I haven’t had much to say here since the shoot­ing in Pima County, for sev­eral rea­sons. For one thing, I don’t like to jump to con­clu­sions absent evi­dence. For another, I don’t like to talk about prob­lems with­out offer­ing solutions.

I read an arti­cle in Slate that brought things more into focus for me, though. Jacob Weis­berg pointed out that it’s not only the vio­lence sug­gested by the words “Sec­ond Amend­ment reme­dies,” but also the implied ille­git­i­macy of gov­ern­ment that goes along with those words.

 

One expla­na­tion often given for the right to bear arms is that we need to be able to be armed in order to rise up against an oppres­sive gov­ern­ment. Add to this claims of the Obama admin­is­tra­tion being tyran­ni­cal, headed by some­one who is ques­tion­ably a cit­i­zen, and it’s not hard to see where this can go.

You get mem­bers of the armed forces refus­ing orders. You get ral­lies with peo­ple car­ry­ing threat­en­ing signs. And you get peo­ple who shoot at peo­ple work­ing for the gov­ern­ment that they believe is illegitimate.

I cer­tainly believe that the bulk of the respon­si­bil­ity falls on the shoul­ders of Jared Lough­ner. The man clearly has issues. But much of what we do is influ­enced by exter­nal social pres­sures. If you’re the only one you know who believes that the gov­ern­ment is ille­git­i­mate, then you have exter­nal pres­sures to keep it to your­self and you are unlikely to act upon it. The more peo­ple around you who admit to shar­ing your belief, the more likely you are to increase your fer­vency and the more likely you are to act on the belief. This is espe­cially true if the peo­ple you’re lis­ten­ing to are sec­on­dar­ily legit­imized by being given air­time. Celebri­ties are more influ­en­tial than “mere mor­tals,” which is why they get paid so much to endorse products.

Evi­dence abounds to illus­trate the impact of exter­nal influ­ence. The Free Repub­lic web­site is an espe­cially overt (and extreme) exam­ple of this, but there are many oth­ers of vary­ing degrees of sub­tlety. Humans are social crea­tures, and are typ­i­cally pow­er­fully influ­enced by a desire to be accepted as part of a com­mu­nity. Those exter­nal influ­ences are part and par­cel of that accep­tance. It’s why par­ents worry so much about peer pres­sure from “bad influences.”

Sign from 2000 Florida Recount

Efforts to dis­credit the legit­i­macy of elected gov­ern­ment in the United States has been on the rise since the pro­longed recount in Florida in Decem­ber, 2000. As I’ve noted before, the right has focused on reduc­ing voter turnout, pri­mar­ily by claim­ing that sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of ille­git­i­mate votes are cast. The left has focused on claims of insti­tu­tion­al­ized fraud, rang­ing from removal of legit­i­mate vot­ers from the rolls to fab­ri­cated vote tal­lies made pos­si­ble by elec­tronic vot­ing machines.

The degree of valid­ity of those claims is a topic for another day. Today, I call atten­tion to the claims them­selves as evi­dence of chip­ping away at the legit­i­macy of our elected gov­ern­ment. The longer this per­sists, the greater the like­li­hood of our nation’s cit­i­zens con­clud­ing that they are no longer being gov­erned under con­sent. Cou­ple this grow­ing belief with imagery of rev­o­lu­tion and armed insur­rec­tion, and it is hard to deny that more tragedies of this sort are on the way.

I’m con­vinced nei­ther that Lough­ner was pushed over the edge by such rhetoric, nor that he wasn’t. Regard­less, the events of this past week­end pro­vide an oppor­tu­nity for some con­sid­er­a­tion. We owe it to the very fab­ric of our nation to step back and pause, to think about whether such hyper­bolic blovi­a­tion is rip­ping us apart. Each of us has an oppor­tu­nity to change, in a small way, the meth­ods by which we as a nation will decide what to do. We can choose to cheer when “our side” wins a bat­tle at the expense of civil­ity, or we can choose to denounce lack of civil­ity, regard­less of whose “side” wins in the short run.

I choose civility.

Your move.