Last week, two US Border Patrol agents were shot and one was killed. There were cer­tain ele­ments who were quick to start finger-​​pointing (“Border Patrol Agent Killed Near Drug-​​Smuggling Route”, says Fox News), notably Rep. Charles Grassley of Iowa, and Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona. Both politi­cians are Republicans, but I’m not sure party affil­i­a­tion is entirely rel­e­vant here, given some of the unbe­liev­ably stu­pid things I’ve seen come from Democrats.

Here’s what Mr. Grassley had to say, in part:

There’s no way to know at this point how the agent was killed, but because of Operation Fast and Furious, we’ll won­der for years if the guns used in any killing along the bor­der were part of an ill-​​advised gun­walk­ing strat­egy sanc­tioned by the fed­eral government.”

Well, Mr. Grassley, we do now know how Agent Nicolas Ivie was killed, and it won’t take years to know if Fast and Furious was involved. Turns out that Argent Ivie was shot by a col­league. Fast and Furious was in no way part of this at all — but I don’t expect a retrac­tion of his ear­lier state­ments, just a kind of squishy waffling.

Where it really went off the rails was with Jan Brewer:

What hap­pens next has become all-​​too-​​familiar in Arizona. Flags will be low­ered in honor of the slain agent. Elected offi­cials will vow to find those respon­si­ble. Arizonans and Americans will grieve, and they should. But this ought not only be a day of tears. There should be anger, too. Righteous anger — at the kind of evil that causes sor­row this deep, and at the fed­eral fail­ure and polit­i­cal stale­mate that has left our bor­der unse­cured and our Border Patrol in harm’s way. Four fallen agents in less than two years is the result.

It has been 558 days since the Obama admin­is­tra­tion declared the secu­rity of the U.S.-Mexico bor­der ‘bet­ter now than it has ever been.’ I’ll remem­ber that state­ment today.”

I’m bet­ting she doesn’t want any­one to be remem­ber­ing her state­ments here, at all.

Jan, Chuck, and absolutely every­one else who got into it, you don’t need to apol­o­gize. Please don’t; it’s a waste of time, and will give you a sense of hav­ing done some­thing use­ful in response to your own fool­ish­ness. But that doesn’t address the prob­lem. It doesn’t guar­an­tee you won’t be fool­ish again in the future.

What you need to do is fig­ure out what went wrong with the cog­ni­tive process inside your skulls, and deter­mine how to keep it from hap­pen­ing again.

Deliberately stir­ring up the masses by hit­ting sen­si­tive issues is called ‘dem­a­goguery’, and it’s a well-​​known way to get peo­ple ral­ly­ing for you. It’s also most com­monly used by those who wish to incite vio­lence in some way or another. Famous rab­ble rousers include Mao, Stalin, and some German guy from the last century.

The prob­lem with dem­a­gogues is that they do not admit to being wrong, ever. If they’re shown to be wrong, they just redi­rect atten­tion to some­thing else. (This is what Brewer is prob­a­bly going to do, though it’s worth men­tion­ing that she’s prob­a­bly not a rab­ble rouser her­self — she’s nowhere near intel­li­gent enough to have that depth of strategy.)

But there are quite a few arm­chair dem­a­gogues out there who are, even now, react­ing with shock or dis­be­lief to learn that the plat­form on which they’d erected their lat­est mon­u­ment to big­otry does not, in fact, exist.

And that’s the next point: Demagoguery and big­otry inter­dig­i­tate. I’d go so far as to say there’s a 1:1 cor­re­la­tion. Every bigot might not be a dem­a­gogue, but every dem­a­gogue is a bigot, and delib­er­ately stirs up big­oted responses. It’s an easy way to tap into the sense of supe­ri­or­ity, enti­tle­ment, and xeno­pho­bia that mix so well into nation­al­ism — and, not coin­ci­den­tally, right-​​wing reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism of any kind, includ­ing Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu.

This is one very good rea­son why you shouldn’t lis­ten to dem­a­gogues. They are bigots.

