I was planning to write a longer post last night, but that was before the shower drain announced its sudden but inevitable betrayal. So you get the short version. Maybe that’s for the best. My recent blog posts have been a bit on the long side.
I’ve been thinking a lot since the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gifford on Saturday, but I haven’t written about it. At first, I was waiting for information to come in. And then it was because, as upset as I was by the attack, so much of the “conversation” simply made me feel worse.
There’s a lot I’m not going to get into right now. But there are two points I wanted to make.
1. People often use words for the emotion and passion they evoke, many times without really thinking about their meaning. “Feminazi” is a good example. A powerful word, and one which is obscenely inappropriate. To the politicians and pundits and various media personalities, if you use the language and imagery of violence and insurrection against those you disagree with, then Saturday’s tragedy is exactly the kind of thing you’re referencing. And if you don’t want to build a campaign on imagery of attempted assassinations and murdered children, then maybe you’re using the wrong goddamned words!
2. Accountability means owning your words. Not hiding them or making excuses. Not cowering behind “The other guy did it too!” or “Everyone’s doing it!” Not whining that “They’re picking on me!” Grow the hell up and take responsibility for what you’ve said.
Discussion welcome, as always. Excuses and bickering, not so much.
Jackie Morse Kessler
January 12, 2011 @ 10:31 am
YES. And I’d add one more thing to your list:
3. Understand the meaning of the words you use. When a former half-term governor says that the media has “manufactured a blood libel,” for example, it shows that she does not understand the meaning of the term, nor does she realize what incredibly poor taste it shows, considering that the congresswoman who had been shot is Jewish.
January 12, 2011 @ 10:37 am
I’ve been thinking a lot about the reasons behind the rhetoric and the dangerous volume of words being used. It seems to me it’s caused by two things: 1) a fear that their voice will get lost in the shuffle, so the answer is to “scream louder” and 2) a basic lack of conflict-resolution. Instead of disagreeing with someone, we’ve now identified an opposing view as “the enemy.” That’s dangerous in many, many ways, because it goes beyond politics. How the hell can you get through life just agreeing with everyone?
Jim C. Hines
January 12, 2011 @ 10:41 am
I recognize that people do slip up, and ignorance happens. I used to use the word “gyp” without recognizing its roots. When you screw up (as I did), you own it, apologize, and eliminate that word from your vocabulary.
But with politicians, who have entire teams of speechwriters and handlers, I have a harder time accepting “Gosh, I didn’t know” as an excuse.
And in this case, I think “poor taste” is a serious understatement.
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Jackie Morse Kessler
January 12, 2011 @ 11:20 am
Agreed — all around.
January 12, 2011 @ 11:33 am
Monica – I so agree with you! If we could all take classes in listening to other peoples’ viewpoints instead of jumping down there throats, everyone would get along so much better. Most people just want to have their feelings and opinions heard. I don’t think having someone agree is the same thing. But when everyone who doesn’t agree also doesn’t listen, then everyone only talks to people with the same opinions. I think this is a serious problem in our society right now.
And yes, Jim, accountability is so important. Blaming someone else or making excuses is just lazy.
January 12, 2011 @ 11:34 am
OMG – a typo. *hides in shame*
January 12, 2011 @ 1:03 pm
:: tips hat toward Michigan ::
Jim C. Hines
January 12, 2011 @ 1:06 pm
I’m mailing you a scarlet “T” which you’ll be required to wear at all times when out in public.
January 12, 2011 @ 2:05 pm
With politicians who have entire teams of speech writers and handlers, this goes into the realm of being extremely deliberate.
I have to keep remembering that speech from “The American President”. The one where he’s saying that America/our form of democracy only works when you stand side by side with somebody who’s views are so repugnant to you, views you’ve spent your life opposing, but you still allow them to say what they want, because that’s what freedom, that’s what America, is all about.
January 13, 2011 @ 12:00 pm
Is it irony to disclaim personal responsibility for the divisive and dangerous atmosphere your rhettoric has created in the same breath that you claim that criminals have sole personal responsibility for their actions? Is it irony to make this latter claim while supporting the prosecution of a war against a nation and the general persecution of a people for the sole reason that criminal actions were conducted by other people who look like or have beliefs similar to those of the aforementioned nation and people? Part of my problem with Palin, et al is that their arguments aren’t even intellectually consistent. They’re mere matters of convenience – whatever makes the most right-leaning people the most angry and the most likely to vote based on that anger.
