Today happens to be Bonfire Day in the UK — a commemoration of Guy Fawkes day here. The story behind it is interesting (heck anyone who’s see V for Vendetta should know the basic story) and it’s a novel piece of history to commemorate.
That said, my little neighborhood in Wincobank (Sheffield) South Yorkshire has sounded like a bloody war zone for the last 4 to 5 hours. And while the shiny flashing light through the window is pretty and our neighbors clearly have spent a good chunk of cash on something that ends up being community entertainment, why can’t they just have a damn bonfire and be done with it? Or organize a few city fireworks displays and people who want to go, can contribute to the fireworks fund.
Now, I know I’m American and we have our Independence Day — but in most of the US fireworks are heavily regulated and in many states anything that makes big bangs and goes up in the air is illegal (we have enough problems with out of control forest fires in the half of the country that is high and dry… we don’t need more hot sparks to contribute to them). So, for the most part we rely on town displays or have cute (i.e., pathetic) little home displays of sparklers.
I don’t just say this because after the 3rd hour the artillery shelling gets a bit annoying, but because there are two populations that are actually negatively affected by this. I’ll begin with the ones who are the most helpless — the dogs. Not surprisingly dogs find them mc-scarry and pretty much the only advise is to make sure they don’t hurt themselves or run away… and if they do run away make sure they’re microchipped so if they don’t get hit by a car, you can get them back. I’m not trying to be macabre but Dani — my normally happy-g0-skippy beast has been going bat shit crazy for the last 4′ish hours. Xander, my tough guy, is sitting on my feet just to make sure that I’m not scared by them .
However, our furry friends aren’t the only ones affected — our veterans are likely to be as well. And after a decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq both the UK and US have plenty of veterans likely suffering from PTSD. In the UK, while the percentage of veterans suffering from PTSD is a debatable question, the numbers seem to be rising. In the US, the numbers seems to suggest between 25 and 30% of those returning from war are affected by PTSD, a number that’s consistent no matter what conflict/war they fought in.
Not surprisingly, not only do fireworks and dogs not mix, but fireworks and PTSD veterans don’t mix. For the veterans, is it any wonder? I’m surprised the numbers aren’t higher for soldiers and residents in war zones… the now 5 hours of ‘shelling’ is about to do me in. For people who have actually been in war zones, 360 degrees of shelling sounds from fireworks is likely to produce a reaction, even if they don’t suffer from PTSD.
I enjoy fireworks — they’re pretty and shiny. I don’t suffer from PTSD and while the 5 hours of the craziness is annoying, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it, but I think we should probably think of our furry friends and our veterans. Portland State University has a number of recommendations for consideration of both veterans and pets … bottom line use common sense and be considerate!
So, here I am flying across the American heartland, crushed into the cattle car that is modern air travel with the aggressive armrest using middle-aged guy beside me highlighting almost everything in a JAMA article, then going back and underlining about half of the highlights. Directly in front of me is the guy who moves like Stevie Wonder grooving to his music, yet this guy has no music turned on, he just randomly moves like that. Oh yeah, and Stevie Wonder thinks it’s cool to recline his chair all the way back and then flop around in it like an epileptic cow. Quality.
So as I’m sitting here updating my FourSquare locations with places like ‘Mile Marker 161′ & ‘Deserted On-Ramp’ in Kansas or ‘God’s Country’ (a farm) in Missouri, I’m completely amused that I can do that on the plane. So, now I get to dot my near mayorships of random shitty places in the US all the way from Dallas to Chicago amd then hopefully een Chicago to the Atlantic later (assuming that I make my connection in Chicago…the odds are about even on that one right now).
There is an absurdity about modern life. We share and post all kinds of meaningless shit in social media and think we’re keeping in touch with those we know or once knew (btw, asshole behind me is about three knee hands in my kidneys away from a stern ‘fuck off’ facial expression…and yes, my seat is in its upright position), but in a way it is kind of like being around them. Must of the stuff that happens on a daily basis is pretty much of the ‘hey, I took a huge dump’ quality and variety, yet that’s what we share with those most close to us.
So is the fact that this goes out to the couple of hundred people we know on Facebook and Twitter, some if whom we haven’t seen in 5, 10, or more years worthless? I don’t think so, especially for those of us who have moved around. Where we were once links by the places we live, now we’re more linked by the connections (good, bad, and ugly) that we choose to keep. Is this a good thing? Who the hell knows?
But at this point, I can amuse myself and maybe 10 others with bumfuck egypt updates and wait for the verdict on whether I’m going to make my connection to Manchester out of Chicago….
… a post script — I made my connection with 6 minutes to spare before they closed the plane doors to Manchester.
Can you guess the context for the title?…………………Bureaucracy!
I recently found a quotation that summarizes the relationship between people and bureaucracy beautifully:
“Some third person decides your fate: this is the whole essence of bureaucracy.” ― Alexandra Kollontai, La Oposición Obrera
Just by way of contextualizing Kollontai’s comments, she was a Marxist feminist who worked for and won significant advances in women’s rights in the newly formed Soviet Union. Oh no, now I’ve gone and done it — I’ve identified the work of not just a woman but a Marxist feminist as a way to critique bureaucracy. That’s practically an abomination in the United States, but let’s get beyond the dogma for a few moments to realize that most of us have been hosed by some kind of bureaucrat. When most people think of bureaucracy, they think of the public sector and we know it’s easy to demonize the annoyances we have with government bureaucracies. In fact, both the typical critiques and defenses of bureaucracy are always framed in terms of this false separation of the public and private sector. Yet, these very boring and traditionally politicized debates about whether government is good or bad (yawn) really miss the underlying nature of bureaucracy — it is an organizational tool meant to separate work and accountability.
