Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Hypocrisy of Our Times: Political Rhetoric fuels opinions against Political Rhetoric and Gives Strength to Censorship

The Hypocrisy of Our Times: Political Rhetoric fuels opinions against Political Rhetoric and Gives Strength to Censorship

I try my best to stay out of politics-- sometimes it can be very hard to do… Especially when art writers that I know tap into stories that spark national outcry in order to twist the story in a manner that promotes their own political views. That said, the recent tragedy in Arizona has revealed the hypocrisy that is crippling our nation as a whole. What could be used as common ground to discuss the importance of supporting mental health, community, and personal responsibility is instead being used to point fingers of political blame.

The key problem is simple-- and all too common. Individuals are using this tragedy to empower their political motivations and leanings instead of discussing the one fact that we all know--- that the killer, Jared Loughner, was mentally unstable and that individuals in his life failed to offer him help and support that may have prevented the tragedy that occurred in Arizona. I don’t think anyone can be blamed for Loughner’s choice-- however, I will say that perhaps his family, friends, and community could have done more to help him… Especially since it is apparent than many individuals in his life were aware of his personal problems.

What interests me about this situation is that both sides of the political fence are trying to play the killer, Jared Loughner, as being an extremist in order to support their own political agenda. Supporters of the political left are claiming that Loughner is a “gun-totting right-winger with racist views” while supporters of the political right are claiming that he is a “left-winger fueled by anti-Christian and anti-American ideology”. The common ground-- as far as I observe-- is that both sides of the political fence are claiming that political rhetoric spurred Loughner’s brutal action-- which left several individuals dead or injured. Unfortunately, writers are choosing to rail against political rhetoric with political rhetoric-- which is unto itself a form of defeatism no matter how you try to slice it.

It may very well be true that political rhetoric sparked something in Jared Loughner’s troubled mind. However, Loughner’s mental troubles were obviously present long before the new wave of young politicians, specifically the likes of Sarah Palin and Gabrielle Giffords, were at the forefront of key national debate. That said, it alarms me that individuals, even within the core art blogging community, are trying to twist the details of Loughner’s motivations in order to show support for the political ideology they adhere to. For example, I know of one writer who has stated that Loughner is a “right-wing extremist” and that Republican politician Sarah Palin should “take responsibility” for Loughner’s actions since she used promotional material depicting gun crosshairs over Rep. Gabrielle Giffords district.

The problem with fighting political rhetoric with political rhetoric is that it often reveals hypocrisy-- at least to those who are able to think for themselves. That goes 10 fold when a writer based within the mainstream art world chimes in on a story like this for political gain. I say that because the mainstream art world has been fueled by political rhetoric for decades-- it has thrived on political rhetoric… specifically left-wing political rhetoric. Thus, I find it both shocking and amusing when an influential art writer suggests that individuals should be held ethically, civilly, and criminally responsible for the political rhetoric they release upon the public visually if violence occurs. It amazes me to observe how quick some people will rush to open Pandora’s box.

Have people forgotten all of the artwork and art exhibits that involved images of President Bush in situations that involved great peril? What about artwork that targeted Sarah Palin in ways that one could interpret as being derogatory toward women in general? What about all of the artwork that one could interpret as calling for the end of Christianity? If Sarah Palin should accept blame for Jared Loughner’s actions and “step away from politics”-- or be charged with some form of hate crime as others have suggested-- does that mean that artists, curators, and gallery owners should accept blame-- or be charged with some form of hate crime-- if a mentally unstable individual targets Bush or other individuals who fall on the opposite side of the political fence? Who is to blame if a mentally unstable individual blows up a Christian church shortly after viewing an art exhibit that depicts Christianity in a derogatory manner? I’d say the individual who resorts to violence is to blame-- especially when there is no warning sign in advance.

One can easily connect the social dots in order to find potential reasons for violent behavior. Unfortunately, that connecting of the dots often diverts attention away from the real issue at hand-- in this case, the fact that Jared Loughner is mentally unstable to begin with. Loughner’s adherence to specific political, social, and religious views does not change the fact that he is mentally disturbed. That said, reason is not a factor if someone is truly mentally unstable. In a sense, Jared Loughner is beyond reason-- which can be hard for a rational individual to understand.

