Responsibility and the Shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

by Daniel Brenton on January 10, 2011

in The Meaning of Existence (and all that)

An American tragedy becomes the fodder for political opportunism. Where is our shame?

Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

Start: I am heartsick over this.

If you’re an American, and unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the weekend, you’ve heard about the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday, January 8, allegedly committed by loner Jared Loughner (I say “allegedly” only in that he has not yet been found legally guilty). In this rampage, 13 others were injured, and six were killed, including nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, ironically featured in the book Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11.

When I first heard of this, I flashed on the line from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation science fiction series, made by a central character Salvor Hardin: “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” Learning more about Loughner, though, it appears that he may literally be incompetent, probably delusional, maybe even insane.

A Poster Child for Blame

Already Giffords is being made a poster child by the American political Left in an effort to paint the political Right as rabid, mindless extremists who preach violence against the opposition. The Left points at the admittedly inflammatory rhetoric of the Right, and specifically the the tone and message of Sarah Palin’s 2010 stumping for Tea Party candidates, and makes the claim a graphic on the 2010 congressional campaign website “Take Back the 20″ was designed to incite violence by “targeting” candidates.

True or not, to blame any group or ideology for the actions of one person is to strip the individual of any responsibility for his/her actions.

To suggest Loughner had no responsibility for this, to blame it on the media, or the rhetoric of the Right, or the Left (apparently he used to be Left-leaning) or Palin, or even Barney the Dinosaur is to reinforce the message that all of American society appears to hold dear today, the message that we can always hang the fault of what we do or what happens to us on others.

Simply, that’s pure unadulterated crap.

There is nothing else Loughner could have been listening to except his own inner garbage. He is responsible for what he put in his own head, just as all of us are. He chose to put it there, and, clearly, he must have chosen to keep it there without thinking it through.

Personal Responsibility and the Background Noise of Political Rhetoric

It would be naive of me to suggest that political rhetoric has no impact. It must. It’s part of the background noise, just as much as advertising is part of the background noise of our lives. Advertising must be effective, otherwise businesses and people with services and products to push wouldn’t throw big money at it, which they do. It is only fair, then, to assume political rhetoric can be just as influential

Obviously what comes through the various media forms can be influences, and possibly (I’m not a psychologist) those that are delusional might be more apt to take these messages whole and incorporate them into their worldview. Everyone has the responsibility to sort out “the signal from the noise,” so to speak. If they abdicate that responsibility then they are sheep, not human beings.

I should acknowledge there may be a genuine mental health issue involved with Loughner. However, there is certainly a level of responsibility involved with the awareness of an issue, and doing what one can to get treatment.

Not that every person’s situation would be the same, but I am personally aware of a circumstance where a woman impacted by a mental health issue chose to not continue to own the problem, treat it, and keep her life in order, and because of this subsequently became a threat to the lives of her own children.

This is our life. We have to own our problems and find the ways to address them, or, if a solution is unobtainable, make our peace with them. To do less is irresponsible, and being irresponsible is a luxury we as individuals and as a society can no longer afford.

The Honored American Tradition of Creating Scapegoats

I am heartsick because we stand in the aftershock of a tragedy that has shown me more of what America is really made of.

I am heartsick because the governing of America has nothing to do with a civil conversation, because civil discourse requires a populace capable of it and a culture that reinforces it.

America fails on both counts. Miserably.

I am heartsick over this because this is my America, too.

And there’s plenty of blame to spread around. There’s plenty of inflammatory rhetoric on both ends of the political spectrum. The Right’s is filled with hate, and the Left’s is filled with shrill self-righteousness. Either way, it’s all blame. Blame leads to personal stagnation and political gridlock, and doesn’t get anyone anywhere.

Sarah Palin and her organization may be irresponsible propagandists, but not one of them waded into that crowd and put bullets into 20 people. To place the final blame with her is every bit as irresponsible as “targeting” any opposition candidates would be.

For those who feel compelled to blame the Gabrielle Giffords shooting on the charged political rhetoric coming from the Right, or blame Palin personally, or even the “bigoted State of Arizona” for this incident are in fact opportunists, creating even more charged political rhetoric, far worse than what we’ve seen before, because it is shamelessly built on the pain and suffering of Congresswoman Giffords, thirteen others that were injured in the rampage, and the memories of six murdered bystanders.

I would invite these self-righteous hypocrites to recognize that they might as well be condemning the person they find in the closest mirror.

Go ahead. Smash the mirror. I dare you.

• • •

Copyright © 2011, by Daniel Brenton. All Rights Reserved.

End

Narayanan January 11, 2011 at 12:09 am

Daniel

Excellent piece on a very timely topic.

Both the Right and the Left AND the center have blame to share. Blame however, is not responsibility. The responsibility is completely Jared’s.

It is naive to say that it is heredity and not environment that is responsible here. His mental illness or temperament or nature is a product of heredity and environment. The reason advertisements and political rhetoric fill our airwaves and our consciousness is that they work. Human beings are highly suggestible people (That is one of our best and worst features, IMHBAO*)

To say that the environment via heated political rhetoric or other such things, community opinions about guns and immigrants etc. do not shape us and influence our opinions, and our actions is to be naive! Again IMHBAO.*

I agree with you in that he and he alone bears responsibility for his actions and if he ends up getting the death penalty, I (a confirmed anti-capital punishment guy) will cheer.

However, to say the NOBODY else played a part and shares blame is sheer naivete. (IMHBAO*)

*IMHBAO – In my humble but accurate opinion (LOL)

Daniel Brenton January 11, 2011 at 2:04 am

Narayanan —

Thank you for your … err … HBA comment.

Something that I did not state (and I don’t think it was necessarily implicit, either) is that we are more than the product of our heredity and environment. We may be born innocent, but we (so to speak) are not born virtuous … character is something that comes from meeting experience in a positive way (IM own HO).

I think, too, there are such things as ethical absolutes that are not necessarily understood, even through loving guidance, until an individual has the desire and makes the effort to ask what is true by one’s own logic and intuition. (An example of one of these is our mutual right to survival; another is the basic idea behind the Golden Rule, which comes to us in slightly different clothing in all the major religions of the world.) I will assert that there are those “truths to be self-evident,” and we can know them, but only if there is a desire to know these things for ourselves.

I am deeply disappointed that the American society that I see does not as a whole strive for and value this internal knowing of “truths to be self-evident,” and instead delegates the achievement of true wisdom (or what masquerades as true wisdom) to people other than ourselves. The presence, popularity, and influence of political demagogues such as Beck and Limbaugh (who are, basically, entertainers of a darker sort), or, on the other end of the scale, Keith Olbermann, tells me that this abdication of the need to know what is true in a rigorous, personal way is widespread, a cancer growing in our midst.

I think it is our (and was Jared’s) responsibility too — to find some understanding of our own lives, to discern what’s real and what’s bilge-water, and to find the values we can successfully use to live with both ourselves and others. Jared had the warning through his expulsion from college that his sanity was in question, and by all appearances ignored that warning and acted on his accumulating delusions. This is his personal failure.

– Daniel

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