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The culture of violence, once again

January 10, 2011

We are a society. We are an intrinsically interconnected group of people forming a cohesive social unit. What one person does or says affects us all. It strikes me that those most opposed to assigning any societal blame to this political assassination are those who believe, in classical liberal tradition, that we are merely a group of autonomous individuals solely responsible for our own actions. But culture matters. Our friends on the right understand this when it comes to sexuality. They understand that widespread availability of pornography and a prevailing cultural libertinism creates all sorts of social problems. But it is exactly the same with violence. The ubiquitous nature of violence in popular culture, from Hollywood movies to video games, is a problem. The glorification of the military, going far far beyond the need for last resort self-defense, is a problem. The gun fetish and the power of the gun lobby is a huge problem.

And of course, the increasing level of violence in the political culture is a problem. There is rhetorical violence in the language of the right and the left. A few decades ago, it was probably more evident on the left. But no more. Over the past few years, and especially since the election of Obama, we have witnessed the mainstreaming of right-wing paranoid and violent fantasies. We have witnessed the adoption of Leninist modes of discourse, full of eliminationist rhetoric. This matters. It corrodes the culture by contributing to a cheapening of human life and dignity.

We all know the examples. Think of the violence spewed by people like O’Reilly and Beck in the media. Think of Palin’s “don’t retreat, reload” and her targeting of Giffords in her now-infamous cross-hairs. Think of Sharron Angel’s calls to “take out” Harry Reid and references to resorting to “second amendment” remedies. Think of Michelle Bachman’s desire to see her constituents “armed and dangerous” against cap-and-trade. Think of Giffords’ own tea party opponent asked for help to “remove Gabrielle Giffords from office, shoot a fully automatic M-16 with Jesse Kelly.” Think of health care. Remember the violent town-hall meetings? We know that the pro-life Democrats who voted for the Affordable Care Act received death threats. Steve Driehaus received these threats and somebody as prominent as John Boehner told him he would be a “dead man” after this vote. And I just heard over the weekend that the reason Joseph Cao did not vote for the final healthcare bill was because he had received death threats against himself and his family. Death threats over a plan to expand acccess to healthcare? How did we come to this?

So it is not really a question of whether this assassin, who certainly seemed crazy, was associated with the tea party or shared their beliefs. This is the wrong way to look at it. The argument is that the culture created by this rhetoric, and the message sent to society, can help create the conditions for these lone wolves to act. There are few vacuums in society.

So what must be done? Well, it’s certainly time for the right to regain its sense of responsibility, and to stop playing with fire. But it is broader than that. Ending the culture of violence and promoting a true and holistic culture of life has many different dimensions. The culture is sick, and needs healing.

For example, if this young man had a mental condition, was be treated appropriately, or simply discarded? Do we, as a society, even care? It is interesting that he comes from Arizona. Arizona right now is contributing to the cheapening of human life by stripping away access to healthcare to save money, even to the extent of implementing real life “death panels” where people have died. Arizona is also on the forefront of demonizing the immigrant, another inflammatory assault on human dignity.

And when is somebody going to get serious about gun control? This man might have been crazy, but what about his so-called “rights” to buy extremely powerful and dangerous firearms? As Drew Westin noted recently, “Since the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy in that terrible summer of 1968, over a million Americans have died at the wrong end of a firearm. In most countries, we would call that genocide”. This is a major theme in the culture of life, and a monumental blindspot in the American psyche. As Catholic Christians, we need to call out the blasphemous “pro-God and pro-gun” slogans. We need to call for more solidarity, and less selfish individualism.

  1. Phillip permalink
    January 10, 2011 4:43 pm

    Then there was the Republican who said “If they bring a knife to a fight, we bring a gun.”

    Or these Republican targets:

  2. Austin Ruse permalink
    January 10, 2011 4:46 pm

    Is this an example of eliminationist rhetoric?

    • Ryan Klassen permalink
      January 10, 2011 5:57 pm

      I think, Austin, that your answer to this question is more important than Morning’s Minion’s answer. I don’t presume to answer for Minion, but I would think the substance of this post implies that Minion’s answer would be “yes.”

      If you also think it is eliminationist rhetoric, I would have a hard time understanding how your example should be condemned while those Minion cites should not. So will you condemn both as being part of the culture of death and detrimental to building a culture of life?

    • January 10, 2011 6:18 pm

      Of course this is beyond the pale. But it is far too troll the internet for nutcases. You will find them. The difference is that the violence has infected the Republican mainstream.

      • Austin Ruse permalink
        January 11, 2011 10:08 pm

        You want some horrific quotes from dem congressman? Senators? Heads ofbthe party?

