Over the last several days since the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords nearly everyone in the political journalistic realm has opined on the event. To over generalize, the right has concentrated on portraying the shooter as a crazy man and offering up false equivalencies about how deranged people exist on both ends of the political spectrum and there is vitriolic rhetoric that emanates from everywhere, not just the right. The left has mostly offered that we have a toxic political climate where cross hairs are placed on congressional districts on a website graphic and leaders such as US Senate candidates speak of Second Amendment remedies. They are certain this vitriol inevitably leads unstable people to do heinous things.
In other words, everyone is scrambling to convince us that they are not culpable, that their side is not responsible for this senseless act. The reality is that we are all somewhat responsible. We have all come to accept a level of hyperbole in public discourse that uses war analogies, terms of destruction and the language of mortal conflict to describe our day to day human conflicts. We speak of kill shots and taking out people and wiping out our enemies. This is especially true in sports analogies. We blitz, we take no prisoners, we attack a defense. We have become inured to the use of these terms of war in our everyday syntax. We have taken man’s proclivity for violence and made it an essential part of our daily lives by allowing the language of violence to flourish.
No one is blameless. Yes, the right wing has had more visible leaders give tacit or overt approval to the use of the terminology of death than the left, but the left has been as vociferous as anyone in demonizing those with which it disagrees. We all accept the use of the language of hate as normal.
One thing the media has not done these past few days is turn the microscope on itself. Who is it that has fed us a constant stream of hateful language in its day to day coverage of world events? In a desire to create as much controversy as possible to get as many paying viewers to make as much money as possible the media throws caution to the wind. The goal of media is no longer to inform clearly. Instead it is to entertain, to make money for the parent company. Using the language of hate is just one of many ways so called “news” outlets compete for the hearts and minds of the viewer and/or listener. Lawmakers do not disagree they “clash”. The other party is not an opponent but an “enemy”.
Until we as a society reject the common use of the language of hate by our media and as it has seeped into our everyday usage we will, knowledgeably or unwittingly as the case may be, continue to create a climate of fear and loathing in public discourse. We need to learn how to disagree without using the language of war and hate. Words have consequences. It starts with you and me and what we allow as acceptable language for public discourse. Perhaps, when debating politics, fewer ad hominem attacks and more respect for those who disagree with us is a place where we can all start.
Sticks and stones still break bones but words CAN harm us.