Monday, January 10, 2011

Who's responsible?

Am I my "brother's" keeper? Yes. Is free speech important? Yes. Is there a point beyond which free speech becomes hazardous to others? Yes.

A disclaimer. Yes, I'm passionate and outspoken. Yes, I am guilty of speaking without thinking and causing mayhem on occasion. We all do. Altho I shoot my mouth off too often, I am not on public airways. Well, Facebook and blogs aren't exactly broadcast media. Any influence I might have is very limited.

Awhile back I had a Facebook argument with friends about whether or not I should feel responsible for other drivers on the road. They said an emphatic "No". I disagree. Beyond the hazard of texting or talking, driving in a manner which may cause others to take risks is, in my opinion, unacceptable. We have had very snowy roads lately. There has been some extremely risky behavior by drivers, none of which has resulted in an accident that I've seen. Yet. Driving too slowly encourages some to take risks passing. When a long line builds behind, the driver who can't go faster needs to pull off and allow others to pass. Ignoring those behind can result in an accident or road rage. Yes, the impatient driver is ultimately responsible. I consider myself at fault if something I have done or ignored has caused someone else to do something that either had a lousy outcome or put others at risk.

Likewise with free speech. It is one thing to criticize policy with which one disagrees. It is another thing entirely to vilify another person, especially for the purpose of defeating that person in one way or another. In war, the enemy is reduced to object status to make it easier to kill. This policy has had devastating effects in incidents like Abu Graib and the My Lai Massacre. It has always been the tool of dictators. Today Muqtada al-Sadr is using the technique to urge his followers to get rid of the American troops in Iraq.

Some "Christian" clergy have tried to dehumanize LGBTs by teaching that their behavior is not "natural" and therefore despised by their god. We see the results of that as young people give in to the voiced wishes of bullies and kill themselves. No, the clergy and others are not legally responsible for the bullying or the deaths. I wonder if the God they claim sees it the same way.

Many of the Tea Party people carried ugly signs and exhibited uncivil behavior at meetings and rallies before the fall elections. They revealed much about themselves that most people wouldn't want known. Besides obvious illiteracy, they exposed opinions with no bases in fact, bigotry and hatred of the unfamiliar. They had no respect for others. They were desperate to demonize those who disagreed with their uninformed opinions, especially about the health care debate. They were funded and supported by Fox News, especially Glenn Beck, and on radio by Rush Limbaugh. Their goal was to make those who were too stupid/uneducated/lazy to learn about the issues support their goal of deregulation of business. They won.

Now we have a deranged young man who attacks a Congressional Representative and others in Tucson. The sheriff comments that others' hate speech is partly responsible and Arizona has become the center of the ugliness. He has been condemned for saying the truth. I loved the state when I was at UofA. I would not want to be there now. I'm sure there are good people in AZ. I know a few. They are not the public face. Arizona hates immigrants, prisoners, liberals and countless others. That is the impression one gets from the media. Hate dehumanizes. Once a person becomes somehow less than others, they can easily become a target for those who have a complaint which they perceive can't be solved any way other than eliminating the perceived cause. We see it over and over.

We are all responsible for the Tucson shooting. We are all responsible for the LGBT suicides. We are all responsible for Abu Graib and My Lai. We are all responsible for saying or doing anything that dehumanizes another person no matter how despicable that person or person's behavior may be. As a society we have means of dealing with those who harm others. We all must stop preaching hate. We all must stop trying to put others beneath us and making them therefore subhuman in some way.

The US Congress, especially, must find a way to debate not demonize. Boehner and McConnell need to stop their diatribes against the Obama administration and seriously consider the needs of the nation above those of the people who purchased their party. Those two men can calm the atmosphere by learning and exhibiting respect for those who disagree with differing ideas but just as much passion and concern as they claim to have for the country. Will they?

I'm not holding my breath.


forsythia said...

Well said. Our priest said much the same thing yesterday. Last summer, she pointed out that we were all to blame for the oil spill in the Gulf.

Paul said...

One of my earliest sermons (1973, I think) had as its central point that anything I say or do that degrades the image of God in another human being degrades that image in me and essentially blasphemes the Almighty. You know well that has not stopped me from, well, speaking and writing rashly. The important point, and the problem, abides.

susan s. said...

Unlike Forsythia's priest, nothing about this came from the pulpit at my church. There was a powerful moment in the prayers of the people when all the names of the dead were read, but that was it.

PseudoPiskie said...

It is one thing for people to say and write rash things occasionally. We all do it. The length to which some have gone to vilify their opponents in the public sphere is a whole different ballgame.

I have to be more careful than ever now that I am Senior Warden designate. There are people I'd love to say nasty things about but I won't - in public. Hell having to be a good example, eh?

PseudoPiskie said...

In the Prayers of the People I included "all those affected by the shooting in Tucson as well as the young man who shot them". Our priest included a bit at the end of his sermon about baptism.

MadPriest said...

Free speech is like the right to bear arms. In the USA you can carry a gun but that doesn't mean you are not responsible for the carnage if you decide to fire it into a crowd of people.

Cheryle said...

Excellent post! We never know how much harm words can cause. I blogged about this myself, and am going to try hard to not make rash statement or lump people together. Not all Republicans are hateful and bigoted; not all Democrats are saints. However, when people who have power (Boehner, McCain) or voice (Beck, Limbaugh, Palin) do not speak out against the actions of the more radical members of their party, they do a disservice to our country. I felt that Pres. Obama was right on target with his speech, yet I head a far left caller on a radio program say that he has no standing to speak because he hasn't stopped the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When we can only see as good that which conforms completely to our personal ideals we can become isolated from the reality of our "melting pot."

Kirin said...

Shel--this is an excellent essay! You are extremely thoughtful and articulate (and it helps that I agree with you, too!). :-) I wish I could repost this on Facebook so more people wold read it. This would be a good thing to share with clergy and politicians. May I share it with a couple of friends?