Careless Violent Fantasies In Politics

In a post I had overlooked a month ago, Jason tore into the hypocrisy of any leftists who express outrage over violent right wing rhetoric but are okay with a first person zombie game where you get to kill Tea Partiers:

The game is about killing the Teabagging zombies before they kill you. It’s called “TEA PARTY ZOMBIES MUST DIE.”

Does anyone else see anything wrong with this? With the idea of turning your political opponents, no matter how dogmatically they came into their particular ideologies, into mindless zombies fit only for extermination? I don’t appreciate it when right-wingers advocate watering the tree of liberty with the blood of people who happen to think you shouldn’t pay through the nose for health care, or that gays are humans too. I don’t appreciate it when right-wingers paint targets on their political opponents or exhort their supporters “don’t retreat, reload”. I don’t appreciate it when people make death threats openly or dehumanize left-wingers in any way. Why should I stand by when right-wingers are treated likewise? Why should we let the discourse be so debased by outliers on either side of the political spectrum?

Jason’s whole post is good and sparked a vigorous discussion worth checking out in the comments. The furor over Sarah Palin’s targets after the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords is one of the things that got me paying extra special attention to make sure that I was not hypocritically engaging in the same kinds of rhetoric I found so infuriating and revolting coming from her and from the Tea Party.

If you were not a reader at the time, my thoughts on Palin and Giffords were in the posts Denouncing Political Rhetoric Which Is Indistinguishable From The Manifestos Of Paranoid Madmen and Moral Luck, Sarah Palin, And The “Targeting” Of Gabrielle Giffords. The key point I wanted to get across about why that shooting inspired as much rage in me as it did (and, anyone who followed my Facebook feed knew I was out of my mind livid) is summed up in these paragraphs from the former of the two posts:

What we on the left have been up in arms about (or should have been up in the arms about) has been precisely this, that this kind of tragedy looks like the kinds of nightmares that right wing rhetoric has cavalierly been threatening us with.  The fact that we even had to ask, “is this the manifestation of the threats we have been feeling every time a gun has been brought to a political rally or a Tea Partier has equated patriotism with violent revolt?”  means that we have already been terrorized by such speech.

It turns my stomach to hear Rush Limbaugh and Ross Douthat imply that the left wing wanted this.  The quick reaction to lash out at the right that many of us felt on the left was not some master plan to discredit them going into action.  We have not been rubbing our hands with glee waiting for an attack to exploit.  In my heart, for one, what I felt was the terror that an oft repeated right wing threat—one which was coming not just from crazy fringes but which was being repeatedly and hostilely megaphoned from prominent Republican candidates, elected officials, and pundits—had finally been fulfilled in a particular case.

We did not need this occasion to call that rhetoric something that had crossed the line and needed desperately to be morally condemned and stopped. It is just as wrong if it never leads to actual violence as if it does.  We had been saying this for two and a half years.  We were not waiting for a tragedy to morally condemn and make people responsible for that rhetoric.  We have been condemning it all along and it is vile and anti-democratic and worthy of denunciation wholly independently of whether actual violence ever comes to fruition.

When someone brings a gun to a political rally it is inherently felt as threatening, anti-democratic, and bullying to us on the left.  How can you debate gun control with someone who literally stands there with a gun in his hand with the implication that if you democratically restrict his rights related to guns he might turn violent?  And how is the threat of violence not to be taken from catch phrases like ”if you want to take my gun come and take it” or “you will have to pry it from my cold dead hands”?  How is it not a threatening gesture when a political candidate holds a rally where his supporters can shoot an M-16 as part of their experience?  How are we, your opponents, not supposed to be put on edge when you conflate political activity with gun play?

The left wing is not simply on a quest to smear or “blood libel” the right wing.  And we are not saying that adamant political speech is to be legally restricted.  What we are saying is that threats of revolt are inherently inciteful and anti-democratic and need to be shunned.  Confrontationally antagonizing people over their fears of guns by waving them around as political symbols and threatening to use them if you don’t get your way politically is terrorizing speech that seeks to intimidate legislators and citizens alike.

So, having typed those words, I don’t want to eat them. I don’t want to engage in rhetoric that tips into violent fantasies and tries to terrorize my opponents and I don’t want to sit on my hands when those who are ostensibly on “my side” do so either. Good on Jason for speaking up with the same consistency on this issue.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Ophelia Benson


    I was livid about the Giffords shooting too. Absolutely frantic. I’ve been to many meetings with my rep (Jim McDermott, from probably one of the safest liberal districts in the country) and they’re wide open; I’ve talked to him up close and personal there. That’s how it should be, and that depends on not turning such things into battlefields.

    I’m very very very tired of threats. Very. I get some myself, and I see a lot more of them directed at other women, and I’m very very very tired of them.

