In the wake of this shooting and the admirable attempts to hold the right responsible for creating an environment where targeting of politicians for violence is bound to happen, some efforts have taken the form of policing metaphors for violence. I’ve seen people go as far as to quarrel with using language of the battlefield that has been drained through repetition of all its impact. I promise you, saying things like “target” or even “set your sights” isn’t really contributing to the problem of political violence. I do think that gun nuttery raises the temperature, but not just because it suggests violence as a legitimate response to losing elections, but it also raises the level of paranoia. I do think there’s value in talking about the use of inciting language, like Sarah Palin is fond of doing, but I have to say that is probably less of a problem than paranoia. The violent rhetoric encourages people to see violence as a solution, but it’s the paranoia that gives them cause to get that wound up, or in the likely case of Loughner, to latch onto right wing paranoia as a delusion. It’s therefore more important to target lies and paranoia when holding the right accountable than anything else. They’d probably prefer it if we stuck to just talking about violent language, because that they can mostly give up without giving up too much. But abandoning lies? That’s definitely not something they want to put on the table. But it’s way more critical.
I’m not the only person who is focusing on this aspect. Jon Stewart, after doing that irritating thing where liberals pretend to be responsible by not holding the right responsible, did get a valuable point in.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Arizona Shootings Reaction|
I disagree with him that hyperbole is a problem in and of itself; as a humorist, he has to know that hyperbole is a valuable satirical tool. “The Daily Show” uses it all the fucking time. But hyperbole is a problem when it’s not hyperbole, if that makes any sense—if it’s used to actually hoodwink an audience and make them believe things that are not true, as opposed to exaggerating to make a point through humor. (Understatement works in a similar way—it’s not literally true, but it can reveal greater truths through humor.) But his larger point, that rhetoric should match reality, is the meat of this. By far, the lies and paranoia that are increasingly becoming the majority of right wing rhetoric are the issue here.
This is why it misses the point to quibble over the specifics of Loughner’s delusions and saying that if there’s not a direct link between stuff he said and stuff Sarah Palin said, that means we should cease all operations of holding the right accountable. The problem is that if paranoid thinking gets mainstreamed, it creates an environment where paranoid people get even more paranoid and delusional, and it dramatically increases the odds that someone is going to snap. Tim Wise wrote about this here:
For while Loughner would never have likely contemplated political assassination in a culture where the most pressing issue was, say, a simple philosophical disagreement over tax policy, or the proper balance between interest rates and full employment, or the percentage of GDP dedicated to debt service as opposed to long-term infrastructure investment, that is not the culture in which he (or any of us) lives. Rather, we live in a nation in which it is commonplace, and considered completely rational, for elected officials to believe the President is a foreign interloper. We live in a culture where the nation’s most powerful Republican, House Speaker John Boehner, cannot bring himself to condemn the maniacal derangement that is birtherism, but is reduced instead to a mere acknowledgement that since Hawaii says the President is a citizen, that’s “good enough for him.”
We live in a culture in which it is utterly normal, to a degree that has sadly made it nearly banal, to hear multi-million dollar, best-selling authors and talk show hosts suggest that the nation is on the verge of total fascism, death panels for the elderly, door-to-door gun confiscation, and the reconquest of the American southwest by Latinos bent on ethnic war. In short, in a society where paranoia is the daily currency of mainstream commentators, and pseudo-schizophrenic ramblings are elevated to the level of persuasive argument, we ought not be surprised that such a tragedy as occurred on Saturday might happen.
What people in media and political leadership positions have a responsibility to do is to keep lies and paranoia in check, so they don’t flourish, and the right has completely abdicated this responsibility and has, in many cases, run in the other direction of promoting lies and paranoia. Lies piled upon lies piled upon lies, and so reality becomes harder and harder for people swimming in this to find.
Keeping people in a permanent state of fantasy is an excellent way to push them towards violence. This is the difference, for instance, between moderate/mainstream religions and fundamentalist religions. In most religions, people basically leave the god delusion at the church door, even people that promote themselves as liberal Christians who are in this for god. They bracket off their irrational belief from the rest of their life. Rarely when I’m talking to liberal Christians who are politically active do I hear them saying, “God said so” as their reason for doing something. They root their arguments in morality and empirical evidence. So, they wouldn’t stop at “Jesus said so” when arguing for a generous social safety net, but they would say that it’s our moral duty not to abandon people and that society works better for everyone if we support people, fill in ample evidence here. If they lost their faith suddenly, they would be the same people. But fundamentalism is about blurring the distinction between the god fantasy and reality, so that irrational political and moral values are justified by the fantasy. That’s the roots of fundamentalist terrorism. It’s bananas to shoot a politician because he opposes putting people in jail because they prefer one religion over another, but fundamentalism puts people in this fantasy mindset where such an action starts to make sense.
