Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Crosshairs," Correlations, & Consequences: Dealing with What Happened in Tucson

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"We are again dealing with difficulties in a contentious, partisan time. We are more connected than ever before, more able to spread our ideas and beliefs, our anger and fears. As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters, we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged." -- Bill Clinton, following the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing

I'm still a bit shaken after what happened... but I wanted to say this. I'll try to be coherent, but as usual, my thoughts are all over the place. It's taken me 4 days to even get to a point where I feel like I can speak again. I keep trying to process all that's going on, and make some sense of it, but... There are global moments of insanity, and disbelief, and anger, all rolled into a week-long fit of depression. Good times, Not so much...

EDIT: As usual, President Obama says it best. (Eulogy from tonight's memorial service in Tucson).

And when my boss says to me (while pointing at a neatly packed but apparently-not-the-way-she-wanted-it box of merchandise), "Who did this? They deserve to get shot!" and I'm left standing there, shaking, disgusted that even after everything that's happened in the past year, let alone the past 4 days, no one seems to understand how horrifying it is to hear that. (I once had a roommate who would declare that she would like to “shoot him/her in the face” every time she got angry at someone. I also had a roommate who would tell people “I’ll cut you!” It was uncomfortable then, and it’s still uncomfortable now. Nothing ever changes…) For something that is "just an expression" - do we really have to use such violent language just to express dissatisfaction? Saying that someone deserves to be shot because they did something you didn't like? Not cool.

I was talking to Storyteller Knight on Friday about how I can't tell if the world has always been this crazy and if I'm just more aware of it now, or if things are really just getting worse. Between Wikileaks and Anonymous, and what's been going on in Tunisia and Greece and the UK; and here in the US with the Tea Party and Palin/Bachmann/Angle and the extreme polarization of politics; and now this... again. With (wannabe) politicians like Palin and Angle and Jesse Kelly as well as commentators on the "news," encouraging the use of violent language, if not violence itself, against "enemies," and others demanding that the people they disagree with or dislike (President Obama, Assange, Olbermann, etc.), be put to death, I really have to wonder - what is it that makes people feel that these things don't/won't potentially have consequences, whether intended or "accidental"? Or does that never cross their minds?

(P.S.- Politicize the shooting? A politician was targeted and almost assassinated, for her viewpoints and actions. Due to lax gun regulations and a political environment that espouses gun violence as a mantra (!!!), a mentally unstable man with a history of disturbing outbursts and anti-government sentiments [and who was rejected by the Army for failing drug testing], was able to obtain a semi-automatic weapon and high capacity magazines [even after being turned down by one store]. Welcome to Politics. I understand not wanting to turn this tragedy into an argument. I myself tried to stay out of the political side of this as much as possible for a few days. But eventually, we do need to talk about it. This event is, sadly, further evidence that we need to make some major changes now, before someone else gets hurt. Thus is life.)

As many of us are probably now aware, Ms. Palin removed her map of crosshairs from her website just after the first reports of the shooting. (However, she left up the one on her Facebook page.) I want to be optimistic and believe that she did it because she finally realized it was inappropriate and it could be taken the wrong way (especially by someone who is mentally unstable), even if publicly she’s defending it. Whether Palin meant it literally, figuratively, etc, doesn't matter.  I can't blame her for what happened this past weekend. I don't. None of us knows for sure the reasons behind the shooting; we can only speculate, but it's not fair to place blame without conclusive evidence. (And honestly, I would almost start to feel bad for her if he did say it was because of her. To know that because of something incredibly stupid you did, so many people were hurt—not just the victims, but their families as well... But that is what happens when you promote violence and hatred, instead of learning to work with people. Democracy does not “work” because of threats and warfare, but because of mutual respect.) Only Loughner knows what convinced him to do it. But that doesn't mean that comments like those that have been idealized by the GOP/Tea Party as a PLATFORM are ok; and yes, this incident does prove that even suggesting "second amendment remedies" is a huge deal. (Video was just removed by user, but I downloaded a copy of it the other day. Oh, internet...)

We are not monsters-- at least, we shouldn't be. We can be kinder to each other than this, can't we? Violence is never the answer. I do think there is a difference between talking about violence and acting on it-- But those who are able to respect others would not use either against an opponent.

