January 13, 2011

Tim Wise on Loughner's paranoia

Author Tim Wise explains how the right-wing environment of hate-filled rhetoric contributed to the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords:

Paranoia as Prelude:  Conspiracism and the Cost of Political RageIt is not that Loughner is, literally, a devotee of the right or its organizational edifices. In all likelihood he is not. Rather, it is pertinent—and should not be ignored by those who are trying to de-politicize his crimes—that his paranoid lunacy, the contours of which one can explore thanks to the wonders of the internet, transpired in a nation where paranoia and its peddling have become common fare. In such a place, the Jared Loughners of the world become ever-more dangerous. And it is this about which we should be rightly concerned.

For while Loughner would never have likely contemplated political assassination in a culture where the most pressing issue was, say, a simple philosophical disagreement over tax policy, or the proper balance between interest rates and full employment, or the percentage of GDP dedicated to debt service as opposed to long-term infrastructure investment, that is not the culture in which he (or any of us) lives. Rather, we live in a nation in which it is commonplace, and considered completely rational, for elected officials to believe the President is a foreign interloper. We live in a culture where the nation’s most powerful Republican, House Speaker John Boehner, cannot bring himself to condemn the maniacal derangement that is birtherism, but is reduced instead to a mere acknowledgement that since Hawaii says the President is a citizen, that’s “good enough for him.”

We live in a culture in which it is utterly normal, to a degree that has sadly made it nearly banal, to hear multi-million dollar, best-selling authors and talk show hosts suggest that the nation is on the verge of total fascism, death panels for the elderly, door-to-door gun confiscation, and the reconquest of the American southwest by Latinos bent on ethnic war. In short, in a society where paranoia is the daily currency of mainstream commentators, and pseudo-schizophrenic ramblings are elevated to the level of persuasive argument, we ought not be surprised that such a tragedy as occurred on Saturday might happen.
And:In a media environment where highly paid commentators can keep their jobs even as they insist that those who call for the shooting of government agents so as to stop a world government takeover are “beginning to have a case,” or that a national service initiative is just a run-up to the implementation of a literal stormtrooper corps like the Nazi SS, or that “multicultural people” are “destroying the culture of this country,” or that Latino migrants are an “invasive species,” that seeks to undermine the nation, or that the President is intentionally “destroying the economy” so as to pay white people back for slavery, or that, worse, he and other Democrats are vampires, the only solution for which is a “stake through the heart,” to feign shock at the acts of a Jared Loughner is a precious and naive conceit that we can no longer afford.

Whether or not Loughner was influenced directly by any of these words, these verbal daggers aimed at civil discourse, is quite beside the point. For these words, these daggers, are the very ether of the political culture in which he has come of age. They comprise the fabric of the larger ideological tapestry to which he has been exposed. And they are, like any toxin, bio-accumulative in the cells of the human animal, even more so for those whose chemical balance is already dicey at best. Especially when such persons have the misfortune of living in a society that has so completely stigmatized mental illness as to guarantee that most who suffer will receive no treatment.

In such a place as this, to claim that Americans may need to turn to “Second Amendment Remedies” for political change—as defeated Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle did in Nevada—or that Americans should be “armed and dangerous” to resist policies aimed at reducing climate change—as another Tea Party Republican, Michele Bachmann has—or that perhaps liberal politicians should be beaten to death with shovels—as Glenn Beck said about Congressman Charlie Rangel in 2001—is to invite chaos. It is to invite murder, whether by loners like Loughner or someone else down the line. It is inevitable. To insist, as Congressman Boehner did, that health care reform is tantamount to “armageddon”—not merely a matter of philosophical difference but the literal end of the world—is to all but invite the unbalanced to start slaughtering the forces of presumptive evil.
Comment:  Although it appears Loughner shared the right wing's anti-government paranoia, we'll never know exactly what triggered him. And the precise triggers don't matter. It's inarguable that he lived in a climate that condoned the use of guns, violence, and hate against one's political opponents.

Many others comments have made similar points. Here are two of them:If I drive a car, I add to the burden of carbon in the atmosphere, and carbon in the atmosphere causes global warming. Can we run a controlled experiment on the earth to "prove" that? No. Is there ample evidence in the form of correlation between carbon and temperature? Yes. Does that mean that I personally caused the latest hurricane? No, of course not. Does it mean that I have no responsibility for my contribution do the problem? No, it does not mean that either.And:What politicians and pundits need to realize is that hate speech is not just about guns and targets. It's every time they demean a class of people. It's every time they call the unemployed lazy, the homeless drug addicts, gays as perverts. All of this talk leads to a mindset that it's OK to take some kind of action against them. That only the strong, successful class has the right to the freedoms of this country.For more on the subject, see Conservative Hatemongers Deny Responsibility, Political Vitriol in Giffords Shooting, and A History of Conservative Hate Speech.

1 comment:

Wild One said...

A well thought-out article! The political climate today really does stink.
I was glad to hear Ms. Giffords opened her eyes and is doing better. I was quite tickled to learn that it was after her friends offered to spring for beer and pizza that she woke up. Sounds like she's an all right (not to mention strong) lady!