Bureaucracies can exist in any type of organization from public to private to nonprofit/ nongovernmental.
For example, several years ago I was trying to do research with an indigenous rights group and the structures of their organization were used to direct me from person-to-person and phone call-to-phone call. What I found out later was that because I was white, they were very nervous about letting me do any interviews with the members of the movement, but they were hesitant to actually say that. Now, in a historical context I can understand that, but it’s still a racist conclusion not based on the evaluation of me or my project. Yet, the organizational structure that was used in order to communicate the non-decision decision — bureaucracy. Ok… so nonprofit bureaucracy… CHECK.
Private organizations might have some of the most infuriating bureaucracies ever. We had Verizon Fios at an apartment and loved the fiber optic cable and internet — it was great. Then we moved to a house where we couldn’t get the Fios because it wasn’t available. We set up the new account, shifted our contract to a different provider but still using the Verizon packaging because we had the two-year contract. No problem, right? Yeah, until they charged us for early termination plus messed up a few other things. Here’s where the true bureaucratic craziness comes in — I spent 5 hours on a Saturday being passed from person-to-person, each claiming that it wasn’t their department, so by the time that I had spoken with several departments two and three times, each trying to scapegoat someone else, I lost my mind, used my sailor language, spoke to a manager and we finally got things straightened out — or so I thought. Three months later, while I was out of the country the television service was cut off and because it was in my name, I had to deal with it — my husband could not. After about an hour of sorting things out on the phone at international cell phone rates (yes, from Verizon as well), I just paid the whole bill only to be issued a full refund within 3 weeks. Ok…so private sector bureacracy… CHECK
And, then there’s the obvious governmental bureaucracy (and no, this time, I’m not going to use an American example… there are too many fun ones here, but I’ll vary). The citizens of the UK, pissed off with the economy, Gordon Brown (and his unfortunate microphone gaffe), and the Labour party splits their votes between the Tories, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats (who as far as I can make out are the party that promises the world but seldom has the power to deliver). Absent a clear majority, a coalition had to be formed and the Liberal Democrats decide to back a Tory government. And without a clear citizen mandate, they do as most conservatives do — move forward with the fervent conviction in their ideology behaving as though they have a mandate from the people. So, now in the UK the bureaucracy’s response to a factory worker whose hand had been severed in an accident trying to get public assistance? You still have one hand, you can work in your career field. Then there’s immigration — an even bigger clusterfuck. Again, absent a strong mandate, they rush 1,001 (no, not literally) rule changes about immigration through to be implemented in mid-July screwing up the system so long that the first of September a lot of those new rules had to be changed in order to even get international students into the country. For the rest of us awaiting news, it pushes our applications back months only to find that the rule changes have taken what was described in June as an easily supported application for settlement to a rejection but because they took so long, it screws up other avenues for visas in the short-term. Ok, so public sector bureaucracy… CHECK
So, let’s come back to the Marxist feminist’s critique of bureaucracies — third persons making choices for others (and often screwing up our lives). Now, when well used, these kinds of rule systems can be helpful. For example, even within Kollontai’s work, she wasn’t advocating doing away with the government bureaucracies that discriminated against women — her argument was that the bureaucracy must make better decisions for the people it governed.
In fact, that is a fair response to all bureaucracies — their existence isn’t the problem, their use to scapegoat owning uncomfortable decisions, to fleece consumers out of money, or to mess with peoples’ life plans (among so many other effects) are the problem. Too often, we see people in positions of authority in bureaucracy who have lost their humanity, their minds, or just a basic grasp on reality that rules are necessary to keep things in society and life ordered but people cannot and should not use rules (or rule changes) to fail to do their job CORRECTLY.
It was not appropriate to use a bureaucracy to justify a racist argument against granting me research access just because it was more convenient compared to telling me that because I was white I wasn’t being granted access (later confirmed in a face-to-face). It isn’t appropriate to use an organization’s structure to hurt their consumers service or financially. And it’s certainly not appropriate to screw up existing (and probably already bureaucratically challenged) policies with even less clear and less sensible policies.
Like with most other Marxist critiques of capitalism and bourgeois problems, the critique is spot on. The challenge comes in what people can do about it, which is often the failing of Marxist critique — identifies the problems but doesn’t pose nearly as many solutions. With regard to nonprofits and private companies our recourse is often a bit limited because we can only indirectly affect them — unless enough people are pissed off like we saw with the mass campaign against Glenn Beck on Fox directed at threatening his advertisers with the loss of business. Absent that, we can at least most affect government bureaucracies through the elections process.
Yet, that doesn’t even address the more fundamental challenge of bureaucracies — even when change is brought about, later bureaucracies can come in and fuck it all up (e.g., Stalin’s removal of many of the protections gained for women initially after the revolution in the USSR or Congressional removal of the protections of the Glass-Steagall act protecting the economy from the financial industry–thanks to the GOP Congress and lack of advocacy from the Clinton administration). Bureaucracy is necessary but it must be managed. It cannot be left to the lazy, unmotivated, and self-serving people that often self-select into these types of positions — protected from owning responsibility.
