As much as people complained about heightened political rhetoric and its contribution to the assassination attempt on Gabrielle Giffords, the thing that has frustrated me the most about the public dialogue aftermath has been how utterly sedated it has been... how we've conveniently passed the buck to Loughner and distanced ourselves from any sort of violence on account of his psychological condition.
The guy was crazy. He should have had psychiatric attention. Let's do a feature story on schizophrenia and its warning signs. How could someone like Loughner have obtained a gun? But let's remember that the dude is crazy. This is about a deranged act of violence that we just can't wrap our minds (or more importantly, our flag!) around. I mean, how could this happen?! We didn't see it coming because we couldn't fathom it, because... you know... he was crazy. Not like us. Which is why we can't fathom any sort of political violence with which we might be complicit or to which we may some day feel an ethical necessity to appeal.
Most of that isn't technically wrong, I guess, but the belaboring of the point that Loughner was disturbed has served to make political violence something that we just can't possibly attribute to ourselves. It's just something that crazy people do. That stuff is for conspiracy theorists living in bunkers, or young nihilists who can't put together a coherent thought. It's not the sort of thing that Democrats or Republicans do. It's not the sort of thing that a military does (well, our military at least).
This is why protest movements in the United States are so anemic. No one has a sense that political violence is something that we do. If it's state sanctioned, then we cease to worry about it and let those who are hurting for a paycheck enlist to go overseas for us. If it's not an act of state violence, or if it's domestic in any way, then the perpetrator is either crazy or a terrorist. That's not to say that Loughner wasn't crazy, or that someone like the Unabomber wasn't a terrorist in some real sense... but the fact that this is the only sort of political violence we can process puts us in an extremely vulnerable position. Heaven help us if we're put in a situation like Iran or Tunisia. Yes, Americans were really supportive of protests in Iran (because Iran is a part of the axis of evil, dontchaknow), but the buzzword with Tunisia amongst the media class is now not "liberation", but "stability". Folks who don't like the current transition government are "angry"... but why? Can't they be happy with what they've got? Why do they need to keep acting up? Any disruption of the status quo that can't be attributed to mental disturbance or explained as a bullet point in our foreign policy agenda makes us uncomfortable.
That's not to say that we can't process this stuff at all, but I think that doing so brings us quite out of our element. Beyond the mundane stating of the facts of Loughner's mental problems, I think the continued dwelling on it in analysis of the assassination attempt is primarily a strategy of depoliticization. Whether or not this depoliticization is appropriate in the case of this particular event, the result of its continued reinforcement within our political dialogue is that we can't talk about political violence (of either oppressive or liberative sorts) without freaking out and trying to explain away any reason why we should either make use of it or strongly oppose it.
Free speech absolutism
1 hour ago