January 9, 2011

What Does the Arizona Shooting Say About Us?

Gabrielle GiffordsAs details continue to emerge about the shooting of Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several others in Arizona yesterday, I suspect we will learn more about the shooter and his motives. In the meantime, it does appear that the shooting was politically motivated and that Rep. Giffords was indeed targeted. I would not be a bit surprised to learn that this is just the latest example of the price we pay for Fox "News" and their ilk. I have seen many unconfirmed reports that the shooter's Facebook page listed Palin and Beck among his heroes. But even if that does turn out to be the case, it is not at all clear what we should do about it.

Two Popular Legal Non-Solutions

We cannot simply take Fox "News" and extreme-right talk radio off the air. It would be one thing if the argument could be made that this shooting would not have happened but for one specific program. But I cannot imagine any circumstances where that would be the case. And even if it was, it is unlikely that everyone would simply agree to ban it the way we agreed to ban child pornography.

handgunWhat about gun control? Here in the U.S., I think it has been made quite clear that we do not have the will to do that - no matter what. The shooting of former President Reagan didn't get us there. Multiple school shootings didn't get us there. I cannot imagine that this latest tragedy will bring us any closer. In fact, I'm sure many are already arguing that this wouldn't have happened if the victims had all been armed to the teeth. Passing the sort of gun control laws we need seem about as likely as the majority of Americans giving up Christianity this year.

Just Be Nicer!

We can certainly attempt to shame everybody into toning down their rhetoric. It might even work...for a week or two. But we've done this many times already, and it has never had lasting effects. When people disagree over areas they define as core values, it is unreasonable to expect their disagreements to always be civil. This is especially true when psychologically fragile (i.e., deeply religious) individuals are thrown into the mix.

And to some degree, we must acknowledge that people should get upset when they are confronting injustice. Those protesting for their civil rights in the 1960's were also told to tone it down and be nicer. It was bad advice then, and it may just be bad advice now - at least in the sense of not being able to stand on its own.

Be Honest With Ourselves

In my opinion, it is premature to spend too much time considering possible solutions. We must first determine whether we are ready to be honest with ourselves and take a hard look at reality, understanding our world as it is rather than merely as we want it to be.

It is true that there is a deep political divide in the U.S., and it is equally true that there is little mystery about who is benefitting from it. A highly selective sort of anti-government rage has been cultivated. We have seen how dangerous it can be, especially when combined with the Christian extremism in which it is nearly always cloaked. If we are going to find effective solutions, we have to get serious about the nature of the problem.