Sunday, January 09, 2011

Obligatory thoughts on the Arizona shooting

Obviously nobody's pestering me for my thoughts here, but I've seen so damn much CNN in the last two days, that it's hard to avoid forming an opinion or two. I'd like to get it off my chest before I go and try to be entertaining.

1. A nine-year-old girl as well as half a dozen grownups were killed. This kind of thing just ties me up in knots, and I wish I could stop thinking about it. I mean, if you're losing your positive outlook on the human race, then the best thing you can do is to get to know a well-balanced nine-year-old girl. Taking that away is the stuff of enduring heartbreak and terrifying nightmares. When little girls start to fall under your vision of acceptable collateral damage, then maybe it's time it's time to give a serious second thought to what you imagine it is you're trying to accomplish.

Of course, this draws up the usual unsettling disconnect. How many little girls are getting shot, orphaned, abused, and starved thanks to accepted violence? It happens far too commonly outside of society's purview or its capability to control, and that's awful enough, but we're out there killing them too, on purpose, or as an accepted consequence, through intentional policy, domestic and foreign. Political violence is common and condoned, while violence against politics has been pretty rare here by comparison in the last hundred years, and roundly condemned. Increasingly, I find I am sick with both. If you want to remember what the middle east wars cost, then try to imagine the thousands of nine-year-old kids, if you can take it.

2. I tend to agree that inflammatory rhetoric and the more-belligerent pose of the right wing is partly to blame here. I think that actual concentration and expression of economic power is also part of the problem. Powerlessness and ignorance seem to be common themes of many a confused American revolutionary poser, if you want to call in the Truthers and Birthers and the rest, not to mention the Tea Party. I don't think that's an entirely wrong perception: the political representation in our system is not engineered to make the system fair even according to the points of its own narrative, or to give these folks much of a voice. I mean, people have obviously been incited from time to time in history, and oppression and (limited) freedom are the fuel and oxygen of certain kinds of political conflagration. Are we there yet? I don't know. I think it's early to spot a general trend from this (not that it matters what I think), and occasional violent outbursts seem to be part of human behavior, no matter what causes the stress.

Of course, glibly supporting violence and throwing around martial rhetoric beforehand sure does make you look like an asshole when it finally does occur.

3. I liked the sherriff dude abetter on an extended interview this morning (I actually plugged into the sound!), but still, "consequences" sounds like a menacing addendum to free speech. It's worrying what people choose to believe, but if we're talking susceptibility to propaganda, then I find that our media is similarly infuriating. I think I'd still care, but if it weren't for twenty-four hours of concerned opinion, then I don't think I'd be this fucking irritated. Every time I calm down, I go a round on the hamster wheel and read one of the zillions of blog posts on the subject and I get annoyed again. We have several familiar themes emerging in the professional press, including that the dude was nuts, that you shouldn't challenge authority, that he was incoherently political, that both sides have troublemakers, that the political climate is just too nasty and it must unite for healing. Maybe he's nuts, and probably he's a poor thinker, and sure, people should calm the fuck down, but I'm not learning anything here about what people get angry about. I'm annoyed that this lone whackjob is a standard script for someone who does not speak with an accent. I think reporting like this is why people question authority.

I worry about cracking down, as false syllogisms continue to emerge with respect to violence and dissent. All terrorists disagree with the system, but not all complainers are violent, right? A high fraction of people against the establishment are selfish and too stupid to breathe, but that's true of people for it too. If our governing outlook does change as a response, it will probably be at the expense of the lower economic orders, who usually bear it. I suspect that amendments 1 and 4-10 are at more danger of being compromised than the second one. More than that, I'm worried about what we get for this affirmation of bipartisanship, if no one dares protest a crazy idea from the establishment. The last few times they came together as a concerned whole, we got bailouts, and a war, and a Patriot act.

4. This kind of false syllogism thing writes itself: Obviously these damn white dudes are nothing but trouble, and the only rational response is to crack down on them. I don't think we should randomly pull them over or anything, but airports? In schools? The bleeding hearts call it "profiling" but if they are the ones who commit these terrorist acts, then that's only a matter of using the information we have. Maybe there are good white guys out there (maybe!) but until they get together and keep their nutjobs in line, then they obviously don't deserve to be treated like real citizens. If they want respect, they have to earn it. They say it's a culture of peace, but really, who we kidding here?

5. What to make of the reading list? The nooze cites Animal Farm, The Communist Manifesto, and Mein Kampf, and although you can sense a theme there, that's a pretty contradictory set of inspirations. The liberal blogs add that an Ayn Rand doorstop or two was in the mix, perhaps omitted in the media since that's too close to our own governing madness. Now, I've read Animal Farm a couple of times, and the first time I did it was assigned. I haven't read Marx's manifesto but I've heard that it is powerful as a critique (and not so controversial as advertised), even if it turned out to be a terrible prescription when it got into certain hands. You couldn't fucking pay me enough to read Mein Kampf, but I think that there's an argument that it should be read, to help understand where a fascist monster came from. I don't see the reading list as sufficient evidence of lunacy, in other words, but it's been hauled up a lot.

Based on reports from people who read his screeds, the guy really does look unhinged, but I still think it was an early call by the media. Like "radicalized," it's a facile judgement that dismisses all disagreement with the dominant narrative as bonkers. Meanwhile, the same simple view can be applied to policy and our dominant ideologies when we look at what those things actually do--they're nuts too!

