Monday, January 10, 2011

The Tenor Of The Discourse

I've been listening to some of the older albums in my collection recently, one of the songs that seems to find its way to the top of my playlist more frequently than chance would suggest it should is "It's No Game" by David Bowie from the "Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps" album. I'm not at all sure what the original situation that the song is discussing is about, but it seems to fit the mood of the current political climate quite well.

In the song, David sings some truly depressing and disturbing lyrics interspersed with a female Japanese voice singing the same lyrics in Japanese. She spits out the words in a strident, angry tone. He sounds as if he is having the words literally ripped out of his body. The affect is to make the song haunting in a way that drives it into the psyche.

I've made no secret in my blog that the tone of the political discourse of late has been disturbing. I think that the reason that this song hits home is that some of the lines are scary-prescient in what they seem to imply. In one stanza, the speaker talks about being barred from the event and talks of how this leads to confusion.

In recent years, the practice of "public appearances" by politicians and candidates being stage-managed to allow only a small crowd of people who agree with the candidate has truly stifled free and open discourse.

Can anyone forget the person arrested here in Colorado for attempting to enter a rally attended by the vice-president (for which he had a valid ticket) because he refused to leave when he was told to because he was wearing a tee-shirt for the opposing political party? Can anyone ignore the fact that an ABC News reporter was arrested for taking photographs on a public street of people during the Democratic National Convention (people who, being on a public street, in public, had no illusions of an expectation of privacy) just because they were big political donors? Can we really allow Republican candidates to public office to have reporters "arrested" by private security staff in a public building, at a public event, just because they fail to sufficiently kowtow to the candidate as was the case in Alaska during the last election cycle?

It has long been understood that extreme views lead to extreme actions. Incendiary rhetoric from the pulpit has caused zealots to carry out assassinations and bombings at Family Planning clinics. The Darling of the Tea Party movement (the half-term ex-governor of Alaska) puts Arizona in the "Cross-hairs" on her website and the Giffords for Congress offices get vandalized. And now we have the shooting this weekend.

Can't we PLEASE lift the tone of the political rhetoric out of the morass it has fallen into? Can't we object without being objectionable? Isn't it time we can agree to disagree agreeably? It is time to remember that words have consequences!

I am the last person to suggest we practice censorship of any kind. The First Amendment must be important or the Founding Fathers wouldn't have thought of it first! But there is a limit. You cannot allow people to create a clear and present danger without facing the consequences of their actions. Just as you cannot get away with walking crowded movie theater and yelling "Fire" because of the panic and potential injury that may follow, we must hold people accountable for their provocative speech.

Just as broadcasters in this country (who are free to say whatever they want - preventing them from doing so would be "Prior Restraint") can be held accountable for what they broadcast, hate-mongers should be held accountable for the things they say and write.

Wherever you are today, I hope you will consider the consequences of the things you say and do.

Don Bergquist - January 10, 2011 - Lakewood, Colorado, USA
It's No Game (Part 1)
David Bowie

One Two Two

Shiruetto ya kage ga kakumei o miteiru
Mo tengoku no giyu no kaidan wa nai

Silhouettes and shadows watch the revolution
No more free steps to heaven
It's no game

Ore genjitsu kara shime dasare
Nani ga okkote irunoka wakara nai
Doko ni kyokun wa arunoka
Hitobito wa yubi o orareteiru
Konna dokusaisha ni iyashime rareru nowa kanashii

I am barred from the event
I really don't understand the situation
And it's no game

Documentaries on refugees
Couples 'gainst the target
You throw a rock against the road
And it breaks into pieces
Draw the blinds on yesterday, and it's all so much scarier
Put a bullet in my brain, and it makes all the papers

Shimbun wa kaki tateru sa!
Nammin no kiroku eiga
Hyoteki o se ni shita koibito tachi
Michi ni ishi o nage reba
Kona gona ni kudake
Kino ni huta o sureba
Kyohu wa masu
Ore no atama ni tama o buchi kome ba
Shinbun wa kaki tateru

So where's the moral when people have their fingers broken
To be insulted by these fascists - it's so degrading
And it's no game

Shut up!
Shut up!


Anonymous said...

I heard somebody say recently that an all out war is about to break out between the religious fundamentalists and the hard core atheists. But I think that other groups besides these two might also be getting ready to go to war with people who disagree with them. What is scary is that a lot of people seem to believe that anything you do is right and nothing that you do is wrong when you do it to help your side win the war.

