Fear Leads to Violence

You don’t have to be Yoda to understand that fear leads to hate and ultimately to violence.  This post by Amanda Marcotte over at Pandagon is worth reading in its entirety:

I do think there’s value in talking about the use of inciting language, like Sarah Palin is fond of doing, but I have to say that is probably less of a problem than paranoia. The violent rhetoric encourages people to see violence as a solution, but it’s the paranoia that gives them cause to get that wound up, or in the likely case of Loughner, to latch onto right wing paranoia as a delusion.

It isn’t the violent rhetoric, its the eliminationist rhetoric that is the main language side of the problem.  When the right talks about the left as traitors, scum, or in any way attacks their humanity – they are lowering the intrinsic ethical barriers to entry for violent actions against the left.  That is a huge part of the problem.

That said, Amanda (and Jon Stewart) are right on when they not the large place fear has in stimulating political violence.  Let’s get inside the head of a potential right wing terrorist:

You believe the President is a foreign national from Kenya bent on becoming America’s next hitler.  You think liberals are working to help him destroy the economy, establish death panels and concentration camps, and morally corrupt the nation by attacking Christianity and Christian laws.  You think liberals murder babies and have wet dreams about bringing stalin-style communism to the US.

How could those beliefs not lead to violence?

I think that is the interesting question out of all of this.

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On Obama, Gay Marriage, and Prop 8

A Quick Hit:

The parents of the President-Elect of the United States couldn’t have married in nearly one third of the states of the country their son grew up to lead.

Now their son opposes Gay Marriage.  Prop 8 has been struck down, but this battle brings the fight to White House.  Obama must weigh in, and his backward, incoherent and irrational opposition to marriage for some US citizens but not others will once again be brought into the light.  His ironic position is that of “separate but equal”.  The only equality he is defending to place the demands of theocratic bullying on the same level as the rational, compassionate, popularly supported desire for true equality for people of any sexual orientation.

As Keith Olberman said:

This is about the… human heart, and if that sounds corny, so be it.

If you voted for this Proposition or support those who did or the sentiment they expressed, I have some questions, because, truly, I do not… understand. Why does this matter to you? What is it to you? In a time of impermanence and fly-by-night relationships, these people over here want the same chance at permanence and happiness that is your option. They don’t want to deny you yours. They don’t want to take anything away from you. They want what you want — a chance to be a little less alone in the world.

Well Mr President?  Will you step up to the ethical plate and take a swing for equality?  Or will you continue to cower and let theocrats – who harbor no intentions of ever supporting you or your party electorally – dictate the policy we all have to live with?

Bloggers and Iran’s Fear

Iran is afraid of bloggers, and is instituting the death penalty to harshly curb their rights.

Via BoingBoing:

New legislation has been proposed in Iran that could make blogging a crime punishable by death. Cyrus Farivar has a story on today’s edition of the PRI radio show The World: Iran considers harsh penalty for some bloggers (3:30).

Over at Global Voices, Hamid Tehrani writes:

On Wednesday, Iranian members of parliament voted to discuss a draft bill that seeks to “toughen punishment for disturbing mental security in society.” The text of the bill would add, “establishing websites and weblogs promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy,” to the list of crimes punishable by death.In recent years, some Iranian bloggers have been sent to jail and many have had their sites filtered. If the Iranian parliament approves this draft bill, bloggers fear they could be legally executed as criminals. No one has defined what it means to “disturb mental security in society”.

Such discussion concerning blogs has not been unique to Iran. It shows that many authorities do not only wish to filter blogs, but also to eliminate bloggers!

A translated English copy of the proposed legislation is here. [International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran]

Aside from being a gross violation of human rights, it is an admission by the Iranian government that they are too weak to stand up to opposition.  Apostasty will be used to silence religious criticism, and “corruption” is a catch-all that will surely be used to silence political opponents.

When a country resorts to murder to keep power, it eventually finds that a tighter grip is a weaker one.  All America needs to do is be diplomatic and friendly, depriving Iran of a common enemy to unite against.  As sympathetic friends, we’ll find ourselves in the better position of being inspirational to the brave people in Iran who fight back.

Discourse and Assassination: McCain/Clinton vs Obama

Hillary Clinton’s assassination quote is far more problematic than I originally thought.

