Do Irrational Fears Evoke Terrorist Behavior?

It’s been about a year since Congresswoman Gabriel Gifford was nearly killed by a lunatic gunman who likely reacted in part to some of the vitriolic rhetoric that permeates our national political intercourse.  Now another similar act arises in a small Arkansas community that shows this social disease is still with us.

Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. 

This quote from Viktor Frankl’s best seller “Man’s Search for Meaning” struck a chord with me after reading about a recent incident that occurred in Russellville, Arkansas.

 Last night, Jake Burris, Ken Aden’s campaign manager … and his four kids had come back to their Russellville home.  As they were getting out of the car, one of his children discovered their family cat dead on the front porch.  One side of the animal’s head had been bashed in and an eyeball was hanging out of its socket.  But there was something even more horrifying to be found on the corpse.

Written across the animal’s fur in black marker was the word “LIBERAL“.   This is terrorism.  There’s no other word for it.   SOURCE

Such a heinous act is clearly that of a psychopath but the political overtones are clear in this bitter partisan environment we find ourselves in today.  The extremes by which politics is often communicated to the general public feeds into the deranged minds of a few who are convinced that things in their idealized world have soured so much that only the death or threats of death to certain “perpetrators” perceived by this sick view will afford some relief.

Who knows what it was specifically that set this monster (or monsters) off, killing a child’s pet to terrorize someone who simply holds different political views.  But the increased rancor and bitterness conveyed in politics today has to take some responsibility for the way their messages are being received, wrongly or rightly.  Speech that uses mean-spirited or over-the-top metaphors is oblivious to the likelihood that some listeners may take it literally.

Political discourse often devolves into demonizations of adversaries and outright abusive behavior is too often applauded by zealous crowds, many who too easily contend that “our freedoms” are being taken from us by a “socialist, liberal” government and covered up by an overblown liberal media, but only where sacrosanct market principles are challenged.  The same people are much less vocal about the threat to personal freedoms when national security efforts eaves drop on, detain, arrest and even assassinate their own citizens.  They would rather dismiss the theft of millions by institutions too big to fail than they would for those who challenge the status quo and their crony capitalism that has allowed the income gap in this country to widen at an unnatural rate.

Representative Joe Wilson calls President Obama a liar on national television during his 2011 State of the Union speech regarding his misconception about badly needed health care reform.  Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who feels the federal government is not hard enough on illegal aliens, meets the president on the tarmac where his plane lands earlier this week and is shortly seen wagging her finger at the Chief Executive as if scolding him like a schoolboy just caught throwing spit wads in class.

The GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell tells a national audience that their primary goal as a political Party is not to address the economic issues of jobs and financial malfeasance that have hurt this nation for the last three years but to make sure that Obama “ is a one-term president”.  From GOP House Speaker John Boehner to most red-state congressman, legislator and city councilman, compromise is a non-issue and there are conservative operatives like Grover Norquist who foster this adversarial mentality amongst the electorate.  All of these public expressions connote a contempt for the office of the President and the political process that has worked pretty well for us for the last couple of centuries.

The hateful speech of national columnist like Ann Coulter, Walter Williams, Charles Krauthammer, Cal Thomas and Thomas Sowell who spew out the word “liberal” as if it were synonymous with “Satan”, fill the editorial pages of daily newspapers each week.  Then of course there are the frequent attack commentaries by those who get paid to do so on FOX News, and of the top twelve most listened to radio talk shows, eight are right-wing programs who frequently bash liberals.

“Hate speech against vulnerable groups is pervasive in our media—it is not limited to a few isolated instances or any one media platform. … Indeed, many large mainstream media corporations regularly air hate speech, and it is prolific on the Internet. Hate speech takes various forms, from words advocating violence to those creating a climate of hate towards vulnerable groups. Cumulatively, hate speech creates an environment of hate and prejudice that legitimizes violence against its targets.”  SOURCE

These are not people who lurk in small obscure groups or on seldom-read blogs but are national figures that get a lot of exposure from the mainstream media.  I have seen my share of dangerous and threatening rhetoric emanating from the left but who on the national level besides Bill Maher and Ed Schultz comes to mind today who brandishes fiery rhetoric that simulates that which comes from the right.  Maher is a professed comedian and not expected to be taken seriously and Schultz tends to attack certain policies favored by the right rather than attacking conservatism as an evil ideology.  Keith Olbermann, often labeled as a liberal hate monger by the right, no longer airs on a nationally televised broadcast.

How does such uncivilized action reflect on the notion of freedom?  Do public figures who are supposed to represent the leadership in this country see freedom expressed in virulent, unabashed commentary that belittles and disparages people, especially those who disagree with them?  Is one-upmanship that misguidedly attacks an individual’s character the norm now for those who largely control the media outlets in our nation?  Where is the real character of an individual who sees this type of behavior go on relentlessly and though not actively engages in it themselves but are deafeningly silent towards those who do?