If you build it, they will come!
My Dad is having a minor surgery today to repair a hernia. He’s 69 years old and on Medicare and I’m glad for it because since he turned 65, for the first time in his life, he’s had affordable access to medical care. You see, my parents have always been self-employed and there were a lot of years where proper regular medical care was a luxury they couldn’t afford.
And then in the years leading up to their eligibility for Medicare, their health insurance premiums were about $650/month….EACH. So, for a family making around $65,000 per year, about one quarter of their income went to their health insurance premiums. Gold plan? I think not, they still had a $2,500 co-pay, plus cost sharing up to $7,500…each. One year, they both had to have surgeries, so they paid 47% of their annual income that year to medical expenses, and they had insurance. Fortunately, they were able to shoulder the expense, unlike the thousands of Americans each year who have to declare bankruptcy because of medical expenses (about 60% of American bankruptcies are a result of medical expenses).
Do you want to know the irony of it all? My Dad’s a lifelong Republican, who has spent his whole life voting against his own interests. He’s spent his whole life begrudging ‘government interference’ in education, health care, and life in general. Yet, my whole family are the products of public education. My grandparents and my parents (all faithful GOP members) have all taken more out of the federal system than they ever contributed. And yet, each and every one of them would’ve voted against any or all of these programs.
Thankfully, politicians have more sense than my family (scary thought) and have enacted policies designed to educate and help at least some segments of the American population in spite of themselves. But this is the problem… We have a political system that relies on voters and politicians to be sensible and focused on not only their own good, but what’s good for society.
So, now as we look ahead to the 2012 election, we face a fundamental question…do we want to live in civil society or “Deadwood”. While I’m pretty confident I’d make it alright in Deadwood, I don’t think most would. Yet, when you listen to the rhetoric of the right, I genuinely don’t think they understand the implications of their advocacy. I also don’t think it’s because they’re evil, I do think that they’re so isolated from where regular Americans live that they just can’t understand the lack of access absent shared costs through government programs (notice shared costs, not free).
As for the citizens of Deadwood, people like my family, they’ve all drunk the Kool-Aid, they fail to think, and they can’t see beyond their own fake world … one where people are fooled into thinking the interests of the wealthy are the same as the interests of the working class. See, that’s the big lie in America — the ‘American Dream’ sometimes happens, kind of like winning Lotto, but for the vast majority we just spend our $1 each week to be disappointed, and then get on with the rest of our lives.
So, as I’m looking around this waiting room, at a majority of old folks having surgeries, I’m glad they’ve left Deadwood… at least once they reach 65, no matter whether they vote their interests or are like my family, vote against their interest, their family’s interests, and the interests of average Americans. That’s one reason representative democracy is a heck of a lot better than direct democracy .
Unless you’re a responsible citizen.
It’s nearing the “big” election in the US — the one that rolls around every four years and where we still only have about a 60% voter turn out in a banner year (i.e., 2008). In a midterm election, like 2010, the figure drops to about 40%. Now, as we’re approaching the 2012 general election, the voter registration drives are in full force and honestly, I ask why bother? Seriously – This is a question I ask anyone (liberal or conservative) who says, “but I’m not very political, so I go with what I hear around me…”… why vote?
If folks aren’t political, then why vote if you’re not genuinely informed about multiple sides of an issue or multiple candidates? I’ve had a lot of occasions on local issues and local elections (e.g., judges) where I just haven’t cast a vote because I had no idea genuinely whether or not a particular candidate or issue was good, so I figured, why vote a party line when that may not actually be the best choice?
I think this is a challenge because we have this idea that voting is inherently good. It’s not… we can make bad decisions (anyone ever regretted someone they dated?), but we’re certainly more likely to make bad decisions when they’re not informed decisions. However, there’s this pressure that gets put on us to participate in our democracy because we think we have to… well… we should, but if we’re not prepared then why participate when we only know a part of the story? I’m all for people getting involved because the decisions that get made at the local, state, and federal levels affects us (e.g., health care, etc.) and because there isn’t anyone nor any party with all the answers, yet it seems like we don’t ask the questions to force an answer most of the time.
I’m also sick of hearing people bitch about government not doing what they wanted — not representing the people. Well, the majority of voting Americans are dumbasses — they either don’t vote (i.e., the 60% who didn’t bother to vote in 2010… even the 40% who didn’t vote in 2008) or they don’t know enough about politics to make a reasoned decision. If you are not political — don’t screw it up for the rest of us. If you don’t trust the rest of us to make your decision, then be a responsible citizen and learn something about history, politics, economics, and start following this stuff.
We get the government that we deserve and clearly in the last decade it’s been a dysfunctional government because our populace is too lazy, entitled, and self-absorbed to make critical and reasoned decisions about the things that actually affect us on a daily basis like education and foreign policy. Instead, we get so worked up by whether a gay man gets to marry his life partner or what a woman is doing with her body that we forget what government is supposed to be there for — to protect us from the state of nature.
So, ignore the media campaigns this year — if you’re not already registered to vote… don’t bother. If you haven’t been following politics — if you didn’t bother to watch any of the GOP primary debates, if you don’t watch/read multiple political news sources (with multiple viewpoints) on a regular basis, if you shy away from political conversations because it’s not ‘nice’ to disagree, or anything along those lines — save the rest of us the annoyance of your irrational decision-making and just don’t vote!