    • Camels With Hammers

      It turns my stomach to see what female bloggers are put through by cowards with computers.

    • Jason Thibeault

      I absolutely hate that, Ophelia. And it seems all you have to do is say something approaching reasonable and egalitarian on the internet to make yourself a target for these cowards that have to shout down their opponents rather than actually engage in levelheaded debate.

      Such is the nature of the trollitariat I guess. I wish it weren’t so.

      (Thanks for the link, by the way, Daniel!)

  • marcus

    With all due respect to Jason, “TEA PARTY ZOMBIES MUST DIE”, is a joke, it is (stupid, ridiculous)humor. It is meant to offend certain sensibilities and entertain others. The “gunsights” over the images of the political candidates was calculated and cynical. It was a an incitement to a particular group of people to become active (some of those people are not sane, obviously).
    The “gunsights” are a political message, “Zombies” is political satire.

    • Jason Thibeault

      Political satire in which you get to shoot or attack with a machete the satirized targets.

      Don’t apologize for that nonsense, please.

    • marcus

      You are, of course, welcome to your opinion. Not apologizing, I’m not even saying it is a good joke, just saying that these are two different things. The “gunsights” are Fox News, Zombies is Southpark. I will not apologize to the Teabaggers either, fuck them. This happens all the time. Someone like Ann Coulter will say, essentially, and seriously, that liberals should be taken out and killed, for instance, and no one says anything. Then some liberal says that Teabaggers are racists and everybody (not you necessarily) clucks and disapproves and apologizes, fuck that too. Thanks for your excellent writing and your willingness to engage, we just happen to disagree in this instance.

    • Camels With Hammers

      It strikes me as quite different than South Park. South Park is not a first-person partisan exercise in dehumanizing and acting out eradication fantasies. South Park is about exposing harsh truths in a hilarious way. This is about feeling superior to your enemies and indulging the dream of destroying them as worthless zombies.

    • marcus

      Perhaps you all are taking this a bit too seriously.

  • laurentweppe

    Wasn’t the game whole point about demonstrating the Tea Party hypocrisy by using the same tropes to the absurd? I undrstood the underlying logic behind the game to be something like “The Teabaggers claim that their rethoric, and their pseudo-revolutionnary threats, and their bloody aesthetic choices, and their tendency to go armed at public meetings do not betray a murderous intent on their part. So let’s take all their rethoric, pseudo-revolutionnary threats, and bloody aesthetic choices, and turn it into a single piece of media that summarize it all: if they react with horrors and accuse the game’s creators of murderous intent against them, then the deceitful nature of their previous denials will be demonstrated”.

    Or maybe it’s me being too meta about it.

    • marcus

      Yeah, what she said. ;)

  • WMDKitty

    Okay, so I went and checked out “Tea Party Zombies Must Die”.

    I’m impressed. Sure, it’s a tad primitive, but for Flash? Wow. And it’s actually challenging. Plus, dude, ZOMBIES. The political caricatures aren’t readily identifiable without being told (in “Meet the Zombies”) who they’re supposed to be.

    Is it in poor taste? Yup.

    But it’s still protected under the First Amendment.

  • AYY

    I’m glad you wrote this, although you are being unfair to Sarah Palin and there are plenty of people on the left who are out to smear the right. But you (and Jason) are among the exceptions on the left. You have a major hurdle in front of you when you have Pres. Obama demonizing his opponents, union presidents threatening violence, the OWS protesters spewing hate, MSNBC and Air America host acting irresponsibly, etc. etc. etc.
    BTW, I find it amusing when leftists reveal their sexual fantasies by calling Tea Party supporters “Teabaggers”.

    • Camels With Hammers

      Your right wing prejudices are staggering.

    • AYY

      Well gosh, I didn’t mean to confuse you with the facts.

      You asked for our thoughts. You did not limit it to left wing thoughts. I assumed from the post and from your other posts that you wish to hear various points of view when those views are expressed in a civil manner.

    • Camels With Hammers

      What facts? It’s not a fact that Barack Obama is a demonizer. He has bent over backwards to be accommodating and been mercilessly mischaracterized and demonized himself. It is not a fact that I was too hard on Sarah Palin. It is not a fact that Hoffa implied anything violent by saying he wanted union members to “take out” Republican polticians, etc.

      The point is, in your world mere opposition to your views is violent rhetoric and that’s just prejudice.

    • marcus

      BTW KYY you should look up the word “ironic” if your teabag masters haven’t burned all your dictionaries.

  • Steve

    “What we are saying is that threats of revolt are inherently inciteful and anti-democratic and needs to be shunned.”

