That rightwing relative came alive with the shooting and demanded to know whether I had now given up on Paul Krugman, given that Krugman had been hateful and entirely wrong about the shooting. Or something like that. I find it hard to read an e-mail that comes out of nowhere, all accusation and anger, especially from someone I have loved, especially from someone I have begged to leave politics out of our communications.
It seems to me that too much of the talk so far about how our national discussion could be improved lacks an appreciation for the fire behind the hate and anger on the rightwing's side. And I understand where it's coming from no better than I did in December. The victimization, the insistence that it's you , horrible liberal, who is wrong and probably evil permeate the rhetoric of the usual suspects, whose names I've seen far too often. My relative referenced, proudly, his experience with Usenet flaming, and certainly the cheap tactics of repetitive accusation and implied evil on the part of one's opponent are part of that, but I reminded him that most discussion forums on the internet prohibit flaming. And for it to come out of nowhere, in response to no provocation at all, I will admit, is painful.
James Fallows has been considering what he prefers to call civility in discussion, but I'm afraid the problem goes far beyond that. Although a quote from H. L. Mencken in Fallows's latest post on the subject seems relevant.
[W]hen [a person] fights he fights in the manner of a gentleman fighting a duel, not in that of a longshoreman cleaning out a waterfront saloon. That is to say, he carefully guards his amour-propre by assuming that his opponent is as decent a man as he is, and just as honest -- and perhaps, after all, right.Or, bringing it up to date, at the lowest level of a Usenet forum.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., touches on the hate in a personal way. Republican officials in Arizona are leaving their posts because of the hate.
There are undoubtedly other components of the vile mix. The Slactivist sees adolescent fantasy as part of it, and there's Roger Ailes's need to win at all costs, certainly part of the flaming mentality.
Your BlackBerry "pings" you with an intemperate e-mail from one of your fellow Americans, telling you that he's going to catch a plane from the heartland of our great homeland so he can find you among the rich and powerful there in New York City and kick your big Aeron-seated posterior. Would you answer him? Probably not — you would probably figure that the fellow had a bad day trying to make ends meet and leave it at that. Would you threaten the fellow back? Would you tell your fellow American that if he buys a ticket to New York City and tries to come up to see you at your well-guarded domicile in midtown Manhattan — and here we quote — "he shouldn't bother buying a return ticket because he'll never make it back home"? No, you wouldn't, because you're an American, and Americans don't threaten other Americans exercising the sacred right of free speech, no matter how intemperate they might be. But Roger Ailes would. Roger Ailes did. He did it time and again, fighting fire with fire, intemperately answering every intemperate e-mail that came his way with no insult or complaint beneath his notice, until his public-relations staff, fearing that the Ailesian e-mails might become public and that their boss was having too much fun, concluded that maybe giving a man like Roger Ailes a BlackBerry wasn't such a good idea after all.It seems to me that what can drive a person like Jared Loughner to action is the hate. Not specific words, although he may well have focused on a particular person for reasons associated with words, but that hot, agitating feeling that something must be done to stop the evil. Jim Sleeper gives another example.
The Slactivist suggests an alternative, but so far, sadly, I haven't managed to communicate it to my relative.
There are few dragons here in the real world, but there are wounds that need binding, messes that need cleaning, houses that need building, children that need mentoring, elders that need respecting, stories that need telling, projects that need volunteers. With all the real problems of the real world, who has time for slaying imaginary dragons? Get them involved in reality and the fantasy can't compete.