On violent rhetoric

January 11, 2011

Although the earlier WoW post reveals that I am not still raging over the shootings in Tucson from Saturday, I am definitely still thinking about it, and of course I’m not alone. In a somewhat less skepticism-oriented episode of It Came From Pharyngula, PZ has mouthed off a bit about it too, with predictable results for his much more popular blog. Lots of comments.

Interesting among the responses is the basic right-wing reflex to scream ‘you too!’ and find any example of violent rhetoric from the left, from anywhere, anytime, in order to defend themselves from the righteous indignation of the rest of the country.

For example, some right wingnuts found a map Democrats used to target certain states for campaign activity…with scary bullseyes. Built into the map is rhetoric suitable for the ‘you too!’ defense, along with the means to shoot it down: Democrats targeted states, not people. Shoot it down — what am I saying! Violent rhetoric!

But beyond this simple error of false equivalence, or citing decades-old stories about left-wing terrorists or political parties from Europe…what about that ‘you too!’ defense. Yes, the appeal to hypocrisy rears its fallacious head outside of skeptical circles. What I have not seen as much of is to simply point this out as fallacy. The argument is crap. Done.

I understand Keith Olbermann cancelled his ‘worst persons in the world’ again and he’s already cited and apologized for a case of ‘hostile rhetoric’ on his part. That’s a reasonable response to calling out someone, or being called out for poor rhetoric, if you believe it is indeed poor. Pot, kettle etc. What is not a reasonable response is to find someone else doing it and scream ‘you too!’ This does not excuse either person. If it’s wrong, then it’s wrong for them, and you. You can show someone is a hypocrite that way — but you’re still wrong.

Unless, of course, the right wingnuts don’t think the violent rhetoric is wrong. Maybe they like it! They may think this, but they’d never own up to it right now. So instead, they pull the hey, look, Elvis! distraction tactic and keep doing what they’ve been.

Left and right alike have the capacity to look for violence in their rhetoric, and to tone it down or cut it out. Time will tell on who actually changes their behavior. The ones who don’t, well. This will show what they really think. I suspect the right wing’s violent rhetoric will keep on keepin’ on.


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