Individual freedom is not separate from the collective unity it takes to ensure society functions in a productive manner.  The “lone wolf” persona is the rare exception, not the norm and is often a more mythological character we create in our vivid imaginations.  We share space with other people we may not agree with or even like but antagonizing those differences does nothing but ensure greater chaos and destruction of civility.

Individual freedom does not and cannot exist in a vacuum.  We are by nature social creatures but we are also individuals who can make choices and judgements within any social context.  We need to make sure that personal freedom is not restricted to one mind-set.  In order to do that we need the type of leadership that fosters differences of opinion and sees that challenges to them are done in a civil fashion that demonstrate we have respect for each other, rather than threaten harm to those that don’t bend to our will.

Freedom is indeed in danger of degenerating, not only into mere arbitrariness but into mean-spirited, physically threatening behavior by those sociopaths who get their cues to act from the hateful rhetoric of a political figure or media personality who mindlessly blurts out what civil society finds unacceptable.

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11 responses to “Do Irrational Fears Evoke Terrorist Behavior?

  1. I don’t know what the answer is, really. People might say the change has to start with us average folks, but I disagree. Until we stop allowing our politicians and media to freely espouse hate, the rest of us won’t change.

    • There’s a difference between hateful language and that speech that challenges opposing views. The hateful language never really tries to rationalize their own positions as much as they work at demonizing those who they disagree with. It’s all black and white with them and as I mentioned, there is no attempt at compromise.

      We can have disputes centered on viable options, not ideological nonsense that has no history of showing it works.

  2. Dang, it ate my comment!

    As I was saying, this is scary stuff, and I don’t know as it’s going to get anything but worse. There is an element in this country (try Blaze comments) that is storing up ammo and buying extra guns, ready for the revolution to start. They are filled with hatred, and extreme fear. They know little, and understand it less.

    Recently, Rep. West told an audience that Obama, Pelosi and Reed need to ‘take their equality of opportunity, and their dependency state,” and “get the hell out of our America.” Of course cheers ensued.

    This pandering to the dumbest, most uneducated, and most “looking for a scapegoat” type of person and them feeding them red meat, is scary.

    • You hit on a crucial point Sherry. Too many of these people are sincere in what they believe and anyone who tries to reason with them becomes automatically suspect.

  3. I do think, Larry, that sometimes there is a fine line between speech that challenges an opposing view and outright hate. Sometimes it really depends on the listener or reader.

    • Well actually it’s not that fine Terrance, IMO. Hate speech uses derogative words or uses non-derogative terms in an allegorical form that clearly represents something negative. When the word “liberal” or “conservative” is used with broad strokes, in a manner that disparages it in all forms, then one is not expressing an opposing view because not all liberals and conservatives are despicable people and they surely are not just because they choose one set of political views over another.

      You can tell when someone is trying to dehumanize another without regard to the fact that these are men and women, with families, who are productive members of society and donate a lot of their time and money to worthy causes. Obama’s disagreement during the 2008 campaign with McCain about military issues was careful to point out McCain’s contribution to his country and sacrifice as a POW

      Most people can tell the difference but there are those with zealous ideologies that are sensitive to every word in speeches and are ready to pick up and use them in their hate. This isn’t the speaker’s fault unless it becomes apparent over time and that speaker continues to use it without regard to the consequences of it’s use.

      The object of any public comment by politicians and media broadcasters should be to inform the public and point out any differences that don’t belligerently or callously demean an individual.

      • Larry,

        Looking back, I wasn’t clear enough. My point is that I do hear many liberal commentators throwing around the word “right-wing” in a negative fashion just as frequently as Ann Coulter throws around the word “liberal” in a negative fashion. In such instances, I believe one can decide for oneself whether the commentator is suggesting something inherently bad about all people of that particular persuasion. Most people will allow their common sense to decide the question for them, but as we both know, some people do not have common sense. It’s in this case I don’t believe the commentator deserves any blame at all, since one should be free to be disagreeable in hyperbolical fashion if they so desire.We mustn’t mistake hyperbole for hate.

        Of course, images like the one Palin released showing crosshairs over someone’s head is a little over the top, even though she clearly – probably – didn’t intend the image as a threat.

        Most of the rhetoric from politicians these days can be interpreted quite differently than its intention, depending on the consumer. You might consider a given statement to be perfectly acceptable and I might consider it hate, and vice versa. But we can both recognize that phrases like “liberal scum,” “conservative scum,” etc…are quite inappropriate.

    • “I would feel just as outraged if “Conservative” was written on it.”

      Of course Sheryl, I agree. I hope I made this clear in my post even though I cited examples of conservatives and their behavior towards liberals. I am after all a writer with a Progressive point of view but I would no more encourage or tolerate any liberal who demeans a conservative whose actions didn’t deserve it. The key word here is “actions”. It’s the “condemn the sin, not the sinner” approach

      To callously attack someone simply because they are a conservative is the sign of an ignorant person and I’m afraid there are those who call themselves liberals who do this.

  4. This has been with us since the beginning, maybe not as sickening…..but it is control the base by the rhetoric….tell them what they want to hear……sad part is I do not believe we can change this…..because we do not want to change it…

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