Tragedy, and Reason

A few days ago, on the 8th of January of this new year, we saw a tragedy that blew through the national news. The basic story: A madman of no discernible politics shot up a crowd, aiming first for a congresswoman who was out in public, meeting her constituents and shooting her in the head, and then gunning down a number of others. Among the dead was a 9-year-old girl, Christina, who was, ironically, born on 9/11/01 but seems to have packed quite a wonderful life into the intervening years. The congresswoman, Giffords, is currently recovering, though how far she recovers is still a great unknown.

Sadly, instead of honoring and reflecting upon our dead, the recriminations began flying, with many of the accusations pointing at the “angry tone” of “right-wing” rhetoric, and some idiots on the right pointing back at the left to lay blame above and beyond saying “it isn’t so.” Other’s have been inspired by the high level of emotion to propose legislation banning mere things that in and of themselves cannot act, while others have proposed to ban “violent” talk about politicians as if free speech itself were to blame.

Everybody needs to get a grip. At times blame needs to be assigned, but this wild fury of blame-throwing (and even some of the justified defensiveness) is specious and dishonors the lives and memories of the dead.

First of all, the ultimate blame lies with the person who made the decision to act, to not only carry a weapon, but to use it as an instrument of murder vice defense. With the man who decided to pull the trigger and unleash his anger with deadly force. As John Stewart pointed out, no matter how toxic you believe the political discourse is, blaming the actions of an arguable lunatic on said political discourse is simply irresponsible, and painting your political opponents as murderers secretly reveling and wishing for the death of their opponents hardly raises the level of discourse, no?

Many people my age may remember the old, cheesy “Chick” comic tracts – extremely fundamentalist comic strips that talked about how rock and roll was evil, etc. This was also the time period where the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game was controversial in christian circles because, supposedly, it lead to satanism and insanity. And yes, Chick argued just that. Many of us argued then that nutballs were simply nutballs, and if they didn’t latch onto D&D they’d find something else. Jodie Foster, or the Beatles perhaps. That is a fundmental human truth that has not changed.

It almost makes my posting from the 1st seem prophetic. You can tell some things about a person by who claims to be a friend or admirer, but only so much, as no-one can control who admires them, or why. We sure as heck don’t blame the Beatles for Charles Manson. 

The real measure of a person is who positions themselves as an enemy (and why), and who a person mutually treats as a friend – in other words, the company a person chooses to keep.

Ditto our shooter this last Saturday. An incoherent loner, a ranting person who described himself as wanting a gold standard, hated government, burned the american flag, liked Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto, and was waging a war on grammar. His fellow students and teachers were terrified of him and thought him dangerously unstable. If he had politics, it was somewhere beyond anarchist into chaotic.

Blaming people of a political party or faction because a lunatic chose to like some aspects of their political philosophy, especially when he believes many things entirely antithetical to that philosophy, and was not an accepted member of that group, is intellectual dishonesty of the first order. Does anyone seriously believe that a flag-burning lover of the Communist Manifesto who rants on grammar is a right winger? Painting people who as a matter of moral persuasion strongly believe in protecting innocents like Christina Green as encouraging this kind of behavior is a similar level of dishonesty. 

Given his favorite reading material, some have pointed blame at the left. Does anyone seriously believe this nut job was legitimately a member of any grouping on the left? Even the extremely radical terrorists of the last century like the Weather Underground and the Red Brigades needed their members to be reasonably sane.

Again, assuming you care about the civility of political discourse, this blame-throwing does nothing but poison said discourse unless the actual facts support it, and they don’t.

And while we’re at it, let’s be honest with ourselves about the discourse. Historically, the recent discourse is fairly tame, and sets no real high-water marks. Look at some of the political cartoons from the last couple centuries. Some may also remember  “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today.”

And if you do think that using “sights” is unacceptably martial for political maps, then targets, the things you’re shooting at, are as well. This refers not only to Palin’s map, but to DNC maps re: republicans,  as well as democratic maps “targeting” Giffords in the 2010 primaries. If your standard is that shooting metaphors are wrong, you can’t pick and choose who you enforce the standard with without being at best partisan. Don’t argue that “targets” are better than “sights,” and don’t argue that crosshairs are actually “registration marks.”

Ditto with signs over the last decade at rallies. If a sign saying a president is socialist or fascist is unacceptable to you, then it’s not an “interesting metaphor’ when applied to a president you hate. Ditto with hanging in effigy. Movies about the assassination of the president are right out.

If you have a standard for what constitutes acceptable discourse, please apply it evenly. Address the idea and the policies, but not the person. Don’t hold people at fault simply because you hate them or what you believe they stand for.

Today is not the day to go into depth about politics being a “war” of sorts, complete with “campaigns”, where people decide who gets to write the laws that ultimately get enforced at the point of a gun. But one point must be made: the beauty of our system is at the end of the day, no matter what the results are, everyone feels like their point was heard, and goes home to try again the next round.

For that matter, today shouldn’t be the day we sit and argue about who is to blame, and I shouldn’t have to give a lesson on logic, civility, reason and the pointlessness or worse of painting those you disagree with as gleeful psychotics and idiots. It’s a tragedy, and these things, sadly, happen. As far as I can tell, the congresswoman, and many who were shot were good people who deserve our respect. As John Green, father of Christina said in this heart-breaking interview, this is the price we pay for living in a free society, and it beats the alternatives.

Let’s honor that, and deal with the lunatic as the time comes. As for everything else, well, standards are not something you exempt your friends from any more than you do your opponents. Let’s have some decency.