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Ramblings on Loughner and political climates

January 10, 2011

And here I am, taking positions on American politics that don’t REALLY concern me again.

A lot of people have been blaming “the political climate” for the tragedy down in Arizona, making it clear that by political climate they mean “Sarah and pal using gun imagery in their politics”. A lot of other people have been denouncing that, pointing out that there is no evidence Lougher, the shooter, was in any way influenced by Palin. (Correctly, one might add).

But Palin & Pals’ use of violent imagery to illustrate their positions isn’t “the political climate” – it’s (rather) use of a long-standing imagery. Sarah may be the first politician to use rifle scopes in her imagery, but she’s hardly the first to use THAT image to mean “this is our target”, without any implication (and any understanding by anyone) that they meant “Shoot at ’em!”. Granted, not all of Sarah’s friends have this defense (Angle’s “Repeal via second ammendment” moment is…kinda hard to interpret any other way), but still.

The political climate was illustrated to me, I think, about two years ago in a lengthy and at times a little bitter debate between one of my closest friends and I, concerning Obama’s inauguration, and the participation of a baptist pastor known for his support of anti-gay positions, whose name escape me right now. My friend argued that, due to his opposition to gay marriage et al, the said pastor – and all who thought like him – should be rejected, ignored. That because their opinion differed from his, they were not worthy of consideration from Obama. Coming hot on the heels of years of the Bush administration (and we all remember how terms like “Unamerican” were abused in those eight years), it struck me as wrong-headed: just because you disagree with someone’s opinion on one point, doesn’t mean you should reject them on everything.

There is such a thing as “Agreeing to disagree”, and it doesn’t prevent people from working together.

Except, it seems, in America, where people who disagree with you on politics aren’t simply people who disagree with you, but enemies. Traitors. To be rejected, to be shoved aside, to be ignored (and, if possible, mocked at, or gloated at, or otherwise reminded of how badly they’re losing – “Never have so many been so wrong about everything” being a Cheney that’s still stuck in my throat several years down). In other words, to be treated as less because of their opinions.

This is what I’d call the political climate in America. Not the more out there imagery, but this trend, pervasive to the point where many, even people on both side of the spectrum who are in no way likely to call for violence, and whom I would describe as very intelligent, consider it the normal course of things.

And, unlike Palin’s gun imagery, which remain just that (imagery), and unlikely in and of itself to have much political impact, this mentality strikes me as a breeding ground for “lone nuts” (Lone being an exceedingly relative term in the internet age). The jump from “She put gunsight on a map targeting this congresswoman, I must shoot her!” require a pretty unbalanced mind (they do exist, but it’s likely something else would have triggered them – maybe Jodie Foster, and if we start removing everything from public consciousness that may trigger a lone nut…well, okay, we’d have to wipe out humanity to do that).

The jump from “These people are the enemy, whose opinion should not be considered” to “These people are the enemy, who should be shoved aside”, to “These people are the enemy, whose influence should be removed” to “Remove your enemies” to killing people…how easy a jump is that? It’s a tragically natural progression (regression, perhaps) of thoughts, where each step naturally follow from the last. It’s happened before, countless times. It will happen again, so long as humanity remain human.

Not everyone will do it, of course. “Killing is wrong” is also deeply ingrained in a lot of us, so even if the above steps feel natural, most people will stop short of the precipice even if they otherwise subscribe to the general philosophy. Nor will every killing be blamable on the political climate and the hate & loathe rhetoric both sides have been gleefully engaging in.  It is, in fact, quite possible that this tragedy belong in the later group, and would have happened even in the most quiet of climates.

But what I am saying is…the rhetoric both sides have engaged in is the sort that should make a good breeding ground for lone nuts. Lone nuts who, thanks to the magic of the internet, will only be “lone” in a relative sort of way (although that may not always be a bad thing – see last point – it will be the moment a lone nut gets encouraged into acting by other lone nuts online, but plot out their move on their own). Lone nuts who, thanks to the magic of modern armament, will have the power to do single-handedly a great deal of damage. And lone nuts who, thanks to generally acting alone, and often being very dead-set on accomplishing their goals, will be exceedingly difficult to stop.

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