The Spectacle Blog

To Prevent Political Violence: Pump Up the Rhetorical Volume

By on 1.13.11 | 9:12AM

The Big Media and its political lapdogs have been quick to implicate "dangerous and extreme right-wing rhetoric" for the Tucson massacre.

But in fact, the real risk of violence, it seems, comes not from politicos who use so-called extreme rhetoric. The real risk of violence comes instead from people, such as Jared Loughner, who are completely divorced from our national dialogue and debate.

Jared, after all, was a loner who lived in his own deluded world.

"He did not watch TV; he disliked the news," Zach Osler, a high school friend told ABC News' Good Morning America.

"He didn't listen to political radio. He didn't take sides. He wasn't on the Left; [and] he wasn't on the Right."

"There is no evidence that Loughner was impelled to violence by... anything, political or otherwise, outside of his own head," explains Charles Krauthammer in yesterday's Washington Post.

A climate of hate? This man lived within his own very private climate. "His thoughts were unrelated to anything in our world," said the teacher of Loughner's philosophy class at Pima Community College.

"He was very disconnected from reality," said classmate Lydian Ali.

"You know how it is when someone who's mentally ill and they're just not there?" said neighbor Jason Johnson. "It was like he was in his own world."

So if we want to prevent future massacres, such as took place in Tucson on Saturday, the best way to do it might be to incite intense political activism through the use of "extreme rhetoric."

Certainly, had anyone been able to shake Loughner out of his deranged psychosis, the Tucson massacre might never have taken place.

So contra my friend David Frum, we cannot and must not "tone down" our political rhetoric -- at last not if we want to avert political violence. To the contrary: the evidence suggests that we must "tone it up" and "pump up the rhetorical volume."

This makes sense when you think about it. One of the great achievements of the American Republic, and of Western Civilization writ large, after all, is to sublimate man's violent tendencies into more peaceable, non-violent pursuits.

Indeed, "historically speaking," notes Krauthammer, "all democratic politics is a sublimation of the ancient route to power [otherwise known as] military conquest."

That's why the language persists. That's why we say, without any self-consciousness, such things as "battleground states" or "targeting" opponents... [And that's why] the very word for an electoral contest -- "campaign" -- is an appropriation from warfare.

So far from banning political speech, as some pols are now trying to do, we need to find ways to incite even more "extreme" political rhetoric. Our lives literally depend on it.

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