My Obligatory Post on the Shooting in Arizona

Posted on January 14, 2011

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I’ve avoided mentioning the tragedy in Arizona, because there is so much chatter going on in the blogosphere that I really don’t think I have much to add. I also think that it is, frankly, a bit of a no-brainer. Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and their cohort, while not being legally culpable for the murders, do bear some responsibility for blatantly encouraging their supporters who were openly threatening violence. And Sarah Palin’s desperate and cynical attempt to cast herself as the victim is beyond repugnant. End of story.

As for more in-depth analysis, The Slacktivist puts it better than I ever could:

“By pretending to believe that America is on the verge of collapse into a totalitarian tyranny, they can pretend to themselves that they are the vanguard of a courageous resistance. The Red Dawn fantasy isn’t all that different from any other childhood fantasy about what if there were dragons? And what if I was brave and good and strong? And what if I slew the dragon and everybody cheered for me because I was brave and good and strong and I slew the dragon? Wouldn’t that be cool?

The problem arises when, finding the world sadly devoid of dragons, they decide to invent other monsters with which to do battle — assigning the role of monster to their neighbors, their political opponents, their elected officials. Those People, they say, are monsters, demons, baby-killing Satanists, kitten-burning apologists. They’re evil. They must be stopped.

This problem is further compounded by the demagogues of talk radio and cable TV who find this timid, fantasy-obsessed demographic to be a lucrative audience. Unlike other listeners or viewers, you can guarantee their loyalty by reminding them that everyone else is a monster and must be avoided. And their obsession with the thrilling fantasy of impending revolution makes it easy to sell them things — to get them to invest in useless, inflated gold coins, for example. They present a con-man’s dream — people who will thank you for ripping them off.

The con-men and hucksters feeding off of these Red-Dawn fantasists are constantly turning up the volume, turning up the temperature, making the fantasy more and more thrilling by making the imaginary threats more and more extreme.

And, yes, that sort of thing creates a climate in which unhinged people, not appreciating the fantasy play-acting function of all of this, will inevitably arm themselves and go forth to slay the monsters — they’ll shoot doctors in churches, shoot Unitarians, shoot museum guards, the Tides Foundation, immigrants, Pittsburgh police officers, IRS offices, the Pentagon or judges, children and members of Congress.”

The only thing I have to add is that perhaps the tea partiers could be forgiven their violent rhetoric before this happened. It does, after all, sound very noble to say that you are willing to defend your nation through force of arms, even if that means fighting against internal threats. It can be very tempting for the naive to see armed revolution as looking something like this painting:

Citizen-soldiers courageously risking their lives for what they believe in. This is how war is all too frequently portrayed in Hollywood, and on the mainstream media. This is unfortunate, because in reality war, insurrection, and all other forms of violence, whether political or not, look more like this:

I like this painting because in it, Leonardo da Vinci does a wonderful job of showing war in all its violent, messy, disgusting realism. Anybody, in any country, who wants to honestly embrace the prospect of armed revolution, should acknowledge that it will look more like the second painting than the first.

Political violence can never be the sanitized courageous struggle envisioned by the writer of Red Dawn or those who cheer for second-amendment solutions, because even if you manage to completely avoid collateral damage, your enemies in the real world will be neither faceless goons nor the embodiment of evil. Even the most pernicious threats to democracy are still people, and as such they are likely to have families, friends, hobbies, and all kinds of other inconveniently sympathetic traits. You can’t shoot tyranny in the head, because tyranny is an abstract concept, not a person. The tragedy in Arizona is exactly what the proposed second-amendment solution looks like, so I hope that enough Tea Baggers recoil in horror that they’ll be more careful about what they wish for in the future.

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Posted in: US Politics