There’s been a lot of discussion I’ve read suggesting that Palin didn’t even know what it was she was saying when she talked about “Blood Libel”… Heck, I’ll cop to not knowing what it meant, this being the first time I’d seen the phrase (and also to finding myself appalled at what it did mean when I learned it). And I’ll agree that Palin is most probably an imbecile. But, presumably, she employs non-imbeciles to do work for her. For that reason, I have a hard time believing that no one on her speech-writing staff knew what that phrase meant – and in fact I would reason that there’s a very low probability that any would have happened randomly to use the phrase without having previously been familiar with it (and thus with its meaning).
To paraphrase Scalzi… sadly, of all the stupid, moronic, and inflammatory things Palin has uttered, this is merely the most recent.
January 13, 2011 @ 3:47 pm
As I get older, I am trying to find ways to deal with the fact that about 20% of my country — 60 million people or so — have been taught to hate me, that I have evil designs, will destroy the country, turn it to a Communist dictatorship, may imprison or shoot them and will burn their churches and turn over all their belongings to the ragged refuse and foreigners. And that they may have to shoot me first to stop that.
We are actually living in an age that is less violent, both globally and domestically, than before. But the words have gotten a lot more violent. When I was younger, you could shut out a lot of the news media if you wanted, and they didn’t tell you that much anyway. That’s not necessarily a good thing — you can hide a lot of violence that way. But the new way — where you can hear everyone’s voices and it’s harder to shut out — does mean living with more knowledge of exactly how many people hate you. It does mean hearing their words, most frighteningly the words of actual politicians and political figures. So yes, words matter. But my hope is that this is a transition and that in time, the words won’t be about hate as much and when they are, people will turn away from them.
Jim C. Hines
January 13, 2011 @ 4:15 pm
Kat – do you mind if I ask where you get that 20% figure?
January 13, 2011 @ 4:15 pm
Definitely agree as well.
Plus you have to think, “blood libel” isn’t such a common term that it can really BE used unknowingly, whereas “gyp” certainly used to be common enough and still is in some areas of the country; I can see where you were able to use it without knowing the history, but I can’t see that with “blood libel.”
And as you say, you then own it and apologize and stop it once the offense is pointed out.
January 14, 2011 @ 11:18 am
I remember saying in the midst of the longest (and possibly most acrimonious) school strikes in the history of Pennsylvania that we need to remember that we are going to have to live together after this is over. It becomes so easy to forget that in the midst of the conflict – however that conflict is lived out.
January 15, 2011 @ 3:38 pm
Well, I’m rounding up a little bit, I admit. But in all these polls that they do in the news, the people with the extreme views — Obama is a Muslim, the government is digging trenches and concentration camps, liberals are communists, what Glen Beck says is true, Democrats want to shut down their churches against freedom of religion, Sharia law is taking over, etc. — always seem to be about 18, 19% surveyed. So I figure 20% is more or less accurate. We have about 20% of the population with very far right views who regard progressives (that would be me,) as not simply opponents but deadly enemies who will bring tyranny to the country and who want to take their guns away so that they can’t shoot back. Most of the population of course does not feel that way, but even so, we are a very big country, so it ends up being a lot of people.
I just read a blog today by a liberal in Wyoming, a very red state. And he was saying that he estimates the state to actually be Democratic, liberalish, at about 33% of the population. And he said that with Howard Dean’s 50 State Strategy during the 2008 election campaign, which booked big venues for the Democratic caucuses, Democrats and even Independents felt safe going to those caucuses, because there was safety in numbers. As in physical safety. But after the election, Democrats stay quiet, because it’s dangerous to talk too much about such political views. There are angry people with guns, people who will hit your house. These are not the majority of his neighbors, but the problem is that with the Democrats and more liberal Independents staying silent, the more Republican neighbors don’t hear any opposing views, there’s no inter-dialogue going on, they’ve been abandoned to fume about Obama and what they fear will be a government takeover, and the more extreme ones, well you know they’re there with guns. So I think 20% is about right, but I may be kind of wrong about American society being less violent in one sense. It may be that outright violence is down, statistically, but it sounds like in some areas, right wing intimidation and the threat of violence, vandal violence, has maybe gone up a lot in the last two years.