Few people are saying that Palin herself is to blame for this-- that in itself is a gross misconception. The vast majority of us are simply asking her to apologize for what she and her “friends” have said, because of how it hurt people and made people feel unsafe, and because what she said/did was extremely inappropriate; and because, despite everything, she and her colleagues continue to use violent, hurtful language, and do not seem to (want to) realize that all things have consequences.

Ms. Palin, it would seem that you have yet to understand that society has ascribed a price to fame. You have responsibilities as a public figure. You will be held accountable for your actions, and you will be held to a higher moral standard. With power comes responsibility. If you want the former, you MUST accept the latter. As a public figure, you know that your words and actions have a big impact. That impact is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. So take a moment to think about what you’re doing before you open your mouth.

Again, I am NOT saying that she was calling for people to literally attempt to kill her opponents, nor do I necessarily believe that it is a fact that Loughner was "doing what she wanted." We do not know all of the facts yet. Even I don't think Palin is cruel enough to want her opponents dead. (Though honestly, I think my views are more along the lines of “she’s not actually mature enough to understand what she’s saying,” that we don’t threaten to destroy people we disagree with, we talk to them like rational adults. Her “methods” in general show an incredibly childish and immature way of thinking about politics. It is very ego centric, very “black and white.” Stage 2 moral development for a 40-something year old? Oh my… So that’s my psychological analysis for the week.)  I also don't think that she actually expected anything like this to happen - which is part of the problem. I think it was a huge mistake on her part to think that it was ok to use that kind of tone, even in jest, just as it is now a huge mistake for her to backpedal instead of taking responsibility for what she said. (Can I reiterate? Not taking responsibility for what happened, but for WHAT SHE SAID because it was inappropriate, and hurtful, and could potentially incite people such as Loughner. It happens, far more often than we'd like it to. You know how we always hear stories about mass murders who talk about their inspiration, whether it is voices on TV, or in their heads, or a book they read, or someone they talked to? Just because you don't expect to be "inspiration" does not mean you can't be. Whether you intend it or not, it is ALWAYS a possibility, especially when your words are those of hatred, fear, and/or distrust. We have to be careful not to cross lines that should not be crossed.) THIS is what we have been trying to get across. Not only is it wrong, but it's dangerous.

I’m not even going to touch the “blood libel” thing. This woman is so clueless and disgustingly offensive, it’s painful. And the sheer hypocrisy of what she said in that video… Do not even get me started on "intolerant of differing opinions." I will go quietly seethe in the corner after this. “They claim that political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently...” [smiles innocently at the camera, like she has no idea what they’re talking about…] When was it less heated? Let’s see. Besides the Burr-Hamilton duel (which supposedly wasn't even over politics to begin with...), let's take a look. Google “death threats” within the custom time range of January 1, 1999, to January 1, 2007. Finding much? Not a relevant thing. Pizza places that started accepting pesos, cartoonists for drawing prophets... 2008 to now? Remember how the FBI reported last year (sorry, two years ago...) that there were 400 percent more threats against President Obama than there were against President Bush Jr.? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s try another search. 1999-2007, “political threats,” worldwide. Not even 4 million results. Fast forward to 2008-2011. Almost 75 million results. (Well I guess I answered my own questions. The world is getting crazier… and we’re noticing/documenting more of it.) So to answer her question - at some point prior to the 2008 election, and prior to the Tea Party. Things may have been bad in the past, and the country has gone through many periods of civil unrest and violence; this may certainly be the latest one. But for quite some time, it seems like things had calmed down.

To suggest (as she did in her video) that a person is not affected by the goings-on of society is na├»ve and/or ignorant at best. (I could go into things related to the Trevor Project, but I will keep this relevant to the topic at hand…) We are the products of our environment (and genetics, of course). Society dictates how we dress, what we eat, how we act, etc. Yes, each person is responsible for their own actions, but those actions, their consequences, and their meanings, are determined by society. In a different place and time, as disgusting as what I'm about to say may seem, Loughner could have been been considered a hero instead of a mentally ill monster. Point: Context matters. This was not just a law being broken, but arguably a series of conditions [in society] that lead to and allowed for "a deranged gunman" to commit this crime in the first place.

