Just below you will find the newest Inspection. This is a repost of the previous column: part one, first published June 7th, 2009. I felt it important to have them together.
You can almost hear the wheels screeching, the train horn blow in desperation, the tipping of the cars and the engine bucking at the sudden stop.
The great rhetorical train wreck called America.
You hear it in the “I am willing to say anything” nasal tone of Ann Coulter, the Left Wing pundits who claim Obama is George Bush in Black.. or that George Bush gets off on torture… the sniffles of Glen Beck moaning and over the top histrionics about “his” America and invisible plans to steal guns.
While my own political skew is obvious to most readers, I won’t type that it’s all the fault of the Right, the Left, the Fundies, the Secular, bloggers or even my own generation. I won’t even claim that my personal pedestal is higher than all the aforementioned.
We have a problem America. We can’t talk to each other.
I know the past is filled with parents and sons fighting over Nam, yellow journalism at the start of the nation, split families killing each other over North-South issues, and when the first President Adams heard a pub patron call him old and querulous he had him locked away until Jefferson set him free. Why? Simply because Adams found him disagreeable.
All of this has happened before.
But it seems as of late the punditry; both armchair and more “official,” has for little reason gathered the worst of these attributes and added both fertilizer and accelerant in a way that would make Timothy McVeigh jealous. It’s a little different when compared with an understandable, passionate, violent, disagreement citizens might have during a Civil War. Or Nam where there was a likelihood you might be forced to kill; drafted into a position where there was a good chance you would be killed… or spat upon for doing what a nation asked of you.
If one’s rhetoric those days was a little over the top, well so were the circumstances. Compared to now? Not so much.
These days it’s both “over the top” with the mere intent just to be more “over the top” than the last guy; Glen Beck angst driven, baby-babble and, honestly… plain phony. Because many on either side really don’t care who their targets really are. Disagreeing alone justifies saying anything; doing anything.
Think of North Korea and how they act as if everything is an offense and a threat. Currently they are getting ready for the impending invasion and yelling at us that, “We’d better not…” Yup. That’s the North. We all know how “loony” and over the top” they are, right? Notice how for years they have laced every conversation with accusations and threats of their own. Yet… are we really far behind them rhetorically speaking as a nation when we argue with each other?
Recently I heard Thom Hartmann on his show discussing with Randall Terry the murder of Dr. George Tiller. Like a corpse dangling from his own rhetorical rope, Terry refused to admit that the over the top rhetoric of some of those in the anti-abortion/pro-life camp may drive people to murder others. After many decades of clinic bombings, murders of abortion providers, nurses, clinic workers… in your face clinic tactics and assassination lists, there can be little doubt that the way the debate has been framed by those who wish to make abortion illegal again has fueled passions.
As far as I’m concerned, Mr. Tiller, more than anything else, is a victim of the warped nature of the national discourse on most issues. He was run over by our metaphorical train.
And what must be said about a movement dedicated to saving life so frequently stained by the taking of it? Left, Right or “other,” one cannot escape the blood stain left on any movement when many individuals over a long period of time are driven by rhetoric to such extremes.
But Pro-Lifers aren’t alone in this out of control train wreck created by over the top rhetoric. We have become a society which argues by extreme; absurd, hyperbole… and that has become the standard for “rationale” discussion. Those who disagree with us are cast in absurd stage lights while we toss rotten tomatoes: personal insults and mischaracterizations, at them. Many of these comments are no more than mere smears that would make Boris Badenov seem more human: more real. They’re certainly not true debate or discussion.
Of course another factor here is the tendency to portray whatever those who disagree with us believe in as always resulting in worst case scenarios, while whatever you believe in will always result in best case scenarios.
Worst and best case scenarios almost never come true. Intent is rarely as evil as we might claim.
We have a not so funny, funny, way of discussing issues these days. We paint anyone who dares to disagree with broad brushes then continue on as if our painting is “fact.” We must ask ourselves when we discuss; when we debate, what exactly does strong sarcasm, name calling, and conveniently proclaiming you know the “true motives” of those who you disagree with achieve?
Will it make anything better?
Will those you disagree with just go away, no matter how clever your insults are? Or will they be more determined to oppose you?
Will it all escalate?
If you think the actions, opinions or words of those you disagree with might be very wrong headed, just how much good will handling such conversations in a very confrontational way achieve?
The answer here is almost always…
“It will make it all worse.”
To bring up another specific example, I heard a master of exploiting this art a while ago on NPR. Michael Savage was being interviewed by Neal Conan on Talk of the Nation via the telephone after the unwelcome mat was tossed down for him in England. He blathered on and on about “free speech,” “toleration” and “name calling…” I only use “blathered” because of what happened next. Neal Conan took some calls: as he often does when he has guests. The first caller questioned the choice of Savage as a guest, getting about eleven words out. (I believe it was, “I don’t think Michael Savage was the wisest choice for a guest…”) Savage immediately interrupted the caller with some version of “commie pinko liar jackass” and then pounced on Neal, claiming if he was going to let %$#@!*&^%$#@!s on to his program he would go elsewhere. To Neal’s credit he politely: and I do mean politely, told Savage that if that’s what he wanted to do… well go ahead. Savage slammed the phone down. I give Conan even more credit because he went on with the topic and mentioned what had been said by those who defend Mr. Savage without an ounce of sarcasm or nastiness.
Now that’s a professional interviewer.
While I don’t defend his tactics, I do defend Mr. Savage’s right to say what he says, I just think he is the prime example of how we shouldn’t be debating and discussing topics. I also think his style of “debate” is like an angry mugger with severe mental issues than a debater. Whether Mr. Savage actually has mental issues is a matter of how much of an act his act is.
May society learn to resist, or at least ignore, such: no matter what end of the spectrum it comes from.
Emotion isn’t “discourse.”
It’s just emotion.
And how do we explain someone who claims Obama is nothing more than a Communist out to grab every gun, or Rush Limbaugh is nothing more than “a big fat idiot?” I have loathed Limbaugh since he first went national and quickly learned his idea of humor was promoting his own ego while using this very type of discourse, but I’m sure, as a human, he’s more than just “a big fat idiot.” And he is “human,” despite smartass remarks even this author may have made occasionally.
See? I told you. I claim no purity.
Sonia Sotomayor… a racist? You would think that Newt Gingrich would be a little sensitive about such bomb throwing in the form of casting such aspersions, considering how he has been portrayed as a baby having a tantrum in the past, for example.
Why is it those who cast such aspersions never notice it simply ricochets back at them?
What is the result of running the national discourse as if it were mere framing of individuals and groups using potty bowl-based materials? Think of past shootings, bombings, even 9/11… and we’re talking pure rhetoric driven mass murder here. You can draw a straight line between over the top, hate-filled, bleak; yet cartoonish, rhetoric pumping over our airwaves and the Knoxville UU church shooting, the assassinations of many Dr. George Tillers, 9/11 and Timothy McVeigh. When did we get into the realm of Joe Sixpacks walking into churches and blowing strangers away to get back at “liberals,” or those who perform abortions?
When as a society did we decide that stoking the fires of mass murder via slander, lies and screaming fire in a formerly more placid theater, is OK?
When did we decide that to rhetorically mimic the Roman’s delightful tendency to feed large portions of humanity to the wild beasts is still “entertainment?”
And just who are these “wild beasts?” To modify Pogo…
“We have claimed we have met the enemy, while we go out of our way to make him us.”
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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