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In the wake of today’s horrendous attack which killed a Federal Judge, a nine year old child, and has left a question mark over the life of a Congresswoman from our home state of Arizona, hopes for and calls for a still quiet on the home front of ideological rhetoric.  For so long now an ominous  trend towards  hostility and (implied) threats has prevailed in our nation’s political and ethical public discussion.

Republicans, Democrats; Liberals, Conservatives; Libertarians, Progressives; Tea Party, America: We are better than this. 

As of this writing a mere handful of hours have past since the shootings which left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Az) and at least fifteen others either dead or wounded.  Our irresponsible  and asinine media will no doubt jump on the obvious political angle of these successful  and attempted assassinations.  There will no doubt be many in our media and in our corridors of power who will attempt to draw an ideological  line in the sand.  They will  use this event to make inappropriate political points while doctors have not even yet healed the wounds of today’s victims, and while no obvious parallels or connections are yet known between the ideology of the killer and his acts.

More events of this type may well be ahead if reason and common sense are not embraced.  Our elected, social, and moral leadership have been offering dire warnings (often hypocritically and disingenuously) about the tenor and message of the nation’s political rhetoric.  They complain about the affect of the language on our culture.

I do not as of yet know (nor do I care to know) the ideology or professed values of the killer.  It matters not.  A murderer is a murderer,  regardless of his motivation or the ideas he holds.  More importantly, one cannot draw a correlation between the particular beliefs of this individual and his acts, though many will cynically attempt to do so, regardless of his beliefs.

At some point we must come to recognize  that an individual alone is responsible for his acts.  If he takes action based on his ideas, his action’s should and must be evaluated and judged… on his character and his behavior, not the particulars of his ideas. The ideas themselves should and must be evaluated and judged as well…on the merit of the ideas —  not…not… on the character of the person who holds them.  Thanks to the historic nature of the times we live in…and the source of that unusual history, we have been making the mistake of conflating the moral character of  individuals and groups  with the political or moral premises they hold, with disasterous implications for our freedoms and our culture.

The cynicism and divisiveness of today’s politics will draw many to conclude that our political discussions ought to be adjusted  in some way as a response to the violence and the implications of violence.   They would be correct.  More will come to the conclusion that an act of law of some kind is warranted – that such new law would help to prevent further acts of violence of the type we saw today.

This would be a serious error.

Any attempt by our leadership to regulate public discussion so we might stifle further incivility or prevent further violence will serve only to add fuel to the already raging fires of distrust and dissatisfaction.  After the violence of today, we can no longer continue to make the same errors.

The fact that we are so serious about our political discussions and take them so personally that some are pushed to such lengths as were taken by the assailant of Congresswoman Gifford and other’s says far more about the nature of America and Americans than it does about our particular ideologies.  How we and our leadership handle the wake following these attacks may very well help to define us as a nation.

Over the course of many years we have been told to calm down, to not take things so seriously.  We’ve heard that our entrenched ideologies somehow create a tenor of violence and discord.  In contrast to the prevailing wisdom, I assert that our personal and passionate embrace of the world of ideas, and our heated personal reactions to the nation’s cultural and economic crisis,  is a positive indication of the nation’s seriousness about intellectual issues.  It should provide much hope for our intellectual and moral future.

Now is the time to begin a rational and civil conversation about our intellectual and moral premises rather than arguing over them.  This is not the time to use the actions of one as an excuse or justification for  the rhetoric to be silenced in hopes that the heat will go away. It is certainly not the time, as well, to assume that the irrationality of a particular  individual with a particular set of ideas necessarily translates to those who may hold similar ideas.

Rational discussions are urgently needed, now more than ever.  And we all know it.  If we did not,  we would not be taking the events of the past number of years so profoundly personal.  We would not have unstable individuals inserting their personal demons into the realm of political discussion.

How can this civil dialogue occur when all of us, regardless of ideology, are so intense in our commitment to our respective ideas and are so passionately convinced that our opponents are not only wrong in their beliefs, but also wrong in their person?

The answer lies in our ideas, whether we truly have committed ourselves to their truth, and most crucially whether we are committed to reason over personal belief.

Those so entrenched in their dogma so as to believe that force is a proper tool for persuasion, and those who insist that a dialogue about their cause must,  as the terms of the debate,  involve substituting a dialogue over their opponents character for evaluation of their opponents  ideas,  cannot ever claim that civility is their aim or that they have achieved certainty in their own position.

There will be some who will argue that the ideas which may have motivated an unhinged shooter to release his personal demons in a hail of bullets are somehow discredited because of his actions.  They will say that the violence of today is a reason for our nation to silence herself as she continues to cry out in pain. These persons do not have have peace, prosperity, or freedom as their goal.

A nation in political and social distress cannot right itself with silence, and cannot heal her wounds by opening up more of them with bullying and blame.

Our hostility is due to such bullying and blame.  Today’s hail of bullets were a cry for help from the Republic out of the din of our horribly violent dialogue.  The cries of instability which exist in the shooters ramblings should not concern us much.  We ought to be more concerned by whether we choose to define the events of today as the actions of an unstable killer who happened to have been  motivated by his ideas and his demons,  or whether a nation built on ideas ought to define itself by the actions of an unstable individual, one  who chose to bring  his instability into a crowd of innocents  and claimed justification through his ideas.

How we choose to filter through our ideology the acts which took the life of a Federal Judge, a nine year old child, and has left a question mark over the life of a Congresswoman depends upon how we define ourselves as individuals.  What we do with our ideas –  and  how we and our leadership handle the wake following these attacks –  may very well help to define us as a nation.

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Posted January 8, 2011 by cchashadenough in Uncategorized

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