Monday, January 10, 2011

Rhetoric and Complicity

The reaction to the shooting of Rep. Gifford and others on Saturday reminded me of a discussion I was involved in at Mirror of Justice after Russell Powell wrote that "we" (meaning Catholics) are complicit in the rash of suicides by gay teenagers last fall.

Like Saturday, there was no direct link between any action by the Catholic Church or Catholics in particular and the suicides.  So, Prof. Powell relied on the fact that "we do not actively provide moral leadership as individuals and as an institution to protect human life and dignity."  Of course, the same could be said for every injustice in the world -- warfare, abortion, capital punishment, poverty, euthanasia, etc.  But it did seem to me that Prof. Powell was claiming a more particular level of complicity in these suicides that, for example, abortion.  This is similar to how, failing to draw a line from harsh conservative rhetoric to the shooting, commentators instead pointed to a "climate of hate" and other similar terms.

I found myself resisting Prof. Powell's conclusion, as I found myself resisting the conclusion that conservatives who use harsh rhetoric bear responsibility for Saturday's shooting.  And I also resist the weaker claim that, even if there is no direct complicity, then these events provide a "teachable moment" for people to reconsider their actions.

Is it because I think both the institutional Church and Catholics are blameless in how they respond to gays and lesbians?  Certainly not.  Is it because I am happy with the current state of political discourse and would not welcome a move toward arguments over name calling?  Again, most certainly not.

It is because I recognize what a powerful force people's feelings are in the wake of events like murders and suicides.  And I am loathe to see the energy behind them unleashed on in directions that are only tangentially related to the actual event.

If we want to look for an example of why to be wary of this impulse, we should only look at the last ten years of our history since 9/11.  We responded to that by launching two separate wars, bringing back torture, setting aside many of our principles, and countless other things.  I would think that those on the political left would recognize the danger of being indiscriminate in directing people's grief toward undeserving targets (if you'll excuse the expression).

We can talk about how the Church might respond to gays and lesbians.  And we can talk about how we might bring about a more tame discourse.  But it's not right to do so with the charge of complicity with homicide in the air.  And I don't think doing so is going to lead to anything good.  Don't borrow moral force from the tragedies -- make the case on its own terms.

I am extremely skeptical that a better discourse is going to be built on evidence free accusations on complicity with murder.

Some other scattered thoughts I'm not inclined to pollute my Twitter feed with:
  • It is an interesting statement about the psyche of the Democrats that one of their first reactions to an attempted assassination of one of their Representatives is to attempt to link it to the failed VP candidate of the last election who currently holds no political office.  Has there ever been a politician so successful at getting in the other side's head?
  • I would say the left's demonization of the right is more common, but less severe, than the right's demonization of the left.  The left tends to make charges against the right that suggest they are not fit for inclusion in polite company, whereas right tends to imply some on the left ought to be arrested/killed.  Which is why I found Byron York's comparison to the reaction to the Ft. Hood shooting less than persuasive.  Is there a danger that there will be vigilante justice against conservatives?  I don't think so.
  • The more we learn about these shooters, the less likely I find the possibility that there exists a person who would have never harmed anybody but for things like Sarah Palin's map of targetted districts.  
  • And even if so, I find the idea of letting our speech be dictated by what some crazy person might react to extremely distasteful.
  • If liberals are still having trouble understanding why conservatives react so strongly to these charges, imagine how you might react to a pro-lifer like me posting that the shooting is yet another example of the "culture of death" enabled by our pro-choice culture that says that human life is expendable if it is inconvenient.  IMO, that's a more direct connection than anything Sarah Palin said, but I and the pro-life movement recognize that it would be imprudent to make such a case.
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