Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On the Transformative Power of Hate

Midway through college, I found myself (in part, I am sure, through my own fault) sucked into one of those interpersonal dramas of the sort that can only take place in an environment where lots of young adults with much time and little sense are living with each other in a small residential college 24/7. I had a falling out with my roommate, and since the room had become a rather difficult place to live, I arranged with the residence director to move into another room in the dorm. This was almost but not quite the end of it. For a few weeks longer there were random knocks on my door, anything I put on my bulletin board was slashed to ribbons, milkshakes had a way of happening to get spilled on my car, etc. And then all was forgotten.

But during that brief period during which the strife could not be let go, I developed a reflexive reaction to everything about the former roommate. Seeing a car on the highway the same color and model as his would make me angry. Just hearing the roommate's name would cause a tightening feeling in my stomach. Even if one would be glad to be done with it all, being hated by someone else is something which cannot help but cause significant changes in you. Hatred is never a one-way relationship.

I think of this at the moment because our country looks increasingly like two camps that would really like to be warring, except for the fact that actual civil wars cut into work hours more than blogging does. When Representative Gabrielle Giffords was critically injured, and six bystanders were killed, by a gunman who was seriously disturbed, to say the least, it could have been a moment for the country to pull together in a sense of common sympathy for the dead and injured and outrage that violence had been brought into our civic life, where it has no place.

House Speaker John Boehner stepped forward and delivered standard unifying rhetoric for such occasions, "An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society... This is a sad day for our country."

However, although it has become de rigueur for those on the left to say that President George Bush wasted the good will of the world after September 11th, 2001 by attacking Iraq a year and a half later, in this case any good will or unification was dispatched within five minutes as those on the left tripped over each other trying to see who could blame Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck first -- as the founder of Daily Kos twittered, “Mission Accomplished, Sarah Palin.” and Paul Krugman insisted he'd been expecting the right to break into partisan violence since 2008.

Perhaps, isolated as we are from many of the troubles which have afflicted other countries in the world much more recently than they have us, too many people in our country fail to appreciate the fact that it is a good and valuable thing that in our country it is considered a grave crime by all when one of our elected representatives (even one we opposed in the last election) is attacked. In too many times and places, this kind of thing has people cheering in the streets. And so rather than appreciating the fact that -- at times childish rhetoric from both sides aside -- in our country everyone is willing to peacefully accept the outcomes of elections and the civic process, instead what we find is that those on the left are more eager to cash in on this atrocity by telling everyone, "See, my opponents are so wicked they cause political violence!" than they are to draw the country together in the unity they claim to be so eager for.

Needless to say, there is nothing more likely to make one feel enraged than to have someone unjustly accuse you of fomenting a shooting spree that killed six people, including a nine year old girl. I know some of my fellow conservatives feel I go overboard in the calmness department, but be assured, when some online punk who likes to talk about how people like me "hate the poor", "hold legislation hostage", have a health care policy of "if you get sick, die quickly", am a "racist" and am moreover "just like the Taliban" because I'm religious, takes an opportunity like this to say that we conservatives are responsible for creating a "climate of hate" which causes crimes like what happened on Saturday, I feel like fomenting a little violence back right then and there.

Those on the left may not recognize that their movement has been seething with hate for all eight years of Bush's administration, and somehow gone straight back into overdrive even after their candidate won in 2008. After all, it's their movement, and they are sure that stoner guy with the beat-up Civic with the "Kill the President" and "Bush Is a Chimp-ass Punk" bumper stickers is just expressing himself and doesn't mean anything by it. But those of who actually are on the right and get to hear about how we're a "waste of oxygen" in online forums can assure them that they have been red in rhetorical tooth and claw for some time now.

One need only look at places like the Middle East to see how hard it is for people to step off the carousel once the cycle of hatred really gets going. Just the idea of working with one's opponents becomes enough to make people angry. We're a long way from that, though displays like this only bring us closer.

