Can rhetoric motivate people to act? Of course it can. Just think of all the glorious speeches and stunning writing…Lincoln and Ghandi and King. John Kennedy. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The list is huge, maybe almost endless. And then, of course, there’s advertising. Extraordinary advertising – based on neuroscience and psychological advertising – that motivates people to act.
Yes, there is proof that rhetoric leads to action. Whether that was the situation in Tucson or not, the fact is, rhetoric does lead to action.
But there’s something else that’s been going on in this country for years now: the devaluing of fact and the embrace of personal opinion as truth. And that’s just plain stupid. For example, you can believe in a god and still accept documented fact that the earth is millions of years old. Another example: Check out Paul A. Offit’s article “Junk Science Isn’t a Victimless Crime,” Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2011.
Fact or opinion. Oh please! How can people ignore fact and embrace persistent untruths? Read what Seth Mnookin said in his January 10/17, 2011 Newsweek article, “Autism and the Affluent”: “The Internet, where no view is too outrageous to masquerate as fact, has played a role, as has the media’s habit of giving every story ‘two sides’ long after one has been discredited. There’s also politicians’ instinct to pander to their most vocal and strident constituents, and public officials’ ineptitude at communicating with the public.”
We can talk about our own values and beliefs – fundamentalist or progressive – without being vicious, nasty people. We can speak and write passionately – and with great anger – without actually implying violent acts.
We can enact laws that focus on the good of the community and moderate somewhat the rights of the individual. My freedom ends where yours begins. Each of us has a responsibility to the common good, not just our own individual rights.
Listen to the conversation between Scott Simon and Eric Deggans on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Saturday January 15. Deggans was talking about “a silo of media that reflects [people’s] own opinions back to them.” Deggans acknowledges that audiences prefer contentious debate – and that’s why Palin and Limbaugh and O’Reilly and …. earn so much money.
But, someone has to to be responsible here – and don’t expect that any time soon from some of these ranters. That’s why we enact laws. Laws for the common good. Hate crime legislation. Gun laws. Road speed laws.