24 January 2011

Liberals still unrepentant

It seemed to take a long while for The Nation to respond to the Tucson amoklauf, but that's only because I tend to ignore the magazine's online presence while waiting for the print edition to reach my mailbox. Only today did I get the Jan. 31 issue, with its editorial on the Tucson "tragedy" and The Nation's version of what I could call the "Hertzberg counterdefense," which I first encountered in Hertzberg's New Yorker editorial last week, against Republicans' "blood libel" charge that the liberal media had cynically politicized the Tucson story. The Hertzberg counterdefense, readers may recall, insists that right-wing rhetoric remains an appropriate topic for discussion in the Tucson context and, if rightists don't like being blamed for the amoklauf, they still have only themselves to blame. Here's how The Nation states the case, with a somewhat more academic spin than Hertzberg:

Republicans, gun activists and Tea Party adherents are trying to put distance between themselves and the Tucson rampage by pointing to Loughner's evident mental illness. But Loughner's mental state does not absolve the lock-and-loaders of responsibility. To the contrary: it is well established in psychiatric literature that the delusions experienced by schizophrenics are shaped by the language, images, resentments and fears that permeate their wider culture in any particular country or time. Those politicians and pundits inviting or implying "Second Amendment remedies" for liberal "conspiracies" on immigration, healthcare, President Obama's citizenship, gun regulation and on and on are selling a daily dose of eliminationist fantasy to the angriest and most estranged minds—including those unable to draw a distinction between gunsight as metaphor and real-life target practice on politicians.

Strongly put, but if we have to be mindful of the schizophrenic's receptivity to "languages, images, resentments and fears," -- bearing in mind that the suspect still hasn't been diagnoses, to my knowledge, -- doesn't that mean we also have to go back to all the other language and imagery whose influence is so often contested: video games, violent movies, and so on? That crackpot who held a school board hostage a few weeks ago drew a V for Vendetta logo on a wall. Does that mean we ought to ban the comic book and the movie it inspired? Before you draw distinctions, remember that The Nation isn't talking about anyone's intent. They're saying that militant rhetoric is dangerous even if it can be proved without doubt that none of the demagogues want anyone to kill anyone else. The sensitivity of schizophrenics seems like a stronger argument for their separation from society than one for toning down everyone else's discourse.

After scoring fair hits against Republican neglect of mental health needs and their indulgence of gun nuts, the editorial concludes:

To raise these issues does not exploit or politicize the horror in Tucson. Rather, it recognizes that the political currency of the right has long made a dangerous world more dangerous: shredding social safety nets, flooding our country and our neighbors with weapons, pitting civil rights and progressive social policy against reckless, I've-got-mine individualism backed up by insistent and violent paramilitary visions. Jared Lee Loughner appears to be a conspiracy of one. But the gun in his hand, the language and images he absorbed daily, even the fact that no institution was prepared to catch him as he went over the edge—those are a product of political design and intention nurtured over a generation

Here again is a presumption, based on an inescapably biased perception of Republicans or conservatives in general as uniquely violent people, that their rhetoric must have been a crucial if not predominant influence on the shooter's vulnerable mind. While I don't exactly disagree with the magazine's description of the world Republicans have made, it remains true that people have done more damage with guns than we saw in Tucson without their rampages being blamed on politics or partisanship. And while the Tucson shooter's choice of primary target is certainly significant, no one explanation of it can exclude other interpretations. As impulsively as he acted, liberals reacted by blaming elements in society or culture that they'd like to eliminate. But while there's something deplorable about that impulse, the amusement I experience as Republicans splutter with self-pitying rage nearly balances out my intellectual disappointment. Since I still think that their whining will hurt them in the long run, I can't quite suppress an impulse to see the liberals keep goading them.

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