As to kid in Arizona who destroyed the lives of several people last week, it looks as if he has not really chosen a side in upcoming idealogical wars. It sounds like he was just really frustrated by every word that he heard other people say.

Anonymous Reader

Don Bergquist said...

My Dear Anonymous Reader,

Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog! While I think I might agree in principle with what you have said, at least in part, I have to disagree with your comment on contextual grounds.

At the risk of alienating a reader or two, Anonymous Reader, I must say that it is just this sort of linguistic hyperbole that is, at least partly, to blame for this past weekend’s events in Arizona. While I will grant that you and I (and I would hope most of my readers) are linguistically sophisticated enough to recognize the difference between a literal and a figurative war, there are those who have never read (read that do not know) the definition of “War” deeper than the first or second definition.

War [wawr]
noun, verb, warred, war•ring, adjective


1. a conflict carried on by force of arms, as between nations or between parties within a nation; warfare, as by land, sea, or air.
2. a state or period of armed hostility or active military operations: The two nations were at war with each other.
3. a contest carried on by force of arms, as in a series of battles or campaigns: the War of 1812.
4. active hostility or contention; conflict; contest: a war of words.
5. aggressive business conflict, as through severe price cutting in the same industry or any other means of undermining competitors: a fare war among airlines; a trade war between nations.
6. a struggle: a war for men's minds; a war against poverty.
7. armed fighting, as a science, profession, activity, or art; methods or principles of waging armed conflict: War is the soldier's business.
8. Cards .
a. a game for two or more persons, played with a 52-card pack evenly divided between the players, in which each player turns up one card at a time with the higher card taking the lower, and in which, when both turned up cards match, each player lays one card face down and turns up another, the player with the higher card of the second turn taking all the cards laid down.
b. an occasion in this game when both turned up cards match.
9. Archaic . a battle.

–verb (used without object)

10. to make or carry on war; fight: to war with a neighboring nation.
11. to carry on active hostility or contention: Throughout her life she warred with sin and corruption.
12. to be in conflict or in a state of strong opposition: The temptation warred with his conscience.


13. of, belonging to, used in, or due to war: war preparations; war hysteria.

Let me just say that I understand that you are using this in the figurative sense, but in this climate, I can assure you that reading the comment as you wrote it that is open to interpretation.

I really think that one must choose one’s words carefully. To give fairness its due, I am (almost, but not quite) certain that Ms. Palin was speaking figuratively when she identified a number of political candidates in this last election cycle that should be put “in the crosshairs.” (C’Mon, I’m being charitable here…Play along. Let’s assume she knows the difference between literal and figurative.)

But even if we understood that she was speaking figuratively, it is evident that at least one misguided individual missed it. My point was that we all probably need to learn to breathe deeply and think before we speak or act.

Writers: Ask yourself the following question; “Could someone take what I say as an incitement to do something that I do not intend for them to ACTUALLYdo?” If the answer is yes, you might rethink your message.

Readers: Ask yourself the following questions; “Is this writer really asking me to commit acts of violence? If they are, if violence is such a good idea, why don’t they do it themselves?” These anwers are really worth considering.

Thanks again, AR for your comments!


Anonymous said...

I think the message that Ms. Palin is sending is that if you can hurt someone who is not bigoted (and if you can get easily get away with it), you should do so for the glory of God and country. I mean things like firing somebody because they have left wing political views while claiming that you are actually firing them for something they did that you would not normally fire somebody for. I do not believe that she wants her followers to commit an act such as a public shooting. I have heard people make that insinuation on TV and I think that insinuation is wrong and unfair. I do think that she would be happy if the children of her supporters bulllied kids in their school who appeared to be insecure. That is where she might have contributed to the shooting in Arizona. I think her statements may encourage bullying by adults and bullying by children. But that is another idealogical issue. Some people think the bullies of the world are responsible when insecure people go over the edge and become destructive and others do not blame the bullies at all.

What really seems strange is that while people such as you and I grew up hearing quite of bullshit, the generation now hitting adulthood heard nothing but idealogical bullshit while they were growing up. Things have become very politicized in recent years and I am not surprised to hear a young adult say that words have no meaning to them.


Don Bergquist said...

Dear Anonymous Reader:

Exactly! A figurative war. (Though I cannot stomach the idea of firing someone because they do not agree with your political ideology.)

Yeah, perhaps that is the problem. People are forgetting the bad old days and what a better world it is if you cooperate.

Thanks again for reading and commenting!