A Very Small Giffords Point I Feel Compelled to Make

I’m reading a lot of stuff today on the Giffords’ shooting, and I have to say, I think every piece I read was filled with really shipshod argumentation, and I’m already pretty underwhelmed by the attempt to grapple with this event. Hopefully I have time to debunk the discourse on this issue at length, but I want to make one simple point that I think is UNTOUCHED by any argument I have seen. This is the point I hold to and I think will probably reiterate countless times in the next few days (unless of course someone has a good strike against it).

Here it is. Say I drive home drunk and swerve to avoid killing someone narrowly. When I get out, I think it would be prudent for me to reflect on my ALMOST disastrous behavior and realize that I shouldn’t take certain risks (at least unless the gains are enormous, maybe I have to get someone to the hospital while drunk and there are no ambulances around. Maybe I should drunk-drive then).

But then the same thing applies to the Gifford tragedy. Pretend that there is no connection, in this case, between political rhetoric and the tragedy, pretend even that IN MOST CASES there is no connection. Also pretend that Republican and Democratic rhetoric is EQUALLY inflammatory. Still there is an argument just like the drunk driving case. When you have an almost tragedy caused by behavior you can prevent you should prevent that behavior.

Here it is in premise conclusion format.

1. If there is some risky behavior that may cause something bad to happen, we should avoid that behavior (absent compensating gains to that behavior).

2. Using certain types of political rhetoric is a type of risky behavior without any compensating gain.

Therefore: We should avoid using certain types of political rhetoric.

This argument goes through whether the Giffords case can be tied to inflammatory rhetoric or not and it goes through regardless of who is using the rhetoric. It does not implicate free speech, and as far as I can tell, does not exploit Giffords’ suffering, but rather ensures that it is not in vain by using it as a reminder.

Pretend I drive drunk and hit someone, only breaking his arm. Does it trivialize their suffering if I use that episode as a mental landmark that prevents me from drunk driving again? No, and we can do the same by not pointing fingers at parties or people, but just realizing that political rhetoric by all sides has damaging consequences.

We can learn, as I’ve tried to argue a thousand times in this blog, that simple politeness and basic argumentative respect might save lives and contributes to a climate of growth and cooperation.


5 Responses to “A Very Small Giffords Point I Feel Compelled to Make”

  1. January 11, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    Inflammatory rhetoric is not going to be effective in convincing someone else about your position; it’s just going to solidify their opposition b/c personal attacks are going to make them defensive. The whole point of “Obama is a socialist” talk and “Bush is a fascist” is to differentiate yourself in the political blogosphere amongst your like-minded pundits (Limbaugh vs. Hannity basically). It’s like if all the world’s preachers were competing solely to the choir and gave up talking to everyone else.

    • 2 questionbeggar
      January 11, 2011 at 8:17 pm

      Agreed. Inflammatory rhetoric is not something that I think is particularly effective, but the Giffords tragedy I think is a cautionary tale that shows us that not only is such rhetoric not effective, but it can do harm. I think it does harm on a psychological, philosophical level, but the recent shooting dramatizes the harmful effect with the most concrete of all consequences: serious injury and death.

  2. January 11, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    I am impressed not by just what you said but the thought process you must have gone through to product it. Best of luck!
    James Pilant
    Pilant’s Business Ethics Blog

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