January 17, 2011 @ 11:49 pm
I just read my first short story that I know of which Jim wrote (all the while thinking, how have I MISSED him?) so wandered over here to check out his other books…and ran across this.
It has become obvious now that the wannabe-assassin was not driven by political rhetoric, or words…plainly said, the guy is a nutjob. Really. Apparently there is no connection to the real world and that young man. His (mental) problems with Ms. Gifford apparently go back several years…an imagined slight or letter he received from here that wasn’t fawning enough or grateful enough or whatever. UNfortunately, he was not locked up sooner…many people are paying the price for the mistake made by the loud-mouthed sheriff of Tucson county.
That said, political rhetoric these days is nothing compared to what went on in the early days of this country. If you go back and read accounts of political campaigns…that was some nasty stuff…and nothing was off limits. Family, children, parents, PETS for Pete’s sake. At least in these days children are off limits (unless, of course, you are Sarah Palin, in which case everything is open season). There, I’ve said it…a gun/hunting analogy. Sen. Clyburn basically called for a ban on war words…then turned around and used the phrase, “gave it to them with both barrels’ in the next day or so. War terminology and politics have pretty much always gone hand in hand. Campaign, ‘targeted’ (and Dems used that phrase & ‘target’ in the 2008 election).
I agree that it would be lovely to be more civil to each other, but I get the impression from above comments that all the blame is being case on talk radio….most of which is conservative. That is not for lack of trying by liberal media…the shows just don’t do it for the long run. MSNBC has given a voice to a number of liberal hosts…seems to be a fair trade to me…liberal television and conservative radio. Why not?
Other than the deaths and injuries, it has bothered me a great deal to hear my liberal friends complain about conservative talk radio rhetoric…until it has come out that the nutjob is a liberal, left wing, reader of Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf (in the spirit of full disclosure, my two middle kids read that in HS and the youngest will read them also when she gets to high school), but I have not heard any apologies for jumping to conclusions by anyone.
Doesn’t that seem a little uneven? That said, I am very glad to read that Ms. Gifford is doing so well as well as the other victims. (and I didn’t know that she is Jewish either…where is that information…religion doesn’t come into things for me unless practitioners of a religion are trying to actively kill me and mine). As a parent who has lost a child, my heart aches for her family….and prayers go out for all of them…and for Loughner’s parents also. Can’t imagine the horror they are going thru….
Jim C. Hines
January 18, 2011 @ 8:07 am
First of all, thank you, and welcome! Which story did you read?
I actually have a follow-up post going live this week. None of us know Laughner’s motivations, but in the reading I’ve been doing, I came across a fascinating study of assassinations and attempted assassinations that found far fewer of them were primarily committed for political reasons than you’d expect.
I haven’t blamed conservative talk radio for Laughner’s actions, and I don’t believe it’s justified to do so. Beyond that though, I stand by what I wrote above, regardless of who’s doing the speaking.
The fact that Ms. Gifford is Jewish came up as part of the discussion after Sarah Palin’s incredibly ill-advised (in my opinion) use of the phrase “blood libel.”
I’m not really interested in the rest of the argument you’re trying to have here.
January 19, 2011 @ 10:37 am
I read Creature in Your Neighborhood…really enjoyed it so am searching out more of your writing…which lead me here!
I agree…the very ill-advised usage of the phrase ‘blood libel’ was actually one that I had not heard until the week BEFORE the shootings…which I found fascinating that it cropped up wish I could remember the context…
And very good post today. Going to check out the reports. I’ve read some similar before, but hadn’t found that one. Good news about Gifford though.
Jim C. Hines
January 19, 2011 @ 11:04 am
Thank you — “Creature” is one of my favorite stories, and I’m so glad you enjoyed it! 🙂
I’ve been so glad to hear the progress Gifford is making. I know there’s a long, long road ahead of her in terms of recovery, but after so much negative, it helps to hear something hopeful, you know?