Frankly I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt in the light of what I felt where more serious offenses, but I think I was wrong to do so. Kevin noticed some interesting trends in terms of how people responded to her quote:

At the primarily white blogs, there is much debate over whether or not what she has said is offensive (I won’t bother repeating it here since it’s been posted everywhere) and yet when you look at black bloggers, and other bloggers of color, there is an almost unanimous agreement that her remarks were reprehensible. I also noticed that in the links being provided by blog authors and commentators at the primarily white blogs, to support their agreement or disagreement with the offensiveness of Sen. Clinton’s statements, all are to other primarily white blogs and white bloggers. I find this problematic because I’ve seen a lot of comments on these blogs to the effect of “anyone who thinks that her statement was truly offensive is paranoid, a nut case, delusional, incapable of rational thought, etc,” and this leads me to think that a lot of people just aren’t taking into consideration, let alone even reading and listening to the black and other bloggers of color that Clinton’s statement has affected not only on a political level, but on a deeply personal level.

As I was writing a comment, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. In spite of whether or not her quote had ill intention behind it, or whether she was referring to herself or Obama as RFK, her comment has helped push the idea of assassination further into mainstream discourse. Fox is apparently making cracks along the same lines (although they are decidedly more “fringe” in terms of content, in terms of reach they are effectively mainstream).

The other problem with Clinton’s remark is that it shares something reprehensible in common with John McCain’s jabs about who he imagines Hamas would like to see elected. The one thing that was utterly clear and unmistakable about Hillary Clinton’s comment was that she was saying we should structure our primaries based on the possible actions of violent racists. That we should be moved to action by fear, that is the lowest sort of pandering. It is the lowest sort of pandering because it debases us. It reduces us to animals, to prey, scrambling to avoid the predators without any care for who we scratch, bite, or leave behind in the process. It appeals to our feral nature.

When it comes down to it Barack Obama began as a candidate of convenience for me, the person I judged least likely to utterly betray Democratic ideals (and given his past support (with Clinton) of Lieberman during his primary, I was quite wary). But the man is doing what he can to elevate the national discourse. What Hillary ignores and McCain *sometimes* pretends to do, Barack Obama accomplishes.

When I think of the notions of liberty, and what it means to be an American, I think of bravery and an unwavering commitment to human rights and ethical principles. I don’t ascribe to the “what it should mean to be an American” school on this. This is what it has always meant to be an American, even if only a relative few people throughout history have seen it and lived it. If ever anything was un-American, it is an appeal to be ruled by fear. It is that appeal, in both McCain’s Bush-like “the terrorists want you to vote Democrat” and Clinton’s “we should have a backup candidate in case one is shot”, that is offensive on a visceral level.

We can do far better than that. We can appeal to hope and raise up our spirits and our innate courage. And we can win.

[Edit: Oops, the post was written by guest blogger Kevin, not Nezua.]

McCain: Let Hamas Decide For You

The problem with McCain’s fear mongering, from a practical rhetorical perspective, is that it invites searing counterpoints. The Taijiquan classics state one should be without hollows or projections, and this applies quite well to rhetoric. McCain said (Huffington Post, emphasis mine):

From The Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb:

McCain spoke with bloggers this morning on a number of issues ranging from William Ayers to Rev. Wright to Tony Rezko. Jennifer Rubin noted that Hamas had endorsed Senator Obama and asked McCain whether Obama might have given “an unhelpful signal” to the terrorist group. McCain’s response:

All I can tell you Jennifer is that I think it’s very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States. So apparently has Danny Ortega and several others. I think that people should understand that I will be Hamas’s worst nightmare….If senator Obama is favored by Hamas I think people can make judgments accordingly.

Now the Huffington Post piece does go on to tear apart both McCain’s argument and his ethics. But I’m going to zero in on the obvious weakness this exposes. By citing an organization recognized by the US as a terrorist outfit as a reason to vote a certain way, John McCain is clearly saying we ought to take their opinion into consideration when deciding who will represent us in government. In other words, Obama might speak for you on Health Care, Security and Foreign Policy, the Economy, and Civil Rights issues, but forget all of that, because people who use bombs and rockets have an opinion. I just don’t understand how a man can claim to have any authority on protecting us from terrorists when he directly urges us to give in to terror and count their authority above our own! Especially on an issue so central as who leads this country.