In an alternate reality, Democratic leaders and pundits took the sad opportunity of this shooting to join with Republican leaders in bringing the country together and reminding everyone that despite our differences all Americans share basic civic values. Instead, it was widely taken as an attempt to demonize their opponents after a hard fought election and to try to seriously hobble the new Republican majority in the House by waving the bloody shirt. I hope and pray there's not another opportunity any time soon for our leaders and pundits to acquit themselves better. But either way, there are many who should be ashamed of themselves for trying to paint their fellow citizens with the blood of a crime that they are in fact united in abhorring.


JMB said...

I don't know if you are old enough to remember when Ronald Reagan was shot but nobody blamed the left for John Hinkley Jr's action. He was clearly seen as a dangerous and disturbed individual.

Anonymous said...

darwin wrote: " . . . those on the left are more eager to cash in on this atrocity by telling everyone, "See, my opponents are so wicked they cause political violence!" than they are to draw the country together in the unity they claim to be so eager for."

You need to address this:


P.S. I note that Palin is today accusing Democrats of "blood libel". She is truly shameless.

Darwin said...


No, I was two in 1981, and thus not much aware of the news coverage.


You know, I'm really not sure how to respond seriously to the claim that Loughner was motivated by a campaign map which "targetted" vulnerable House seats with crosshairs. I mean, seriously?

Yes, there has been a rather cynical ploy on the Left since 2008 to find either racism or threats of violence (preferably both) in basically everything that comes out of the Right. The idea, I suppose, is that if the right can be painted with these characteristics, then people won't want to vote for them. The last election doesn't exactly seem to have shown this to be a successful ploy, but it fits well with people's personal prejudices, so I guess the habit just stuck.

Still you don't have to take my word for it. You could ask comparatively reasonable adults in the room such as: George Will, Ross Douthat, David Brooks or Jonathan Chait.

I did read Palin's released statement today, though frankly, I found it one of the more well written and appropriate statements to come out of a major politician -- rather scarry as she's pretty clearly proven herself over the last couple years to be a lightweight. But at least she has the sense to emplooy good writers.

I can't really think of a better phrase than "blood libel" for the way the Left has behaved during this tragedy. If I didn't use the word myself, it was not for thinking it inappropriate.

Though at least in tragedy we can still find humor. There's the Democratic ex-Representative who during the election said that Florida's governor should be "put up against a wall and shot" who penned an editorial demanding that Republican's cease using violent rhetoric, then explained that "only fruitcakes" would have taken his imagery seriously:

Anonymous said...

darwin, You're absolutely right: Sarah Palin did not say that conservatives should "reload and take aim" at Griffiths. Palin's mini-me, Sharron Angle in NV, did not say that citizens would need to resort to "Second Amendment solutions" to deal with liberals. Rush Limbaugh does not routinely describe mainstream liberals as "fascists" or say that they are "destroying America." Glenn Beck does not -

I could go on, but why bother. The Republican Party is sick, has enveloped itself in coarse, hateful rhetoric for the past several years, and we have now seen the fruit of this violent bigotry against their opponents.

Having said all that, I will note as you do that there are a few sane conservatives out there who see the problem: Pat Buchanan, for example, who acknowledged a couple days ago that if he had said the things Palin had said then he would now feel the need to apologize. Or even John Boehner, who always speaks in mature and measured tones and rejects the spittle-flecked mania of his Tea Party colleagues. The R Party desperately needs to do some serious soul-searching, and Boehner might actually be the right guy to lead them in this. Maybe.


Darwin said...


So, let's get a straight answer here:

Do you think that when Palin's PAC "targeted" Giffords, she was advocating that someone shoot or otherwise physically attack Giffords?

Or do you think this is a case in which Palin didn't actually mean for someone to shoot Giffords, but where Loughner heard her words and interpreted them literally, thinking that this meant it was a good idea to go shoot Giffords?

Or is this simply an extended game of "gotcha" akin to having someone say, "I hope you have a lousy day," to you right before you get t-boned at an intersection by a drunk driver.

