Sunday, March 07, 2010

Caution: Engage Brain Before Opening Mouth

If you've been reading my random comments over the last few years, you know some of my favorite aphorisms. Just to recap two of them:

"Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom of smart;" and,

"Don't let anyone else do your thinking for you."

I've been thinking a lot about these two rules lately in the context of recent events.

You may have read about the incident this past Thursday in which a disturbed young man pulled a gun at the main entrance to the Pentagon and opened fire on two policemen...with predictable results. It turns out that the shooter was fueled with anti-government anger and conspiracy theories that led him to drive from California to Washington to be able to strike at what he believed was a government that, according to an online post attributed to him, "would use its powers to convert military, intelligence, and law enforcement bureacracies (sic) into instruments for political control and the domination and subjection of society, while discrediting, destroying, and murdering honest individuals within those services that work to root out corruption and faithfully serve their fellow citizens."

Where does someone come up with some of these ideas? Oddly enough, in many cases, from people who ought to know better.

Look back to two famous quotes from Ronald Reagan, the icon of today's ultra-conservative movement:

"In the present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem;" and,

"Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other."

When the President of the United States mocks and derides the government of which he is the head, how can citizens maintain the respect for civic authority that is the mainstay of a democratic society?

Listen to the talking heads of Faux News, and to the commentators of the far right and far left. What you hear is a constant drumbeat of anti-government anger. And what is the ultimate result of all this?

* A man is shot and killed at the entrance to the Pentagon when he tries to shoot two armed police officers.

* A man angry at the Internal Revenue Service crashes his airplane into a building occupied by the tax agency in Austin, Texas.

* Timothy McVeigh and his accomplices use a truck bomb to blow up a federal office building in Oklahoma City.

I believe people like these are spun up in part by irresponsible anti-government rhetoric that provides apparent justification for irresponsible extremist behavior. We shake our heads in amazement that people in the Middle East swallow the mindless religious bigotry and hatred churned out by radical Imams, but we somehow fail to recognize that the same sort of twisted language is being used by political extremists here at home to justify their positions.

Perhaps you don't like the government. That's fine. It's your right. Your freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. But, as Hansell Duckett once said, "What this country needs is more free speech worth listening to." And we all know what Bilbo says.

If you listen closely to many of the talking heads who rail about government actions they claim are unconstitutional, you will find that - in most cases - they have only the vaguest idea of what the Constitution actually says. A survey conducted in 2008-2009 yielded some interesting insights into what Americans actually know about the document that set up and guides their government, and which guarantees their basic freedoms. You can read the results of the survey here.

So, what's the message today?

Don't believe everything you hear, especially if your main source of information is Faux News and rigid talking heads of the radical right and left. If someone tells you what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights say, double-check by reading them yourself - you can buy copies in any bookstore, check them out from any library, or find them online by clicking the links I've provided.

There's a difference between freedom of speech and freedom of smart. There's a difference between spouting what you've heard someone else say about the Constitution and actually reading it and understanding it on your own. There's a difference between working to change the opinions of people you don't like and deciding it's easier to just kill them.

We are at a difficult time in the history of this country. Solving our problems will require people of all political viewpoints working together to develop compromises that work rather than gridlock that doesn't.

But I'm not holding my breath. And, sadly, neither should you.

Have a good day. Think. More thoughts tomorrow.



Mike said...

News item - A man is trying to come up with a plan to eliminate all 535 members of congress all at once. His biggest hurdle has been trying to get all of them in one place at the same time let alone keeping them there for any length of time to carry out his plan.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Thinking before saying anythin g is very wise.

John said...

Another nice rant!