As the US was in its infancy, Thomas Jefferson argued, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” He didn’t mean that we all had to have PhD’s or even bachelor’s degrees — he meant that it was a citizens’ responsibility to understand the world, the issues, and the politics if we were ever to protect the ‘freedom’ that so many Americans are so quick to talk about. We have failed and we should be embarrassed because we haven’t lived up to our end of the bargain.
Welcome to my World of Warcraft. My life partner (who shall remain nameless lest he post this blog onto crazy people sites ) introduced me to the game in 2006. I’ve played since then and collected quite a few characters, stuff, and thoroughly enjoy killing animals, other players, and NPC’s… I even enjoy occasionally laying waste to whole towns of innocent people. Why?! Because it’s a game and it’s fun.
So, let me introduce you to my army — on the Horde side fighting for the Schipperkee Psychos (from left to right, of course) is:
- Hookembevo my level 38 Tauren Hunter. Yes, he’s named after the UT mascot.
- Xmarxthethug my level 60 Orc Death Knight
- Xanderbug my level 67 Tauren Druid. He’s named after one of my dogs.
- Sizzlinhot my level 68 Blood Elf Paladin. C’mon, like the Blood Elves don’t deserve silly names?!
- Zyla my level 85 Blood Elf Warlock. She’s been several races on multiple servers and is all about slaughter.
On the Alliance side fighting for the Ginger Ninjas is:
- Audny my level 85 Draenei Shaman. That’s my first character and will likely change names soon.
- Dizzy Dani my level 83 Night Elf Death Knight. She’s named after another of my dogs.
- KylieJean my level 85 Night Elf Priest. She’s also named after one of my dogs.
- FunkyArtemis my level 62 Draenei Hunter. It seemed appropriate to name a female hunter Artemis.
- XanderZone my level 85 Worgen Hunter — No, not named for the Vin Diesel character’s ‘show’ on XXX — named after the dog again.
I introduce you to my army and would remind you that I not only have friends, a life, a job, and don’t live in my parents’ basement (despite the annoying stereotypes), but I’m also not a gun owner (and really think we need to reconsider our modern interpretation of gun ownership in the US) and generally think that violence is for small minded idiots who are too thick to figure out a better way to resolve conflict (yes, there are always exceptions to the rules).
Yet, I really like playing this game — in fact, I enjoy fantasy violence and if I were running for the State Senate in Maine this year as a Democrat the GOP would have used one of my forms of entertainment as a character attack and listed it as a reason to believe that I live a “bizarre double life” and they would ‘have questions about my maturity and ability to make decisions for my constituents’. Now, before you accuse me of being one of those liberals who sees conspiracies all around me, blah blah blah and yadda yadda yadda (insert whatever daft bs falls out of Sean Hannity’s mouth on a regular basis), this is actually happening to Maine State Senate Candidate Colleen Lachowicz (D) who just happens to have an Orc Rogue and plays World of Warcraft.
I honestly thought that my first post on WOW would come under the header of “Guilty Pleasures”, instead this comes under “Seriously?!” because this may be one of the most pathetic political arguments and is coupled with one of the most annoying protectionist arguments possible. On the political side, this is a genuine indicator of the lack of ideas, lack of advocacy, and unwillingness to try to focus on what people need that I’ve seen from the GOP since Sarah Palin’s “Don’t Retreat, Reload” campaign during the 2010 midterm elections. Seriously, GOP — is your party so devoid of leadership, arguments, and viable positions that you think this is the only way to win an election?
Now, the other annoying issue inherent with critiques of ‘violent games’ and gamers– the arguments about the ‘risks’ of fantasy violence… that somehow we all are going to someday crack and go postal on everyone. I have a friend who did his Master’s thesis in 1997 about this very topic and I know that there have been a couple of hundred studies from several fields on this very topic.
After all of this study, you know what researchers have really found to support the worries that fantasy violence leads us down the slippery slope (yes, a logical fallacy for good reason) to real life violence?
- Fantasy violence may stimulate the parts of our brain that reduce inhibitions, self-control, and arouse our emotions.
- So, among teens who already have problems with controlling inhibitions, etc. this may help them make some bad choices. Yet, there haven’t been any documented cases of playing video games actually leading to violent behavior.
- Now, how about adults? Our moral systems are in place, so there isn’t the same “risks” associated. In fact, while brain scans of young men show increased ‘arousal’ after playing video games, there’s no change in adults’ normative beliefs about violence and aggression.
- While it’s possible that games can arouse our emotions, the research is just too inconclusive and biased to really suggest there’s a credible risk.
- Yet, there is clinical research that found that violent video games may actually provide an eye health benefit to people suffering from particular eye problems.
Here’s the thing — parents have to be responsible for their annoying brats and not only help them develop good decision-making abilities but figure out what’s appropriate and inappropriate for them at different stages of development. There’s lots of research out there to help.
For the rest of us — frankly, if we like slaughtering creatures at 10pm at night because it gives us a release from our day, leave us the hell alone. Most of us live perfectly mature and productive lives outside of our silly obsessions. Oh yeah… and GOP, get a life.
This little gem of a banner is posted on Highway 50 between Montrose and Delta, Colorado and it reminds me of what frustrates me so much in the United States. We can’t merely disagree with someone’s position, no, instead of having intelligent discourse about where we agree and disagree with a politician, we have to frame it in terms of patriotism, who’s the most Uh-mur-can, and then build arguments on faulty premises to the point that we can no longer even build sensible public discourse because our understanding of the world is so skewed and dogmatic that we lack the ability to be civil to one another. This problem is perpetuated by Americans’ lack of knowledge, our lack of engagement, and our lack of understanding of our own history.
