Rhetoric seems to reign supreme in the US these days. When the audience lacks critical thinking skills and the ability to objectively question the speaker (usually a politician), we are in deep trouble. When fear –> anger –> violence happens and all reason is lost, then we can justifiably worry. I don’t comprehend politics very well. It confounds me. But what I do know is that we certainly need to be applying critical thinking and sound skepticism to the claims coming out of politicians these days. Their language, their ideas and their attitudes are getting worse.
I came across this opinion piece by Alex Massie who said:
We know that even lone lunatics don’t live in a bubble. They are influenced by outside events. That’s why, when there is an act of Islamist terrorism, we quite rightly want to know if it was, implicitly or explicitly, encouraged by other actors. We do not believe – at least we should not – in collective guilt or punishment but we do want to know, with reason, whether an individual assassin was inspired by ideology or religion or hate-speech or any of a hundred other possible motivating factors. We do not hold all muslims accountable for the violence carried out in the name of their prophet but nor can we avoid the ugly, unpalatable, truth that, as far as the perpetrator is concerned, he (it is almost always he) is acting in the service of his view of his religion. He has a cause, no matter how warped it may be. And so we ask who influenced him? We ask, how did it come to this?
Normal people struggle to accept the news that dozens of people die on a regular basis around the world from deliberate acts. This week, it was Orlando. I’ve heard others mention that they also cringe, as I do, when we hear that the assailant is Muslim. I know it will feed the flames of prejudice and hatred from demagogues like Trump and his supporters who now feel it’s no longer taboo to be “politically incorrect” which means to discriminate, generalize, cast a group of people in a severely negative light, and deny them equal access to society. How about being morally and humanly incorrect? Because that’s what it is. They aren’t being reasonable, they are appealing to the basest fears, ignoring how complex and nuanced society is.
Curiously, this piece by Massie wasn’t about Trump – it’s astounding how much it sounds like it could have been — the person who whips up a portion of the population into an angry froth and then acts surprised when they erupt into violence. The piece was instead about the death of Jo Cox, a member of the British Parliament who was murdered on the street last week. Cox was 42, seemed like a hard working advocate for her constituents, and I didn’t know of her at all. But she wished to help people escape from the desperation and death in Syria. Her humanitarian stand appears to have been a catalyst for her violent death – as her assailant had interest in white surpremacy. Sick. Ironic. Awful.
Massie points out that rhetoric plays a role in encouraging emotion to erupt and take over:
Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.
Something terrible happened. It’s happened before. And it will happen again. That’s what I fear. I fear we’ve not done all we could as a society to prevent it. And, I fear that some people are paving the path for it to seem less horrific and to ease the condemnation of violence. People are being told “their country has been stolen from them” … oh crap, that same shit is on this side of the pond too, by the Republican nominee for President.
Massie pointed out that it’s not yet totally clear what the motive was for the murder of Jo Cox. The attacker was said to have “mental illness”. Certainly many factors came into play that resulted in this tragedy. Yet, one of the factors being blamed is… rhetoric. Nigel Farage is the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and in the middle of the struggle between factions that wish for the UK to leave the European Union (“Leave” or “Brexit”) or to stay (“Remain”). This EU Referendum will be voted on next week. Farage was chastised the same day of Cox’s murder for unveiling an anti-immigrant poster reminiscent of Nazi propaganda promoting the Leave decision. People invoked Godwin’s law at the accusation, but, you know, sometimes, one can obviously sound like a Nazi. This is one of those times. Many thought the poster was disgusting. Though it did not accurately represent what was currently happening in Britain, it clearly suggested that immigration was the “Breaking Point” and that Britain would be worse off for remaining in the EU overrun with immigrants. But can an image and message incite such violence?
The poster unveiled by Nigel Farage this morning marked a new low, even for him….The message was not very subtle: Vote Leave, Britain, or be over-run by brown people. Take control. Take back our country. You know what I mean, don’t you: If you want a Turk – or a Syrian – for a neighbour, vote Remain. Simple. Common sense. Innit?
Massie didn’t blame Farage for Cox’s death; it’s not that simple. But politicians like to do grandstanding things like oversimply complex concepts in order get people to vote for them.
Yay for dumbing down world events and leaving out important considerations! That will surely help us to make reasonable decisions.
Massie DID blame Farage and others for being irresponsible in their speech.
When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’
When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.
This is exactly like the US climate with Hurricane Trump. You don’t get to be surprised when the crowds attempt to physically take back America. Trump doesn’t care about truth, he will attack and fight and never apologize. Like a Creationist thumping the Bible, he knows the power of rhetoric. The man can’t take personal responsibility even though he has encouraged violence against those that do not agree. The threat of violence is real and Trump is unapologetic. He is an ass that can orchestrate chaos. Imagine if Trump got drunk one day and whipped up the crowd to “attack”. I’m genuinely afraid that some of his followers would totally follow through. They are sheep to their leader, even if he heads them into the abyss, they can’t think their way off this path. And I really don’t think anything the rest of us can say will do anything either.
Farage supports Trump but even HE said last December that Trump’s idea of banning Muslims from immigrating to the US goes too far.
The EU referendum campaigns were suspended temporarily due to the murder. Tensions are high. What will this event mean for the result? I have no idea. I’m just on the periphery, a long-distance spectator. But things are looking ominous.
Something like this will happen in the US. Again. It’s happened many times before. And now, we are even fighting each other at political rallies! Radicals kill in the name of religion. And radicals kill out of prejudice and fear of change. Like the UK, we are in the midst of a social and political “civil war” that is anything but civil. I’m dumbfounded how people can be of the mind set to think that it’s acceptable to treat other human beings so poorly, to see them as less human. I can’t understand supporting an ignorant, egotistical blowhard except by acknowledging that fear is driving his supporters. It appears to be the same fear that the UKIP supporters feel. How can we allow for meaningful progress, open understanding, and compromise when there is so much fear in the way? Is it possible to get past it?
You aren’t born knowing how to think clearly and discuss matters coherently to get to a reasonable solution. You have to be taught. You have to learn. When the leaders are clueless, how can we ever learn?
I’ll be following the UK situation more closely now. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter so much what it teaches me, but I would wish other would learn from it as well.