Just think...: Keeping events in context

Kurz & Allison: Battle of Chickamauga, Sept. 19 and 20, 1863 Some believe that language choices like calling the sports rivalry between the University of Oregon and Oregon State University the “Civil War” trivializes the true cost of violence. Our real Civil War was a time of horrible suffering and death.

Friday night, Jan. 7, I didn’t sleep well, apparently because I was reading the most recent issue of The Atlantic just before bedtime. You wouldn’t expect The Atlantic, an old, well-established, relatively erudite but not stuffy magazine to be the kind of reading that would keep you awake nights, but the lead article in this issue was disturbing: “The Rise of the New Ruling Class: How the Global Elite is Leaving You Behind.”

In essence, the forces of globalization and information technology have created a class of billionaires who actually work for a living, jet around the planet, and meet at high level conferences to network and share ideas. The latter is a key ingredient: Ideas. These are not people who necessarily get richer while they sleep. They do not have great inherited wealth, if any. They are people whose passion is work and innovation. They are part of a meritocracy and as a result, they feel entitled to their wealth and not responsible for the sometimes-unanticipated consequences of their actions … consequences that impact less talented or hard-working people. These are not the secretive murky forces of the military-industrial-national security/intelligence complex, yet they comprise what feels like a sinister force.

That feeling comes from realizing I have no control over the processes and results of the activities of this global elite. Some of us are merely swept along by the changes, whether it’s more money and employment in Mumbai than Manhattan (Kansas, that is) or the latest new thing that demands our attention (a new app on our Blackberry) or requires our money (the Blackberry itself).

The following day, Saturday, was quiet, spent on errands and outdoor chores. When I found out that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 other people were shot at a grocery store gathering, it felt strange, depressing, discouraging — and a bit surreal. Now this is terrorism, real, down-home terrorism and unfortunately familiar to Americans: An emotionally unbalanced, young male uses a firearm, in this case a semi-automatic handgun, not a hunting rifle, to act out some of the ideas he’s picked up in the mass media or on the Internet. I picked it up on the Internet too, both the news about the shooting and some of the ideas that seem to have motivated the shooter. Based on his postings to the Internet, Jared Loughner wanted to return to the gold standard; that and other anti-government issues that have flowed over my screen, too, as I use the Internet.            

The relatively innocuous coastal list serve that I plug into to find out about events, sales, and cute pictures of animals also includes occasional news feeds from the BBC or CNN or links to websites devoted to various conspiracy theories. Our list serve has standards that exclude defamatory or violent language but otherwise is uncensored by the list administrator. The items appear because someone among the hundreds participating believes there’s content worth thinking about. Nothing is transmitted that suggests violent solutions, yet I can see the thread of topics that probably fueled the young shooter’s idea of appropriate action. It doesn’t hurt that Giffords was “targeted by Sarah Palin to be removed” during the last election. That was the language in the news report: targeted. That plus Mrs. Palin’s fondness for being shown with guns and killing one thing or another, may create a simple equation in a simple mind: gun plus target equals action. 

But Palin is far from alone in using violent metaphors; they permeate our common modes of expression. Political campaign or calls to action by non-profit organizations routinely include words like “fight” and “battle.” 

An acquaintance told me he has a veteran friend who said that he and other vets abhor the references to “civil war” when the University of Oregon plays against OSU. “If they knew what real war, real battlefield experiences are, they wouldn’t use that language so lightly.”           

The world “out there” is changing rapidly. I watch these changes from the sidelines (actually the nose bleed seats) and I don’t even try to keep up, partly so I can maintain some peace of mind. But a young person, especially one with poor judgment and not that much education in critical thinking, pumped up by conspiracy theories, is likely to respond to the feelings of powerlessness that I feel but in a way not moderated by a commitment to non-violence. And why should he, given our American culture’s glorification of violent means to subdue the natives, win the West, defeat our enemies abroad, and punish miscreants?

 


Victoria Stoppiello is a freelance writer with deep roots in Ilwaco; you can reach her at anthonyvictoria1@gmail.com.

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