In the fall of 2010 Jon Stewart of The Daily Show argued, “Take it down a notch America.” The “it”? Inflammatory rhetoric permeating our social and political discourse in the United States. Stewart’s argument was not new—President Clinton made this argument in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing (Mulloy, 2008). Journalist Thomas Friedman made the argument in 2009 upon reflecting on the summer of shouting at town hall meetings and the build up to President Obama’s school speech in September, 2009—an innocuous event that was the cause of much panic among some groups in the United States (Friedman, 2009). Arizona House Representative Gabrielle Giffords made this argument in response to pundit and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s use of violent metaphors like, ‘Don’t retreat-reload’ as well as Palin’s map of Democratic seats in the Tea Party’s sights—using the visual of a gun sight on her website to target Democratic seats in the House and Senate during the 2010 midterm elections (O’Donnell, 2011). And President Obama made this argument at the memorial service for those lost in the January 2011 shootings in Tucson, Arizona at Representative Gabrielle Gifford’s political gathering in a grocery store parking lot (Obama, 2011).
Resisting the urge to point fingers and elevating the quality of our discourse, as President Obama argued in his Tucson Memorial Speech, is simply not enough. While there may be nothing new about inflammatory discourse or even seemingly isolated acts of political violence in (Mulloy, 2008); we cannot ignore them nor can we dismiss them as merely the disconnected acts of violent individuals. To do so would be as irresponsible as letting fear-mongering and the witch hunts for antagonists in the story run rampant.
Pluralism and Political Violence
To understand the volatility of the environment in the United States since the fevered town hall meetings of 2009, we must more clearly understand the causes of political violence. The study of political violence is one whose foundations range from examining state-sponsored violence (e.g., Hitler’s targeting of Jews as a strategy to strengthen his political position) to violent protests from within. The present discussion is not meant to be a full-treatise on political violence, but rather a brief overview so that we may work from a common understanding of internal political violence in a post-9/11 era in the United States.
The United States is a pluralistic culture — we have people from many national, ethnic, religious, cultural, and social backgrounds. In pluralistic societies, tolerance only exists when the populace has the education and information to enable people to respect dissimilar views as well as the people who hold them. Manwell (2010) argues that a condition of political tolerance occurs when, despite differences, there is little threat to our core identity(ies), when we have a mass communication system that informs a populace, and when our individual and collective personalities are actually committed to the democratic values of individual rights and full citizen participation rather than authoritarian rule.
Greenberg (1975) argues that what we can measure in these moments of aggression are two distinctive manifestations of political violence: collective aggressive protests (e.g., riots and strong anti-government protests) as well as internal war (i.e., actions that result in deaths, armed conflict, and/or assassinations). Therefore, without tolerance, acts of aggression can become more likely because it is normalized and as a legitimate way of confronting those with whom we differ and disagree (Manwell, 2010). This is why we must discuss political violence in the context of the specific social and cultural conditions that increase the risk of acts of political violence (Coronil & Skurski, 1991). We must also be cautious not to limit our discussion of political violence to cases such as the Tucson shooting in 2011. Instead, we should also analyze cases where a violent environment failed to produce an act of political violence because we can learn just as much about the underlying social, historical, and collective identities the can lead to violence (Coronil & Skurski, 1991; Greenberg, 1975) as well as potential ways to minimize the risk of political violence.
If we understand that political violence is a response to threats to important social, cultural, and political identities, then we may better understand that political violence is not about economics, depravation, and the like that can create tension in an environment, but is about the successful integration of difference—with tangible examples of political violence emerging in places where depravation is marked by substantial political discord and group discrimination (Coronil & Skurski, 1991; Greenberg, 1975; Institute of Race Relations, 2010; Manwell, 2010; Pilat, 2009).
The conditions for political violence become ripe when at least one group believes they are not treated fairly on the basis of their identity specific despite political and social authorities espousing the equal incorporation of all (Greenberg, 1975). Manwell (2010) argues that when our worldviews are threatened—when what we know to be true is threatened, we experience a range of responses from contempt to physical aggression. She also points out that if this threat is physical, specifically if we fear physical harm, the severity of our response to the threat is greater. The fear response that Manwell (2010) suggested is in line with other research on emotional reactions to fear (Witte, 1996) finding that people will act in their own disinterest in order to justify their existing beliefs. The fear response itself need not be rational or even more objectively true to produce the threat (Manwell, 2010).
Inflammatory Rhetoric: Fuel for the Fire
Coronil and Skurksi (1991) argue that we must listen to what is being said in a culture at any given time because it allows us to understand the context, to understand competitive interpretations of meaning, and to understand meaning making. One important way to listen is to focus on messages from dominant media sources because the media are transformative sources of influence (Hutchison, 2010; Ismail, 2010; Manwell, 2010; Sosale, 2010). “Journalistic discourse can transform the symbolic space of media and culture industries into a signifier of nationalism, especially during times of war and crisis…” (Sosale, 2010 p. 224-225). Of course we know the news is not neutral—it is constructed from individual values, organizational values, public relations and advertising needs, and ideology (Ismail, 2010). Yet the media is important because how actions are reported—as grievances (i.e., bottom-up) or intuitional action (top-down) and whether those actions are reported as legitimate or not affects peoples beliefs about issues and actions (Chowdhury & Krebs, 2010).
