The cultural mythology of America is deeply action-oriented. It is suspicious of authority and conformism and finds hope in the minds of rebels who, more often than not, wield firearms (even a total nerd like Fox Mulder had a gun!). This language and heritage has been co-opted for rhetorical purposes by the right-wing; calls to political action are expressed in violent terms.
Whether or not violent actions proceed directly from such violent language, what happened in Arizona is a tragedy. But the co-option of such rhetoric by the right — the framing of worthwhile action as necessarily violent — also damages, less spectacularly, the hard work of nonviolent activists around the world. ”Community organizing” has been made into a dirty word; unarmed resistance is seen as secondary to a gun-popping revolution. But, as this TEDTalk describes, unarmed resistance and peace activism is fraught with risks and demands a courage and persistence far greater than what it takes to pull a trigger.
The mythos of the noble loner seems resurgent amidst the Tea Party conservatism, and goes a long way towards explaining America’s distrust with institutions even when those institutions are built in their own self-interest — but then, it seems as though we’re particularly distrustful of institutional do-goodery. Why arm yourself to the teeth if you have faith in humanity?
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