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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It's the rhetoric, stupid.

The holiday season is upon us so the armed security guards at churches and shopping malls may have to work overtime. The celebration of peace on earth and good will toward all people intensifies. One young man killed a bunch of people at an Omaha mall, another gunned down people at a missionary training center and a church in Colorado, and six high school students were blasted at in Las Vegas as they got off a school bus. The spirit of Christmas is a-raging.

In two of those cases, at least, the perpetrators, as the celebrants are sometimes called, posted warnings or what could be regarded as warnings on the Internet. This is part of what has become a traditional way of expressing joy and spreading good will throughout the land. You plan a massacre and announce it in advance. Who can forget the wonderful times of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Red Lake—the list goes on and on—and the moments they gave us?

Even those alien types we call terrorists want to get in on the act. They gave us 9/11. And those envious folks in Iraq made these celebrations of peace and good will the essential feature of their culture. Joy to the world.

This kind of celebration has largely been developed by the young—people under 25 when the brain is not fully developed. But our culture supplies them what maturity denies them. It provides video games that coach them in the killing arts—particularly with things like assault rifles. But mostly it has the Internet where they can gather in packs and insult and abuse each other and raise the level of adrenaline and anger to the point that they want to get off the couch and go out and really do something.

Political blogs and discussion boards are a real resource if you want to find insults and name-calling and accusations and lies of the kind that can really get you to the point where you say, “I’m not going to take this anymore; I’m going to do something about it.” All you have to do to get really torqued off is browse the blogosphere, as this warp in the planet is called.

The support system goes beyond the Internet. You can find examples of dishonesty and indecency that will hype up the anger hormones almost everywhere. One is a feature of public discourse that we have come to call Swift-boating. If you or some one you like is Swift=boated, you soon realize that there is no rational response because the only purpose of Swift-boating to is incite hatred and anger. Refuting a Swift-boat is a waste of time. You have nothing to do but act out. Or turn the other cheek and get hit with the other fist. And then you will really be torqued off and inspired.

The mass media can supply all your party needs. Osama bin Laden is there to teach you the art of hate and vicious rhetoric and killing lots of people. If a more western style of mindless belligerence fits your taste, you can have examples of our own leaders insisting that someone is getting ready to attack us with weapons of mass destruction and we’d better get them before they get us, and that is what we do. And it gives us years and years of watching bunches of people getting killed and maimed, and we can feel real good about all the peace and good will we are spreading.

The election campaign is sure to provide some moments of pure inspiration. While some candidates will try to make nice, the media will soon goad them into attacking each other and getting real mean and stupid, and you will undoubtedly find examples of how to be mean, stupid, and vicious. But that resource is always available on some talk radio shows and some blogs.

We have developed an entire grammar and rhetoric to develop and support mindless rage. We even offer college courses in it. Nobody has a reason not to get torqued off and get off their duffs and do something. Just read blogs and their comments. In a democracy like ours, we fulfill everyone’s needs.

It’s all in the rhetoric. Actually, it is in the ignorance of what rhetoric really is. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, or whatever. May the peace of the season be with you all year.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States