    What happens when revolution is the only open avenue? The Supreme Court has already ruled that corporations are people and money is speech so it’s just a matter of time (perhaps a long time) before 1% of the population truly subjugates the rest of us. If that comes to pass, thoughtful people may well consider revolution as the only viable redress, inspite of such talk being inherently inciteful and anti-democratic.

  • Stutz

    “When someone brings a gun to a political rally it is inherently felt as threatening, anti-democratic, and bullying to us on the left. How can you debate gun control with someone who literally stands there with a gun in his hand with the implication that if you democratically restrict his rights related to guns he might turn violent?”

    Look, I lean left on most issues and I’m also an atheist, but I’ve also been a gun owner all my life and think that as a responsible law-abiding adult, I have a right to own and enjoy them. Heck, it’s in the Constitution after all, which many people seem to forget. I understand that many people do not grow up around firearms, and every association they have with guns is negative. For a lot of people, guns mean: 1. Crime, gangs, etc.; 2. Violent movies/TV/video games; 3. Tools for professionals only (police/military) 4. Hunting, but you’ve never met anyone who’s ever gone hunting; 5. Right-wing nut jobs.

    The thing is, all of those associations mean that to you, the object itself is almost equivalent to a violent threat. I’m not denying that the morons at the political rallies like to imply some kind of threat because it makes them seem tough and defiant, but there is a point to be made about guns. I carry one daily at work in the security field, and my favorite pastime is to drive out into the desert and shoot targets. I’d like to see people be more open minded about the issue and try to see the perspective of someone like myself. Millions of Americans in rural areas own guns and shoot recreationally, and have nothing but positive associations when they think of firearms. To many folks, pulling a trigger is no more extraordinary than operating a power drill — both are just tools.

    What’s interesting to me is that I, as someone who holds a unique set of positions, can see a parallel between knee-jerk reactions to guns and knee-jerk reactions to atheists. People who aren’t familiar with them assume they must necessarily be dangerous because of the superficial understanding they have of them.

    Obviously, there are a lot of complex issues involved. Should something more be done to keep kids and gang members from getting guns, and is restricting lawful ownership an effective way of doing that? How much can you restrict lawful ownership without violating the 2nd Amendment? Can we pass restrictions on the general populace while keeping “fun” guns (the dreaded “assault weapons” which are really just regular semi-auto rifles that look scary) available to people like me and my friends via registration of some kind? I’m not going to get into all that, but I’d ask for some more understanding about guns and gun owners before labeling them threatening.

    • Stutz

      After reading the full posts you linked to from January I see the point you’re making about Tea Party rhetoric and the ludicrous threats of violent overthrow of the government. I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment and am also endlessly annoyed by the Tea Party movement. I suppose my point was that there are other political reasons for carrying a gun and supporting gun rights that are within the realm of sensible debate. In one sense, the visual shock value of openly carrying a gun is a way of “breaking the spell” of those predisposed to be scared of guns (from your Tip 5 For Reaching Out To Religious People). “Confrontationally antagonizing people over their fears of guns by waving them around as political symbols” seems threatening at first, but the hope is that with increased visibility and familiarity, guns and gun ownership will be seen as more mundane over time. Of course, if you’re instead waving them around to send a message about the potential armed right-wing revolt against the federal government, then I say yes, you can kindly go to hell.

    • Camels With Hammers

      Thanks for hearing out my full arguments.

      Yes, my focus in the posts linked to was the merging of guns with anti-government hostility and rhetoric of revolution. I am also furiously offended by the “take it from my cold dead hand” rhetoric that sarcastically celebrates the concept that the only way to restrict gun ownership is to win a shootout with gun owners.

      I am ambivalent on the general topic of gun ownership. There may be ways to make harmless gun uses more prevalently associated with weapons. But I don’t know why in general guns just need an image makeover. They’re literal killing machines, they should be feared and monitored. And our country is freaking IN LOVE with guns. I only wish it had the same feelings about atheists. Every freaking action hero would be an atheist character!

    • Stutz

      A robot with laser eyes is a killing machine. A gun is a tool. So is a laser.

    • Stutz

      Gun ownership by ordinary citizens needs an image makeover, if guns themselves don’t. Although maybe they do since a lot of people think they’re literal killing machines.

    • Camels With Hammers

      It is a machine used primarily for killing. Target shooting may have spun off to be an end in itself for many, but their primary function is killing. This is not a wild slanderous take that I have on this.

      But you are right, the average non-violent gun owner definitely needs an image makeover. Unfortunately, guns at political rallies are the opposite of that. So is just about all the other political hostility and hysteria coming from the NRA during the Clinton and Obama administrations. Being politically belligerent + celebrating guns, revering gun, and screaming bloody murder about the prospect of losing guns, are counter-productive to making those who hate guns warm up to you. You want to be as non-threatening as possible when selling people on the idea that you should not be feared for loving weapons passionately.