Sunday, January 09, 2011

Brief Thoughts on the Tucson Shootings

Amy asked me whether I was going to blog about the recent shootings in Arizona which killed six people and wounded fourteen others.
I guess I feel like just jotting something down, but I'm not sure what to say. There's been an immediate move by some people (particularly those on the left) to blame the incident on the heated, angry political rhetoric that we've seen over the last few years (Sarah Palin and some of the other Tea Party members have been singled out, in particular, for their inflammatory statements), while people with opposing political views on the right have quickly moved to defense of free speech coupled with the likely possibility that the gunman, Jared Loughner, may quite possibly have been mentally unbalanced. I guess I think that the people who were making accusations leaped a little too quickly to judgment early on, but I also think that the reaction of commentators on the right represents a sort of knee jerk defensiveness and unwillingness to reflect about the root causes of such a tragic event.
Overall, I guess that I, like a whole lot of other people, would just like to see people take a step back and tone down some of the really angry political messages that have been spread lately. I'll grant people that this gunman was probably a pretty sick individual, but given the fact that political speech is, by its very nature, meant to reach all different sorts of people, it was almost inevitable that some of these incendiary messages were going to reach (and probably have an effect on) some unstable people who were already at the brink of taking rash action. Political speech, which is meant to induce people to take action (although, hopefully, at the voting booth) doesn't just reach calm, collected individuals.
And don't get me wrong- I don't hold every politician accountable for every situation in which some wacko might come up with a twisted interpretation of an impassioned political argument, but when Sarah Palin is using phrases like "Don't Retreat- Instead RELOAD!" as a campaign slogan and distributing maps with crosshairs over contested election districts- well, then I'm not even sure that crazed misinterpretation is really the issue. At that point the issue is actually about whether some extremist or nut job is just going to take these inflammatory messages literally (which hopefully were never meant to be taken that way at all) because some people just don't have the capacity or the willingness to realize that this rhetoric is meant to be hyperbole.
I don't know what happened in this case, and I don't really know exactly why this guy did what he did, but I really feel like this country is becoming more and more divided. I also feel like there's a real danger in seeing one another as enemies rather than simply as ideological/political opponents who have differing views about how we should be working to improve the country. This Jared Loughner guy might turn out to have been someone who was dealing with some serious mental health or drug problems, but even the mentally ill don't live in a vacuum, and I just can't help but feel like the culture of animosity and divisiveness that fills our political speech (and to some extent our society) didn't play a part in what happened.
I think we all need to take a big step back, take a deep breath, and remember that, competing visions aside, we're all trying to work to build a country where everyone has the opportunity to be happy.
Maybe that sort of thinking sounds a little too hippie dippy for some people, but I really believe that, on a very pragmatic level, this country is headed for some major problems if the people who live here can't find a way to respect one another a whole lot more.
At any rate, if this shooting fails to make people stop and think, then the events that occurred in Arizona will not only represent a profound tragedy, but a meaningless one as well.

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