It seems to me pretty clear that it's this third option, especially given that we know now that Loughner has had it in for Giffords since 2007 when he confronted her at an event and demanded to know, "How can there be a government when words have no meeting?" Plus he is on record with the local police for having made death threats against members of his community college administration and various local media and blogging personalities.

Did he keep mistaking who it was that Palin wanted to go after?

Again, it's conservatives like Will and Brooks and progressives like Chait who have the story right here.

Anonymous said...

darwin, no, I don't think Palin really wanted someone to shoot Giffords. Rather, Palin is just a selfish attention whore who uses crude and vicious language because she has decided that this is the best way to keep her name in headlines. Not just Palin: most of the R leadership is following her in this, because they have seen how well it works. The completely predictable fact that a few unbalanced and dangerous individuals take such language seriously does not concern people like her.

You can Will and Brooks me all you want - the fact remains that the Republican Party is sick and evil and must change. The party is far more represented by bigots like Rush Limbaugh - with 20M daily radio listeners - and Glenn Beck - with his own show on Fox - then by the comparatively sane conservatives who grace our nation's dying newspapers. But I really do have hope that John Boehner, for all his faults, might actually be able to lead the party out of this insanity. We'll see.


Darwin said...

So you do honestly think that the shooter was inspired by Palin's rhetoric to shoot Giffords? Despite the fact that he had been confronting her since 2007 and had issued death threats against various other figures in the community, some of them totally non political such as his community college administration?

Or is this just a case of thinking it's a good opportunity to demand that Palin and talk radio tone it down on the pretext that their rhetoric had something to do with the attack -- while at the same realizing this pretext has no basis in reality.

If the former, I think that's just a bit foolish. If the latter, it strikes me that falsely accusing a whole bunch of people of inciting murder is rather worse than the original offense.

It's also a very hard view to get agreement on, since all people naturally find the loud voices they disagree with more offenses they agree with. Those on the right will naturally find characters like Al Franken, Michael Moore, and even at time Obama more offensive in their modes of expression than Palin and Limbaugh.

And similarly, those on the left will find Palin and Limbaugh offensive pretty much no matter how they say it because they find their views so offensive. It's a good sign you can recognize that folks like Brooks and Douthat actually speak reasonably, but frankly, many can't seem to see that. I've heard liberal voices at The Atlantic accuse the mild mannered Douthat of being a homosexual hating fascist who shouldn't be listened to in polite society, not to mention a misogynist who wants to oppress women and turn them into baby making machines. If you can be as mild mannered and hesitant in your approach as Douthat and still be vilified as a half-human knuckle dragger, where exactly is the motivation to fit one's expression to the tone the left would prefer?

Darwin said...

(Incidentally, have you read the Will and Douthat and Brooks columns on the shooting? I ask only because you seem to keep suggesting I'm pointing at them as an example of the right being reasonable, when the reason I'm in fact pointing to them is because the folks you consider sane and reasonable conservatives are agreeing with my interpretation of the events in Tuscon, not yours.)

Anonymous said...

I read Ross Douthat and Andrew Sullivan regularly, others that you name only occasionaly. But I have no illusion that any of these people really speak for Republican leadership. Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin are the two leaders of the Republican Party, as evidenced by their radio and TV ratings, their six-figure public speaking fees at Republican and Tea Party gatherings, and most importantly by the fact that the few Republican politicians who have ever dared to criticize either one of them have quickly issued grovelling apologies for it. They know where the power centers are.

So I stand by what I said above: you can Will and Brooks me all you want, the fact is that the Republican Party is insane.

(I note out of historical interest that this is the opposite of the situation that the US had in the 1970's: back then the Republicans were building a robust and principled conservative movement, while the Democratic Party was full of crazy people. Funny how the pendulum swings.)


Anonymous said...

Like I said, I read Sully regularly:


Darwin said...

