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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Boiling Point

For the first time in hundreds of posts here, I am going to make a political comment, and perhaps it is fitting, because I have been claiming in so many of my posts here that Jane Austen really was, covertly, a radical social critic, and exposer of the hypocrisy of the powerful, and that is exactly what I wish to do now. As with my comments about Jane Austen, I believe there is something important needing to be said about the recent tragedy in Tucson, and my son Ethan just said it to me in a phone conversation this morning. To wit:

The core question about this assassination attempt is whether Loughner's actions are to be understood as those of an unpredictably insane lone wolf, and therefore not the responsibility of Palin, Limbaugh, and Beck, or as the predictable result of the public hate rhetoric of the Far Right.

Ethan pointed out to me the analogy to water boiling, and that comment reminded me of the following passage from Gregory Bateson's timeless masterpiece of logical brilliance, Mind and Nature, in which he writes the following at page 43:

"...there is a deep gulf between statements about an identified individual and statements about a class. Such statements are of a DIFFERENT LOGICAL TYPE, and prediction from one to the other is always unsure. The statement "The liquid is boiling" is of different logical type from the statement "That molecule will be the first to go."

Let's rephrase that to fit Loughner's actions:

"The statement 'Far Right hate rhetoric is inflaming crazy people to take violent actions" is of different logical type from the statement "Loughner will be the one to kill a Democratic congresswoman today".

So Ethan's and my answer is clear--even if it was unpredictable that Loughner (one molecule among millions) would snap and do what he did on Saturday, it was, on another logical level, a CERTAINTY that SOME molecule somewhere in the US would go sometime soon, giving that the heat from the insane rhetoric of Palin, Limbaugh, and Beck had raised the pot of our society to a boiling point.

So, we need to continue to hold every Far Right Republican's feet to that fire, and make them either turn down the heat, or be held accountable for the inevitable boiling--and get some very scorched toes!

And I urge you all to read Mind and Nature, as I did many years ago--and thank god some of it stuck in my brain-- so as to be better prepared to answer these crucial questions in a useful way.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: In my chat with Ethan, I also pointed out a related point, which is that there was a grotesque irony, one that Jane Austen would have noticed and smiled grimly at, in the apologists for Palin, Limbaugh, and Beck claiming that we cannot more closely regulate who is allowed to legally purchase assault weapons in this country, because how can we know who is likely to snap, and who is not?

The grotesque irony is that the political rhetoric of the Far Right is itself so crazy, so psychotic, even if is being spoken cold-bloodedly, even calmly, by the likes of Palin, Limbaugh and Beck, that it is truly impossible to notice how crazy Loughner is, because he sounds JUST LIKE those three public figures!

And Ethan then suggested I listen to Jon Stewart's Daily Show monologue from last night, in which he said exactly the same thing.


Alexa Adams said...

Well said! I've teetered on saying something to the point myself, but continue to shy away from making political statements on my blog. I applaud your courage!

Arnie Perlstein said...

Sometimes the exception proves the rule, and this is one. But I will stick to literary sleuthing again from here on in! ;)

Courage is what the heroes at the massacre did, all I did was express my opinion from the safety of my computer desk.

But thanks anyway for your kind words!

Cheers, ARNIE