Sunday, May 31, 2009

Waiting for 2010 #17: Free Speech, Civil Debate = Good; Violence, Demagoguery that Advocates Violence = Bad (#Tiller)

The big news of the day is the murder and apparently ideologically-motivated assassination of Dr. George Tiller. Tiller was the director of an abortion clinic in Kansas. He was shot dead while serving as an usher during Sunday morning church services. Ironically, Tiller's similarly religious enemies are already condemning this church usher to hell.

Half of America's squeaky wheels are apparently rejoicing over this murder, some even providing their own stamp of karmic justification due to their views on late-term abortion or abortion in general. The other half of America's squeaky wheels are in the process of creating a backlash movement, some even lumping their pro-life/anti-choice foes along with Tiller's murderer. The rest of America (and the world) are simply shocked, and hopefully angered at this act of criminal violence.

Philosophically and theologically, we as regular folk have no say in afterlife condemnation nor can we directly and justifiably affect the wheel of karma. The murderer must be caught - ideally alive - and brought to justice using our earthly, civilized laws. Those fortunate to be citizens of free democracies have the right to debate, petition, and vote to try to codify their ideology in their society. The debates regarding abortion, gay marriage, gun control, immigration, etc., must be conducted in an non-violent and productive manner.

Even stereotypically loudmouth commentator Bill O'Reilly is partly correct in his self-absolution regarding his responsibility, when he is reported to have said:

"I'm entirely confident that my constant railing against this guy had nothing to do with this." said Bill O'Reilly of the O'Reilly Factor on Fox News in reaction to the the slaying. "My thoughts are with his family and loved ones. I still stand by what I said before though."
In the grand scheme of causality, I can potentially disagree with the clause "nothing to do with this." We can't deny the possibility that this O'Reilly fellow is pretty influential. After all, he's on TV, the radio, and prominently on the Web. We must entertain the possibility that Tiller's murderer might have been a fan who internalized some of O'Reilly's rants against "Tiller the Baby Killer" and transformed it into a plan of violence. That said - O'Reilly (and most others who have the same power of influence) is not personally responsible for the murderer's actions, and it is likely that he did not intend for someone to act on his urgent rantings. Unfortunately, unintended consequences happen.

I don't know how to resolve this disconnect between urgent political persuasion (for entertainment purposes) and violent people who take the bait. The solution might be as simple as the O'Reillys and Moores and Limbaughs and Frankens of the world to say, as a friendly occasional reminder: "In my opinion, my ideology is correct (wink, wink), but you the viewer/listener/fan shouldn't be a stupid sheep about it."

Methinks and mefears that successful polemicists care too much about their own profits and power than occasional nuance and recognizing the potential that some of their fans might just be ignorantly bad people. Upon hearing a reminder not to be stupid, most of us would be slightly offended because we wouldn't do such things, but there might be a small fraction of those who might find such an obvious bit of advice helpful. Those who are easily swayed to violence might be just as easily swayed to not be stupid - maybe.

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