Hi reader(s). In the next week or so I will no longer be blogging at this address. I will move to www.spacebetweenmyears.com. I’m trying to figure out if there is a way to export this blog and its comments to Wordpress since there has been so much discussion that I value and I would like to keep it in one place. I’m not sure this will happen, however. The reason for this uncertainty is related to my reasoning for the move. Namely, Blogsome, my current host has stopped updating its software, offering much support, and accepting new blogs. Blogsome does not make exporting easy and while Wordpress has simple import functions for other types of blogs (Blogger, Typepad, etc.), it does not have one for Blogsome. This has been a good home, but there are better. I have one blog with Wordpress already and enjoy that interface much more. I’ll let people know when the move is official, that is, when I will no longer be blogging here. Hopefully I’ll be able to import all that has happened on this blog over to the new one, but don’t hold your breath. If the import doesn’t work, I’ll leave this blog up, but it will basically be just an archive.
I lament that the deplorable and evil attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that killed six people and injured several others has been cynically turned into an opportunity for political factions to renew their mudslinging. Human beings have a seemingly innate drive to seek understanding of the reasons for events. When we do not have access to the reasons, we will make them up. The simpler the argument, the better. The temptation is, therefore, to create a narrative of events that is easily understood and, especially in cases of human tragedy, easily solved. If Gifford’s alleged attacker, Jared Lee Loughner, were moved to action because of inflammatory political speech, then, we tell ourselves, all we have to do is stop speaking like that and we can avert future attacks. If Loughner was under the influence of unbalanced chemicals in his brain, then all we need are better mental health services. Our drive to find simple causes for complex events is what creates conventional wisdom, as defined by John Kenneth Galbraith: “We associate truth with convenience – with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being or promises to best avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life.” Many reduced answers for this attack have been simple and convenient. I am not saying that the political climate was not an influence on the attack, but we cannot know Loughner’s motives without his admission. That people were already “sure” of what drove Loughner to action within mere hours of the attack led to fairly specious conclusions. How in the world does someone sitting behind a desk in a television studio in New York know the motives of an attack in an Arizona parking lot without interviewing or investigating the attacker? Neither am I saying that mental illness played no part in the attack. From all accounts, Jared Lee Loughner, appears to be a mentally unstable person. It seems to me impossible to reduce the motives or antecedents of Saturday’s attack to one reason.
Not only do we want simple explanations, we prefer it if others were more responsible than we were for those causes. Therefore, it is not enough to create a simple narrative of the causes, but we also need a single perpetrator. If the culprit is rancorous political dialogue, it is not our fault, our tongues are not to blame. It’s the other guy who said all the malicious things. Initially I was encouraged that the discussion of the antecedents and effects of the attack displayed how the uncivil and rancorous language in public conversation was inappropriate. I hoped that this event would give all people time to reflect on what it means to be neighbors and how we talk to and about our neighbors when we have very different visions of what is good and right for the nation. I wish that we could have serious political debate without impugning the character of others. It is one thing to say, “I believe you are wrong and your ideas are incorrect, but you clearly wish for the best for this nation.” It is something entirely different to say, “You want this country to fail,” or, “You are evil.” The discussion about how uncivil our dialogue has become quickly devolved into the ongoing pissing contest in American political discourse—I cannot think of a better term to express my disgust, so pardon me for using the expression. One side says the other is categorically worse in these sins and then the other side offers their rebuttal that those making complaints are just as guilty. It sounds childish. How I wish leaders and pundits would stop and say, “The call for civil dialogue and respectful disagreement is needed. I take responsibility and apologize for fostering an environment in which malicious and derogatory speech is the norm.” Someone please take the high road in this time.
The heated political discourse in which those with whom you disagree are not merely wrong, but stupid and evil is disgusting. While the heat may have been at a high in recent months—something I cannot substantiate—it is not altogether new in American or world politics. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, anyone? We always need to commit and hold each other accountable to civil discourse. I find it truly sad that it takes an elected official to be shot for people to say that we now need to tone down our rhetoric. Why are we not able to behave maturely without terrible events? Are we children who have to touch the hot stove in order to know that we should not put our hands on a burner? Whatever happened to Jesus’ wise words, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you”? (Mt. 7.12a) Jesus was someone who could engage in deep disagreement and even heated debate without rancor and always with a love of his opponent.
As for Loughner’s motives and influences, I do not know them and will not pretend to know them. They will come to light in time as he is interviewed and analyzed. I think we should have a discussion concerning the language we use when we discuss our neighbors with whom we disagree. I think we should take a hard look at our mental health services and how we as a society help those who are mentally ill. I think we need to look hard at access to firearms—how in the world was Loughner able to legally purchase a gun? These are worthwhile matters for all of us to explore and we should not have to wait for tragedy to first happen. The Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once famously said, “In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
Scot McKnight has written the one piece of commentary on this affair that I have found the most persuasive. In his post, “Looking in the Wrong Place,” he writes:
The problem is that human beings are cracked. What happened in broad daylight, in broad premeditated daylight, in Tucson was sickening to the stomach and destructive of the human spirit. But that didn’t happen because he was a right winger or left winger — and a case has been made for both. And it didn’t happen because the Left or the Right had gotten inside that young man’s head and spoiled it….
But the problem, Mr and Mrs Pundit, is not the Right or the Left. The problem is You and Me. Let’s quit the blame and look inside.
The problem is right where Solzhenitsyn said it was: the line between good and evil runs through the heart of each of us.