Beliefnet
A Pagan's Blog

UPDATE I & II

As I have been reading discussions
about what happened in Arizona, over and over again those on the right or those
not wanting to admit we have a genuine problem in this country claim Jared Loughner was a
“lone crazed individual” as if that somehow absolves Ann Coulter, Michael
Savage, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and so many others  like them on the right of
responsibility. Loughner does appear to have been a lone crazed individual, and here
is why that in no way at all lets right wing leaders off the hook.


The less
competent a person is in living his life responsibly, they more important his
environment becomes in shaping and influencing his or her actions.  All children are powerfully influenced
by the environment in which they are raised.  Hopefully in this day and age that remark is not controversial.  Growing up is becoming competent to
live on your own. When all around you is a culture of toleration and
politeness, that rubs off on individual behavior.  That is what a culture is
– a pattern of individual behavior and attitudes that reinforces similar
patterns in others. 

For over a
decade the radical right, beginning with Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich and Rush
Limbaugh have initiated a complete reframing of political debate into only
dehumanizing attacks on their opponents as evil traitors who hate America and
are any combination of Communists, Nazis, Fascists, Muslims, Gays, and
Haters.  Against them reference is
made to times of violent resistance against oppression. Always.  In public debate actual policies are
rarely if ever discussed, and when they are, they are discussed in misleading
terms such as “death panels.”  This
is a pattern, a syndrome, a deliberate attempt to change a culture by
dehumanizing opponents and destroying the tolerance that makes democracy
possible.

These patterns
have at time been found in the American left, and it is significantl in the
anti-liberal American left, the Maoists and Stalinists of the most fringe
elements of the 60s.  The
difference is that then almost all on the liberal left condemned them.  Today most on the right defend those who use the rhetoric of violence.  That and the vast differences in
numbers and wealth between the two makes this difference very significant.

When violent
rhetoric is continually employed dehumanizing the other, and it is shouted from
the roof-tops, and blared out hourly on a major media station, and on radios
country wide, that shifts the moral center of gravity around which most people
gravitate, and weakens cultural barriers on violent behavior.  Those weakest in self-control and mentally
least capable of acting responsibly, in other words the people most dependent
on external signals for deciding what to do, those people will be the first to
be affected.  Jared Loughner fits
that observation perfectly.

A commentor on
PZ Myers Pharynugla   put it quite succinctly:  “Reichwingnuts like Palin, Beck and Limbaugh have been
shouting ‘FIRE!’ in a crowded theater and hoping a few John Wilkes Booths are
in the crowd.” ( By the way, PZ’s discussion and the commentary that follows
is well worth reading if you want to get more insight.  It is a good thread with just enough
right-wing apologists to keep it centered. But it is long.

It’s not as if
this has not happened before. 
Rwanda once had Tutsis and Hutus living together amicably and
intermarrying.  Tensions existed,
but Hutus did not suddenly puck up machetes and start hacking away at their
fellow Rwandans, including moderate Hutus.  But in time they did. Politicians and media figures figured
prominently in undermining traditional toleration and gradually pushing culture
towards civil violence, just as the radical right is today.  Here is a brief account of Rwandan hate
media that might be a description of Fox today, except that it has followed the
logic of Fox’s lies more literally. Two short discussions are on Wikipedia  and in this paper by Kristen Landreville. There is also a BBC report

The former
Yugoslavia did not suddenly see Serbs and Croats and Bosnians wake up one day
and begin slaughtering one another. 
That was the outcome of a longer period of  cultural destruction pursued by politicians and media
allies, principally Serbian ones, but not entirely. Chris Hedges War Is a
Force that Gives Us Meaning
is a eye
opening and beautifully written account where while it is not the main issue
discussed, the alert reader easily sees the role media played in what happened. Did I say it was beautifully written?  Indeed it is.

Political
assassination was a feature of the dying Weimar Republic. Assassinations were
rarely the work of Nazis.  They
were often the work of the 1930s German equivalent of Loughlin, weakly
autonomous people who reacted easily to the cultural atmosphere of growing
violent rhetoric.  The ideologues,
right or left, were rarely the assassins. Often they were lone operators.  Ultimately over 350 politicians were
murdered in the Republic, so we have a way to go. But one depressing aspect of the linked discussion is how the good guys lose in these killings, even when everyone denounces the killers.

After the Nazi take over the Germans were not ready for the Nazis’ true bestiality, and so German culture was
continually softened up before and after through right wing use of the media in a way disturbingly similar to
Fox News.  If you think I am
exaggerating, read Claudia Koonz, The Nazi Conscience.  Then
come back and discuss it.  In this very important book for us today she documents a number of methods
chillingly similar to those employed by the American right wing. The book is a
real eye opener.

