Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Loughner-Palin connection

The media is missing the larger Loughner-Palin connection, which has very little to do with the eliminationist rhetoric that Palin uses about her political opponents. We are certain that Loughner was interested in the question "What is government if words have no meaning?" the dissolution of society via the reinvention of grammar. Loughner reported to his friends in 2007 that he had asked Gabrielle Giffords this question and was disappointed by her answer. However, in Palin, we find a champion for his cause.

Sarah Palin's debut (and last) interview consisted of unintelligible ramblings. The responses that made literally no sense to simple questions (e.g. "What newspapers do you read?" "All of them.") are a clear attack on the ability of the populace to create and enact consensus policies. It has long been noted that Republican bills tend to say the exact opposite of what they do. George W Bush's Clean Skies Act made the air dirtier than the status quo. The Leave No Child Behind act forced the closing of thousands of programs that interested children in school. This year's "Repeal the Job-Killing Health Care Law" bill would kill between 250,000 and 400,000 jobs each year over the next ten years and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

Where Palin sets herself apart in the destroy-English-grammar-and-meaning agenda is that she appears to do it for fun. Today she is misusing the term "Blood Libel," which is terribly insulting to Jews. She's adopting a heinous justification for persecution to dismiss serious complaints about her attitude towards politics.

The Palin attack on meaning is quite involved with the Blood Libel instance. Palin has been caught defending against the possibility that her (and other eliminationist) rhetoric contributed to a climate in which Loughner more easily conceptualized and rationalized his assassination attempt and act of mass murder. Blood Libel is the rhetoric of accusing Jews of using the blood of Christian children to bake their bread. the Blood Libel is heinous not just because it is untrue; it is particularly heinous because its rhetoric created a climate which fostered anti-Semitic attacks. Sarah Palin is, in an attempt to unlink her rhetoric from others' violent acts, dredging up the the history of rhetorically-caused attacks.

If you believe Sarah Palin's ultimate defense, her acknowledgement of the history of Blood Libel robs that history of its meaning. Palin's use of the Blood Libel in the same utterance as the argument that rhetoric cannot cause violence destroys the cautionary tale of the Blood Libel. Jews remind their children about the Blood Libel not because it was a weird and archaic rumor about their ancestors, but because it is a story with an important moral to a minority group: beware hate speech. The rhetorical attacks on a group may be nonsensical, they might be elliptical, but they contain real danger. Palin is attempting to undermine that lesson and the meaning of the Blood Libel.

Even if Jared Loughner hadn't been influenced by Palin before, his hat is probably off to her attack on meaning now. Or maybe Palin is taking the post-modernist page out of Loughner's book.

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