On rhetoric

Jack Shafer defends angry rhetoric.

The great miracle of American politics is that although it can tend toward the cutthroat and thuggish, it is almost devoid of genuine violence outside of a few scuffles and busted lips now and again. With the exception of Saturday’s slaughter, I’d wager that in the last 30 years there have been more acts of physical violence in the stands at Philadelphia Eagles home games than in American politics.

Ed Morrissey has more.

It seems to me—admittedly still sorting through my thoughts—that there remains cause for reflection here. Not because there is any causational relationship between recent political rhetoric and yesterday’s events. As yet there is no real evidence of this. And even if there were it would be worth questioning any notion that our speech should be guarded for the sake of the imbalanced and violent amongst us.

Instead, I think here of the casual violence of our discourse and how it now seems in light of real violence. We take destructive rhetoric for granted. We accept that elected representatives will traffic in and be subject to accusations of the worst and most dramatic of intentions and failures. Periodically they may even deserve it. But for the most part these words and descriptions are spoken flippantly. Do the speakers of such stuff even mean their accusations? Do they even expect their words to be taken seriously? Or are they merely said because this is what one says in this arena? I think not of the more explicit examples of violent imagery employed here, but of the average, day-to-day words and adjectives we barely even notice anymore.

I think here of the discussion we periodically have about sports and war. The problem there is that words are used casually without real meaning (does anyone really think that any of this weekend’s football games have anything in common with the brutality of military battle?). And the problem here is that individuals often say things they don’t actually seem to mean (if various individuals were guilty of the treasonous and contemptible acts and intentions of which they’ve been accused, shouldn’t there be demands for their prosecution?).

Faced with an example of real violence, real destruction, real evil, it all seems all the more trite. And so if there’s anything to reflect upon maybe it is that: not that our discourse might incite, but that it is so often, so easily, divorced from reality.

Or at least that’s what I’m thinking about right now. Feel free to leave your comments below or drop me a note ([email protected]). Maybe we’ll turn it into a conversation. A nice, rational, completely unfacetious exchange of views and reflections.