readings on violence and rhetoric

After the shooting in Tuscon Tucson this weekend, many many people have weighed in on the violent rhetoric used in our current political climate. I don’t really have much to add to the following links, but I wanted to share some of my favorite things I’ve read over the last few days.

Reclusive Leftist has a wonderful post that points out the absurdity of focusing on Palin’s violent rhetoric when it is rather ubiquitous. For instance, Olberman’s anti-Hilary Clinton rhetoric a few years ago was quite violent as well. In fact, the left’s obsession with Palin probably has more to do with a patriarchal fear of powerful women than a specific focus on violent rhetoric:

Palin is the left’s Hillary Clinton. She’s the Evil Mother, the terrifying Vagina Dentata, the Monstrous Female who is somehow the cause of everything scary and bad and wrong.

It’s funny, isn’t it? Men run the world, own almost everything in it, hold almost every position of power, and yet these two women—each the first in her party to become a serious contender for presidential office—are somehow responsible for everything bad. Somehow they’re in charge, somehow they’re the worst, somehow they are the fount of evil.

• James Poniewozik at Time has a decent column on violent rhetoric:

Expression has effects. Tremendous effects. Rhetoric shapes our worldview. Narratives change people’s lives. Arguments move listeners and infuriate them. Does rhetoric cause anything? You could make a good argument that, when it comes to human behavior, rhetoric causes everything. [. . .]

Hostile, belligerent rhetoric isn’t wrong for what it causes. It’s wrong for what it is in itself. [. . .]

That reason is not that somebody is going to see that and suddenly decide that murder is a legitimate means to an end. It’s that responsible, grown people don’t act that way in public.

• Tim Wise weighs in on our current political climate and paranoia:

It is not necessary to show that Loughner is a follower of Glenn Beck, or Michael Savage, or any of a hundred or more local variants of the same. It is not, in the end, all that important whether he spent time on right-wing websites, or is (as a Department of Homeland Security memo seems to suggest) a follower of the white nationalist group, American Renaissance, or whether he believes (as some of his otherwise hard-to-decipher internet postings hint) that the Constitution is being usurped by the current government because of its reliance on paper money: a prominent meme among the far-right. What matters is that Loughner, like all of us, has been exposed day in and day out, for several years, to the unhinged and paranoiac ravings of persons who believe America is in its “end days,” and that the sky is falling, at least metaphorically — and not because of global warming, which is just one more piece of the left-wing conspiratorial plot to confiscate all wealth in the name of nature-worship — but because of the communist/socialist/fascist/Marxist/Nazi/Muslim/Kenyan/terrorist/anti-Christ who occupies the White House.

[. . .]

Whether or not Loughner was influenced directly by any of these words, these verbal daggers aimed at civil discourse, is quite beside the point. For these words, these daggers, are the very ether of the political culture in which he has come of age. They comprise the fabric of the larger ideological tapestry to which he has been exposed. And they are, like any toxin, bio-accumulative in the cells of the human animal, even more so for those whose chemical balance is already dicey at best. Especially when such persons have the misfortune of living in a society that has so completely stigmatized mental illness as to guarantee that most who suffer will receive no treatment.

Jill at Feminste has a good discussion of mental illness:

[. . .] our culture so thoroughly ties mental illness to criminality that we have created an environment of intellectual laziness when it comes to looking at the actual causes of crime. [. . .]

Certainly, some people with mental illnesses do commit crimes — but that shouldn’t really surprise us, since people with mental illnesses are people, and some people commit crimes. I’m worried, though, that “he’s crazy” will end up being the easy card to pull in the particular case of the Arizona shooting, without recognizing that, mentally ill or not, Jared Loughner participated in the same society as the rest of us, and was undoubtedly influenced by the culture in which he lived — mental illness does not typically put one on an island all their own, totally unswayed and oblivious to everything around. We need to take a good look at the culture and sub-cultures we’ve built in the United States; “he’s crazy” is a cop-out, and it’s irresponsible, and it doesn’t alleviate us of our responsibilities.

• And, as Jim Aune at the Blogora suggests, Walter Benjamin’s essay Critique of Violence.

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