Just a Thought.

Here’s 2 cents from an outsider. I’m a Chilean-born Canadian. I’ve never lived in the U.S. I’ve visited on numerous occasions, but have never been there longer than a week. It’s a beautiful country and despite their sometimes bad rep, all the people whom I’ve personally met from the States are completely, 100% awesome.

I can’t knowledgeably speak to what it is like to live there, obviously, but thanks to 24-hour news channels and numerous talk shows on the major networks, it’s clear there is a growing polarisation in the country due to politics, in what seems to be an exponentially aggressive climate since Obama took power, with all his talk of change, universal healthcare, and the like. What I know about U.S. politics is only a thing or two and barely scratches the surface of complex issues.

I do, however, know what it’s like to live in a country where politics divides people. I’m from Chile, as you know, and I lived there during a politically charged time when the military dictatorship was unravelling and a plebiscite was called for free elections. The left and right are very marked in Chile, going back to the time when the military dictatorship took power and people took sides.

A lot of people I know were initially in favour of the coup, which ended a Marxist (elected) government that was failing spectacularly. Facts that arose subsequent to the coup, however, including the CIA’s involvement, the year-long sabotage of the elected government, and the blood-stained hands of the military dictatorship in its quest to eliminate opponents to the regime, changed the tune of many.

However, during the dictatorship, a lot of people got very wealthy. Those people were very pleased with the regime, obviously so. In my own family, my immediate family is the only one from the ‘left’, who ever opposed Pinochet and the dictatorship. The rest of my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents are all decidedly ‘right-wing.’

I went to school with numerous ‘right-wingers’ as well as many on the left. During the transition to democracy, you couldn’t go out dancing, to a party, or for dinner without conversation turning to politics. Even though we were just kids, it was an incredibly interesting time.

Here’s the thing. Although the country was ‘divided’ by its politics, I never participated in or witnessed a conversation that ended in a screaming match or violence. Not once did any politician, radio or T.V. personality or even military man use incendiary or hateful language on the news or in interview. Even demonstrations where the good ol’ molotov cocktails came out and the water cannons or tear-gasser showed up (ah, memories) were not designed to injure or kill, but were a sign of the majority of the population standing up to reclaim the right to democracy. Politics was politics and fodder for debate, end of. My own two best friends held OUTRAGEOUSLY right-wing views. Our pet names for each other were ‘fascist’ and ‘communist.’ You can guess which one was mine.  And we still loved each other as much as we ever did.

But, civilians in Chile neither own handguns nor have any reasonable access to them. Guns change everything. In the hands of the mentally unstable or even just angry people, they kill. Duh. And how many people are killed by mistake, a family member mistaking them for an intruder, someone else who doesn’t know the firearm is loaded, etc.?

Now say you’re someone who doesn’t have proper command of your mental faculties. And say you live in a country and a time where there is non-stop exposure to often ignorant and hateful, and sometimes dangerous rhetoric from political sides, and you happen to have access to an automatic weapon and happen to know where a politician who happened to support DEATH PANELS WHO WERE GOING TO KILL YOUR GRANDPARENTS was going to be speaking in public. GUESS WHAT.

By now everybody’s said it, but the horrifying shootings and murders in Arizona this past weekend haven’t been proven to have any connection with crosshairs on a map (one of which targetted the Democratic congresswoman who got shot) on Sarah Palin’s website, or her call to “reload!”, or Rush Limbaugh’s furious bloviating, or for example, Speaker of the House John Boehner’s words on the Democratic Rep from Ohio who voted for ‘Obamacare’: “He may be a dead man…he can’t go home to the west side of Cincinnati.” No logical reason to conclude they in any way had an impact on an obviously deranged killer with an automatic weapon. But they don’t help.

