Sunday, January 09, 2011

Calm down the overheated rhetoric about calming down the overheated rhetoric

Says Jack Shafer, more or less (via @weareyourfek's RT). I don't actually agree, completely, with him. I think his piece is worth reading. I have no small amount of sympathy with his overall point of view. Certainly, I like vivid metaphors as much as anybody, and I'm about the last person you'll ever meet who would support limits on free speech, self-imposed or otherwise.

Nonetheless, I do think there is something of significance to the non-stop violent rhetoric that has been coming overwhelmingly from the right, especially since mid-2008. When I made a statement to this effect some time ago, and was taken to task for it, I started a thread elsewhere, just to illustrate. I gathered about a hundred particularly egregious examples that I encountered during my normal surfing between March and August of last year. I emphasize that this was not the result of actively seeking, nor was it nutpicking. I'm talking about the stuff one couldn't help but notice in the news, coming from senior members of the Republican Party and the most prominent voices in conservative media and blogosphere.

(David Niewert, you might already know, has done a much more thorough job, for years, of documenting what he calls the right's eliminationist rhetoric.)

Anyway, my point, in reaction to Shafer: Can we blame an individual act by some loon on a specific statement by a specific prominent conservative blowhard? Probably not, not any more than we can attribute a single nasty storm to anthropogenic global warming. But, as with AGW, there is something we can say with confidence -- muck with the climate, and you increase the odds that extreme events will happen. And all the sputtering by clowns like Matt Lewis, Erick Erickson, and Matt Bai won't change that. Shafer is right to push back against overreactions and emotional outbursts, especially as they would involve proscriptions on speech. He is wrong, however, to ignore the reality of the aggregate effect by one, and only one, part of the political spectrum: the right-wing noise machine. Free speech does not mean you're free from responsibility.


For a related though not parallel take, Mr. Riley has some smart thoughts on this matter as well. (No surprise there.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Any time I see someone who is as wrong as Shafer is in that ignorant piece he published today, I have to assume they simply don't know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, it's one of our limitations as humans that we can't resist the temptation to posture as experts even when it comes to things we know absolutely nothing about. I found it disappointing that the libertarian conservative editor of Slate (Shafer) had to misrepresent and distort the positions he was supposedly responding to.