Monday, January 10, 2011
The Attempted Gifford Assassination. . . . .
As questions swirl in any rational person's head concerning the question of political assassination, the Tea Party Movement's regular use of violent discourse, Sarah Palin's folksy, down-home use of gun metaphors, we will inevitably hear copious right-wing commentators tell us the obvious untruths - that there is no connection between gun control and gun violence, that just because Sarah Palin used the symbols of gun-sights to target progressive political opponents, this doesn't mean their discourse of violence had any thing to do with the attempted assassination of a progressive legislator who was, in fact, one of those that Palin "targeted." And these right-wing commentators will be smug in the knowledge that there is seldom a direct cause and effect in such events and in such issues in general. Conservatives can oppose gun-control, promote the use of guns, or use a constant and consistent discourse of anger, hate, and violence, and we are still hard pressed to create a direct causal link. But this is because most social phenomena simply don't work this way. In the lead up to the Revolution in France, for example, there was a systematic abuse of power by the French aristocracy. Aristocrats routinely beat or even raped their underlings over whom they had near total control. But we cannot find any direct relational cause between individual acts of aristocratic abuse and the storming of the Bastille. The real causes of the Revolution in France were distal rather than proximate. The Gordon Riots in London were acts of terrible violence directed in part at Catholics in England who had been demonized by Lord George Gordon, the leader of the Protestant league. Yet, despite Lord Gordon's inflammatory discourse against the nation's Catholics, we cannot establish a cause and effect relationship between his provocative speeches and articles and the violence that ensued. But anyone who doubts that there is a causal relation gives empiricism a bad name. Now over two hundred years after the Riots history makes those connections obvious. Similarly, individual efforts at gun control may have little discernable or immediate impact on the number of gun crimes. This is because such efforts are cumulative and the real impact is a gradual shift in ideology. As guns are more controlled and more difficult to get fewer people purchase them and negative associations arrise with gun-ownership. Given the complex overdetermination of social phenomena, I can not demonstrate a direct line of effect between Sarah Palin's provocative discourse and the attempted assassination of Congress Woman Gifford. But as the right-wing discourse of hate and violence heats up and conflict increases, no doubt history will make the links that we cannot empirically make today.