Willful American Ignorance: Our Own Worst Enemy

9 Jan

Before We, The (reasonable) People can take up the banner to combat the gross and flippant attitude seen in this nation toward intelligence and common sense, we must first identify what exactly it is we are fighting:

ig·no·rance: [ig-ner-uhns] –noun showing lack of knowledge, awareness information, or education; the state of being ignorant…

…and while I would categorize the vast majority of this nation’s population as learned and bright, as a whole I’d have to say that we continue to prove to be only as intelligent as our most ignorant citizens.

I’ve spent the past two days since the news of the horrific mass shooting in Tucson, AZ that claimed six lives and left 14 irrevocably broken, seriously pondering what exactly happens to human beings that make them immune, calloused and uncivil to other human beings; so much so that they’d resort to senseless violence as a resolution.  And unfortunately, while these sorts of violent acts are observed every day in our national headlines, this particular tragedy has shaken many Americans to the core because the violence committed this past weekend has had a far less random and more seemingly political (and many would argue, deliberate) correlation.

Of the 20 innocent victims shot yesterday by what the media categorize as a 22-year old mentally unstable gunman named Jared Lee Loughner at a Tucson constituency meet-and-greet, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, from Arizona’s 8th district, believed to have been Loughner’s target, was shot in the head at point blank range.  After shooting Giffords first, Loughner was said to have then shot indiscriminately into the small gathering. The murdered victims included a federal judge, a Giffords aide, and tragically, a nine-year-old child.

Receiving heavy media coverage since yesterday afternoon, the shooting in Tucson has been transmitted into virtually every American home and has opened the floor for discussions about the rise in threats against politicians over the past year.  Inevitably, conversations have also focused on the rancorous political environment this country has found itself in recently and the sorts of virulent and frankly ignorant words and actions that have clearly left America in a state of alienated political disrepair.

Interestingly enough, as significant as this tragedy has been in opening up dialogue regarding the safety of our political representatives, it has also spurred individuals on both the left and right to begin assessing blame as to the sort of political atmosphere that may have been the catalyst for Loughner’s shooting spree.  What I’ve noticed however, is that be they internet articles or network news interviews, blame from conservative leaning comments seem to be levied at President Obama’s health care policies while liberal assessments have been that Sarah Palin’s insistence in taking “back” America led to this appalling act.

Now, while I believe it is terribly reckless and inflammatory to point the finger at any one individual and find them guilty of this shooting (unless the finger is directed at Jared Lee Loughner; and even then, he deserves his day in court), I will say that the American people, constituent and public servant alike, need to take a deep introspective look at the tone of their own politics, the messages they are conveying and accepting and what it is they believe to be true about this country.

For me, regardless of the 1st Amendment or what politicians say their intentions are, they play a very irresponsible and dangerous game when using provocative language like “armed and dangerous” or “don’t retreat, reload” when rousing constituents to help effect change against their political opponents.  If we are to keep this nation from succumbing to an all-out breach in civility, we have to hold our policymakers accountable when they seek to masquerade this sort of incendiary language as freedom of speech, and hold ourselves accountable in accepting these subversive messages from them.

It is certainly one thing for legislators to be in such passionate disagreement with the state of current political affairs that they campaign, fundraise and execute strong rhetoric to promote their position, but far too often these messages are tailored not to the rational-thinking middle of the road constituency, but to the fringe, where tactics like manipulation of facts and race-baiting can easily ignite ideas of anarchy and rage against the machine.  And in much the same way that one would be held liable for any injuries suffered to individuals after shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theater, a politician cannot simply dismiss the consequences of “targeting” a political adversary in crosshairs, especially when that adversary ends up shot.

But this is where willful American ignorance comes into play.  For those not aware, the above example was in reference to a Sarah Palin Political Action Committee Posting last year where a U.S. map of districts held by 20 House Democrats (Gabby Giffords being one) was displayed, and on the map were a series of crosshairs and the names of each Representative that Mrs. Palin wanted the Tea Party faithful to help her “take a stand” against.  Soon after the shooting, a Palin aide issued a statement saying that the images of crosshairs were never meant to evoke violence. And while I am sure that it never crossed Sarah Palin’s mind that someone would look at her campaign poster as a “hit list”, the problem with her and others like her is that in heated scenarios like this, they don’t think.  Before assessing the potential damage of their words or actions, they spew these half-cocked notions of political upheaval and volatile statements, yet are so arrogant blissfully and ignorant that they fail to see the harm and negligence in doing so.

I just pray that even if it is revealed that hot-button politics or seething rhetoric did not provoke this tragedy, that politicians, pundits and voters will take greater care before they silently accept violent imagery and undertones at town hall meetings, tote rifles to rallies or speak of eliminating political opponents from here on out.

I think there is still a long road ahead of us before America as a whole adopts the message of circumventing the ignorance for the sake of the greater good, but at least now, I think, many will realize that it is a message worth exploring.




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