Monday, January 10, 2011

My Brother's Keeper

By this point, I'm sure most of you have heard about the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona on Saturday which resulted in six dead and many more wounded. It's a horrific event, which is something I feel every person, no matter their creed, can agree on.

In the wake of the tragedy, there's been an instant, visceral response from both of the main ideologies in America. The left wing immediately started coming out decrying the violent political rhetoric which the right has been increasingly using over the past three years. The right wing's instant reaction was to reply that this man is obviously unhinged and how dare they presume that the right had anything to do with it. If anything his history suggests that he's a left-wing nutjob.

Watching it unfold, all I could think of was Cain's line to God in Genesis 4:9, when God is wondering where Abel is: "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"

To me, that question goes to the heart of the differences between the right and the left. In any incident, no matter how great or how horrible, the ideology of the right says that they are not responsible for their brother, but only themselves. The ideology of the left would say that they are responsible not only for themselves, but for the life and conditions of their brother as well, and everyone should help whether they want to or not. For example, look at their views on things like market regulations, food stamps, climate control, gun control, unemployment, affirmative action... the list goes on and on.

With market regulations, the right insists that because everyone is looking out for themselves, people will act in their self-interest and won't do anything too detrimental, as in the end other self-interested people will react and make the instigator's business fail. The left replies that the other self-interested people wouldn't have enough power to truly affect the instigator, and so to prevent market failures regulations need to be in place to prevent people breaking the system. And back and forth and back and forth...

With food stamps/welfare, the right insists that by helping out those less fortunate, they're just encouraging those using welfare not to go back to work or improve their lives, and why should they have to pay for someone else's mistakes. The left replies that sometimes Bad Things Happen, and not having a safety net there to catch their brother when they fall will result in further Bad Things such as increased crime and poverty, and so You Should Help Them No Matter What. And back and forth and back and forth...

With climate control... well, you get the picture. Obviously, their views on these subjects have been simplified a bit to fit within the context (and length) of this post. Still, the underlying theme of their arguments, regardless of the topic, seems to run thusly:
Right: No matter what is going on, I am responsible only for myself. I do not want or need interference from anyone around me, especially the government, and I do not wish to involve myself in anyone else's problem, unless it affects me personally.
Left: Not only am I responsible for myself, but as a person I am also responsible for the common welfare of my fellow humans. As such, I need to make sacrifices and involve myself in the lives of those around me, regardless of their effect on me personally.
Of course, in real life people aren't generally this black and white, with people crossing over to one side or the other on various issues. But, again, we're talking about the underlying ideas.

And we can see it playing out in the discussion of rhetoric in the wake of the shooting.

The most obvious example that will get play again and again is Sarah Palin's website that had posted a map with gun crosshairs over various districts that Democratic representatives, including Rep. Giffords. Honestly, I doubt Ms. Palin ever intended or dreamed that someone may take that to mean that a person should go out and actually shoot one of the people listed on the map. And, to be honest, I doubt that her map had anything to do with why Jared Loughner attempted to assassinate Rep. Giffords.


It very easily could have been. As Rep. Steve Driehaus stated last March (after then-Minority Leader Boehner suggested Driehaus would be a "dead man" for his vote on health care), "It doesn't really matter  the way you meant it, nor the way I accept. It's how the least sane person in my district accepts it."

It saddens me greatly that there are so many people who are unwilling to acknowledge that their words and actions, however indirectly, have consequences. If you tell people that a portion of the country (progressives) is a cancer that's trying to kill us all, that environmentalists are the same as jihadists, that having a revolution every now and then is a good thing, and to not retreat but instead, reload, sooner or later the odds are someone is going to take you seriously.

I don't hold with the idea that we should restrict people's ability to express their frustrations, even if it uses violent imagery. I do, however, believe that if you use it, you need to be prepared to take responsibility for your words.

I don't blame Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck for what happened. I don't blame Barrack Obama, or Keith Olbermann either. But I would exhort everybody, no matter their faith, creed, or ideology, to truly think about the power of their words.

Because I do believe I am my brother's keeper.

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