Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Delight in and Problems with Instantly Laying Blame

The Fort Hood shootings prompted concerns among the politicians, pundits and preachers that infest us regarding the existence of anti-Muslim sentiment in America and in its foreign policy which, it was proclaimed, caused them in some unclearly defined sense.  The shootings in Tuscon have prompted them to pronounce balefully on the violent and inflammatory tone of political discourse in our great republic, especially that of right-wing politicians, pundits and preachers, which, it is proclaimed, caused them in what I think is an equally undefined sense.

It may be that we are compelled by some irresistible tendency to loudly and insistently blame those we despise for tragedies.  Scapegoats have been the focus of anger for events for a very long time.  Now, when technology allows us to express our opinions on every subject on a world stage, scapegoating has become commonplace.  Those invested in the media and those who otherwise benefit from its use may be especially disposed to lay blame, as they seem to feel that their purpose is to lay blame or they are in any case called upon to do so.

Unfortunately, our eagerness to lay blame leads us to do so in a very thoughtless and simplistic manner.  Sarah Palin is a disturbing figure in certain senses, but it's unreasonable to blame her for the shootings.  The killer in this case seems to have been incensed against the congresswoman he shot since 2007, some time before Ms. Palin came upon the scene.  He also seems to be a very unstable person, who became particularly odd within the past few years.

Ms. Palin's response to those blaming her was largely ineffective, particularly as a result of her weird reference to the "blood libel", but also because it was generally an unintelligent, almost petulant, exercise in political theatre.  Nevertheless there was buried in this inept performance a truth; that neither she nor right wing politicians generally nor the shriekers and pontificators who make their living on talk radio can reasonably be said to have caused these shootings.

While one may regret the atmosphere during the memorial attended by the President, his views regarding this tragedy as expressed in his speech are far more reasonable than those of the many others we've heard from, willingly or unwillingly.  He rightly spoke against the efforts all too clearly being made to reap a political benefit from the shootings.  He condemned the simple-mindedness of those who lay blame.

The tone of our political discourse is inflammatory.  Some truly hateful things are being said by certain people.  Responding to this by blaming them as accessories to murder, however, doesn't exactly raise the level of discourse. 

It seems that one thing we are not inclined to do much anymore is "stop and think."  Where instant responses are eagerly made and sought, not much in the way of thought takes place.  Very few of us can think rapidly and well.  Yet (almost) the first thing we do when something bad happens is place blame on someone or something.  This is stupid, and useless.

The sensible reaction to such events is to take steps to prevent them from happening in the future.  We won't achieve this by silencing those with whom we disagree, however strongly.  There is much more involved.  Thinking and planning is called for; unfortunately, it seems our willingness to engage in the kind of effort required to do what is needed appears to be waning as we rush to judgment in a world where we believe our thoughts should be expressed as quickly and simply as possible, and are subject to the views of others expressed in the same unreflecting manner

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