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Boiling Blood

January 12, 2011

Really bad news is often like a really bad fever: it’s always spreading, running piping hot, causes much blathering, wreaks havoc on nervous systems, and eventually causes its carriers to fall into a political-philosophical-historical fugue that they wake from, feeling free to interpret their fever dreams in whatever way they desire.

So we have once again fallen ill with the grim news that a psychopath shot up a Safeway in Tuscon, Arizona killing six innocents and seriously wounding a U.S. Congresswoman (and an admirable public servant at that).  Cynics among us might wonder if the shooting would have raised more than a scant few eyebrows if Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords hadn’t been shot to bring some national attention and outrage to the topic; we seem to deal with these shootings on a more or less regular basis nowadays without any adult response (see, e.g., Fort Hood, Virginia Tech, the Beltway Sniper, Columbine, and many more you probably haven’t heard of).  The nation’s only available response seems to be widespread and sanctimonious denouncements of the deranged individual, subsequently followed by resort into the same bitter partisanship that preceded the incident.  Only, afterwards, all of the pundits attempt to shoehorn the recent event into an example that “vindicates” their preexisting worldview.  It usually takes the form of “Why the [shootings] Mean That We Must Support My Politics.”  Of course, this is almost always little more than shameless appropriation masquerading as lessons of history learned.

Unsurprisingly, as with a bad fever, we seemed to have lacked the strength of heart and conviction to generate comedy that might alleviate our pain.  That implicit embargo of good taste stopped no less of a man than Jon Stewart from cracking too wise on the senseless tragedy.  At least, I believe “senseless tragedy” is the preferred nomenclature, the preapproved phrase, the trending topic, the safe words.  Again like a fever, these senseless tragedies stop everyone from saying anything other than the most conventional wisdom or taking any action other than patiently deferring until the blood stops boiling, out of fear of the horrendous backlash that could be wreaked with this unfocused rage.  Smaller voices had been murmuring, ever since the news first broke, that this tragedy would probably fail to occasion a much-needed sober reappraisal of the state of gun control laws because this was clearly the work of an aberrant “psycho,” or because “guns don’t kill people; right-wing zealots *with* guns kill people.”  But it was The Onion that first burst out of the mainstream comedy gates with this pitch-perfect headline: Shooting Suspect Released After Not Breaking Any Arizona Laws.  In usual Onion form, the comedy glides on top of the more serious latent critique: where were the laws that might have deterred or derailed Loughner before the pull of the trigger?  Arizona’s real-world idiosyncratic over-enforcement of some laws and simultaneous laxity toward more serious problems creates the irony at the root of the joke to beautiful effect.

What is more surprising is that liberals outside of the offices of The Onion seem to have grown some testicles recently, and have called Republicans responsible for the incident, not only because of their partisan hate-mongering and fire-stoking incitements, but because Sarah Palin was caught with cross-hairs on her website next to Giffords’ name on a “Target List” of House seats to be taken.  It was practically a smoking gun, tragically terrible pun notwithstanding.

With the pain of tragedy heating them into a frenzy, liberals were finally playing the blame games of which they had always played the victim, whether it was because of a too-permissive mass culture, a lack of good Christian values, or whatever.  Of course, the opposite is equally true now: Palin’s little website wasn’t the proximate cause of the shooting any more than Marilyn Manson was the cause of Columbine.  But now, Palin and company have put their ideas and methods on the defensive.

h/t Joe Lambe (@joelambe)

That beautiful tweet draws the irony of Palin’s–and other Republican nationalists’–feigned persecution into sharp relief.  How many times did people on the right denounce those who refused to consider Islam as a, or the, source of terrorism?  How many times did Palin advise that her followers “not merely retrench, but instead should ‘reload'”?  How often did conservatives get jollies from team-playing and poking at sanctimonious liberals with name-calling, without caring whether or not their ideas were intellectually rigorous?  Indeed, one of the key attractions of the conservative movement seems to have been their ability and willingness to play dirty, to win.  The creation of sheer, even content-less, controversy has been the conservative talking head’s bread and butter (often in the form of book deals or television gigs) for decades.  Straw man arguments like this are why “balance” is not a correct default for discerning truth from a fever.  And now Palin seems unable to take the heat she so often dishes out.

“Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own,” she said. “They begin and end with the criminals who commit them.”  These would perhaps be the smartest words she’s ever uttered, if taken in a vacuum.  But how many times did people get categorized by her ilk as giving “aid and comfort” to “the enemy” if they did not blindly follow our Commander in Chief (when it was Bush)?  How many Muslim people (indeed, how many Muslim nations) were victimized for their identity, and not their actions, after 9/11?  How many liberties have Americans had to pay to make up for the sins of a few criminals?

But let’s not fail to learn the lessons of history as is so often the problem of a fever; let’s ask these questions prospectively.  How many times will Google be called upon to turn over the names and whereabouts of people who look like thought-criminals over to the police?  How many people will be free to call themselves an anarchist without getting a knock at the door the next day by a man in a suit and dark sunglasses?  How many more people will be allowed to read Nietzsche after people start talking about the fact that Jared Lee Loughner once mentioned liking one of the few books Nietzsche didn’t seek to publish.

Obama got it right tonight.  He said, “What we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other,” even though that’s exactly what is always bound to happen as a result of incidents such as this.  Palin and co. proved that the right would not be content to merely compound inconsistencies to the point where the truth is merely obscured by the fever pitch.  The right has taken it one step further and called the liberal argument a “blood libel.”  Obviously, the assistants/handlers that wrote her speech didn’t also do her research, because if they/she had, they would have known that “blood libel” refers to the anti-Semitic accusation from the Middle Ages that Jews killed Christian children and used their blood to make matzo for Passover.  Ironically, I think the label is apt; she and the gaggle of the pundits and politicians trying to twist these events to vindicate their own worldview are using the blood of innocents to make their dough.

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