There is Representative Gabrielle Giffords, in photos on this page, enjoying the fruit of shock and awe, definitely a representative. Of what? That’s one question. What are not the questions worth any/further debate are whether or not Sarah Palin may have inspired or encouraged the shooting in Tucson on 08 January–the answer, plainly, is no–or whether the “tone” of political discourse somehow foments or fosters such violence–and again the answer is decidedly no.
What is more intriguing is that members of a society such as the U.S. would even turn to such questions. Why would one expect that a society which meets the world through force, direct and indirect, threatened and implied, in order to achieve its political aims would somehow be immune to the forces which it nurtures and in which citizens are schooled daily? When the U.S. projects violence “abroad” (in the world in which it is immersed), where does that violence come from to begin with? If Americans did not believe that the best way to get things done was by opening fire, would they elect and abide by governments breaking all historical records for military spending when the U.S. no longer has a superpower rival? Its actions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia and elsewhere are not simply external, abroad, and away, as if one could so neatly remove them from the social system that created the conditions for political violence. Sarah Palin cannot be blamed: she is neither a system nor a culture, and let’s not even indulge those childish notions that suggest pictures of crosshairs on a map somehow directed someone to shoot. The “tone” cannot be blamed: some very polite people do awful things, and Americans ought to know this given that they have one such person in power. Changing the “tone” of debate is worthless while drone strikes are continually ordered by the White House.
The persistent problem here is misrecognition of the fact that empire and violence are fundamental organizing principles of this globally elongated entity known as the United States. “Changing the tone of debate in Washington” is a narrow, insular, nationalistic framing of how reality is perceived and processed. It is a line of argument favoured by those who implicitly know that they have an empire to preserve, and pretend that what we do “over there” is somehow disconnected from and unrelated to what we are right here. The insincerity of the statement is astounding, coming as it does after months of virulent death threats against Julian Assange and Wikileaks, printed and transmitted by the mainstream media themselves, without caution, restraint, or apology. Nor have officials in power done or said anything to tone down the voices of the gathering lynch mob, clearly basking as they are in the warm glow of the hatred they encouraged by careless accusations against an organization that has harmed no one and broken no laws. It’s not just that no separation between domestic discourse and international imperialism is impossible when it comes to setting a “tone,” it’s that one cannot have one tone for one matter and a radically different tone for another, coming out of the same mouth. Nor can one just repair tone while continuing to commit heinous acts of violence, and even celebrating them as “service.”
It is therefore no accident that Michelle Obama should issue a statement, presumably of consolation, that states: “We can also teach our children about the tremendous sacrifices made by the men and women who serve our country and by their families.” Always the resort back to the military, and the reduction of “service” to a career in violence to achieve political objectives. Force back your tears, we have a world to conquer and tame. We get to pick and choose our violence; we have the right to bring death, but we shouldn’t have to suffer it ourselves; we can live by the sword, but it is inconceivable that we should die by the sword. The state orchestrates violence on a massive scale, the media sanctify it, and citizens are trained to accept it as the norm. Who knows what finally motivated this one shooter to finally act, when others just imagine themselves acting. Perhaps it was basic American “common sense” telling him that to get things done, you need a gun. Perhaps it was his rebellion against a system where elections are made to matter so much because they are a substitute for democracy, where casting a ballot is submitting your signed resignation from the decision-making process–from this moment onward, someone else will make my decisions for me, they can do with me what they please. But then it should have been a massive throng of shooters who showed up on that day, so another key question is not just why this happens in the U.S., but why it does not happen more often.
There really is nothing new here. The U.S. has had political murders before, and will have them in the foreseeable future. Nor are the ideas expressed here novel, certainly not when I rely on awfully worn statements such as “living by the sword, and dying by the sword.” This reminds me of another familiar saying, uttered below by one man commenting on political violence, who suffered political violence, America’s finest ever public speaker and political intellect, so much so that calling him “American” seems to do him another injustice.
[scroll to 00:40]
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When I heard about the shootings, I was horrified but not surprised, if that’s possible. And although there were many innocent people killed, including a little girl, all we’ve really heard about is the congresswoman. Add in the fantasy pairing with a U.S. Navy pilot in pristine white uniform and the story is complete.
But she herself has said she owns a Glock 9mm. She poses with assault rifles and warplanes. Projection of lethal force is acceptable as long as only one side does it, the “right” side. But who makes that decision? The one with the biggest guns?
The sight and sound of guns make me physically sick. Some people are aroused by them. How can you reconcile these two reactions?
Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, had a message similar to Malcolm X’s which he delivered to his congregation. When the sermon became known outside his church, Obama threw him under the bus (metaphorically, of course). Obama should have listened to him.
That’s why all the prayers and sonorous speechifying by the prez and others drive me crazy. Obama can’t or won’t see the connection.
This attempt to widen the understanding of the US people about the “climate of hate” that has been imposed upon them by the military and the related global corporate power is the only hope for a change of course. There have been numerous attempts to call attention to this, as in the interview with Malcom X, and Michael Moore’s “Bowling at Columbine”.
It is so deeply intertwined with US individual and “team” identity that we can’t see it. We are trained and rewarded for thinking “us against them”, rather than in dynamics of cooperation, that there is nothing abnrmal about it anymore. This is deeply embedded in our educational system and cooperated with by the family that has been trained in it.
And, of course, the congressperson’s own chickens seem to have come home to roost, judging from the photodocumentation of the supposrt she has shown for the culture of hatred and fear. This is NOT to say that SHE got what she deserved. Instead, it appears to me that USans are getting what they insist upon.
Since we are, and I am part of this society, I find my inner responses to be conditioned by the same dis-ease. I also find that I can’t seem to see a way that I can help to make this monster change its course.
And the main steam is right on the planned course they have been on since the violent theft of this land from the many indigenous nations who have been plowed under by this advance of the empire.
How can we stimulate the creation of “the new man”, the new society?
“Why would one expect that a society which meets the world through force, direct and indirect, threatened and implied, in order to achieve its political aims would somehow be immune to the forces which it nurtures and in which citizens are schooled daily?”
That’s definitely a point that far too many people are absolutely unwilling to consider.
Ryan, John, CM, thanks for the great comments, much appreciated.
So, is having one virtue worthless, if one does not have all virtues? Changing the tone of political discourse is not worthless, nor is politeness worthless, even if civil discourse is insufficient to preclude political violence, and even if politeness as a behavioral attribute is insufficient to preclude their doing awful things. It places too high an expectation on a single virtue, an expectation that that virtue cannot meet. But what are the tendencies that civil discourse and politeness engender? A tendency toward empathy. A tendency toward patience. A tendency toward good will. A tendency toward compassion. A tendency toward greater comprehension. It is these tendencies that the absence of civility and politeness tend to preclude. A lack of civility and a lack of politeness induce anger, discord, bitterness, hate, impatience, misunderstanding, division, and the production of totalizing and alienating discourses. Some people mistake civility with acquiescence. That is a fundamental error, or perhaps an excuse for those who do not want to listen, do not want to feel empathy, toward those with whom they have passionate disagreement. Some people mistake civility for a lack of passion.
Very interesting points, I will be thinking about them. Also, sorry that for some reason your comment was automatically filed away in my spam queue, luckily I did not do my usual auto-delete.
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