Monday, January 10, 2011

Have we had enough yet?

Regular readers know that I've been writing for many years on the danger of reckless, over-the-top rhetoric and the online anonymity that helps foster it. The sudden mainstream-media focus on it in the wake of the politically motivated shootings in Tucson will naturally divide itself into the usual tedious arguments, with the extreme right protesting defensively (with some justification) that the gunman was individually responsible, and the rest of us recognizing that the climate of hateful rhetoric has an intuitive connection with the weather of the broken mind with a gun.

Where we all bear responsibility is in allowing our communities to become so reflexively divided along arbitrary political lines dictated by emotionally charged micro-issues.

It was bad enough when things were going well for us. With the economic downturn we see exposed the American tradition of finding someone else to blame for our troubles. The rhetoric grows yet more heated, the nutbars more empowered by it, and the violent few move closer to action on their twisted fantasies. Denying the reality of this mechanism is nothing but attempted self-deception. In an environment of pervasive propaganda, no one can claim to be unaffected by it, and the more emotional it is, the greater the effect.

No one wants official censorship, least of all any of us who work in media. But we have to do something as a society to turn this tide and ramp down the rhetoric into the adult range. The founders of our nation knew it would be a bold and risky experiment to rely on the people to self-govern, but that's what we most need now. Have we had enough of this nonsense yet, or will we need another civil war to shake us into requiring civility of one another?