Representations of a situation and its actors not only brings specific meaning to those events but through the visual and written/ spoken words viewers can actually experience the emotion of witnessing events first hand (Hutchison, 2010). Hutchison’s analysis on the politics of emotion and the international relations applications of reactions to traumatic events surrounding Australians’ reactions to the Bali bombings helps us to understand the very powerful role that the media can play in representing traumatic events. She suggests that today’s multi-media environment dramatizes events and that the media’s representation of events helps people to make sense and find meaning within communities touched by trauma. She points out the representations of traumatic events or perceived cultural trauma is powerful because the media representations can function to either attach or de-attach people to the events. The implication is simple, through selective media representations, events can be made more or less meaningful, create cultural identifications, and personal relevance by providing specific audiences with a context for understanding them.
Fox News: Building a Strong Community in a Post-9/11 World
At the risk of sounding like Rudy Giuliani’s failed 2008 presidential bid—9/11 changed us. This is not a post to talk about the often discussed social and cultural changes that have happened, but to talk about a post 9/11 world in the context of political violence. In the coverage of and since 9/11 two very strong themes emerged—nationalism and “America is under attack” (Manwell, 2010; Sosale, 2010). In fact, in our post 9/11 world, alternative explanations for events and views have often been dismissed as we have created and enforced disciplined dominant narratives (Ismail, 2010; Manwell, 2010). Sosale (2010) argues that the reproduction of themes of nationalism in everyday locales gives it strength, especially during times of crisis that “makes the media a fundamental cultural institution with a specific (national) identity” (p. 212).
During the quarter after 9/11, patriotism was the core message developed and communicated across the media (Sosale, 2010). Fox News took this theme very seriously and since then, Fox News has effectively built its brand to cater to conservatives (Sosale, 2010). They have been so effective in their messaging that they have not only influenced whether their key demographics vote, but who they vote for (Della Vigna & Kaplan, 2007). Fox News’s coverage of the war in Iraq is one substantial reason that Fox News gained viewers, experiencing a 300 percent increase in viewers at the beginning of the conflict (Corporation, 2003). Fox News’s growth continued spurred by events with strong partisan implications like the Republican National Committee meeting in 2004, the North Korean Missile Crisis, and the Israeli attacks on Lebanon (Journalism.org, 2005). Between 2007 and 2009 viewer evaluations of Fox News have increasingly demonstrated a growing partisan split in viewer satisfaction with 72 percent of Republicans compared to 43 percent of Democrats rating the network as “favorable” (Center, 2009).
Further, the Pew Research Center (2009) found that Fox News most strongly communicated a political ideology (i.e., conservative) of all networks in the United States, which probably accounts for their highest “unfavorable” rating at 25 percent. These ratings demonstrate that Fox News was not only appealing to self-identified Republicans and other conservatives, but also increasingly catering to them with information and editorials that support their worldviews. Unchecked by a genuine marketplace of ideas, increasingly partisan news coverage could become increasingly extreme over time, potentially fueling a contentious climate.
Because of Fox News’s emergent importance in the media landscape as well as their clearly partisan bias, we must ask the question of whether the rhetoric they employed leading up to President Obama’s school speech in 2009 employed the rhetoric of political violence as a strategy for selling their point. A grounded-theory methodology was used to analyze Fox News coverage of the issue.
Data Collection. In order to analyze Fox News, FoxNews.com was searched using the phrase “Obama school speech” and identified more than 100 multi-media (i.e., videos and printed stories on their website) stories for the two weeks leading up to President Obama’s speech of 2009 — a moment that built an incredible amount of tension in the United States yet did not cause political violence to emerge. Both news and opinion stories were included in the analysis in order to better understand Fox News’s total coverage of the speech.
Data Analysis. These data were analyzed using a comparison between the messages communicated in the Fox News coverage of the event with the model of the rhetoric of political violence identified for the American militia movement in the 1990s (see Mulloy, 2008).
Before 9/11, the American militia movement had grown substantially reacting to issues of abortion, gay rights, gun control, affirmative action, education, immigration, environmental politics, GATT, and NAFTA—all of which defined a basic belief that the United States was a nation in decline (Analysis, 2009; Mulloy, 2008). This contentious environment is very much in line with authors analyzing the conditions that create the potential for political violence (see Coronil & Skurski, 1991; Manwell, 2010; Pilat, 2009). Additionally, the American militia movement was based in deep cultural divides also necessary to foster an environment for political violence (Greenberg, 1975; Mulloy, 2008); and were fueled by critical events and cultural traumas (Coronil & Skurski, 1991; Hutchison, 2010) including the attack on the Branch Davidian compound, Ruby Ridge, and the Brady Bill (Mulloy, 2008).
”Yet, what is particularly noteworthy about the emergence of contemporary political violence surrounding this movement was that the rhetoric of violence itself may have been less about violence as an end and more about capturing public attention, dramatizing issues, and building new political movements (Mulloy, 2008).”
Mulloy’s analysis suggests that an environment of political violence can exist in the United States without the necessary use of political violence by those invoking the rhetoric of political violence. Yet, when we also consider that the Unabomber committed acts of political violence and was a part of this socio-political environment, it is hard not to consider that the rhetoric of violence can correlate with acts of violence, thus suggesting that the overall risk for political violence in such an atmosphere is heightened.
