Preaching hatred begets hatred
After Saturday's tragic shooting in Tucson, some have pointed the finger at inflammatory political rhetoric.
Many singled out Sarah Palin's now-infamous "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!" tweet and her 'Crosshairs' campaign map, which included Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' district, as a sign that some politicians have gone too far in stoking vitriol against their political opponents. (Since the shooting, Palin reportedly emphasized in an e-mail that she "hates violence.") Others reject any connection between the shooter, who does not appear to espouse any coherent ideology, and our current political climate.
What are the ethical and moral implications of incendiary political language?
What occurred in Tucson was both sad and predictable, and it was not based on political rhetoric or affiliation, although some elements of the media used that claim as an excuse to attack those with whom they disagree.
There are several very real problems in our country that have created the environment that led to what happened. The most immediate is that violence--in thought, word, and deed--has become such a prevalent aspect of our society that far too many of us have come to see it as just another way of dealing with people and ideas we do not like.
Since the shootings, it has come to light that the shooter, Jared Lee Laughner, had serious psychological issues and was apparently obsessed with playing violent video games. Any obsession or addiction can lead to real difficulties. This can be especially dangerous if the person involved has mental problems, and the addiction has the potential to influence those deeply involved into thinking that violence in any form is entertainment and a great way to spend one's time and energy. It is not hard to see how the line between fantasy and reality can slip away in such situations for those who have mental imbalance, who have no positive direction or guidance in their lives, and/or do not have a value system that would mitigate turning a violent fantasy into reality.
As for incendiary political language, it has been around since at least the 19th century. Sarah Palin's recent use of such rhetoric is sadly symptomatic of the political environment that has been created by both dominant parties in the United States, and it has unfortunately been used at times by both sides, even though the media and many Democrats would like to blame only Republicans for the current situation. Both parties are equally guilty of spouting their ideologies in language that promotes dislike and even hatred of the other party. They have both found it easy to pass on responsibility, deflect blame, and accuse the "other" of problems they are just as guilty of creating. There was a time, at least I like to think there was, when politicians and our media actually cared more about truth than about ideological loyalty, when the best interests of the people of the country were more important than the next election or the next front page splash.
The dominant sectarian religious ethos in the country does not help either. Good and evil are clearly defined: "our religion" is the good one and "the others" are evil, as are those who adhere to them. There is only one right way of thinking and only one belief system that is correct. We are taught to never trust those who believe differently. Unfortunately, this approach has been foundational in the teachings of many forms of Christianity, but thankfully not all. Nevertheless, even if one is not raised in a religious household, anyone who has grown up in the U.S. has likely been exposed to this approach to life. It has fed the way of our politicians relate to each other as well. To political party loyalists, the worst member of one's party is still better and more worthy of a vote than the best member of the other party. Good and evil are defined by external labels, not by actions, morality, truth, etc. As a whole, I see little difference between our politicians and those religious leaders in our country who regularly promote their own as superior and all others as evil. In this environment, why are we surprised when decent people are attacked by unhinged individuals? Rage and hatred seek outlets, and innocent people are often the victims.
In my years as a Hindu monk in India, I was consistently encouraged by my teachers to think beyond external categories and labels, to see human beings as human beings first, and to try to perceive the divine in all. They rejected the prevalent social categories, including the caste system, as having no inherent value in determining one's quality of being. Imagine if a liberal Democrat actually sees a conservative Republican as a decent and loving human being. Imagine the reverse as well. Imagine atheists and believers appreciating the worth of each other. On an individual level, this might occur, but as soon as people self-identify within the context of their particular religious or political affiliation, they lose the ability to see the other as like themselves, and the other almost always becomes "evil" and the source of any problem that exists.
The ratcheting up of political rhetoric and language from debate with the other to denigration of the other has fostered this environment, which is bereft of anything that can be called moral. Mahatma Gandhi taught the power of compassion and non-violence, and he inspired both Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, who did much to further these teachings. Unfortunately, our politicians today have totally ignored the lessons. The loss of innocent lives in Tucson was the direct result of a single depraved individual. But the environment that turned his mental pathology into a murderous rage is continually enhanced every time a politician or a religious leader preaches hatred.
Posted by: ThishowIseeit | January 18, 2011 7:14 AM
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Posted by: DmetriKepi | January 18, 2011 3:03 AM
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