Planned Parenthood. San Bernardino.
America averages one mass shooting every day. We seem unable to address the paralysis on guns that allows any crank, psychopath or terrorist to acquire instruments of death and destruction, so we discuss every other issue involved, from policing to mental health systems. In the wake of the attack on Planned Parenthood, we’ve focused upon the effects of vitriol, propaganda and reckless accusations.
So let’s “go there.” Does rhetoric really matter?
When we were children, most of us chanted that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” Even in childhood, we knew that wasn’t true; the wounds that leave the most long-lasting scars are frequently caused by insulting or hurtful words. Not infrequently, bodies heal faster than psyches.
There are obvious consequences to toxic and uncivil discourse: when we substitute epithets for reasoned argument, we neither convince nor converse in any meaningful sense. The question we need to confront–the issue that people like Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump dismiss as “liberal bias”–is whether a constant drumbeat of nastiness, prevarication and incitement leads less-than-stable folks to “act out.”
The recent attack on Planned Parenthood is the latest in a string of assaults on that agency that have been encouraged, if not caused, by incessant dishonest and inflammatory rhetoric. A recent attack on a Muslim taxicab driver is another horrifying example.
The passenger began asking the driver about his background, and whether he was a ‘Pakistani guy.’” He also asked the driver “about the terror group ISIS” and mocked the prophet Muhammad.
The driver, who moved to Pittsburgh from Morocco five years ago, told the Post-Gazette that he is three months away from becoming a U.S. citizen. His plan is to bring his wife to the United States and start a family in the country he considers home.
I’m a free speech purist. Both the Constitution and common sense tell me that reducing the level of public bile is not something we can achieve by passing a law.
As difficult as it is, we need to challenge the culture that encourages expressions of bigotry and hate. We need to remind people that it is possible to express a point of view without becoming part of the problem; that it is possible to disagree without lying, slandering or justifying horrific behaviors.
In a more reasonable culture, we might even be able to do something about our ridiculously easy access to guns….