Results. The central finding is that Fox News—in both its ‘traditional’ news and opinion coverage of President Obama’s speech employed the rhetoric of political violence in their partisan perspective against the speech. Much like Mulloy (2008) found with the American militia movement, it seems as though the Fox News coverage was predominantly about drawing attention to their perspective and appealing to their audience with messages that would resonate. The findings are discussed in terms of Mulloy’s three tenets of the rhetoric of political violence.
Drawing the line in the sand. The rhetoric of violence builds an argument that people should resist government that they view as tyrannical—basing much of their arguments in verbiage from the founding fathers (Mulloy, 2008). In his program on Fox News, Glenn Beck said of the school speech on September 2, 2009, “Stand guard America. Your republic is under attack.” When we examine what Mulloy (2008) found about the tactic of drawing the line in the sand, we find an argument that people should resist the government they view as tyrannical—basing much of their arguments in claims associated with the “founding fathers” of the United States. This strongly mirrors the Fox News coverage—in both the news and opinion segments of their coverage of Obama’s school speech. If we focus on the two core functions of this tactic—resistance and recruitment—we see resistance as a key feature of the advocacy against the President giving the speech. In their advocacy, Fox News painted a presidential school speech as something out of the ordinary that must have clear political objectives. In their coverage, we found rich appeals to preserving what America is meant to be by opposing this speech along with a sense of fighting the powerful government in an uphill battle to prevent the negative effects.
Additionally, we saw clear evidence of recruitment for their ideals in a number of ways. Mulloy (2008) argued that drawing the line in the sand was about getting noticed, getting headlines, and recruiting those who supported their perspective. As a major news network, Fox News certainly had the opportunity to get noticed; however, the speech’s saturated coverage is more telling. The speech was covered on all major programs airing on Fox News and made important parts of their feature programs (e.g., Glenn Beck’s, Bill O’Reilley’s, and Sean Hannity’s shows). And to some extent, they were successful in getting their uniform message taken seriously because we saw several schools across the south (e.g., Texas and Virginia) that refused to air the speech, despite students protesting the decisions.
Reconstructing patriotism. Mulloy (2008) found that patriotism was central to the militia’s heroic posturing and that the ultimate expression of patriotism is the willingness to die for country and ideals. Thus, a central feature in the rhetoric of political violence is to reconstruct the idea of patriotism to mark what would be patriotic and communicate a desire to fight for those values. Inherent in those appeals was a longing for ‘how things used to be’ (Mulloy, 2008).
Again, across both the “news” and “opinion” segments on Fox News, reconstructing patriotism was communicated strongly in the weeks leading up to the school speech. In particular, there was an elementary school performance from April 2009 replayed on virtually every program on Fox News. It consisted of children in one school performing a song in tribute to President Obama’s inauguration. The clip of school children singing “Barack Hussein Obama” was accompanied by comments painting him—both directly and indirectly—as a ‘Maoist’ supporting a ‘totalitarian’ vision for America and would be brainwashing our children in order to accomplish those goals. Fox News analysts and commentators pointed to the school children’s song from earlier that year as the warning sign and argued it must be opposed because it threatened the fundamental fabric of the United States. For example, on his show Sean Hannity made arguments opposing the speech and asking for people to join in opposition with statements like, “…for our children and for our future…” or “What will our children say?” or “Protect our countries values”.
Needle factories of free speech. The United States protects subversive speech, so the American militia movement was able to use our laws as a way to poke at our institutions. The critical component of this notion of ‘needle factories’ is that groups who use the rhetoric of political violence as a tactic focus on their ability to use subversive (to the government) speech and argue for specific action against the government that they believe threatens them (Mulloy, 2008). Couched in the assumption that the school children’s speech from the spring was evidence of a government agenda to brainwash and indoctrinate America’s children guests, pundits, and hosts of most news and opinion shows on Fox News called for action against the president and the school speech in order to protect our nation’s children—ranging from trying to prevent the speech from being shown, to keeping their kids home from school, to open protests against the president and speech. In fact, they made specific arguments that there was a credible threat from the government and suggested that we ‘must take action.’ Certainly, Fox News did not advocate directly for violence as a part of opposing the speech or their larger opposition narrative, but they used terms like ‘revolution’, ‘taking back our country’, and drew comparisons between armed conflicts and our present situation.
Did Fox News contributed to an environment that escalated the risk of political violence? Of course it did. Anytime that a dominant voice, especially one with the force behind it that Fox News has, is contributing to the risk of violence that voice’s impact must be managed and mitigated because of the risk in creating cultural trauma precipitating political violence during volatile times.
Strategies to Douse the Flame of Political Violence
Why does any of this matter? Why try to dissect and understand the socio-political environment surrounding a single speech in the United States? If we understand that we live under a threat of political violence surrounding American politics and a political environment of discontent—that just because we haven’t seen the spark to light the fire of political violence, that there is a genuine risk and we must listen to what is being said in our society (Coronil & Skurski, 1991). This risk was only reified as we watched in January 2011 as Representative Gabrielle Giffords was critically wounded in an attack that killed or wounded 12 other people. Failure to recognize critical risks in our environment and manage them as citizens and leaders is dangerous, often deadly.