  3. Ronald King permalink
    January 10, 2011 5:33 pm

    MM, There is something I am going to say that may sound crazy. I have worked with human beings who have been diagnosed with mental illness. What they have taught me is priceless in understanding how we are all connected not only in a physical but also in a spiritual way. You see they do not have the filters that we have to screen out incoming stimuli and as a consequence the people I have worked with will be consciously overwhelmed with attitudes, thoughts and feelings coming from outside themselves. They have told me they can feel the hatred and fear all around them and they think it is their feeling they are experiencing. Medication is used to attempt to stop these unwanted feelings but it doesn’t work perfectly. Their language is unique and R.D. Laing wrote a book about this in the ’70’s called The Politics of Experience in which he begins to translate the language of those labelled mentally ill.
    When I returned to Catholicism in ’05 I identified with the conservative side of the faith. The war was a just war because we had to get rid of evil people. Take them out. I now know I had to go through that viewpoint to learn that I had a lot of unresolved hate that was being projected on to others. The turning point came when I would do my morning runs praying the rosary and feeling really good about the comfort it gave me. Then one morning I began to feel the heaviness of the pain and the hatred penetrating my psyche. It was so heavy I had to stop.
    In essence what I learned is that prayer connects us in love and can influence miracles that we will never know about, just as unresolved hate in our hearts can produce the trajedies that we all know about.
    Why did Our Lord say that if we harbor any hate in our hearts for a brother that we have already killed him?

    • RCM permalink
      January 11, 2011 10:36 am

      Very interesting insight.

  4. January 11, 2011 7:33 am

    Excellent insights, Ronald. This comment truly adds a level of understanding to the whole discussion. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Ronald King permalink
    January 11, 2011 12:49 pm

    Thanks for your comments Rodak and RCM. Sometimes I think I am just talking to a brick wall. What we seem to have is a faith that is heavily influenced by the left hemisphere of the brain. Some the charateristics of this left hemisphere, which may influence people to be more right politically, includes linguistic dominance along with logical, linear and literal thinking. It also tends to be more open to approaching others with a positive sense of self. It tends to be more rigid in its beliefs which is supported by the analytical accumulation of facts based on its limited perceptions.
    Whereas the right hemisphere is better at seeing the whole picture in a context and not limited to the detailed oriented left brain. The right brain is also nonverbal, with autobiographical memory, raw spontaneous emotion, primary empathetic response and modulating stress responses which may initiate withdrawal from contact with others who appear to be threatening.
    This is just a superficial sketch but if we put the whole of it together with the spiritual or quantum mechanics of creation then I think we can more clearly understand that violence is something that we are all responsible for.
    However, if we just live on the right side of the brain then we will never get the reality of the spiritual foundation of our faith and we will always be arguing from a left, right or center perspective without reaching the truth of this connection.
    JPII talked about the law of ascent and descent in which if one soul rises above itself it raises up humanity but if one soul sins no matter how hidden or small it harms all of humanity. This is quantum physics.

    • digbydolben permalink
      January 12, 2011 2:47 am

      Ronald, I teach an International Baccalaureate course here in my prep school in Mumbai called “Theory of Knowledge,” and one of the weakest component of this course is how we “know” by what, for lack of words, I call “moral imagination.”

      Do you have any works of reference you could point me to that involve understanding of what you call here “quantum physics,” and, which elucidate, in particular, how this “moral imagination” can be either dulled or sharpened in the process of human development? I think it’s a legitimate “way of knowing” that is being stinted in this coursework.

      • Ronald King permalink
        January 12, 2011 4:45 pm

        Digby, I think I understand what you want.

        -The Mindful Brain by Daniel Siegel
        The website is and it is loaded with excellent resources.
        -The Neuroscience of Human Relationships (Attachment and the Developing Brain) by Louis Cozolino
        -Quantum Enigma (Physics Encounters Consciousness) by Rosenblum and Kuttner
        I hope this is helpful.

  6. digbydolben permalink
    January 11, 2011 8:05 pm

    And it’s a “quantam physics” that needs to be a lot better understood.

  7. Thales permalink
    January 12, 2011 12:21 pm

    I thought this post over at Althouse was thought-provoking:

    To summarize the link, consider a mentally unstable person who thinks the Tea Party is evil and is ruining America and is an obstacle to many good things President Obama is trying to achieve (which is not too different from what many people have said on this blog). Suppose this person thinks that the Tea Party must be utterly discredited and so he sets out to bring the Tea Part down by doing a heinous act. It’s a possible result in today’s climate of political rhetoric.

    I bring this link up not to defend the over-the-top rhetoric of some on the right. I definitely think that rhetoric on the right (and on the left) needs to be toned down and that greater civility is needed. But the link makes an interesting point that should give us pause before pointing fingers.

    As for Morning’s Minion larger point of this post, I agree with his general point that our society is one filled with violence and a true holistic culture of life should be promoted.

  8. January 12, 2011 10:55 pm

    Ah, I see we have a mocking link from Paul Zummo. This is a man who claims he is pro life and yet mocks people who condemn the culture of violence – not only inflammatory political rhetoric, but the pervasive violence of popular culture, the glorification of the military, the immoral gun culture, and indeed the “violence of poverty” that leads to human beings being discarded and denigrated. Then again, perhaps this is no surprise. Paul link to a horrible person called Robert Stacey McCain who simply wallows in violent rhetoric. This man is on record calling for mass murder of Palestinian civilians. And he gets linked to by a “pro lifer”. There is something very very wrong with this picture.

  9. Lake permalink
    January 16, 2011 6:10 pm

    “terrible summer of 1968”? Huh? King was shot in April, RFK in early June. Each killing occurred in the SPRING, not the Summer.


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