Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Attempted Assassination of Gabrielle Griffords

I’ve gone back and forth this week, deciding who was to blame one day; then revising my thinking the next.  Of course, ultimately the blame is squarely placed on the gunman because that’s where it belongs.  But something else contributed.  Is it the uncivil political discourse?  Perhaps … but that has always been with us.  Our country was birthed in violence.  Revolution could be considered uncivil political discourse taken to the extreme.  Acts of violence have happened in the sacred halls of Congress.  Congressman Preston Smith Brooks savagely beat Senator Charles Sumner to the floor of the United States Senate with a cane and was celebrated for his actions in the south.   The Civil War was the United States’ ultimate in uncivil discourse.  But we have had other protests:  against the Vietnam War, for civil rights, the right to vote … And with violence these causes were resisted.

The political rhetoric in this country is extreme and comes with a heavy price; a price that the American people pay.  But vitriolic political rhetoric has not happened in a vacuum.  Anonymous, or not, commenters on the internet attack everyone, every cause, every system, every celebrity, every policy.  They consider themselves omniscient.   The media, some churches, political parties, government, parents, community leaders have all contributed to the daily uncivil conversation. 
What else hasn’t changed in America is the absolutism, the knowledge of rightness wrapped in religion or science or theory.  And when that knowledge is wrapped in the security of religion or science nothing easily pricks our truth because it is intertwined with identity, faith and pride.  And what can get through that?

Something recently changed in our society.  Columbine was the beginning; the beginning of our nation’s collective realization that the “one” could massacre the innocent.  We felt confused, dismayed and helpless.  The slaughter has continued.  There have been more school, post office, workplace shootings.  

I don’t know how to fix this or even what changed.

Is it the availability of automatic guns?  Guns have always been available in the US.  Granted one man could not have caused the damage with the guns available in earlier times.  Is it the media?  The desentization to violence we all experience?  Is it the internet that allows the ugly underside of society to congregate safely?  Is it the countrywide notoriety that inevitably ensues?  Many desire fame.  Turn on the TV and you will find any number of people willing to do anything to be on TV for an instant and if it lasts longer … then all the better! 

Is it the change in our society?  Families are changing.  Fewer adults care for their aging parents.  Personal identity is less grounded in community as many people move to frequently to put down roots; and identity has become increasing child centered but differently now – parents’ identities are becoming tied up in the child’s accomplishments.  Parents aren’t disengaging when appropriate.  Infantized adults call their parents daily when away at college, and colleges now have orientations for the parents.  The result – those children are less capable than their parents but think they are more capable.  Does any of this contribute to or explain why someone walks into a crowd one day and starts shooting?

Is it all just mental illness coupled with a willingness … nay, eagerness to kill and access to the means of murder?  I don’t know ... but I’m worried.

I recommend reading Chris Daly’s Political overtones, but mental Illness underneath from the Boston Globe and Joanna Weiss’ It’s not the violence; it’s the insurrection.
My favorite quote from the Weiss article is “What we’re in the process of is either dehumanizing or de-Americanizing one’s opponents,”  Leonard Steinhorn.  I believe it aptly describes our unfortunate political climate.


Lynn said...

I don't think that any of us has the answer, but your post really covers all of the contributing factors. All I know is that I am sick to death of hearing about this slaughters...I think that's something we can all agree on.

Life as the mother of 4 said...

Yes Lynn, I think everyone can agree with that. I wish someone could figure out what has changed.

Anonymous said...

I think Jon Stewart did a really good job addressing this on Monday night. Marcy

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