Speak Out Against Senseless Speech

Brandon Blue

Last week I had the pleasure of being invited to speak on the panel for the taping of an ISUtv special: “The Reality of Dangerous Rhetoric.” Myself, senior in liberal studies Pantelis Korovilas, Associate Professor in English Dr. Amy Slagell and junior in journalism Cameron McKenzie discussed the topic at length, and I came away with a very simple but true revelation: we cannot wait for the media, for journalists, for politicians, for celebrities to tone down their rhetoric; they won’t do it on their own. Instead, the call for more calm discussion is a cross we must bear without them; there is no Simon by the roadside to carry it for us.

As reasonable people desiring a more peaceful platform for our ideas, we must speak out on every side, on four fronts.

Firstly, it is unacceptable in 2011, in American political discourse, to openly wish for or to openly call for violence against another person. We must repudiate those comments bred from a desire for calamity to visit one’s opponents, such as wishing that we could tear their hearts out and kick them around or that they would be put against a wall and shot.

In that same category are all too-often allusions to the Holocaust and the Nazis, references to the mistakes, or rather their specters, which haunt mankind and for which none of us are responsible.

This is the kind of vile rhetoric too often ignored, too often dismissed as jokes or snide remarks. We must reject it, as it only adds to the hateful forum in which politics are now discussed.

Secondly, we must distinguish between speech that qualitatively revels in or causes violence and that speech which employs vivid metaphor for the purpose of emphasis.

Crosshairs on a map and terms like “reload,” “set our sights on” and “job-killing” are political clichés that have endured repeated use, nothing more. As Dr. Slagell pointed out on Wednesday, the inherent vitriol in American political rhetoric goes back even to Jefferson’s time, and I can assure you that it will accompany this country to her last gasp.

But when we become so sensitive that we cannot hear basic words without assuming they carry with them the worst of meanings and the darkest of intentions, the death of six in Arizona becomes the death of American rhetoric.

Thirdly, we have drifted too far from the concept of personal responsibility.

Jared Lee Loughner acted alone. His was a sick mind and a solitary one. Nothing but his own convictions pushed him to confront Congresswoman Giffords that day, and to believe otherwise one would have to willingly suspend one’s own disbelief.

Impulsive causes spring from the remnants of tragedies like the one in Tucson. I fully comprehend the good intentions behind stricter firearm regulations, but the gun did not kill anyone on January 8th of its own accord. Focus on high-capacity ammunition magazine only detracts from the much more proper focus of prohibiting people like Jared Loughner from possessing firearms and getting them the help they need before they decide a rampage like his is the answer to their issues.

Lastly, we must separate whenever possible the argument from the person.

This point is perhaps best illustrated by segments such as Bill O’Reilly’s “Pinheads and Patriots” and Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World.” In the era of the ad hominem argument it is easier to indulge and to cut down the person for their argument, not the argument for its merits. And in the simultaneous era of 24-hour cable news, the easier option, often the quicker, is certainly the ubiquitous.

In the end, it is the Constitution that gives us all the ammunition we could ever need to settle scores: our own ideas. We have the greatest freedom, the freedom of speech, and with it the freedom to assemble, if our individual voices aren’t loud enough. We also possess the freedom to petition our government for a redress of our grievances if we feel we’ve been wronged.

With such liberties, I fail to see the need for violent and dangerous rhetoric to achieve any end.