I think people need to focus more on individual responsibility instead of waving fingers of blame-- especially if they are pointing simply to serve their own political motivations. A mentally unstable individual may or may not have a clear motive when he or she commits violent actions against another person or group. Furthermore, I think it is a very dangerous game to play when respected members of the mainstream art community suggest that certain political imagery should be censored in order to cater to the sensitivities of mentally unstable individuals such as Jared Loughner.

The issue at hand should not be about whether Sarah Palin was irresponsible with her choice of promotional imagery. Until more is revealed that suggestion is nothing more than forced connection of the dots, so to speak. Placing blame on Palin is simply a distraction from the obvious-- the fact that Jared Loughner is mentally unstable. Palin’s image may or may not have triggered his actions in the same way that a violent movie or episode of a children’s cartoon may or may not have triggered his actions. In the end it still boils down to choice-- his choice.

In closing, for all we know a spilt cup of coffee that morning may have spurred his final decision. Yet people blame an image-- a choice in design. People blame others-- they make a killer into a victim based on the possible influence an image may have had on him. People call for those behind the creation and use of the image to be punished. That, to me, is the equivalent of playing Russian roulette with political censorship. With that mentality the image that is censored tomorrow may be your own. People need to accept that politicians, like artists, benefit from the freedom of speech and expression that is grounded in our Constitution.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


  1. This story has troubled me too. Espicially the calls for censorship. I am worried about our society's sudden need to censore things they find unsavory or just don't like. This shooter was mentaly Ill...no doubt. I watched his youtube videos...they where incoherent ramblings. None of them stated a political ideology, or sarah palin. He had a letter in his safe from a visit he made to the congresswoman in 2007...long before palin, the tea party or healthcare. It is sad and wrong to use the tragety to hurt your polical opponets. The only person responisble for this is the shooter. No one else. The desire to censor speach, imagies, and books that don't adhear to a certin point of view is dangerous. (think germany 1930-1940, or china today). We are a open and free society....we allow people to express themselves even if we don't like it. To use this unbelevable tragidy to try to shut up people you disagree with politically is morally wrong...and downright disgusting.

  2. Individual responsibiity is an Ameridcan mantra that leaves the poor and other disadvantaged bereft. Collective responsibility is something that the USA need to practice.

  3. And just how are we supposed to be collectively responsible for a mentally unstable person Richard? In the past it was easy to institutionalize unstable people like Jared. But the Democrats used it as a political play in the 1970s and released a large percentage of the instituionalized population into the general public. Many of the homeless people walking the streets today were once institutionalized and many more ended up in our prison system. If we are to be collectively responsible we have to collectively understand that some individuals are not safe to themselves or others. The only way to do that effectively is to have mandatory mental evaluations at specific ages like ages 18, 30, and 50 which are key points where some mental illness becomes a factor.

  4. This incident is being used to forward their own personal agendas...and taking away just a bit more of our personal freedoms which have been given to us by the great Constitution we still have today...and, at this very moment, there are those who are trying their very best to change it, and remove it. Was thinking just last night, as I watched the rise Hitler, how he wasn't even liked that well, and yet, almost overnight, at one of the lowest, and weakest times Germany was experiencing...a mad man was able to take power over thousands. Even those that were warned...remained in Germany because of the normalcy bias. Because it hadn't happened before, no one believed such a thing could happen. When I looked at the stacks of bodies...human beings stacked liked lifeless stumbs of wood, I thought of how this could happen again. And, it could happen to America. Brian Sherwin's post is well written. Mental illness is alive and well, and we cannot blame someone or some group for an indivdual's act. Hitler was mentally ill...mixed with evil. This shooter, was also the combination of mental illness aligned with evil, how else may it be explained. Do we have mental evaluations to prevent this in the future...what other tests on our lives would be justified if we propose such? More of our freedoms taken away, I presume. Each of us is responsible for our own actions, and so is the one whom does an evil act whether we label them as mentally ill or sane. The evil here is not only the act of killing the innocent, but the act of using this to silence our freedoms and beliefs. The chipping away at our Constitution...removing freedom from all individuals, and history has great examples of society that has gone along with this thinking. And as we, ourselves reflect back...who would want to repeat this?

  5. The Contemporary Fine Art World is Politically So Far Left as to be basically useless. No diversity for sure! I consider myself a centrist. In my sculpture I speak to current events with an eye to the universal underlying cause.