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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