An Era Of Ugliness And Uncertainty

What’s to say after yesterday?

What a sad, fucked-up day.

As the horror of the shooting unfolded, it was easy to cling to the worst in humanity — like holding onto a sewer barrel in the ocean so you don’t sink. The anger buoyed us. I know my first instinct wasn’t just to find blame and meaning in the event but also this grim, fugly hope that indeed this attack had been perpetuated by “enemies from within,” so that we could find some good in this event and it could be used to nail-gun shut the coffin on right-wing rhetoric. Then I realized my first instinct was actually pretty disturbed: I wasn’t seeking truth, or fact, but only embracing the rage of the moment. Understandable, maybe, but presumptive and perhaps dangerous all the same. I yell and scream about this being a country that puts its heart on its sleeve, a country that never wants to look for fact and instead would rather thrive on assumptions and emotions, a country that supports a media who, when they put a question mark at the end of a scandalous and impossible headline it almost makes it seem true (“Obama: Cat Rapist?”). I realized I was giving into the same instinct that lets the misinformation flag fly, the same instinct that lets us still somehow question whether Obama is a Kenyan Muslim (or whether 9/11 was an “inside job”).

I don’t think it’s weird to feel that rage go through you — but rage is like an electrical current. It doesn’t care where it comes out, it just comes out.

The blame game is nothing new, and I know I played it just the same. I took a look, though, at one point at the Twitter search feed and saw that Sarah Palin’s name (a name I bandied about in a number of tweets yesterday) was trending a helluva lot faster than Congresswoman Giffords. The search feed for Palin was like the credits of a movie thrown in fast-forward: you could barely read one before it took off like a shot and was replaced by 50 more just like it. And I saw some things in there that — well, maybe they didn’t surprise me, but they damn sure made me bug-eyed. Some said she should be hanged (or hung, the dopes) for treason. Some said that we should put a map up with a bullseye on her face, see what happens. I saw some claim that only the right-wing is capable of violence or violent rhetoric, which even a cursory examination reveals to be nonsense.

Listen, I get it. I do. We want to grab hold of the chain and follow it down through the depths until we get to that one person or party to blame, and it’s all the easier to make that leap when it’s someone in the other party, the other camp, the other tribe. As I said, it was my first instinct, too. But as always we must be cautious that the ground before us isn’t slippery and slick with our own froth and vitriol. We must be careful that we don’t give in and become like those we demonize.

I believe that what happened yesterday was a tragedy and I believe the blame lies with the man who pulled that trigger. Whether he was a drug addict, a schizophrenic, a Tea Partier, a Libertarian, a Communist, a racist, or a Zoroastrian, I believe the blame is on him. Unless we find a conspiracy behind him — not impossible, mind you, but we need more facts to support that — then he’s the shooter. The Tea Party didn’t shoot her. His copy of Alice in Wonderland didn’t shoot her. Violent video games did not do it. Sarah Palin and John Boehner did not do it. His apeshit YouTube videos didn’t pull the trigger.

One fucked-up human monster [correction: shot] her with a pistol.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t look for culpability. It doesn’t mean we can’t look at those threads that lead out from that single moment in time, following them backward and outward until we get a bigger picture. It means we have to shine a light on the darkest side of politics and rhetoric. It means we have to look at the climate of violence and lies that lay bubbling beneath the surface of this country right now. One man will hang for this, and that’s the sick fucking goblin that shot a Congresswoman, a judge, a nine-year-old child, and so many others. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look beyond it, shouldn’t consider all those factors that encourage an atmosphere of vandalism and violence born out of misinformation.

Sarah Palin didn’t pull the trigger, but she — not alone, and with others — vomited forth a toxic tide of misinformation into the world.

And let’s be clear, that’s where violence and horror comes from: misinformation. Groups like the Tea Party possess a rage born of ignorance: Obama’s a Muslim, Obama’s raising taxes, health care will rely on death panels, and so on and so forth. Their violence is not born of indignation against what’s really going on: all that sound and fury comes from hollow bellows, born only of the worst kind of ignorance and misinformation (or far crueler still,  disinformation).

That means we can’t be that. If we are going to be the champions of reason, then we must ourselves be reasonable. If we are going to trump misinformation and cut short the rage that crawls from that rotten apple, then we cannot also be the ones who spread misinformation, we cannot also be the carriers of such parasitic rage. The statement, “Fight fire with fire” has always been a bullshit idea: you fight fire with better, smarter weapons. We can’t fight the climate of awful rhetoric by just putting more of it out there. Otherwise, we’re just as shitty as they are.

My hope is that some small ember of good does come out of this. It’ll never be enough to justify the events of yesterday, but maybe we can now shine a light in dark spaces and try to step out of shadow. Maybe from here we can try to be smarter, more practical, more even-keeled and — let’s hope against all hope — nicer.

