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.


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