Another inexplicable massacre of innocents followed by another
outpouring of grief followed by another round of finger pointing
followed by another extended period of hand wringing followed by...
pretty much nothing. Were getting good at this.
Whos to blame? Everyone? No one? We always have a line-up of
suspects at the ready.
Sarah Palin did not shoot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
When she put a bullseye on targeted congressional districts it didnt
much help the hateful political atmosphere. When she took it up
another notch, as her Facebook page did, and put her targeted members
of Congress in crosshairs it didnt help. When the healthcare vote
didnt go her way and she Tweeted dont retreat RELOAD it didnt
Sharron Angle didnt shoot Rep. Giffords. But her campaign rhetoric
about a Second Amendment solution if things didnt go her way didnt
Talk radio wasnt the shooter. That they spew vitriol all day long,
engaging in a kind of verbal thuggery, isnt at all helpful, though.
Hateful speech has become entertainment, a kind of spectator sport in
which we cheer for our side to make the most damaging accusations and
the most damning responses. Those who disagree with us are no longer
just wrong, were told, theyre evil. Violent, hateful language is
all right as long as its being directed at those were so sure are so
wrong about everything.
The rhetoric we now tolerate serves no useful purpose other than to
incite listeners and readers. It furthers no real agenda, strengthens
no legitimate platform, advances no honorable cause.
We have forgotten that words matter, that people listen, that not
everyone is capable of processing the intent and context of our ever
more inflammatory political debate. The most noxious of the hate
peddlers are quick to claim innocence when the violence erupts for
real but they certainly intended their comments to make an impression
when they first spoke them.
It isnt just politics. Television, movies and video games all now
celebrate violent vengeance. Murderous gunfire as a game, heads
exploding as entertainment. The so-called blogosphere online is a
cesspool of unbridled hatred and violent rhetoric. Voices of reason
are quickly denigrated, replaced by venomous nonsense in capital
letters, followed by lots of exclamation points.
Jared Lee Loughner, who actually did shoot Rep. Giffords while
murdering six others, has been a loose cannon for a long time. Its
entirely possible he was influenced by nothing other than his own
dementia. Five different times campus police were called to his
community college to deal with his irrational behavior. He was
eventually told not to come back until he could prove he wasnt a
danger to himself or others. There was no place to send him. The
behavioral health system in Arizona, as in many states, is broken,
another victim of horrendous budget woes. That is in no way helpful.
At the same time, Loughner had no trouble getting a handgun or a
30-round magazine. Without any mental health referrals, he easily
passed his federal background check. That didnt help.
The all too familiar post-massacre rituals began almost immediately.
The spontaneous memorials with their flowers and teddy bears. The
candlelight vigils and marches. The reactionary suggestions. One
member of Congress is ready to introduce a new law to criminalize
certain kinds of speech. Others are suggesting more gun control
The inevitable Congressional hearings will accomplish nothing other
than burnishing some images and fattening some campaign accounts.
Tearing off another chunk of the First Amendment wont help. Neither
will more restrictive or more liberal gun laws. Predictably, the
millionaire hate merchants have already proven they wont temper their
remarks or accept any responsibility for anything. That doesnt help.
The truth is were getting numb to all of it. Hateful speech and
violent imagery is everywhere. So is real violence. On average,
about 42 Americans are murdered every day, 27 by firearms. Unless the
victim is famous or the body count high, we dont pay much attention.
Our children see thousands of television and movie murders by the time
theyre 18 and, if they have the right video games, might have
participated in thousands of video killings themselves.
Politicians will not stop this nonsense just wait until the 2012
elections. The entertainment industry, including talk radio and
television, wont stop it. Bloggers, crouched behind anonymity,
certainly wont stop it.
Jared Loughner might not have been driven or influenced by the ugly
political and social environment but the rest of us are. And we can
When we reject the violent hate speech and stop listening to it,
watching it and reading it, those who enrich themselves using such
disturbing language and imagery will stop doing it.
When we stop contributing to or voting for the politicians using the
most hateful language they will go away.
When we stop buying violent video games for our children and ourselves
and stop gleefully watching yet another blood-splattered killing on
television or at the movies they will stop producing them.
When were ready to acknowledge there are far too many unhinged people
wandering around without much chance of being helped then well stop
looking the other way and create a system to treat or isolate them.
When we finally admit we have a serious problem if people out of touch
with reality have easy access to almost unlimited firepower then well
find a way to reduce the number of armed insane people.
The likelihood is well do nothing. Well shudder in horror and grief
and say Never again. Then well get our candles ready for the next