Violence, rhetoric and rhetorical violence - Macleans.ca

Violence, rhetoric and rhetorical violence

by

Charles P. Pierce considers rhetoric and violence in American politics. (This was first published before the horror in Norway.)

We are political animals. It is a truth as old as Aristotle, who attributed our political nature to the fact that, unlike any of the other animals that travel in herds, we are able to speak. We can ignore the politics central to all our various interactions, or we can pretend that actions, good and bad, are apolitical, but politics is there, binding us up, regardless of how fervently we deny it, which we do, and take refuge then in fragmentation rather than confront what we may have in common with other people — strange people, crazy people, violent people — who share with us the politics of our common humanity. And we have chosen fragmentation as our comfortable, counterfeit heritage…

For thirty years, we have been told by our leaders to estrange ourselves from our political natures, to ignore what Aristotle said, and to pretend that we are not political in our daily lives, in our daily work, or even in how we choose (or choose not) to govern ourselves. If we still recognized our essential political nature, we would recognize the inherent absurdity of people who spend millions of dollars to campaign for a political office on the grounds that they are “not a politician.”

Of course they are, because we all are. That nature was what the Founders were counting on when they set up a system of self-government. But, having convinced us that “politics” was something outside ourselves, it was easy for those same people to convince us that “government” was something even more alien and (very likely) predatory, instead of being the vehicle through which we could exercise our political natures without necessarily killing one another. Having been convinced to deny who we really are, we then allowed those same people to arrange things so that politics actually became nothing but a show, and government actually became the private preserve of a consolidating oligarchy. If it all is dumbshow, what does it matter if some of the principals start talking about watering the tree of liberty and so on?