Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

This Was Monday

with 15 comments

* Judy Clarke, lawyer.

* All these worlds are yours, except Kepler 10-b. Attempt no landings there.

* Autonomous organization: In urban N.J. areas, few residents disrespect unwritten rule of reserving snow-cleared parking spots.

* Matt Taibbi gets introspective.

For my part, as a member of the political media, and a vitriol-spewing one at that, the Tucson shooting immediately made me ask myself the question: do I personally do anything to add to this obvious problem of a hypercharged, rhetorically overheated political atmosphere? And the unfortunate answer I came up with was, maybe. I’ve always told myself that what I do is different from what someone like Rush does, because I don’t target classes of people and try not to exempt anyone (even myself) from criticism, or favor either party. 

I’ve also counted on the belief that anyone who’s willing to devote the mental energy to even follow whatever wild rhetoric I’m using is probably also smart enough to tell the difference between reality and hyperbole. I also hope that anyone reading my articles will get the underlying message that I’m pretty sure — I hope I’m sure, anyway — I’m conveying at all times, i.e. that violence is irresponsible, that we should use our brains instead of baseball bats to solve problems, etc.

But while I tell myself all these things, I also know that I would never talk to my wife or my mother the way I talk to Lloyd Blankfein. Is it ever right to just wind up and let someone have it with all you’ve got? That’s a question that I think has to be asked. It’s certainly possible that we’ve all become too used to unrestrained rhetoric as a form of entertainment, and people like me live right in the middle of the guilt parabola there. Most all of us are grownups and can handle extreme argument, but clearly some people are not, and obviously I’m not just talking about Jared Loughner.

To see that, all you have to do is attend almost any family gathering, where once-loving relationships have been completely lost because of the overheated right-left culture war. If real family relationships are being lost to this kind of political debate, if someone on TV can reach into your living room and break up your family without knowing anything about you or even knowing that you exist, that tells us that this mechanized mass-media rhetoric has been almost unimaginably successful at dehumanizing whole classes of people.

Twitter beta-tests a spine.

* The University of California Student Association responds to news of an additional half-billion dollars in cuts to education in California.

* Short film of the night: “Three Minutes.”

* Infographic of the night: Dexter’s victims.

15 Responses

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  1. From the Clarke story:

    “Ms. Clarke grew up in Asheville, N.C., in a conservative Republican family. She has said her parents tried to foster independent thinking. That came to the fore in the 1990s, when her mother, Patsy Clarke, helped lead a campaign to unseat Jesse Helms, the longtime Republican senator.

    “Mr. Helms had infuriated the family by telling the Clarkes in a letter that a brother of Judy’s, Mark Clarke, who had died of AIDS at 31, had “played Russian roulette in his sexual activity.”

    No contempt it is possible to have for that utter waste of space is too strong. Inappropriate or not, I consider myself pro-Jesse-Helms-eliminationist-rhetoric.


    January 11, 2011 at 1:57 am

    • I don’t know if eliminationism is okay even in the case of a man who’s already been dead for two years. We can do better!


      January 11, 2011 at 8:45 am

      • Yep, I guess so. But I liked the story of the giant condom over his house.


        January 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm

  2. this is fine as long as we remember it’s all the right’s fault.


    January 11, 2011 at 2:37 am

    • I think I’d change “all” to “mostly,” but otherwise I don’t think any of the people I’ve linked to on this would disagree with that diagnosis.


      January 11, 2011 at 8:46 am

  3. where is the american left at fault here, even a tiny little bit? i don’t think the fact that there are a minority of ‘angry pundit’ types like taibbi on the left counts, in part for the arguments he gives in his own defense (i can’t think of any pro-democrat voice that’s as unhinged as his), and in part because the left completely lacks the media infrastructure that the right has, which is what has really done the work of creating the optimal environment for noisy assholes.

    also it’s a pretty big assumption (especially coming from a journalist) to say it’s media rhetoric alone that breaks up families and not the actual political differences themselves. why is it ‘dehumanizing’ for families to have problems because of conflicting political views?


    January 11, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    • I don’t think that’s what he was saying was dehumanizing; I thought his point was that some people have come to believe the other side is so beneath contempt that they can’t be cordial even to their own family members. I have relatives like this; lots of people do. The culture war doesn’t have to make Facebook or family weddings a battleground.

      As for the failures of the left, look, all I’m saying is there’s hot talk on both sides. I don’t think it costs us anything to admit that.

      A fairly well-known progressive blog I used to link to (up until yesterday) had as the conclusion to their post addressed to big-media “accessories to murder” (paraphrasing): “You killed a 9-year-old girl. You deserve the same treatment, if not worse.” That crosses a line. It’s a line the left crosses sometimes too. It costs us nothing to admit that and push back against it, even in a context in which the Other Guys are clearly much, much worse (and totally unrepentant about it).


      January 11, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    • To take excessively strident language from this very blog that I now regret and wouldn’t repeat today: in the past I’ve used variations on the idea that either the neoconservative wing or the Republican Party as a whole are a “cancer” on America. Of course it’s clear from both the audience of this blog and my own nonviolent commitments that curing this metaphorical “cancer” means winning at the ballot box, not killing people, and in any event I have neither the audience of Glenn Beck nor the (*cough*) gravitas of the Republican Party’s most recent vice presidential candidate — but all the same it’s the first sentence of Wikipedia’s definition of eliminationism for a reason.

