by michael on January 10, 2011

I am forever amazed, saddened and angered by the ability of the human mind to exploit any situation, particularly tragedies and others’ misfortunes, to advance an opinion or ideology or agenda. Facts, logic, reason and concern for consequences relating to the agenda, etc., are ignored or trivialized. Indeed, facts and consequences become impediments and annoyances and roadblocks on the path to advancing an ideology, an agenda, and, ultimately, political power.

Now we have this disgusting horror of Saturday’s horrific shooting in Arizona by Jared Loughner of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), the death of six (including a 9 year old and a federal judge) and the injuring of a total of 18.

The following thoughts, analogies and recognitions flooded into my mind when I read an hour ago that on CNN Senator Durbin told CNN’s Candy Crowley this morning that “toxic rhetoric” is a problem in the country.

The No. 2 Senate Democrat is calling on lawmakers and the media to tone down the political language in the wake of a congresswoman’s shooting in Arizona.

Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin tells CNN’s “State of the Union” that “toxic rhetoric” can lead unstable individuals to believe violence is an acceptable response

Durbin is not alone. Such assertions can be seen throughout certain politically oriented blogs in cyberspace. For example, the first paragraph of the Washington Post’s lead story puts it, the shooting spree has “raised serious concerns that the nation’s heated political discourse has taken a dangerous turn.”

By the way, this is the same Senator Dick Durbin that compared the treatment of the prisoners at the U. S. military base at Guantanamo, Cuba as equivalent to the behavior of Nazis and their concentration camps, the Soviet gulags and Cambodia’s Pol Pot. The mind reels at such immoral pernicious self-serving rhetoric and tries to fathom the kind of mind and the kind of person that can think those vile thoughts.

In full disclosure, Senator Durbin apologized for his remarks on June 22, 2005. Presumably he was sincere in his apology, but who knows? It is a well-crafted political art to say extreme—indeed, obscene—words, test the reaction of some portion of the public and then, if determined as useful by some calculation, apologize.

My purpose in bringing this issue to my blog is not to ascertain whether Senator Dick Durbin and others of his ilk are yet again morally obtuse, obscene or sincere. My purpose is to address the morality and the consequences of the assertion made by Durbin and others that link ‘heated rhetoric’ to the occurrence of violence.

These Durbin-type statements are drenched with rhetorical and moral problems. Some are more obvious than others. Most obvious are the problems related to definition. What is overheated? Who determines whether the rhetoric is overheated? How biased is the determination of what is and of what is not overheated rhetoric?

Given Durbin’s political inclinations, he is unlikely to catalog as overheated the rhetoric asserting that George W. Bush was a Nazi or that Rush Limbaugh should be killed or that George W. Bush should be killed. That flood of rhetoric, common for years and still on-going, has not exceeded the good senator’s ‘overheat’ threshold measurement or trigged a condemnation by him. Durbin has been silent.

This has always been the case generally. Byron York puts it this way in his article titled: “Journalists urged caution after Ft. Hood, now race to blame Palin after Arizona shootings.”

There are a few things you can count on when someone tries to assert control over other’s political thoughts and actions:

1. Tyranny is always selective and whimsical. By definition, tyranny takes sides.

2. All rules and policies will be enforced according to the beliefs, values, ideologies and political preferences of the enforcer. Enforcement will never be equally or fairly applied to all groups. This applies to determining what is and what is not overheated rhetoric. This also applies to considerations on how the issue of overheated rhetoric should be solved by those advocating some action.

The morality and the wisdom of any policy or any idea are measured by the consequences. One of the consequences of linking heated rhetoric to violence will be that those that inflict violence will be given an excuse to be violent. The argument would go as follows: “Since someone’s rhetoric was heated, I am justified in acting violently. Senators admitted there is a link. Senators and reporters justify my violence.”

Is it far fetched to imagine that this could be the thinking of some future shooter? “In my opinion, the radio talk show host’s rhetoric was heated so I shot seventeen school children. If the talk show host had not used those five words, I would have continued cleaning the garage.”

My blog is intended to bring serious issues to adults that want to raise moral children or to influence the morality of children. As such, cheap rhetoric and biases must be addressed and refuted. Also, I try to show how particular arguments influence children and how those arguments are interpreted by young children.

My intention for doing so is to suggest which arguments should be used by parents, etc., and which should be avoided if one is serious about positively influencing the morality of children.

I share fragments of several conversations I had with elementary school children and some comments that were related to me after the Columbine massacre on Tuesday, April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Columbine, an unincorporated area of Jefferson County, Colorado, near Denver and Littleton.

One school teacher—a fifth grade teacher, I believe—made this pronouncement to her students: “See what happens when you are not nice to others?” Regrettably, this teacher’s comment is illustrative of the non-judgmental therapeutic slop dished out to students all too often.

It reeks of the same moral equivalence I addressed some weeks ago in my post on Law, Bullying and the Perversion of Right and Wrong, December 6, 2010, where a teacher said the student who tried to defend himself against a bully was morally equivalent to the bully.

Think through the two-prong message of the teacher: not being nice invites a murderous assault with firearms and, by implication, if you are nice, people won’t try to kill you. The second prong is pure fraud and deceit, so I will focus on the first prong.

The person that is not nice becomes the instigator. The murder is reacting expectedly and, almost, justifiably to the act of not being nice. The moral obscenity of the teacher’s position is manifestly grasped even by young children. One of my students screamed out, “How nice do I have to be to not get killed?”

Good question, in deed, one the teacher did not address and, of course, did not answer. The teacher was not interested in solutions. The teacher was interested in avoiding moral judgment and for avoiding responsibility for handling bullies. Be nice, and all will be well. If all is not well, that’s because you were not nice enough.

Note how the teacher’s logic empowers the murderer. “They weren’t nice enough to me, so I shot them. I wouldn’t have shot them if they were nicer.” How much nicer? Who knows?

The same morally bankrupt analysis of the elementary school teacher now appears, yet again, from those trying to advance an agenda of controlling ‘heated rhetoric,’ or the equivalent of being nice. It is a disingenuous method for achieving an acknowledged good goal, controlling violence.

Violence won’t be reduced, of course, by taming someone’s selective notion of overheated rhetoric, but the public and its institutions will be weakened. Same with the arguments in school about being nice: good children will be intimidated and weakened and the bullies will be empowered. The thugs will then have the moral authority to judge the niceness of our children before they decide whether or not to pull the trigger or detonate the bomb or slam their fists into our children.

All bad thinking. All such arguments should be thoroughly discussed with our children and then thoroughly refuted and those making such arguments should be shamed into retracting them.
More later.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Don Schomer January 10, 2011 at 6:00 am

Michael, this is a cutting analysis of what seems to be happening in the media right now. I suspect that the impetus for this is to capitalize on a true tragedy for personal political gain, which is contemptible.


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