November 28, 2009

I’ve told you before how much I like the new Newsweek. It’s full of analysis and thought pieces about important issues. So check out the November 16, 2009 article by Raina Kelley, “Why Politics Makes Us Kill.”

The USA is a very violent country, in fact, “the most homicidal country in the Western world.” We got that title back in the 19th century and we own it still. Imagine this: 2 out of every 3 of the world’s people live in countries with lower rates of homicide than the USA. And here’s an embarrassingly frightening statistic: 1 of every 200 children born in the USA today will be murdered.

Journalist Kelley is writing about a new book, American Homicide by Randolph Roth, professor of history and criminology at Ohio State University. And Roth tells us this:

— It isn’t drugs or class or television or poverty or lax gun laws that can explain the level of murder in the USA.

— It’s how people see themselves in relation to our government that produces murder in the USA. Roth says: “What matters is that [citizens] feel represented, respected, included, and empowered.”

If people feel like they’ve got a chance at the American Dream, then they can cope. But when people feel excluded – even alienated – from that dream…that produces the anger that can kill.

Roth looked at homicide rates for centuries, as far back as the American Revolution. He examined murder after the Civil War and World Wars I and II. And Roth comments on today, too.

It turns out that the rates of murder in the USA increase even more when we politicize things like social mores, race, ethnicity, religion, and so forth. For example: Murder rates soared after the American Revolution and our young nation had to figure out how to live with the defeated British loyalists who stuck around – and were excluded. Same thing happened after the Civil War, with the bitterness of the defeated South.

And the final thing that journalist Kelley tells us in her discussion of Roth’s book: “Our volatile political rhetoric” is dangerous. “Words can have real-life, even violent, consequences.”

Just think about it: The name calling and use of Hitler references by radio hosts and Fox news broadcasters – and even elected officials. The virulent language and hatred encouraged by these same leaders. All that ugly language. Yes, that violent speech can produce violent reaction. Remember the old phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword.”

Read Raina Kelley’s article in the November 16 issues of Newsweek. Think about how we exclude people, disempower them, leave them isolated and alienated. Think about violent language and murder. More murder here in the USA than any other western nation.

How sad.

Filed under: Social Commentary

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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