactics, is a dangerous game.

I'm not optimistic we are going to learn that lesson. Our culture is a bit too much in love with violence. The assassination of Dr. George Tiller did not calm the rhetoric; I doubt this incident will. My sad prediction is this will continue after a little time has passed, and eventually we will again be faced with an act of violence by a deranged person seduced by the rhetoric of media figures and leaders to whom he listened.

It will happen again, unless the nation reflects on itself and begins to reject this sort of talk. This is not a matter where law should ever intrude; but we can look to our social standards and turn away from those who choose to fan the flames.


Adam said...

Sorry for your loss.

And yes, it will almost certainly happen again.

Kelly said...

My condolences to both you and Sarah.