And it’s also a way you can tell if a mes­sage is com­ing from a dem­a­gogue: If it con­tains big­otry, if it appears to have a ges­ture toward big­otry, or if it con­tains ref­er­ences that might incite a sense of supe­ri­or­ity, enti­tle­ment, and xeno­pho­bia, its source is almost cer­tainly a dem­a­gogue. The very best thing you can do is stop lis­ten­ing to that person.

This goes to my final point: The need for each of us to develop and main­tain crit­i­cal think­ing abil­i­ties. The trou­ble, as I see it, is that we tend to react emo­tion­ally first, then intel­lec­tu­ally. That’s prob­a­bly a use­ful sur­vival trait in the wild, and that’s prob­a­bly why we’ve evolved as we have (though it could just as eas­ily be because the lim­bic sys­tem evolved well before the tem­po­ral lobe). We have our ‘gut response’ first, in other words. And it’s a deep and intense reac­tion, and when it arises we need to be very vig­i­lant, very aware — because it’s almost cer­tainly going to short-​​circuit our native intel­li­gence if we let it.

But we’re immersed now in a media-​​driven soci­ety wherein one of the largest play­ers (let’s call it Brox Foadcasting) is com­prised almost exclu­sively of pro­fes­sional dem­a­gogues, and a dis­heart­en­ingly large num­ber of peo­ple are lis­ten­ing to those dem­a­gogues. It doesn’t suit the agenda of Brox Foadcasting for its audi­ence to be employ­ing their intel­lect, because there’s a lot of money to be made in whip­ping up fren­zies over triv­ial non­sense and — too often — direct­ing atten­tion away from issues that gen­uinely are important.*

Brox Foadcasting is joined in its efforts by peo­ple such as Benn Gleck and Lush Rimbaugh, who are them­selves essen­tially one-​​person empires of tar­geted big­otry and nonsense.

They con­tinue this behav­ior because they are lis­tened to; they have an audi­ence, which means their spon­sors pay them; that is what keeps them in busi­ness. Well, if it’s true that money equals speech, one very good way to shout down the big­ots is to take away their rev­enue sources. Stop hear­ken­ing to them, and they will fall silent.

The same hap­pens within our­selves, as well. There’s a kind of tight­ness that forms in the chest, a sort of ten­sion that is often a com­bi­na­tion of anger, fear, and sor­row. That’s the warn­ing sign, that’s our reminder that we need to tread very care­fully and exam­ine very closely what we’re being told. We need to look at our own responses to what we’re hear­ing, and when those responses seem to increase our inner ten­sion, we need to ana­lyze the mes­sages we’re get­ting and dis­card what seems to be the most emo­tion­ally dri­ven. It’s that emo­tional drive which, when fed, cur­dles into set beliefs about our fel­low human beings, poi­son­ing our thoughts with prej­u­dice and fear.

That is what peo­ple like Grassley and Brewer need to do. It’s what we all need to do. It’s the only way we’ll ever be able to get past the stu­pid­ity that leads to self­ish­ness, arro­gance, prej­u­dice, ter­ri­to­ri­al­ism, provin­cial­ism, and all the ills asso­ci­ated with these emotionally-​​sick states, up to and includ­ing war.

Stop lis­ten­ing to the fear­mon­gers. Stop lis­ten­ing to the mer­chants of hate. Don’t become one yourself.

That is the les­son to be learned here.


* Among these issues are the con­tin­ued assault on Pakistan by the US via drone attacks — some of which have cer­tainly been respon­si­ble for killing inno­cents; the con­tin­ued ‘extra­or­di­nary ren­di­tion’ of accused crim­i­nals by the US gov­ern­ment — which is noth­ing other than farm­ing the accused out to nations where tor­ture comes as sec­ond nature; the fact that Guanatanamo Bay is still in oper­a­tion; the fact that the rob­ber barons that sodom­ized America in the last decade are still not in prison nor even being penal­ized for their cra­pu­lence; the con­tin­ued under­min­ing of indi­vid­ual power and rights under the Supreme Court includ­ing the deci­sion that money and speech are equiv­a­lent; and the expan­sion of war­rant­less wiretapping.


Source for Grassley quote:


Source for Brewer quote:



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