Tuesday, January 11, 2011

monday reading

"There are two reasons for our toleration of political violence, despite all our sincere words of grief and castigation. For one thing, America has a long history of political violence -- a dark river of brutality, even savagery, that runs through our entire national experience. For another thing, we don’t like facing up to that fact as a people or as a nation. Americans prefer instead to see each outburst of violence -- whether in physical attacks on political figures or in blasts of gunfire in our schools and shopping malls -- as aberrations, isolated incidents committed by deranged individuals who cause mayhem and slaughter like human whirlwinds. When the wind has subsided, and the casualties have been counted, we proceed as we have done before, dismissing the event as an exception, waiting for the next act of lunacy to occur, at which time we will express our shock and dismay all over again...

"[Political violence]is a troubling, but inescapable, bequest that stems from the fact that our nation was born in violence, and it derives from the reality that violence has ever since become not only the device of criminals, but also of government and those who disagree with the government. Public officials who condone the use of torture in recent times should, by rights, give pause when they try to condemn the actions of Jared L. Loughner, Timothy McVeigh or the Unabomber. But, typically, our public servants see no contradiction, no hypocrisy, in advocating extreme political violence against our alleged enemies around the globe while condemning political violence when it is aimed against the government -- or, more precisely, against them. In other words, political violence is legitimate when the government commits it; but it is appalling when individuals commit it against the government or its representatives. Political violence committed by individuals is explained by marginalizing those perpetrators as crackpots. Political violence committed by the government is justified as guaranteeing national security...

"]However,] confronting that violence, admitting its prevalence, and committing ourselves to actually doing something about it has proven to be, over the course of the American experience, something we never quite seem able to handle. In our own time, the NRA and its powerful gun lobby have ensured that deadly weapons can be easily obtained and placed in the hands of every member of the American populace, including children. Finding a weapon of choice for committing whatever act of political violence you may be contemplating is, in fact, probably easier than picking an appropriate target for that act. We console ourselves with the propaganda that guns don’t kill people, people do -- particularly crazy people. And that slogan gets us all off the hook. Violence is not an American solution. It is, we try to convince ourselves, only the solution of wingnut Americans.

"But we’re wrong. Over and over again we deny the American heritage of political violence, for though we understand that much of our past has been filled with violence, or at least marked in prominent ways by violent acts, we find it very difficult to admit that we are, in the end, a very violent people and that aggression may be found at the very core of our culture. As Americans, there is much violence that we justify and even legitimize, particularly when it comes to looking at our past. We have been ready -- proud, even -- to justify the violence of the American Revolution that won our independence from Great Britain as a necessary means toward a positive end. Likewise, our participation in wars always seems to have been for the best of reasons -- or for what at least looked like the best of reasons at the time. Violence in many forms, then, is often seen as a legitimate means to accomplish a positive purpose...

"Violence has actually formed a seamless web in our history, but the subject of violence has been suppressed in our national consciousness. As one historian, Richard Hofstadter, has put it: 'What is most exceptional about the Americans is not the voluminous record of their violence, but their extraordinary ability, in the face of that record, to persuade themselves that they are among the best-behaved and best-regulated of peoples...'

"While confronting the fact that violence erupts around us every day, not only in the cities but often in the house next door, and while we live in utter fear that violence -- especially random violence or terrorist violence or the kind of political violence that felled Rep. Giffords and so many other innocent bystanders in Tucson on Saturday -- could easily touch our own lives, we nevertheless prefer to look away from the record that shows how commonplace violence (particularly political violence) has been throughout our history, how frequently it has occurred, and how it has persisted from the past into our own times."

--from "Our Permanent Culture of Political Violence" by Glen W. Lafantasie in the 1-10-11 edition of Salon

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