Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose
And nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free*
There was much violence during the late 1960s and early 1970s. I remember early one August morning waking up in my cabin in a pine forest to what I thought was thunder. It turned out to be the mathematics building 40 miles away at the University of Wisconsin being blown up by a truck bomb. Earlier that year in the spring some National Guard members opened fire on demonstrating students at Kent State University, killing four and wounding nine. There were many demonstrations and much other violence, such as the kidnapping of heiress of Patty Hearst, the American Indian Movement occupations of buildings in Washington, D.C., and Wounded Knee. The Viet Nam War dominated the news.
Government agencies and social organizations speculated about whether it was possible to determine if the language and rhetoric that swirled through American society at the time could predict where and when acts of violence might break out. Scholars and analysts of language and propaganda were asked to examine what was being said at the time to see how the knowledge and use of language might be used to deal with the violence. I was among those people. I was a professor of English, but I also had experience in the military in Germany where people were studying how and why the German people raised Hitler and the Nazis to power. On the post where I was stationed a team of analysts interviewed troops who had served in Korea to see if they could determine the reason that some American prisoners of war held by North Korea became turncoats. Turncoats were men who chose to stay in North Korea rather than be repatriated to America. So, many scholars of language and communication in the early 1970s were set to work analyzing the relationship of language to violent events.
I remember two occasions when people who had worked for peaceful change made observations about violence that were a bit disturbing. A man who worked with the civil rights movement in Chicago recounted how he and his associates listened and talked and tried to mediate between the factions in working out solutions. He commented, people from the establishment did not really listen to them until there were incidents where protesters used firearms. And in a meeting with a native American man who had acted as a go between during the Wounded Knee occupation, he said that the peaceful protests by Indians were largely dismissed as simply acting out, but with Wounded Knee some people began to listen. Even though both of the incidents were "put down" by government forces, the point was that with discontented people out there ready to use firearms, their grievances were taken more seriously. Language and demonstration doesn't mean much until it is backed up with action.
One of the things we found was that there were times when language and trying to communicate was useless. Some people were not just brain-washed, but were brain-flushed. Their ability to apprehend and respond to language had been flushed out of them. And this relates to what is known about what made Hitler, Stalin, and all the other malevolent dictatorships, and now the Islamic State, possible. There are people who are beyond the reach of reasoning, who are incapable of cognitive activity. Some of them never had the mental ability to handle information. Others have been conditioned by communicative forces around them so that they cannot deal with facts and can only respond to attempts to communicate with slogans that have been imprinted on their minds. Orwell's 1984 chronicles this process. The Islamic suicide bombers are a case in point. So are the Limbaugh ditto heads. Some of these types are used as violent aggressors. Others provide support to the fascist movements and condone and participate in hate-based movements. Their minds are walled off from fact and reason. Current acolytes of fascist oppression can be identified by their usage of the term "liberal" in a manner that is synonymous with the N-word in the they way they blame liberals for all of what they perceive as ills in the world. They do not use the term in ways that identify what liberalism really is, and their motive is to place blame and generate hatred. They are America's version of the much-despised Nazi collaborators.
We currently live in a time when the kind of language being exchanged among opposing groups indicates we are primed for violence. The fascist collaborators have found expression and a new sense of power with the election of Donald Trump. Those with classical liberal ideals see Trump and his cohorts as serious threats to democracy and are forming ranks of resistance. While the huge anti-Trump demonstrations have been peaceful so far, there was some violence on inauguration day when the Washington, D.C., police arrested about 230 protesters. Those arrested included six journalists who were covering the protest, not participating in it.
Protests attract people who are looking for an occasion to commit violence. They do not join the protests out of convictions about the matter being protested, but for the cover that protests give to their desire for violence. They may incite otherwise peaceable people to violence. However, there comes a time among peaceful protesters when they realize that demonstrations are being dismissed by authorities as just noise and that protesting is not enough. Just as the Second Amendment fanatics arm to defend against a threats from government, protesters arm to defend and prosecute a principle. Then, as has been shown in past episodes of mass violence in America, people exchange arms and guerrilla tactics for words in registering their grievances. Analysis of those episodes, as my colleagues contend, show that the violence produces results.
In one week, the presidency of Donald Trump has intensified the divide among Americans. In a post shared on Facebook, a historian comments that America has not been this divided since the Civil War, but the cause of the divisiveness is essentially the same.
Trump does and says things that are pushing Americans toward internal violence. Americans are armed and ready for open war. They have reached the point where "freedom's just another word for having nothing left to lose." Thank Donald Trump and those who made him president.
*"Me and Bobby McGee." Song by Kris Kristofferson. Biggest selling version by Janis Joplin.
News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com
Saturday, February 4, 2017
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