12 January 2011

Raising Arizona

I don't have much to contribute to this mess. Primarily I see "crazy person shoots 20" and I think a crazy person shot twenty people. I don't instantly search for greater meaning and political significance or to attach the raving lunatic to a "side". There are sometimes sides and usually not to senseless violence. The fact that this fellow lists the communist manifesto and mein kempf as favorite books and also seems to be a fan of Austrian economics (re: his anti-Fed rants) makes him pretty much unsided. Sometimes bad things happen and we don't (and won't) understand why.

That said, I would say that because most people, particularly the media, race to attach those sides, people, particularly political figures, might be smart to tone down their rhetorical use of violence so that there is not an ease for public blame to be bandied about. I'm not entirely sure how wise that is however (from a "I want to get elected" standpoint). I'm still fairly convinced that the chicken-egg problem here isn't a top down issue of leaders causing people to go out and commit atrocities, but is a set of motivated people most of whom are causing "leaders" to go out and say ridiculous or terrible things in order to gain attention and get elected, and a few of whom are motivated enough to take drastic actions. People want to hear that their opposition is terrible and powerful and must be stopped at all costs, and clever politicians (and "news" organs) will tell them precisely that.

That is: that the public is already "crazy" and doesn't need any extra help from Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin or dozens of others in the Republican wing of politics. While it is true I constantly run up against people whose ideas of politics and political debate is something like "watch me deploy this devastatingly 'effective' talking point from right-wing talk show host X!" and when it doesn't work (as it never does), then accuse the person of being some other version of radical (socialist, racist, elitist, not open-minded, whatever), I'm also not seeing these as people likely to take up arms and shoot others who disagree with them in fits of violent political rage. They're, sadly, pretty normal, par for the course of American discourse. Even the conspiracy laden politics watchful for invisible black helicopters and UN death camps or other visions of some impending apocalypse is, while strange and depressing, still fairly common (I blame the "history" channel for lending any credence and legitimacy to these ideas).

Perhaps there's some central repository for these ideas, and certainly the attention gained by people like Beck, Limbaugh, and Palin and their ranting does little for creating meaningful political debates based on a factual universe by essentially creating a closed loop of "information". But I'm enough of a cynic to realize that the reason we don't have meaningful political debates and have a few wackos is that we have a population that a) doesn't want meaningful political debates based on a factual universe, they want to shout at the other "team", regardless of what "team" they are on and regardless of what the facts are (ie, who is in the right) and b) already has a few too many wackos in it.

It does seem reasonable to ask why some clearly insane person could acquire a firearm so easily (this does seem like a sensible restriction on second amendment rights, if perhaps easily abused). But otherwise, I'm not sure what we're accomplishing here by trying to assign the leftovers, the people who have no "team" and are apparently very pissed off about it, to one side or the other so we may shout louder at them. I much prefer being out in the middle of nowhere politically myself and I don't like it when people put me on a team.

Presumably this Loughner character we will find is much the same, even if his politics are based on insane rantings rather than a coherent ideology. How about we blame him and his "ideas" first rather than presuming that some nefarious central actor is directing the activity of all insane violent people in the country. That goes for the Becks of the world and their explanations of the logistics of say, a George Soros attempt to take down the US to explain the "threat" of the left just as much as it goes for every murderous event spawned out of what seems to be the insane rantings that occasionally lucidly draw on right-wing talking points.
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