this started out as a comment on a facebook post, and, like much i write, quickly spiraled beyond the small space allowed for facebook conversation. one of my fb friends wrote a very cogent comment on the way the american people share the guilt of the media and the politicians who create an atmosphere of violence. so i started talkling to him in my head, then on fb, and finally ended up here.
we-the-people are indeed collaborators in the lies and half-truths we are given. this isn't new---nor is it confined to americans. but we do seem to have a particular anti-intellectualism that is stronger than i have seen in western europe, at least. our national mythologies--cowboys and indians, cops and robbers, bad commies and good capitalists--are grandly simplistic, as is the comic image of the intellectual whose propensity to think causes pherimone deficiencies, and is cured by the first sign of infatuation or physical attraction [here the intellectual throws off the glasses and, if it's a woman, pulls the bobby pins out of her bunned-hair and thrusts her long hair about, and goes into a horny kiss].
faced with inescapable horror, we look for a nice comfortable one-explanation-fits-all answer. quite often, this falls in with tendencies toward scapegoating a handy 'enemy.' current favorites are islamophobia [which dovetails neatly into our omnipresent racism] and homophobia. but mr. loughtner is clearly not a muslim and doesn't appear to be gay, so we'll have to look elsewhere. the most obvious 'elswehwere' has been noted by a few thoughtful commentators already: mr loughtner is 'mentally ill.'
well, yes. but so are a lot of people. [so, by the way, am i, in a minor sort of way; i am clinically depressed.] few of us, i am glad to say, run around shooting politicians or soldiers or schoolmates or anyone else. further, it's a tricky area. we're hearing questions about investigating odd behavior when it manifests at school or at work or with friends. but most odd behavior, even when truly disturbing, isn't lethal. anger at government, concern over semantics, even conspiracy beliefs aren't inherently dangerous. hindsight shows us a young man ready to explode. how many people like mr loughtner never explode into violence? if we're going to seek out patterns of potentially lethal behavior, we really need to be far more educated about what that means than most of us are now.
i can accept a bit better the tendency to blame the far-right's cavalier use of incendiary language. sarah palin has been pretty awful, and would do well now to simply say, 'i was unwise to use rifle target imagery toward the politicians i find dangerous, and would hate to think my imagery had any part, however miniscule, in the arizona murders. so i am changing that image as of now and using simple x's to indicate areas of dangerous liberalism.' far worse, to me, is sharon angle's repeated use of 'second amendment tactics,' which if it does not call for violence is certainly a declaration of its legitimacy.
but angle's and palin's rhetoric are themselves a symptom of our national quest for easy answers. what combination of factors go into the creation of a terrorist killer? if we were willing to ask that question and insist on looking deeply and honestly into a lot of things we might not want to see, we might really learn something. and the 'we' here is not only the tea-party reactionaries. they and their supporters on fox news and in electoral politics are both victims and perpetrators in a pattern which is far larger than any one ideology can encompass.
returning to america's most recently embedded myth-making experience, look back to the reaction to 9/11. where was the analysis of a long, complex relationship between our government and mideast dictators? this would not have excused the terrorists, but it might have taught us about them, and about their hatred for us, and about what might really be done internationally to address that very large, very complicated reality. it wouldn't have been comfortable, and it wouldn't have been easy. it would have been problematic for reductionists of all stripes. i include here not only liberals but people like myself, leftwing radicals. we too have been fond of simplicity, of easy answers. questions don't usually lend themselves to easy answers; they raise other questions, they force the mind to use its power against the tyranny of comfortable emotions.
way back in those days, i wrote a poem about medusa, the ancient mythic monster so hideous that to look at her turned the viewer to stone. the poem attempted to describe her genuine ugliness. i ended it with 'but the legends are wrong. it is those who do not look who turn to stone.' we can't stop evil; we can't stop terrorism; we can't prevent some forms of mental illness to morph into violence. but maybe we can work against it, defang it just a little.