Now if you want to talk about a commentator who is so completely unhinged as not to be worth taking the time to read, Andrew Sullivan is definitely way up there.

Darwin said...

On the bright side, he seems to have found himself in the left, where he blends right in.

Anonymous said...

Your comments about Sully tell me more about you than about him. He believes in limited government, strong defense, and free trade, and those who call him liberal are abusing the language.

Now, I agree that his obsession with Sarah Palin is over the top, but it is worth noting that his previous obsession with Hillary Clinton was just as bad. He supported Bush Jr. early on, including the invasion of Iraq at the time. I believe his criticism of the corruption among the leadership of the Catholic Church is spot-on, though obviously I don't expect you to agree with that. But you should also note that he criticizes the gay rights group The Human Rights Campaign for similar reasons.

I read liberal commentators too: Mark Kleiman, Kevin Drum, and Matthew Yglesias are on my daily list. Sully does not fit in among them. He fits in with Ross Douthat or Steven Bainbridge or Eugene Volokh.


Darwin said...

Meh. I can't stand reading Sullivan regularly, especially since the 2008 election. Though practically every time I've clicked on his column from the Atlantic sidebar it's been somewhere between unhinged and moronic. Perhaps, though, he has hidden depths I haven't seen.

I will concede that I've seen him make vague motions towards Burkean conservatism, but usually only in the self-serving manner of, "Now that my side has won, we should be very hesitant to change anything less that have adverse effects."

My usual reading diet is Douthat and Brooks on the right, McArdle off in Libertarian field, and Ta Nehisi Coates and Paul Krugman on the left. I also follow James Fallows to an extent, and follow the Wall Street Journal and NY Times opinion columnists generally. Occasionally I also dip into Chait or the other folks at New Republic.

Tom Simon said...

Joel —

In the very same breath you complain about the ‘coarse, hateful rhetoric’ of your political opponents, and then say that the entire party which is opposed to yours is ‘sick and evil’. I don’t know whether this is deliberate hypocrisy or just an epic lack of self-awareness.

It would be laughable if it weren’t sickening.

Darwin said...

Well, and if I'm confessing reading habits, I also can't help tracking the Catholic left over at -- it's a guilty pleasure of sorts that I engage in most days.

Darwin said...

Certainly, people who use vile rhetoric are not above criticism, but it is true that when someone labels his opponents as a whole as being sick and evil, this is often because he's unable to imagine that anyone who differs from him is well motivated and honorable, rather than because he is singularly cursed with vile opponents.

Anonymous said...

I am unable to imagine that mainstream Democrats are fascists, or that they deserve to be targeted in anyone's gunsights, or that second amendments solutions are required for any of the political problems facing the US today.


Darwin said...

I would never ask you to imagine mainstream Democrats are fascists -- since they're clearly not and calling them so is hyperbolic. (So, of course, is calling them socialists, which is what one normally hears.) It is also deeply silly to claim that "second amendment solutions" are needed to out political problems today.

I'm not defending saying these things, I'm just saying that they are not (and factually in this case were not) incitements to murder. Nor do I think that painting people who say such patently silly things as being the mainstream of the GOP in order to insist that they are all insane and wicked is either helpful to discourse or wise. If everyone who said silly things was guilty of inciting murder, we could lock up all the politicians now.

As for putting gunsights on a map -- that complaint is just silly. Both parties us martial imagery all the time in campaign planning, and the sort of "Palin's marks look like rifle sights while the DNC's look like dart board targets" analysis going on is so silly one is simply ashamed for those doing it.

Tom Simon said...

Tom, I just love your logic: people who use vile rhetoric are immune from criticism, since anyone who calls them on it is automatically a hypocrite.

That isn’t my logic, and you should know better.

My logic is that calling 35 percent of the American electorate ‘sick and evil’ is itself a fine example of vile rhetoric, and you have no right to criticize other people’s vile rhetoric if you are going to indulge in it yourself. First remove the beam from thine own eye.