Saturday, March 12, 2011

Violent Discourse

We have just lived through another national tragedy, the Arizona massacre, and witnessed politicians and pundits stunned that such a thing could happen. Some quickly jumped to the conclusion that it was brought about by heated public discouse.

I remember being amazed after the Oklahoma City bombing at senators who just couldn’t believe such a thing could happen in our country, that anyone could be that upset with our government. I don’t think there is any comparison between the shooter in Arizona and Tim McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber. It appears the fellow in Arizona is a true mental case.

On the other hand, we have not seen the end of the Tim McVeighs. It is not the discourse on talk radio that creates Tim McVeighs but rather actions of the politicians themselves.

I remember the event that shattered the illusions about government that I had gleaned from high school civics classes. The capital of Alaska, Juneau, is inaccessible by road and far removed from the rest of the state. You either fly in or boat in. Politicians did their work without the annoyance of constituents showing up.

The voters voted to move the capital. However, the state senator who chaired the appropriations committee was from Juneau and the economy of Juneau hinged on it being the capital. So, Senator Ray single handily blocked the will of the people by not allowing a bill out of committee to fund the move. It was not the democratic process but rather political games that really mattered. This is not atypical.
Though I have not paid a lot of attention to state politics since coming to Arkansas 20 years ago, I still follow national politics and believe we are incubating a host of Tim McVeighs, not from discourse but by over regulation and the feeling that our voice doesn’t matter.

The American psyche is one that does not like to be told what to do. Most of us, for the sake of expedience, will accept a certain amount of regimentation, at school, on the job, and in our recreation, but the amount we will accept varies. This goes deep into our history. Our country was born out of feelings of rebellion. American mythology is one of individualism.

Toward the last half of the last century, our government began to co-opt more and more responsibilities in an effort to provide for the common good. Who can fault that? Recreation, the arts, broadcasting, food and drugs, tobacco, health care, planning and zoning, welfare, education, parks, liquor, safety at all levels, energy, motor sports, automobiles, adinfinitum, these all became governmental concerns for the common good.

Here’s the problem: there is no such thing as the common good. What is good for one person, is meddling to another. A current example is the flap over airport security. Though it may be for the common good, it is seen by many as too much meddling. Child obesity concerns are another example.

Our politicians pass legislation that generalizes their intent and create regulatory bodies to develop the particulars. And, sometimes they turn to the regulatory agencies to accomplish what they can’t get done legislatively.

Some of us are quite content to work for change within the system and adjust our attitudes to accept what we perceive to be the inevitable. We figure out how to prosper under the new rules when they come about. Others do not.

(Lest you think I am contradicting my position in the column I wrote on requiring motorcycle helmets, my main point of that column was that if we shift the responsibility to pay the hospital bill to the government, it has a right to make the rules.)

I sometimes ask myself, where is my tipping point? How much governmental control is too much. When do I pledge with our forefathers “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor?” I can’t really answer that question. But, I am a patient fellow who still believes the system corrects itself in time.

For Tim McVeigh, the tipping point was the government’s actions at Waco and Ruby Ridge. In his mind they had stepped over the line and he retaliated. But, each time the politicians see fit to restrict somebody’s activity for the common good, they are pushing some Tim McVeigh nearer to the edge. Our Psyche is steeped in individualism, not collectivism.

It is not the discourse on talk radio that pushes people over the line but rather the ever increasing regulation the politicians impose on the citizenry and the political games they play that create a sense of hopelessness for some people. As Janis Joplin warned us, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Hopelessness frees one to do the otherwise unthinkable.

As a side note, those liberals who claim there is a connection between “hate speech” on conservative talk-radio and acts of violence, such as the Arizona shooting, deny that any such thing could possibly exist when you talk about a connection between violent video games and crime or between pornography and teenage pregnancy.

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