That becomes McCain’s real message. Give in to fear. Let foreign organizations effect your vote. McCain wouldn’t be Hamas’s worst nightmare. He’s already giving them political clout in our country, free of charge.

That is the counter argument the Obama campaign should be making. McCain leaned out too far and left himself open. So far the Obama campaign’s response has been a slap that leaves them open as well:

Spokesman Hari Sevugan responded to McCain’s insinuations about Obama by pointing out that McCain may be going back on his pledge to run a positive campaign:

“We want to take Senator McCain at his word that he wants to run a respectful campaign, but that is becoming increasingly difficult when he continually tries to use the politics of association and makes claims he knows not to be true to advance his campaign.”

The politics of association isn’t a bad tactic if its an active association on the part of the candidate.  Now Obama’s campaign has a soundbite to be exploited if they ever decide to take that road.  If they instead aim at the implications for the integrity of our voice and our decision making process, and the role of fear in our national politics, they can counter without leaving a vulnerability.  Fear is where McCain’s campaign is weak.  That’s where we should strike.

Political SC Church Crosses Line on Obama

Pastor Roger Byrd crossed the line between Church and State in a classless way, by repeating the more vicious lies from the GOP’s whisper campaign against Barack Obama (WYFF):

Pastor Roger Byrd said that he just wanted to get people thinking. So last Thursday, he put a new message on the sign at the Jonesville Church of God.It reads: “Obama, Osama, hmm, are they brothers?”

Wow.

Byrd said that the message wasn’t meant to be racial or political.

What a load. So what was it meant to convey?

“It’s simply to cause people to realize and to see what possibly could happen if we were to get someone in there that does not believe in Jesus Christ,” he said.

What could happen? Is he insinuating we need a Christian in office, a naked religious test, to avoid things like terrorism? Or is he simply saying fearmongering and race-baiting like his is what we should expect if anyone outside his narrow mind’s tolerance gets into office?

When asked if he believes that Barack Obama is Muslim, Byrd said, “I don’t know. See it asks a question: Are they brothers? In other words, is he Muslim ? I don’t know. He says he’s not. I hope he’s not. But I don’t know. And it’s just something to try to stir people’s minds. It was never intended to hurt feelings or to offend anybody.”

Obama has said repeatedly during his campaign that he is a Christian and attends Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Pastor Byrd is an idiot, and a prime example of Church attempting to encroach on state:

Despite some criticism, Byrd says that the message will stay on the sign. He took the issue before his congregation Sunday night, and they decided unanimously to keep it.

Yet his congregation unsettles me a little more.

Natural Relations and Fear

Sush has posted a really thoughtful thread on what meanings one might find behind the phrase Unnatural Relations (emphasis mine):

In that way I’ve always thought of human sexuality as transcending “natural relations”, because we have made sex about more than fulfilling a lust or procreating. Sex, to me, is about two people learning to be one. It is about give and take, sacrifice and dominance, learning to be in control and out of it, giving of yourself and taking of another. That is far more than simply nature, it is a metaphor for all things real and spiritual. It is the dance of creation itself- not because it makes life but because it IS life.

So what is unnatural? Is it unnatural to have sex in a way that doesn’t lead to procreation? Is it a sin to use birth control? Is it a sin when a married and committed couple engage in mutual masturbation or anal sex? Where exactly is the line between natural and unnatural? Is the only holy sex that which is done in the dark with socks still on and both feeling a little embarrassed afterwards?

Shush has a really beautiful way of putting how we approach sex as a society.  In many ways we are socialized to feel shame about our bodies, and sex involves expressing our bodies a most intimate and messy way.  Breaking through that socially induced fear and experiencing sex as the “dance of creation” is, I think, a vital part of experiencing a full and healthy life.  It is also central to the worldview that validates rather than punishes the sexual act, and accepts different expressions of it between two consenting adults.

The spiritual path is one that teaches one to overcome and eventually eliminate fear.  It should never, ever instill new fears and anxieties.  As a society we might take a good hard look at what the politics of sexual fear and shame that crops up in organized religion does for us, and what it takes away.  Upon inspection we won’t find an equal trade.