Friday, January 14, 2011

Ignorance in the Digital Age

Much has been made of the impact that modern technology has had on society. I increasingly suspect that it has contributed greatly to ignorant public statements by prominent persons.

As humans, we all have our own worldviews, ways of conceptualizing the things that happen around us. Some are conservative, some liberal, some hodgepodges, some literally incoherent. But each of us has one of these lenses through which we see the world.

All of these lenses refract incoming light to some extent. Show the same picture to a conservative and a liberal, and you are liable to get two markedly distinct impressions of what happened. Hence the passionate debate over the placement of blame for the massacre in Tucson. To some, it was lax gun laws; to others, it was harsh gun laws; perhaps it was right-wing fanaticism chime in still others, only to be rebuffed by opponents who would have the shooter be a Marxist.

To me, the point of the whole saga is actually unrelated to the deaths of so many innocent persons and had little to do with the unstable mind of the swine who killed them. What I saw arising out of the haze that still obscures our unimpeded understanding of what truly happened last Saturday is a civilization that has perfected the art of jumping to conclusions and using instant communication formats to spread those conclusions like so much manure.

Now, I will not pretend that jumping to conclusions is by itself a foolish thing to do. But it can be. Two examples: jumping to tenuous conclusions that slander and libel other persons and refusing to let go of those conclusions when subsequently gained insight so strongly suggests that they are scurrilous at best but much more likely bold-faced lies.

One final note on the matter: irrational dislike of a political figure was not monopolized this weekend by Mr. Loughner. Personally, I hold Mrs. Palin in low-esteem and generally consider her to be unworthy of the attention which this country has bestowed upon her. That said, her comments on blood-libel were apt (considering the origin of the term). Those who attacked her for using it seem to have displayed the deep-seated hatred for Mrs. Palin that Mr. Loughner had for Representative Giffords.

Want to make political discourse in this country more civil? Start being more civil yourself. The longer we go around accusing others of being uncivil, the more self-fulfilling the prophesies shall be. And at a time when ignorance can be transmitted instantaneously to millions of persons, that is something that should make even the stoutest of optimists tremble in fear.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Law

The law judges the crime, not the man.

There is a reason that the defensive plea of insanity is widely frowned upon by juries: justice is more about punishments fitting crimes than it is about making excuses for the criminal. If one person deliberately and wantonly kills another, should it really matter whether or not the murderer is "sane"?

Some modern sociological movements have tried to create a focus on the rehabilitational powers of criminal punishment. Justice, in their books, is more about 'reforming' criminals than it is about punishing wrong-doing. And there is some sense to the argument that it is in the best interests of the State to reform when possible.

But the argument taken on its whole is morally vacuous and devoid of practicality. Recidivism rates being what they are, the 'reform' focused movements are apparently attempting to save the entire herd from culling when many of that herd are rather patently unworthy of such protection.

What is the value of being a society that restores the criminal and ignores the victim? What is the value of punishing law-abiding citizens by subjecting them to the continued presence of repeat offenders? What is the value of sending a convicted murderer to a mental-institution?

The insanity plea arises from the same sort of logic that would turn the penal system into a mildly-unpleasant adult version of reform school. At the core of both is the belief that humans are basically good; likewise, both center upon the assumption that the circumstances of a person's life (impoverished upbringing, lack of schooling, mental impairments, and so on) dictate that person's fate.

Justice was formerly blind. Unfortunately, she has been granted her sight and does not know what to do with it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Tragedy

As one who more closely identifies with Republicans than Democrats, I have no particular love lost for the ideologies on the liberal side of the aisle.

But as an American, I find the assassination of an elected official of any stripe to be the most repugnant act conceivable from a civilized populace. There is a reason that so many assassination attempts come at the hands of the deranged: quite simply, it takes a certain amount of narcissistic insanity to believe that murdering another person will change the world for the better.

Although I cannot say that I am surprised, I was appalled to see the aspersions that were immediately and groundlessly being cast upon political opponents in the face of the events unfolding in Tucson. At a time when Americans were unified in mourning over an unspeakable and treasonous tragedy, some chose to stick a knife in their neighbors' backs. That sort of behavior is irresponsible, unacceptable, and reprehensible to its very core. Indeed, it enables the unstable mind of a murderous lunatic to exert control over public discourse in such a way as embarrasses us as a nation.

Go ahead and hate Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin; such is your right. But do not give them greater power than they already have. Do not lay at their feet the blame for things which are clearly beyond their control. At the very least, have the decency to wait until the facts- not mere suppositions, but solid facts- are on your side.

Here's pulling for Representative Giffords. And shame be upon all those who are either indifferent are who would use this to their own advantage. That kind of cynicism has know place in a civilized society.