Friday, January 14, 2011

having it both ways

Sarah Palin claims that criminal acts must 'stand on their own.' and yet she also claims that America's greatness is due to something shared, something collective among all the people. she cannot logically assert that bad american things belong to individuals but good american things belong to, and come from, everybody.

a cursory look at the events of last saturday show that, while loughner as a deranged individual was ultimately and most fully responsible, his acts were certainly enabled and shaped by the society in which they took place. for one obvious example, the community college's self-protecting action of expelling Loughner but thinking nothing of his possible danger to the wider society is typical of a not-so-great feature of modern american life. the college properly worried about the safety of its own people. but it went no further: as long as my butt is covered, no problem!

another example is the prevalent gun culture in places like arizona. gun evangelists who insist that everyone embrace guns as they do believe that there are two gun cultures -- a good one and a bad one. like Palin with american culture, they would like to pretend that gun culture only includes the good, while the bad is just random bad people doing their own thing. the fact that loughner lived in arizona meant his gun obsession was totally acceptable and even legal. it raised no eyebrows. his madness was fully camouflaged within the mainstream arizona gun culture. it is not likely his obsession would have gotten so far in a place with stricter gun laws and less fascination with guns. so, no, arizona's gun culture did not cause the killings to happen. but the gun culture made it much easier to happen.

Palin and other figures on the Right claim that they are accused of full and direct responsibility for the violence. a 'blood libel,' if you will. that claim is false. what critics assert is something more nuanced, a nuance that Palin is willfully incapable of understanding: that crimes come ultimately from individuals but are nonetheless deeply influenced by society. no one is accusing Palin of killing those people in Tucson.

but all the bad things about modern American culture -- the cover-my-own-rear mentality, the belief that (good) individual violence can stamp out 'bad' violence, the notion that certain ethnic groups are responsible for all social evils, the selfish focus on me and only me (which used to be linked to the hippie left, but now seems more typical of much of the right), the dismantling of social safety nets such as health care, including mental health care (technically there was a system in place, but the fact that the community college didn't know about it doesn't say much for it's effectiveness), the irrational hatred of government (as if we could have a country without a government) -- played a part in loughner's life and actions. and even Palin -- especially Palin -- who pretends to be such a worshiper of America -- has plenty of critical anger regarding America. i just think her anger makes no sense logically.

she is angry chiefly at class discrimination. she is looked down on by elites -- such as me, i presume. but, incoherently, her answer to this situation is not to deal head on and courageously with the economic and political causes (unfettered capitalism with no government regulation) that brought about our high levels of inequality. no, her answer is to menace elites -- presumably, only left-leaning elites, not conservative elites -- with patriotism. and to continue those free market policies which gave the elites such power. go figure.

Palin cannot have her cake and eat it, too. she cannot deliberately invoke gun violence in her political speech and expect people to accept that she is at the same time pure as the driven snow. her repeated use of the word 'reload,' for example, is a clear flirtation with violence. my criticism here is not the oft-repeated call for 'civility.' what does that even mean? holding the door for old ladies? i don't think civility is very important in politics. politics is a tough business. but flirtation with violent, clearly eliminationalist rhetoric -- any metaphors which refer to killing political opponents -- has no place in democratic politics.

Palin's defenders make absurd parodies of the criticism levelled against her, 'wondering' aloud if they can even say things like 'up in arms' anymore. these tactics are too cute by half. plenty of political language derives from physical acts (lash out) or military language (outflank, defeat, trench warfare). but most of these terms have been in long use in politics and are no longer used for their original meaning. we rarely use 'up in arms' anymore to mean people have picked up guns to fight. it is used almost exclusively to refer to widespread anger and condemnation.

'reload' is not one of those widely used metaphorical terms. it is used specifically to refer to putting more ammunition in one's gun. this is precisely why Palin used it so often and so insistently. she liked flirting with the angry crowd, giving them a little of what they wanted. that is certainly her right. but she cannot have it both ways, flirting with violence and avoiding criticism for it. time for her to man up. she said it. she owns it. she used the word for its explicit linkage to violence. and now she denies it, like a dancer who shows her leg and then angrily denies that she was using sex to titillate her audience.

the titillation of violence. it excites extremists on the Right. unfortunately, this titillation with violent speech has percolated upwards, and been appropriated by some leaders on the Right.

and yes, the violent language she and other leaders on the Right have used since Obama came into office did play a part -- however small, however diffuse -- in the political culture within which Loughner decided to act. crazy people are aware, even hyper aware, of the culture around them. to think they are just trapped in their heads without any awareness of what is going on around them is disingenuous and is, as usual with many of the Right's arguments, little linked to reality and how it happens. we are all in society. we are all in our predicament together. we share the good and we share the bad. one can't pretend that we share all good things but bad things are totally and absolutely individual.

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