The Risks of Divisiveness
In an era where the United States is grappling with its politics, its own beliefs about the relative value of pluralism, and managing issues of foreign and domestic importance, the more that the embers of anger are fanned with the rhetoric of political violence, the more risk we create of genuine political violence that goes beyond the Muslim taxi cab driver attacked in August, 2010 in response to the proposed Park 51 Muslim education and worship center. The more that our media not only gives voice to someone like Pastor Jones in Florida who proposed burning the Quran on September 11, 2010—sparking violent protests against the United States in Afghanistan and other predominantly Muslim countries—but creates people like him with the rhetoric of political violence—of ‘taking our country back’ and ‘standing up for the forgotten values of our forefathers,’ the greater the risk of increasing the frequency and severity of the political violence that we already experience.
With the strengthening of a radical right, our socio-political environment meets the criteria established earlier of an environment that would support political violence and we are beginning to see evidence of small acts of political violence within the United States for example, the attack of the Muslim cab driver and increased hate crimes against Muslims, gays, and Hispanics across the last several years (Investigation, 2010).
The Media’s Responsibility in the Atmosphere of Political Violence.
Given that we already know that journalistic discourse is transformative (Sosale, 2010) and that the media can act as agents of social control and influence (Hutchison, 2010; Ismail, 2010; Manwell, 2010; Sosale, 2010), to suggest that we live in an environment rife for political violence and that the media does not share a portion of the responsibility for that environment is naïve at best. This would not only apply to Fox News but to any media outlet as they report, editorialize, and interpret events for their viewers. However, given Fox News’ increasingly partisan coverage, their August 2010 substantial donation to the Republican Party (Benen, 2010), and use of the rhetoric of political violence as a communication strategy to further their ideological agenda, it seems clear that Fox News is the largest media contributor to an atmosphere of political violence in the United States because the people to whom they appeal—increasingly conservative demographics (Center, 2009; Della Vigna & Kaplan, 2007; Journalism.org, 2005)—strongly favor not only their type of coverage but their message as well.
By design or mere accident of outcome, the modern American news media seems to be a critical factor in predicting the risk for political violence. The media has the genuine potential to create trauma in their representation of events by invoking visceral emotions—as we saw evidenced in the Fox News coverage of the Obama school speech—using the rhetoric of political violence. Through their selective representations of events they gave social and emotional instructions to their viewers connecting single events with larger social issues as evidenced in their coverage of the school speech, linking the speech with their larger dominant narrative that the president is a threat to “American” identity and politics. Clearly naming and shaming news organizations promoting the rhetoric of political violence will not make temper their commentary because they are driven by what sells to their market.
However, it is possible that direct engagement might be useful for developing a movement against the rhetoric. Though often criticized for being “unpresidential” in his periodic engagement against the Fox News narrative, I believe that President Obama may have identified an effective strategy in managing the negative effects of media outlets behaving irresponsibly—engagement. By directly confronting the “risk” and indoctrination by simply releasing the speech and responding to the allegations, the White House virtually silenced the Fox News production machine. After the speech was released, Fox News did not silence their critiques, but the public fervor over the speech was mitigated.
The Positive Side
Developing a contextual understanding of the risk of political violence in a pluralistic society not only gives us mechanisms to evaluate the risk, but also clear opportunities to diffuse it. There were three characteristics of President Obama’s response to the school speech situation that helped to normalize the environment before the speech: direct engagement or response to the threat, transparency, and building a community identity. President Obama’s action to release the text of the speech the week ahead of the speech dispelled the major objections to the speech and showed the media hype to be barren fruit demonstrating both direct engagement and transparency. By showing that there was nothing to hide and nothing to fear, Fox News’s rhetoric of political violence was not able to sustain itself. The line they drew in the sand was blurred and the attention and recruitment to the cause was simply not sustainable. Moreover, once most people agreed that the message of violence was flawed, the appeals to patriotism and needling were no longer effective rhetorical appeals. Additionally, the message in the speech itself focused on the importance of education to our common future. By emphasizing common social and economic goals, the speech itself helped to mitigate the power and fervor in peoples’ previous feelings of fear and apprehension. Future research should explore these strategies to identify their strength and reliability.
Risk Management and Political Violence
Thought limited to one case, I believe that this analysis provides a model for future research and the more effective assessment and management of risk of political violence in pluralistic western democracies. Using the conditions perspective that we have developed, future research should evaluate and measure the ways in which threats to fundamental identities, critical events, and cultural trauma contribute to a heightened risk of political violence. Underlying this risk is the interaction of dominant media sources. If dominant media sources also employ the rhetoric of political violence, our analysis suggests that the risk for political violence is heightened because they may not only contribute to the cultural trauma but create trauma spawning political violence. Yet, we know very little about the attitudinal shifts that might occur amongst people directly because of the strategies of political violence in dominant media sources and indirectly as the core messages from the news entertainment industry filter into the blogosphere and social media outlets. This is a clear area for future research to be developed.
Moreover, the strategies for responding to and managing risks for political violence must be more specifically investigated. Previous research (e.g., Hutchinson, 2010) suggested that building community identity in the face of trauma can neutralize the risk for political violence, but the case of the Obama school speech also demonstrated that responding directly to threats and being transparent can help to neutralize the risk for political violence. If normalization of the environment is a critical component to managing the risk, then identifying engagement strategies and theories would be useful in helping to build a public sphere that is not only more able to identify credible threats of political violence but also respond to them effectively.
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 The Brady Bill, enacted in 1993, requires background checks for any person purchasing a handgun in the United States.