Every reasonable adult has a responsibility to use careful language with even the smallest of audiences, and this responsibility is magnified when you have an expanded audience. Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who was shot, said it herself when Ms. Palin’s ‘crosshairs’ map was published. Ms. Palin, who hurriedly took down her map only moments after the news of the shootings, is quick to tell us that she hates violence and was never promoting the mass murder of opponents. I believe her. But it’s an awful coincidence that instead of say, Xs, arrows or bunny-rabbits, she chose to use crosshairs targetting those who voted for accessible healthcare for those who can’t afford it. Crosshairs, you guys. And Ms. Palin is a very unique combination of complete moron and savvy pitbull. She knows exactly who her audience is, and exactly what to say to them to get them fired up. Again, just saying. It hasn’t been proven that this crazy shooter in Arizona was politically motivated, despite showing up at a political event with an automatic weapon with murder on his mind. But still.

It’s obvious to anyone that what needs to occur RIGHT NOW on both sides of the political coin down south is NO MORE RHETORIC. And: Gun Control!!! Better yet, no guns at all. No guns! Use your brain to thoughtfully debate and make a difference. Handguns and automatic weapons have but one purpose: to injure or end human life. Duh.

I know it’s unrealistic to believe this will ever happen and I know it’s very easy to sit up here north of the border and make opinions and offer naive, Pollyanna-ish solutions to incredibly complicated problems, but I am anyway simply because it is so easy. It’s possible to live in a politically charged climate civilly, I’ve witnessed it first-hand, so that, I can knowledgeably attest to. But that one was in a climate that did not have gun-control issues. So perhaps the baby step that is so easily accomplished can be a start: Choosing responsible language. Even if irresponsible rhetoric is not to blame for the tragedy in Arizona, it’s a terrific time to turn a new leaf. Playing nice can never hurt.

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Comments

  1. Smart piece. I was fortunate to live in Canada during 9/11 and caught all the reaction from a dual lens: I was an American who became less patriotic of my own country because of that second lens.

    However, I don’t see either of your solutions being quickly implemented in this country for two reasons:

    1) One of the country’s largest lobby groups is the NRA. The second amendment will never be repealed because of them — their cause goes back to the Revolutionary War, much like the Tea Party Activists. In today’s Financial Times, Gideon Rachman wrote about this being a pivotal point for the Tea Party. (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4e494922-1cef-11e0-8c86-00144feab49a.html If you can’t get it, I can email.) The Tea Party essentially represents libertarianism — the crux of what this country was founded on and one of the key reasons why the American political system tends to shift naturally to the right. The debate of gun control is seen as the first threat to the removal of guns from American society to boot. For all the logic and reasoning behind getting of guns, none of it will happen in this country.

    2) The political rhetoric will continue to be heated for a long long time. Also in today’s FT, Jurek Martin discusses why Americans never let go (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/af351798-1cd6-11e0-8c86-00144feab49a.html). However what Martin himself doesn’t even get to factor in is the role technology plays in increasing and propagating this rhetoric. The significance of feed aggregators, auto suggestors, etc, means that people not only seek like-minded viewpoints and reinforce their own viewpoints(which is typical, but now intensified), but they virtually never have to seek out alternate viewpoints. Whether I’m on the Left or the Right, technology enables me to go deeper into the blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook, etc to my own ideologies and ultimately, negate the ideologies of those I disagree with. (Note: it’s interesting that Loughner listed Mein Kampf (authoritarian socialism) and the Communist Manifesto (totalitarian communism) as his two favorite books?)

    Additionally, there is a tendency for people to geographically split according to those viewpoints (hence there is a truth to “Red State/Blue States” even furthering to deepen the schism. The result of all this is that I hypothetically could never have a pragmatic, civil dialogue with someone I disagree with. As technology plays a larger role in our daily lives, the rhetorical schisms it enables will only grow wider and more intractable. (I might argue that it’s even starting to happen to lesser extent in Canada as well.)

    On the other hand, despite what is reported on the news, as Jon Stewart said last night, there are a lot of conversations about the issues that are happening on a more civilized level than are depicted by the Glenn Becks and Keith Olbermans. Something not to forget–for Americans or Canadians.

  2. Wow. That’s pretty much all I have to say. Great post V.

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