Anyway. Who knows? I’m just one duck quacking into the void. It’s a fucked-up time in America, and I just think the best way through the darkness is to once more put our foot on the neck of ignorance and make it — not “conservative” or “liberal” — the dirty word.

10 responses to “An Era Of Ugliness And Uncertainty”

  1. Well said. I viewed with rage what I should have been looking at with compassion. I hope your second to last para is right but I fear we live in a time where those who scream loudest generally get what they want.

  2. I agree, wholeheartedly, with your sentiments. The man at fault is the man with the gun, but the astronomically poor taste in campaign materials, mixed with an already aggressive rhetoric, did not help matters.

    I wish that that kind of thought and action were limited to Palin and the Tea Party, but it’s not, and while there are a few individuals who seem focused on improving things, others are merely divisive and that is a sad thing to consider.

  3. Congresswoman Giffords wasn’t killed. Let us end that piece of misinformation floating around here and now.

    Other than that, you’ve hit what I was trying to say yesterday in my single tweet about the incident on the head. Funny how it then got pounced on by several people like I was somehow defending the right. It only made me sadder that some people, regardless of affiliations and intentions can cling so tightly to rage that they fail to see reason or compassion.

    • @Kate:

      My bad; oddly, I know she’s still alive, but somehow that crept its way into the post. Fixed now. Reminder: drink coffee *before* blog post.

      And yeah, people have to be careful about pouncing. It doesn’t help. It only inflames and aggravates the problem.

      — c.

  4. I became apolitical a little over a year ago precisely because I became annoyed at my own prejudice. This involves quite a bit of self-imposed ignorance as it’s impossible to be apolitical without shunning the news media. I didn’t even know this went down till I read this post.

    That said, I don’t think 99% of America has the nerve to act violently for their political beliefs or the brainpan to become politically sophisticated enough to value nuance over rhetoric. We live in a country where the President of the USA can’t talk to schoolchildren without someone calling it a conspiracy.

    I’m not optimistic that a war on ignorance would be very successful, given the amount of news media geared to satisfy the viewing audience’s confirmation bias. I take solace in the fact that politics is second fiddle to the prime time schedule. If we’re all going to hell in a handbasket, at least we’ll be well entertained.

  5. Good, rational post throughout. After I first found out about yesterday’s horrific events I re-tweeted a couple of posts chastising Sarah Palin for her gun/target rhetoric. A few hours later I actually felt guilty about it, because I realized I let myself get caught up in a very ugly, knee-jerk mentality; trying to feel better about a tragedy by finding a way to hang it on someone or something I loathed. Not five minutes after hearing about a nine-year-old child dying I was part of what amounts to an online lynch mob, and I hadn’t posted a single word in regret over the death of that child.

    While there are differences, I later felt like blaming Sarah Palin or the Tea Party for this act was, as you said, like blaming video games for school shootings. Though the violent undercurrent perpetrated by certain parties in America today is something that we can have a serious discussion about in regards to promoting violent acts, there is exactly one person actually responsible for yesterday’s shooting, and that’s the person who pulled the trigger.

  6. A lovely post Mr. Wendig. I agree- we need to look to root out ignorance- not just the injustices that suit our need for vengeance, or the half-truths that malign the other side. We need to stop using words like liberal or conservatives like swears.

  7. What you suggest, sir, is that we fight the guillotine by voluntarily putting our necks beneath the blade.

    Sarah Palin, since cutting and running from legal problems stemming from her abuse of the governorship of Alaska, has consistently gone from movie theater to movie theater yelling fire.

    The violent hunting metaphors have been constant and impossible to ignore. The maps to progressive politician’s homes with gunsights marking the spot have been impossible to ignore.

    What do you do when accused? If you are innocent you explain. If you are guilty you try to cover up.

    What did Obama do when accused of not being a citizen? Nothing. What did Palin do immediately after this shooting? — The Palin machine started deleting maps and blogs and tweets related to lock and load and reload. Maps with gunsights are being taken down at record speed.

    I’m not saying Sarah Palin should immediately go to jail without a trial for inciting murder, but she should indeed get her day in court. To back off any more than that is to be an absolute fool who has ignored the mounting evidence and had no expectations of such an event inevitably occurring. I’ve been patiently waiting and it finally happened.

    The point is, she yelled fire. She has been yelling it repeatedly and she has provided spedific targets to fire at. The nutcase with the gun is now shielded by the conservative legal staff. Let’s let everyone have their day in court, but the immediate obvious impression should be that we don’t go around having charismatic leaders all but demanding that their political opponents be murdered. Such has been the case with Sarah Palin.

    • @Jim:

      I didn’t say she wasn’t culpable. I just said she didn’t pull the trigger. It sounds to me like you didn’t read my post — or, if you did, you read it through a haze of anger.

      For the record, while I think her actions exhibit shame and the aforementioned culpability, I do not for a minute suspect she will — or even *can* — face court time. Especially since we don’t even know the shooter’s motives at present.

      — c.

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