Right wing lies and paranoia serve the same function. (Left wing ones, too, but they don’t have the same spread because there are way more people on the left who check that stuff.) But there’s basically no way they’re giving it up. For many on the right, lies are the only language they speak now. For example, I got this goofy link of a blogger attacking me, and it’s dazzling how much bullshit she spins. Here’s a sample paragraph, which I’ve marked up for the lies.
This dim analysis by Amanda Marcotte (extreme leftist1, abortion lover2 and defender of female genital mutilation3) is so full of meandering ramble it’s difficult to find her point4. I am to believe that Loughner is influenced by right-wingers (even though he is described by a friend as a “pot-smoking liberal,” he burned an American flag5 on YouTube, and Karl Marx 6and Mein Kampf7 were among his favorite reading materials. But he was still somehow influenced by evil conservatives to hate women8 and love guns9?
1) This is a nonsense term at this point, since everyone to the left of Richard Nixon is now an “extreme leftist”. Nonsense terms, at least when being used in the service of hoodwinking instead of a rhetorical flourish, contribute to the paranoia problem.
2) If this wasn’t tied to a larger right wing theory that pro-choicers actually have a deep love of uterus scraping, I’d write this off as hyperbole. Sadly, this is about invoking what is a straight up lie, which is that anyone “loves” abortion, which is like saying someone “loves” open heart surgery or “loves” going to the ER to have a bone set.
3) This is a really ugly lie. I actually said that if people who are unwilling to give up the ritual would accept a substitute that satisfies their desire for the ritual without mutilating genitals, that would be better than nothing. In other words, I was proposing a solution to stop FGM, the exact opposite of supporting it.
4) This isn’t true. She just doesn’t want people to actually click the link and discover she’s lying about what’s in it. Thus she tells them it’s incomprehensible to discourage actually reading it. Ironically, I’m usually criticized by wingnuts for being too blunt, i.e. not obtuse.
5) That this is something liberals do all the time is a paranoid lie.
6) That liberalism is the same thing as communism is a paranoid lie. This should be a two-pointer, in fact, because there’s a bigger lie about what communism is—wingnuts don’t really understand it, generally speaking, and just assume that it’s pure evil like fascism.
7) That fascism is a left wing phenomenon is a straight up lie of the worst sort. It’s another example of saying up is down. Fascism is a right wing phenomenon, albeit an extreme one. It’s not like modern day Republicans are fascists, though I would warn that fascism is one possible result when mass amounts of people are living in a permanent state of political delusion, such as the one that ended up justifying the Holocaust. That said, I think there are significant checks in our society that are preventing this from happening.
8) He did scream about how women who have abortions are terrorists. That’s pretty rock solid proof of misogyny, though as I noted in the piece that she doesn’t want her readers to read, I did not say that misogyny was definitely the cause of Loughner’s choice to shoot a female Democrat. What I will say is that misogyny is part of the right wing stew that painted a target on Giffords’ back—the political climate in her district is especially nasty because, on top of all the other factors in play (health care reform, immigration hysteria, etc.), her gender made it easier to demagogue to the right about her specifically.
9) He did attack a crowd with a semiautomatic Glock that would have been banned if not for right wing gun nuttery. Seriously, if he didn’t have that weapon, six people that are dead now that literally would not be if not for the NRA. I don’t know if this is about “loving” guns, but it’s a basic reality that the stew of right wing gun nuttery played a major role in this, absolutely in terms of the law and probably in terms of cultural influence.
Eighty-four words with nine lies, at least. You can probably find a couple more. This is the sort of toxic stew that alarms me the most, and not just because it’s demagoguery about me specifically, though you can understand why the amount of bile and hate that pours out of right wing online media towards me does make me nervous sometimes. The major problem here is that lying has become the language of many on the right. This fluent stream of bullshit breaks down the barriers between reality and fantasy, and that creates an environment where really over-the-top paranoid thinking flourishes. This blog post wasn’t on some obscure website, but on David Horowitz’s. This kind of crank talk shouldn’t be as mainstreamed as it is. You could point to Loughner’s rantings about currency as evidence that he’s crazy, but don’t forget that Glenn Beck legitimizes those beliefs with all his going on about gold.
I honestly think that more than focusing on metaphors or vitriol, we should really be talking about honesty. Just not lying would do more to improve the discourse in this country more than any other factor. Insisting on facts, demanding that people who lie are held accountable, calling out paranoid fantasies (something I try to do on the left as well as on the right, in my criticisms of people who think that Sarah Palin faked her pregnancy, for instance)—all these are the most important things we can do. This is part of the reason I was such a big supporter of #mooreandme, because it was about accountability for spreading paranoid conspiracy theories. Because people out there who are unstable are listening, and paranoid rhetoric isn’t something that unstable people can just leave at the door when they’re done using it.