Well, maybe they all are. Maybe the sane people are the ones who don't waste their lives thinking about this crap. Right up to the point when they have to live with it.


Penal-Colony said...

You lost me after 1, not that I dozed or got confused or anything, but it's hard to top these sentences: "I mean, if you're losing your positive outlook on the human race, then the best thing you can do is to get to know a well-balanced nine-year-old girl. Taking that away is the stuff of enduring heartbreak and terrifying nightmares." Wow, man, there's the nub of the thing.

I could barely watch 'Shutter Island' because it depicted violence towards children, the same with 'The Lovely Bones'.

Anyway, thanks for your always refreshing outlook.

Dawn Coyote said...

This is great. You should post it somefrayre else, too.

switters said...

typical leftwing lunacy, blaming talk radio for the very same thing that the main stream media actually purports to epitomize.

sorry, been listening to a lot of hannity here lately. i'd like to think that mrs. palin and her entourage are scrambling in an attempt to blame all this on public school systems and those hippies over there at the aclu.

(john, in an interview, stanley tucci said that they had to take a lot of breaks during the abuse scenes in "lovely bones" because it was just too intense. no thanks, netflix, i'll pass.)

Keifus said...

Huh, I wasn't going to post it at all, but it kept intruding. I guess I could spread it around.

You know, I get frustrated with life a lot, but I've been very lucky with some things. I try not to forget it. I don't think I could watch those movies either.

As we learn more about the guy, he seems more and more like a desperate conspiracy theorist type. Maybe he was trying to expose her lizard form? Maybe it'd be better to say that his violent outburst and all the instigating political poses come from similar places. Cultural? Instinctive? Who knows. I think we can agree that Sarah Palin is still an asshole though.

bright said...

brightling is sitting next to me singing the (apparently) only three lines of the Martin Luther King song they learned in school this week.

He was a man who loved his country more than anything
Martin Luther King
He had a dream for America
Martin Luther King
dooo doo doo something else I can't remember doo doo
Martin Luther King

She turns 9 in two months.

Nice post.

Keifus said...

If I could get myself to write a smiley-face icon, I'd write one here.

Cindy said...

Free speech does have consequences. I don't think we have to see it as menacing. For some reason as I get older I'm just not that afraid of a little personal responsibility.

When we - as a country - grow up out of our (seemingly) endless adolescence maybe we -as a country - will find maturity, responsibility, self-control and civility less threatening.

I wish I could be alive when we - as a country - finally grow out of our raging fifteen-year-old selves.

Great post.

Keifus said...

I've never stated it very well, but I sometimes wonder how much that posturing reflects our average lifespan and quality of life. If we lived longer and better, would we instead act like punk college kids? God forbid, like grownups?

I'm not terribly comfortable about a person in a position of authority lecturing about "consequences" of speech. The warning that people might take you seriously, however, is the reasonable warning. That he elaborated that way is why I liked him better in that subsequent interview.

But threatening consequences in order to suppress criticism, whether it's your latest Red Scare or terrorist threat, then that worries me a lot, and calls for civility often seem like the passive-aggressive version of that. (And hey, the old labor movement had it's own alternative press. They had them some vitriol. Shouldn't they have?)

Archaeopteryx said...

Dawn's right. Post this over at BOTF just so you can read the reactions. (I think we call that "trolling."

Cindy said...

Yes, I do think vitriol has its place. The problem is no one of any weight seems willing to stand up to the crazies in the media, so they get to come off like factual, intelligent people.

What would happen if Katie Couric and Brian Williams and Bill Moyers all came out and said they weren't going to interview or report on Sarah Palin because she was uninformed and repetitive?

Would the "ratings" really drive that kind of strength?

No one stands up because they all stand to lose money. Who is willing to lose money to tell the Empress she has no clothes?

Schwarznegger maybe.

Emma Goldman would have no truck with Half-Governor-Palin. Or Rush - a millionaire radio brand using shallow rhetoric to incite people against their own interest.

No truck at all. Neither would any substantial journalist. Or so I thought.

So where are our Emma Goldmans? Huntley & Brinkley? Anyone?

Keifus said...

Arch, since most of the people from that group whose opinion I'd be interested in have alread read it (I did post it at Smutty's Folly, at Dawn's urging), then that leaves as the only goal drawing out the opinions of the willfully stupid, the actually stupid, and the logorrheic paranoiacs that still hang around. I might do that if there was a good chance some of the entertaining hecklers showed up to poke them.

Keifus said...

And Cindy, I don't really know. The late Howard Zinn was a big fan of Emma Goldman. His People's History is taught here and there, but I think as something of an alternative. I think he's influenced the overall presentation some though. (I got a decent but mostly conventional survey view in my history-for-engineers class, so I'm not the best example here.) Chomsky's still alive and pulls a sort of countercultural influence, but I've never really read him.

The liberal bloggers might amount to something of a powerless movement, but they seem to mostly run pretty centrist and pro-establishment too, at least those of them with a hope of getting knighted by the "real" press. For alternatives, see some on the blogroll there. Greenwald makes a small mark as a principled leftist. Matt Taibbi is pretty great, and minus the hyperbolic style, he is basically just doing old-school journalism, checking sources and building a story around research.

None are huge names though. Hard to have a big name complaining about the system.