Thursday, January 13, 2011

Eliminationist Rhetoric

A well-known economist and democrat, Paul Krugman, recently wrote an op-ed for the NY Times citing the increase in eliminationist rhetoric over the past few years. His main point was that politicians and the media should be careful about what metaphors they choose to use when talking about the opponent.

Some think that the recent shooting in Arizona is a product of this eliminationist rhetoric. The gunman was clearly not well mentally which I'm sure contributed greatly to this act of violence, but it was also clear that the act was charged with political idealism. His "ideals" were certainly crazy but they led to his attack on a politician who didn't share those same views.

I commented on this topic (found here and here) not long ago calling for a turning away from 'ad hominem' attacks on political opponents because of the division and alienation that they cause. Eventually, they can also cause acts of violence if the persons that hear it lack moral restraint or mental wherewithal to understand that they are mere metaphors.

Unlike Krugman, I don't think that either side is more guilty of this rhetoric than the other. It certainly appears that Republicans use it more often in the current state of things because they are on the outside looking in from a control of Congress and the Presidency standpoint. Both sides are guilty of using violent metaphors, calling each other evil, and condemning each other to hell. None of it is helpful. Most of it causes alienation. All of it is potentially dangerous because it may cause more violent attacks such as the one in Arizona.

I agree with Greg Mankiw, another famous economist who commented on Krugman's piece, that the act of violence should be condemned and not the metaphors, but Mankiw should realize that we are responsible for the things that we do and say and if that causes others to act irresponsibly shouldn't we restrain ourselves and think twice about what we're doing and saying?

If you want to make a difference, and want to persuade people to your point of view, reach out to them, engage them in conversations, use reason, and let them know that they are always your brother or sister no matter what their sins or opinions may be.

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