Oregon has some terrific writers and thinkers. John Daniel is one I hadn't known about until I read an essay of his in today's Portland Oregonian.
"When blood is not a metaphor" is a terrific commentary about the shooting a week ago of Congresswoman Giffords and the murder of six others by crazed gunman Jared Loughner.
Regarding Sarah Palin's crosshairs metaphor, Daniel says:
Neither Palin nor anyone on her political action committee intended that a warped 22-year-old or anyone else should use a firearm to shoot Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
But language set loose in public is instantly nationalized and globalized in the media, and like language exchanged between two people in private, it has power. Words stir passions in unpredictable ways. In the wilderness of a particular human psyche (to use a metaphor), language can form an intention, or prepare the way for an intention to be formed, or affirm an intention already forming.
The language of public discourse matters. Metaphors matter.
In my own recent musings about this subject, I noted:
Now, it seems obvious that both mentally ill and mentally healthy people are affected by public discourse and messaging. If this wasn't true, advertising wouldn't work. Or political ads. Or inspiring speeches.
It makes no sense, then, when people claim that vitriolic political discourse has no effect on mentally unbalanced individuals like Jared Loughner. This is like saying that a million dollar ad for Coke or Pepsi during the Super Bowl has no effect on soft drink consumption.
You can bet -- a lot -- that it does, because corporations don't spend huge amounts of money on messages promoting their products if words and images were powerless to affect human behavior.
Daniel's concluding words also made a heck of a lot of sense to me. He starts out by talking about the Tea Party'ers and other right-wingers who loudly scream about the "tyranny" of Obama and the Democrats.
They are not suffering under tyranny. Their liberty is greater now than it was in Jefferson's time and is in no way threatened. They want their country back, but no one has taken their country away. Its democratic institutions remain intact, equally for them and for those of us who disagree with them -- institutions put into place precisely to avoid soaking the soil once again with actual blood.
The only problem of the mad-as-hells is that the president of the United States is pursuing the measures he said he would pursue, if elected, and that Congress has passed some of those measures into law, in most cases watered down.
When a president I thought a poor choice for the job was running the country in the last decade, neither I nor anybody I know wailed with Glenn Beck tears or stormed with Bill O'Reilly choler that we wanted our country back. We didn't rant of bull's eyes, or reloading, or irrigating with blood. We worked peaceably for change.
But yes, all of us commit excesses of speech. Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, anarchists, constitutionalists, vegetarians, all of us have thoughtlessly bandied metaphors. And so all of us should choose our words carefully.
Because language matters. Strong phrases may feel good and righteous in the saying, but their influence goes far and viral these days. The blood that flowed from Gabrielle Giffords, and U.S. District Judge John Roll, and 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, and the others killed or wounded in Tucson, was no metaphor.