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.