A Political Interlude

I’ve avoided politics on my blog for several months now, for a couple of reasons. First, most people who know me know that I am a pretty liberal guy, so I haven’t had to espouse my opinions. Second, in a world where political discourse is increasingly divisive and people on both ends of the political spectrum seem to keep themselves isolated from conflicting points of view, I haven’t really thought that anything I said would make any difference to anyone anyway. I think this second point speaks to my increasing cynicism about political discourse in our modern age, and why I am not sure things are going to get much better anytime soon.

But Saturday’s tragic and senseless shooting in Tucson, Arizona, made me want to speak out a little. Like everyone else, I was shocked and saddened by the horrific events, and my prayers rise for the victims and the survivors. There was a lot of confusion in those first few hours; first we heard that Representative Gifford was dead; then we learned that she was alive; then she was dead again; then alive again. As I write this, she’s alive and her condition has been upgraded, but she has a long recovery ahead of her, and who knows if she’ll ever recover completely from a point blank shot to the head.

Much has been made about the shooter, Jared Loughner, and his state of mind. At the time of the shooting, we knew very little about him, but to most people it looked like a political attack, and there were many on the left who blamed the Tea Party movement. I was skeptical about that; I don’t have a lot of respect for Tea Party rhetoric, but I think the people who are part of it are on the whole law-abiding citizens who are above political hits like this. Phil Plaitt over at Bad Astronomy tweeted, “Let me be clear: it is way too early to know motives here, and speculation is counterproductive.” I agreed with him on this point. At the time, it was just too early to know what was going on and why.

As the days have passed, more about Loughner’s state of mind has become clear. Based on his YouTube videos and messages on his MySpace page, many people have suggested that he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. I don’t know, personally; that’s the sort of judgement that should be made by doctors, not folks like me who just watch a few rantings on YouTube. One thing is clear, though: the fact that he named Mein Kampf, Animal Farm, the writings of Ayn Rand, and The Communist Manifesto as some of his favorite books points to a man without much political consistency. Is he a right wing fascist? A left wing communist? A Tea Party libertarian? Impossible to say. His points of view seem too inconsistent to make a firm judgement.

One side effect of the shooting, however, seems to have been a growing attention to the levels of angry rhetoric that seems to have infiltrated out political discourse these days. And that’s good; on both sides, discourse seems to have gone past “I’m right, you’re wrong” to “I’m right, you’re evil” (to echo the words of Representative Emanuel Cleaver). And while politics has never been free of contention (look back to the dirty politics that surrounded the signing of the Constitution, for example; and, more recently, there were conservatives loudly accusing President Kennedy of treason, just as they are accusing President Obama of the same thing), the sort of hate-filled talk that’s spreading around these days seems to be a new invention. And it’s a scary one. We’re right to be looking at this rhetoric and the impact it might have on unstable persons like Loughner.

But here’s where I get cynical. The mudslinging and the hating and the angry rhetoric aren’t going away any time soon. We have talk show hosts and news commentators who are paid not for their insights but for their ability to “rabble rouse”. Whole news networks aren’t afraid anymore to blatantly take sides in political dialog, when they ideally should be neutral. Outrage, especially of the “I’m right, you’re evil” variety, sells. The media, and the money behind it, favors extremist rhetoric on both sides. Until we see a fundamental shift in human nature, where people will not feel threatened by ideas different from their own but challenged to rise to dialog instead, we’re just not going to see an end to the violent rhetoric.

I fear that things will just get worse before they get better.

And now to counterbalance this cynical post, here’s a picture of our cat Ingrid flopping around on my chair:

Sometimes I’m pretty sure that cats have the right idea.

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