I have linked to
another article depicting the striking similarities between the hate media in
Germany, Rwanda, and Serbia.   More and more I am coming to the
conclusion that the future of the United States may well rest on a restoration
of the “fairness doctrine” in the media.  

That leaders of
the American right are consciously lying when they piously claim their rhetoric
had no impact is proven by their reaction to the impact speeches by intolerant
Mullahs have on their own followers. 
They condemn Islam, not just Islamic bigots, but everyone, using the
bigots’ words as examples.  Culture
and words are explicitly linked to actions.  This is hypocrisy big enough to float a continent through.  But then, hypocrisy has become a
defining term of modern “conservatism.”

These people are
our enemies.  They have chosen to
be, no one forced them.  They do
not have to remain as such. Virtually all their complaints are imaginary or so one sided as to essentially be the yowls of spoiled narcissists. It is
their choice, and we have to decide what to do it response.

We will not win
if we use similarly violent rhetoric and tactics, for in doing so we will
become more and more like them. 
But neither will we succeed if we deny who these people are.  There are too many historical examples
of those who stayed in denial of the rise of violent nihilism around them.  We have to be clear what we are dealing
with, calling them on it continually, and never ever letting them get away with
the claim “everyone does it” when that claim is a lie.  And when other Americans, trying to be
“fair” pick up this lie and repeat it, it is vital that they be challenged with
facts.  Most Americans care about
facts and values, and that is where the struggle must be waged. But it must be
waged explicitly.  

Pagans in particular should be aware the stakes are very high.  We were blamed as a small part of why 9-11 happened by the “religious” right leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.  Only fools think this kind of thing will not happen again, especially as we grow in numbers.


UPDATES

I.

Pacato’s comment (6:25) over at the Reality Based Community’s discussion of similar issues made this very important remark which I pass on.

The German philologist Viktor Klemperer survived Nazi
Germany as a Jew in Dresden, documenting his experience in his diaries, which
he kept from 1933 to 1945 and were published as I Shall Bear Witness and To the
Bitter End. As a philologist, he was an expert in the uses and effects of language,
and after the war he wrote a book titled The Language of the Third Reich, an
attempt on his part to understand how the phenomenon of National Socialism was
able to become ingrained in the body politic of Germany. It is filled with
insights into how language, in any day and age, is used to acquire and maintain
power. In it he writes: “But language does not simply write and think for me,
it also increasingly dictates my feelings and governs my entire spiritual being
the more I unquestioningly and unconciously abandon myself to it. And what
happens if the cultivated language is made up of poisonous elements or has been
made the bearer of poisons? Words can also be like tiny doses of arsenic: they
are swallowed unnoticed, appear to have no effect, and then after a little time
the toxic reaction sets in after all.”

Elsewhere in the book he speaks of the ordinary Germans he
worked with in an envelope and paper bag factory, people who were “not
devotees” of National Socialism. One German woman gives him an apple, a simple
human kindness that moves him. Sometime afterward she asks him, “Albert says
that your wife is German. Is she really German?”

He writes, “The pleasure in the apple was gone. This
Sancta-Simplicitas soul, whose feelings were entirely un-Nazi and humane, had
been infected by the most fundamental ingredient of the National Socialist
poison; she identified Germnness with the magical concept of the Aryan; it was
barely conceivable to her that a German woman could be married to me, a foreigner,
a creature from another branch of the animal kingdom…”

Also, “The poison is everywhere. It is borne by the
drinking water of the language of the Third Reich, nobody is immune from its
effects.”

Elswhere he discusses the difference between an orator and
a rhetor. “People who speak Romance languages…distinguish clearly between
oratory and rhetoric. For them an orator is an honorable man, someone who tries
to convince through words, someone who in all sincerity strives for clarity and
appeals to both the hearts and minds of his listeners….In the West we have the
special term ‘rhetorical’; the rhetor-this can be traced back to Greek
sophistry and the age of its decline-is the patter-merchant, the one who throws
up a smoke-screen around common sense.”

I’m
entirely aware of Godwin’s law, I’m not calling anyone a Nazi, and I don’t
think that any particular language caused the gunman in Arizona to snap. But
language is the sea in which we swim, and my point is that language is
powerful, and each of us needs to own the consequences of the language we use,
including the environment it helps to create. Certain politicians and
professional communicators (rhetors, not orators) in this country are helping
to create a toxic environment, and it helps no one but themse
lves.


II.

Balloon Juice has a good report on how the editors at Esquire see the context of this event.