Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why don't you stack that kindling right over here

There's been a lot of talk over the last several days about whether the Right's violence laden rhetoric prompted the Tucson gunman. The latest examples include a billboard advertising Rush Limbaugh as a "straight shooter" featuring images of bullet holes. And then there is Palin's website of 20 Democrats that she saw as vulnerable in the last election. The site featured a map with those Congresspersons identified with a gun sight. Strangely, that map disappeared shortly after the shooting and Palin's people tried to say it was a surveyor's scope. Yeah, right. The First Amendment says Palin and everyone else on the Right may say what they want, but with that right comes the responsibility to use words wisely and to take the consequences of what one says.

There is no evidence of a link between this particular rampage and the heated rhetoric. This time. Terrence Heath comments that incendiary language doesn't get very far if there isn't any kindling for it to ignite. But with kindling around a fire can spread, sometimes rapidly.

That reminds me of a discussion I had with my friend and debate partner several years ago about the situation in Israel. He said a true leader works to clear away the kindling from an explosive situation. But the Israeli leader of the time received my friend's scorn because he was figuratively piling up the kindling and soaking it in fuel. And, yes, it has exploded.

So Heath asks the question, "Is there kindling about?" He answers with a resounding yes. Most of that kindling comes from economic inequality, which was causing "melancholy of the soul" even before the Great Recession started. Since 2000 progress in relieving poverty was reversed and inequality has risen sharply. Social mobility has dropped. The few jobs that exist are more likely to be temporary.

That melancholy appears as anxiety and distrust and results in physical and mental ailments. That at a time when mental health services are being cut back. Alcohol use, drug use, and suicide are all up. Add to that mix the sea of handguns now available and we've been lucky so far.

Heath learned as a Boy Scout that one builds a fire for a beneficial purpose (light, warmth, cooking), it is built safely and in a contained area, fueled only for the duration of the purpose, and completely extinguished when no longer needed.

Fiery rhetoric may have a purpose on the campaign trail. But what is said these days doesn't always have a purpose, it is fueled for longer than the stated need, created as a weapon of destruction, or not put out when the purpose is concluded. Responsible use of fiery rhetoric is a help. So is clearing out the kindling.

It seems to me that many conservatives do want all that kindling stacked up. They want a spark to ignite something. But will they be able to control the resulting blaze? And how many people does the blaze burn?

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