Friday, January 21, 2011

Truth Resists Simplicity

"You’re going to have to shoot them in the head," Beck said of Democratic leaders.

One advantage of being an independent blogger, is that there are no deadlines. Thus, I have time to research issues and really think about them, before I commit my proverbial pen to paper. On January 8th, Representative Giffords, and 18 other people, were the victims of a senseless shooting at a Safeway in Tucson. Almost as soon as it happened, Sheriff Dupnik, and others, linked the tragedy to provocative speech, often spouted by right wing political correspondents.

The first to be linked to the event was Sarah Palin, who’d published a graphic displaying a gun sight’s crosshairs targeting congressional seats, currently held by Democrats. Further inflammatory remarks have been attributed to Rush Limbaugh, Roy Warden, Glenn Beck, and other extreme conservative on air personalities. Warden has been quoted calling Isabel Garcia, a well-known Arizona-based immigrant rights advocate, a communist and a terrorist, and compared her to a member of Al-Qaeda. He then threatened "Left Wing activists" that he will "draw my weapon and blow your freaking heads off." In a similar vein, Beck posed, for promotional pictures, as an action hero on the hunt to shoot liberal trouble makers, as well as making the statement, which I used to kick-off this piece.

Surely such statements can, at best, be considered provocative, and most people would classify them as being grossly irresponsible examples of hate speech. It was these kinds of quotes and messages which motivated Sheriff Dupnik to refer to extreme conservative broadcasts as a "Mecca for prejudice and bigotry." Being the liberal that I am, I was ready to jump on the bandwagon and advocate for a crackdown on conservative shock jocks. I ran into a problem though.

I stopped and asked myself, “Doesn’t the First Amendment get in the way of such a crackdown?”

Annoyed by the question, I replied, "But, the First Amendment doesn’t protect violent speech,” thinking I was clever.

I wasn’t going to let myself off that easily though. “Ah,” I said, “But, it does protect metaphor. Surely, any sane person would’ve recognized Palin’s crosshairs as being a metaphor for votes.”

“There’s no guarantee that all readers/listeners of such material ARE sane. Doesn’t society have a responsibility to monitor messages being broadcast to its citizens, to ensure such messages don’t incite violence?”

I rolled my eyes and replied, “OK, you need to read 1984 again, because George Orwell just rolled over in his grave. Seriously, you really want the government to police what people can say?”

“But, what’s being said is hurtful and offensive,” I shot back.

“And conservatives are offended by talk of gay rights. Do we silence those speakers too, so nothing offensive is being said.”

“But, advocates for gay rights aren’t calling for violence and encouraging listeners to shoot others.”

“So, we eliminate violent speech?”

“Right,” I said.

“So, a boxing manager can’t say, ’My boy is going to knock the other guy’s head off?’ A sports blogger shouldn’t write, ‘team A will kill team B in the Super Bowl?’ We shouldn’t allow stations to broadcast the A-Team because some nut might get the idea that armoring his car with sheet metal and shooting up a taxi garage is an acceptable way to solve his problems.”

I shook my head, disgusted at myself for missing the point. “Those are bogus examples,” I said. “One can’t compare sports & entertainment content to political rhetoric, the purpose of which is to influence behavior. Warden and Beck, came right out and talked about shooting liberals, whereas the sports statements are metaphors, which no one takes literally.”

“Ah ha!” I exclaimed. “You already said, there’s no way to guarantee the sanity of the audience when presented with a metaphor. If we crackdown on violent metaphors and imagery in one form of media, don’t we have to do so across the board? Can a football team vow to crush, but not kill, an opponent? Where do we draw the line?”

That’s the question America’s been left with. There’s no question that statements, which call for harming those who disagree with the speaker, are inappropriate expressions of ignorance and intolerance. One thing which makes this country great, is the fact that its citizens can oust the government every four years, if they choose to, with a ballot instead of a gun. To call for violent responses to political issues, is to miss the point of what our country is about. The saddest part is, conservative pundits don’t have to rely on such language. Louis Rukeyser, perhaps the most successful conservative commentator of the late 20th century, consciously steered clear of low brow incendiary language, and argued from an intellectual point of view.

While such juvenile rants are objectionable, I’m still not convinced they should be regulated. Like them, or not, such statements reflect what a portion of America IS thinking. Silencing ANY minority, because we don’t like their message, flies in the face of what we’re supposed to be about.

I’ll admit, I’m torn on the issue. Author, and fellow blogger, John Green has been quoted as writing the phrase, “Truth resists simplicity.” He was referring to matters of quantum physics, higher mathematics, and global economics, but I think the idea applies to questions of legality and morality as well. Should we safeguard free speech, even when such speech provokes the mentally pliable to commit violent acts. Should we regulate speech, and risk creating a Big Brother? I don’t know.

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