The internet is a tool, and I don’t mean that in the derogatory sense, the way hipster glitterati who think they’re ‘all that’ are tools. The internet is a tool meant to bring us closer together no matter how far apart we are.
But the more connected we become to everyone we’ve ever crossed paths with the more likely we seem to be to engage in road rage type-bouts of anger at each other. Politically tinged status updates on facebook have become infractions worth unfriending each other over and said unfriending is often delivered with vitriol laced words about how ignorant or evil the updater is.
Because we type our feelings to each other from the comfort and safety of our computer and phone screens, without having to face our targets, we can forget that they are human beings. To me it’s no different than road rage, where the relative anonymity of our cars strips us of the empathy that smooths most face to face human interactions.
Add an increasingly heated political landscape, one in which many politicians feel the only way they can win elections is by completely vilifying their opponents and the other party and you have a molotov cocktail of righteous anger in search of a target.
This past Saturday that target was Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She was doing a meet-and-greet in her home state of Arizona when she was shot in the head by Jared Lee Loughner, a young man with a troubling history of anger and, apparently, a fear that the government was going to take away your right to grammar.
To be clear, I am not saying that any politician is at fault for Jared’s actions. He is solely responsible for what he did. The question, though, is would he have hatched such a horrific plan if we lived in a more amiable political climate? Crazy people have always been with us and may always be, so how much of their decision making process is governed by the idea that some people in power will secretly applaud their actions?
Since Saturday a lot of criticism has been heaped on Sarah Palin, who famously put a gunsight on a map of Gabrielle’s district in Arizona in reaction to her vote on Obama’s health care reform bill last year. Sarah “Don’t retreat, reload!” Palin has said that Saturday’s attack was in no way her fault and she and right wing pundits such as Rush Limbaugh have hurried to distance themselves from the violence that occurred.
So the question of the day has become – are they in some way responsible for the actions of a clearly disturbed young man? In my opinion the answer is yes and no.
Yes, Sarah Palin was irresponsible to use violent imagery like gun sights and slogans like “Don’t retreat, reload!” to stoke the fire and ire of Republicans so they would come out and vote for Republican candidates. She is a polarizing figure and she goes out of her way to work the hate bone in the bodies of those who will listen to her without laughing at her butchering of the English language and the sheer uneducated lunacy of her message. (Yes, yes, I know, it’s obvious where I stand on Sarah Palin. This is commentary so you get to enjoy my perspective. I suspect most of my readers feel the same about her anyway, we don’t tend to get our opinions and news from outlets that don’t already cater to our point of view.)
But, that said, Sarah Palin did not call for people to physically go out and slaughter the competition. She hasn’t suggested anyone murder Gabrielle Giffords or any of her fellow members of Congress. The fact that the current default state of the American public seems to be ‘hate anyone who doesn’t agree with me’ is not her fault, she just exploits it for her own purposes.
I think that the silver lining in this horrible tragedy is that this is the point at which people can say, ‘Enough’. No more politicking through hatred. No more vilifying our neighbors and opponents in order to curry favor with the masses. This is the time when we should stop thinking it’s okay to spew anger at each other in press conferences and rallies or through our everyday interactions online and remember that we are all human beings and we’re all here doing our best to be the best we can be.
This policy should start at home with us. If our politicians won’t be role models to us, let’s be role models to them. If someone doesn’t agree with your point of view, that’s okay. Agree to disagree. It doesn’t make the other person a dangerous right wing/left wing nutjob. I promise. Let all the hot button topics stop being hot buttons – the Iraq war, abortion, gay marriage, vaccinations – the list goes on and on – and let the person who holds each point of view be a fellow human with their own point of view.
And if you think that’s a stupid idea then just go ahead and unfriend me, jerk.