And while we’re on the topic of pointing out the problems in blaming groups for the actions of a single person…

 (Like I said, a Kohlberg 2. It’s wrong for everyone but “me.”)

All of this, everything, makes it so hard to break free from the "us vs. them" discussions. Those who disagree with Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, etc., are marked as "enemies." And I say marked because of the CONSTANT use of specific and repetitive hunting imagery, as though we are the animals you track down for sport. (As an animal rights/environmental activist, I find this whole concept appalling. As a human rights activist, I find it almost unforgivable.) I would hope that maybe now you can understand just how scary it can be- when someone "targets" you, and puts a "hit" on you, no matter their actual intentions or personal understanding of what it means, you can't be sure how others are going to react. For all we know, it could be real to someone. And it's scary. Palin - You are in politics, now. You should understand this. The desire to protect your loved ones from potential threats, from people who might want to harm them for whatever reason. I say this because it could happen to anyone, regardless of politics and "sides.” There are extremists of all types. And some of them might not be able to distinguish between reality and rhetoric, or “right” and “wrong,” or understand what others mean. When we put ideas into their heads, when the voices around them seemingly condone violence, it can be a trigger for untold disaster. There are lines that should never be crossed, and one of them is safety. If you, or anyone you care about, were to show up on a map similar to the one you posted on your website, would you be upset? Would you be concerned for their safety? I'm sure that you would be very upset about that. No one should be made to feel afraid for their safety.This is something we ALL feel. Can we for one second stop trying to blame each other for trying to stir up violence, and move on to more mature, civilized discussion about preventing violence and taking responsibility for our actions? Guess not. And the fact that several people have come forward and refuse to tone down violent language and actions (or even begin to acknowledge that what they said was violent and offensive), or consider the effects it has on the population, after all that we've seen happen over the past few years, tells me that they either don't get it or don't care.
"Violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our democracy."-- K.O.

All of that being said:
Should anyone be fundraising? Too soon. "Both sides"—too soon. Sanders, Tea Party— way too soon. One way of dealing with tragedy is talking about it, and talking through it, and rationalizing it to ourselves. I wish I could remember/find the source, but one news commentator (possibly Olbermann) mentioned on Saturday watching the nation go through the stages of grief. But capitalizing on a nation's anguish as we're experiencing it is ethically questionable, to put it kindly.

What do we want? Self-regulation. We're asking that each and every person in this country have the common sense, common courtesy, and respect for your fellow Americans (and fellow human beings) to refrain from using violent rhetoric against those with whom you disagree. When do we want it? Two years ago.

And I’d seriously appreciate it if the HuffPost would stop turning article titles about media feuds into Celebrity Deathmatch Lite. I don’t want to read “Jon Stewart Slashes Glenn Beck” or “Palin Slams Oprah” every morning. And I know it isn’t only the HuffPost, it’s all media; but I tend read HuffPost most often during the week, so I see it more often than other places. (Speaking of media feuds, the Scarborough-Beck thing is amusing. I never thought I could agree with Scarborough about anything. Even if he is a bit far behind...)

Now might also be a good time to point out that one of my senators, Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), has proposed a renewal of the ban on high capacity magazines. (Now is probably a bad time to talk about how awesome he is though… or about how Bush let the ban expire in 2004… But it’s probably a great time to point out that in response to what happened this weekend, legislators in Arizona have introduced 2 bills that would allow faculty members of universities to carry concealed weapons on campus, and prohibit schools from stopping a person from carrying a weapon without a permit. So in response to a mentally disturbed guy getting weapons he shouldn't have had access to and carrying out... this, Arizona essentially weakens their already practically-nonexistent gun laws. Not a smart move.) Gun laws in America are a huge problem...but even then, that's only the beginning.

It's things like this that make me wonder if peace will ever be a reality.... If we can learn to solve our problems without resorting to violence and hatred. If we stop trying to bicker back and forth about who started it and just realize that we're wrong, that we made a mistake, and that we won't do it again... that we are capable of moving on and learning from our mistakes.

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