      We can all do better.


      January 11, 2011 at 3:52 pm

      • well i hope you feel just TERRIBLE about allowing your views to be potentially misinterpreted by a left-liberal student of rhetoric who is indifferent to context clues.


        January 11, 2011 at 5:06 pm

      • Of course it’s not that I feel “responsible” for imaginary violence that never happened; it’s that it’s a hateful and unproductive way to talk. I don’t need to say such things to express myself, and there’s no good reason to — so I’ll try not to.


        January 11, 2011 at 5:10 pm

  4. but this argument only carries weight if we assume that the image of the left is in real danger from the five bloggers and matt taibbi who sometimes flip out (and to a much, much smaller degree than the right). it’s important to remember that the periodic calls for ‘civility on both sides’ only have an effect on the left. it’s a self-purification ritual by and for liberals (spiced up with occasional superegoic approval from centrist conservative op-ed writers) that allows us to feel confirmed in our ethical superiority while reading media we create for ourselves.

    on the family thing, i’m sure taibbi would agree with your interpretation. but it’s not an argument, it’s a rhetorical image. saying it’s ‘the media’s’ fault sidesteps the question of who benefits from and who is driving all this irrational polarization of real (and worsening) social divisions (the ‘hidden agenda’ taibbi is so worried about identifying).

    inflammatory liberal rhetoric is only noticed because of the insanity of right-wing inflammatory rhetoric. by focusing on rhetoric ‘itself’ over the institutional powers and real social conflicts that support it we leave ourselves open for the same arguments to be used on us, even when they bear no relation to reality — i mean o’reilly was recently quoted criticizing msnbc for fomenting violence against fox news viewers. recognizing the incentives, as taibbi does, is a good start, but the critique has to be followed through (to the ‘hidden agenda’) and not remain at the level of ethical principle.


    January 11, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    • I don’t see anything in there that relies on a distinction between “all” and “mostly” in your original sentence “this is fine as long as we remember it’s ADVERB the right’s fault.” All those things can still be true even if it’s only just mostly the right’s fault, as opposed to literally 100% their fault.


      January 11, 2011 at 5:14 pm

  5. Gerry, in your argument with Ryan I feel like you’re missing a fundamental point about praxis: eliminationist rhetoric on the left would matter if a significant number of the left in this country owned/knew how to use weapons. Rhetoric only functions toward certain ends if there are people capable of executing those ends.


    January 11, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    • But the left isn’t that monolithic; there’s plenty of people on the left who own and know how to use weapons. And it’s not as if there is zero history of left violence in the recent past: aside from the Discovery Network shooter people keep talking about, there’s eco-terrorism (which has killed) and (property-destroying) anti-globalization riots, just off the top of my head. On the level of symbolism, there was talk about Bush that plainly skirted the eliminationist line.

      Again, that’s NOT to argue that the left is equally culpable as the right in any of this — I was only quibbling only over the word “all.” (Even my examples above demonstrate how small the left contribution is; there’s essentially no institutional support for eco-terrorism of any stripe, and very little for rioting.) All of these things are far, far more significant on the right. Say the proportions are 90-10, or even 95-5. But we can admit that the same forces exist on “our side,” and are now and then toyed with, without it being merely a “self-purification” ritual. We have to be responsible too, and the occasion is an opportunity for *everyone* to reflect.


      January 11, 2011 at 8:32 pm

  6. ok, last point on this and i’ll leave you alone —

    let’s reflect on the way this latest round of the civility debate has played out — 1) a rogue crazy person flips out and commits what at least look like politically motivated murders. 2) everyone notices the right’s consistent use of violent rhetoric, and the recent history of similar violent episodes committed by people with even more explicit ties to the right (that insurrection timeline you posted). still, everyone realizes that this person’s mental issues preclude any direct responsibility and the issue is dissolved into a ‘rhetorical atomsphere.’ 3) now instead of trying to figure out how this atmosphere was established and why, what it specifically has to do with these episodes of violence, to what extent both phenomena are expressions of underlying social conflicts, etc., the whole thing becomes about cutting and pasting ‘bad’ rhetoric and divvying up responsibility for it between right and left. we’re encouraged to do this every time something especially bad happens. so this crazy killer all of a sudden becomes a moment for everyone left of center to self-reflect (the right, as we know, never does). on what? on how their individual utterances might sometimes resemble the individual utterances of a massive, well-funded right-wing hate machine, and really think about what they can do to bring that 5% (i think it’s really 1% or less) down to 0% in their communities.

    i distrust this train of thought. to me it seems, in it’s own way, totally nuts. a small thing, but i think symptomatic. not least of the 30 year or so liberal tradition of aiding, abetting, or looking the other way as the repulsive right became what it is.

    also, p.s. — has eco-terrorism ever killed anyone in the u.s.? i can’t find any references…but protest violence is a perfect example of the above logic in action – the police beat the shit out of teenagers, the teens break windows and torch cars – ‘who started it’ is usually unanswerable (and beside the point), but then it always ends up (for some) a question of what we as leftists can do to better domesticate ourselves, how we can purge these unruly teens from our ranks.


    January 12, 2011 at 2:33 am

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