Sunday, January 9, 2011

Examining some gut reactions

I'm going to attempt to write this post, and then see if I'm too biased to even finish it.

You see, congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords was shot yesterday in front of a grocery story in Tucson Arizona, along with several other people.  I think the last time a member of Congress was shot was Leo Ryan at Jonestown in 1978, so this sort of thing does not happen often.  And this time when it happened, I perhaps made the mistake of looking to Twitter for quick updates.  The benefit of Twitter is that when something tragic happens, you can receive information on it far faster than you would by watching TV or listening to the radio, where newscasters typically announce that they have a breaking story and then, after revealing all they know about it, spin their wheels and go on and on about the most insignificant and tangential details until eventually they have something new to say.  Twitter, on the other hand, is a buzzing hive of nobodies as well as somebodies who will report whatever they know right this instant and then you can sift through what's useful and what isn't.  That also includes a lot of commentary, unfortunately often of the sort that is worse than useless. 

That commentary has given me a headache, and it would be foolish in the extreme to say that that's because I'm somehow above drawing political inferences about the fact that someone apparently tried to assassinate a Democratic congresswomen whose enemies, according to her father, include "the whole Tea Party."  I'm not-- I've got political inferences up the wazoo, and they kick in reflexively.  The first is to be a rabid free speech defender against claims that Sarah Palin is criminally or at least civilly responsible to some extent for the shootings because she put Giffords on a map with crosshairs to signify that she should be voted out of office.  The second is to be rabid gun rights defender against the outcry for banning all guns that comes up any time that anyone notable in the U.S. is shot.  The third is-- yes, this amazes me too- to be a rabid Tea Party defender because people are already taking the fact that the (apparently schizophrenic) shooter was a fan of the gold standard as a sign that he represents all of "Ron Paul libertarianism."  And I'm sure there are more.  These are my biases, making themselves apparent by my hyper-reaction to specific kinds of reactions that other people have.

Investigation is ongoing about the alleged shooter, a 22-year-old named Jared Lee Loughner.  So far it looks pretty clear that he has mental problems of some sort, possibly schizophrenia.   We have no idea why he shot Giffords, federal judge John Roll, and several other people including a child.  And "He was just nuts" isn't a satisfying explanation-- there has to be some external reason.  Even if he is "nuts," there had to be outside influences which pushed him to the edge and caused him to do this.  After all, not everybody with a mental illness is a murderer.  Right?  So let's find someone else to blame.  

I guess that's how the thinking goes, anyway.  But really, when something terrible happens, people want their enemies to have been the ones who did it.  If not directly, then indirectly.  And I'm not honestly sure that a single one of us is exempt from this.  Not only do we not want That Guy Who Did That Bad Thing on our side, we want him as far away as possible-- if not actually on the team of the people we don't like, then at least influenced by them, because that provides an explanation we can live with.  It's all part of making the world more ideologically comfortable.

Which, actually, explains why I laughed with recognition at something retweeted by Radley Balko earlier today: "Liberals, when you make me want to defend Sarah Palin, you have gone too far."  Blaming Palin for the shooting disrupts my ideological does defending her.  I'd rather not talk about her at all, to be honest, which is what I foolishly believed we would all be able to do after Obama's election in 2008.  And since we can't, we now we have this:

"We don't know if the use of these symbols actually had anything to do with the shootings, and we don't care.  We just want to do something, because the map was clearly bad in a way that should be so obvious that it doesn't need to be articulated, bad enough that we need to start outlawing forms of expression that were previously legal.  Because, you know, it's always better to be safe than sorry."

And so it goes...

Yep, I'm apparently too biased. Can't seem to shake it, so I'd better go ahead and end here.  

1 comment:

  1. I've spent the last couple of hours trying to craft a blog post about this. It's been difficult to find the right words. While I agree that the rhetoric has gone too far, limits on free speech aren't the way to deal with it. Americans will find a way, within their new limits, to fight back. An instructive read along those lines is Cory Doctrow's "Little Brother." You can pick up an ebook through Project Gutenberg.


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