Liberty and Language

Sarah Palin did not shoot a Congresswoman in Tucson.  Or did she?

The literal answer is obvious.  Of course, neither Palin nor Beck nor any other commentator shot anybody.  That won’t keep the press from blaming every Tea Party enthusiast of all manner of atrocities from assassination to halitosis.  The next few weeks will be a revolting display of mutual animosity spurred on by the dense and hateful–on both sides.

What can we do, as lovers of liberty, to move our country back to a foundation of peaceful and free interaction?  The first thing is to remember that we are human beings, not animals.  If it proves to be true that the suspected young man did this, and that he is the creator of the warped videos posted on YouTube, we are dealing not with a fringe element of any cause, but with someone who has checked out of reality.  People like him and the Unabomber are not an indication of much of anything, other than that we cannot fully fathom a mind gone bad.  The cause they claim to support is irrelevant.

Yet something in this discourse bothers me.  I believe in energetically attacking the bad ideas that have come to characterize our society.  I am happy to give politicians a bad time as well, but I always make clear that any metaphors of violence are cartoon-like.  I have no intention of literally drowning Congress, for example, and the image is so silly as to be benign.  Besides, the EPA would fine me for the contaminated water.

Frankly, I am moving away from even that kind of metaphor.  I don’t like it when Sarah Palin uses an image of putting someone “in the crosshairs.”  She has every right to do so, but it lends itself to a petty and dangerous interpretation of our cause.  There are enough dim and twisted souls out there to hear only the message of violence.  These images remind me of the blank stares of mindless hoards in Nazi propaganda films, moved by the visceral energy of hatred rather than the cerebral ideal of mutual peace and cooperation.

If we are to win our country back, it is up to us to be better people.  It is up to us to persuade rather than destroy.  It is up to us to argue well instead of shouting louder.  It is up to us to be the ideal we wish to achieve–a society of people who claim their individual birthright of freedom, but who recognize the same claim in others.  When others accuse us of inciting violence such as we just saw Saturday, it is up to us to take the higher ground and to show the world that our ideas are sound and our values just.  To get better, we have to be better.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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2 Responses to Liberty and Language

  1. Francis says:

    Morning Terry! We’re all disconnected. I wish Kevin Bacon was here. Without a true history there can be no true future; the destiny of a broken past. Debates are made to wear you down until the only thing left to say is “You win”.

    My views are my own.

    Francis W.


  2. Deb S. says:

    The media coverage of this tragedy is repulsive. No one outside of the perpetrator is to blame for his crime.

    There was once a time when we knew exaggerations for what they were. My brother never did kill me, and neither did my father, nor did I ever fear they would. I have never thrown a brick through my television, nor thrown my PC out a window, though I have said I would many times.

    I don’t think metaphors of violence are as much the problem as the refusal to get involved, personally. How many family members, friends or neighbors saw and knew this man was in need of real help, and refused to point him in that direction?


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