Critical thinking, political dialogue and the violence in Tucson

Politics presumes a recognition that negotiation and dialogue must occur, that what is “right” is simply a given but is a matter of resolving inescapable conflicts of interest. Trying to kill politicians is an extreme expression of the rejection of politics—a puerile fantasy that has been cynically encouraged in some quarters. But to reject the very possibility of negotiation and compromise is ultimately to express a preference for chaos and anarchy. This yearning to be beyond politics, if not neutralized by general prosperity into apathy, will inevitably find its expression in violence, and political violence, precluding the possibility of nonviolent resolution of disputes, is inherently a wish for violence without end. That is why those who commit these acts are usually depicted as madmen. But this kind of madness may be what happens at the margins when society fails to facilitate critical engagement with the world and with one another’s ideas.

Tucson Shootings, Rob Horning, 11 January 2011

I can’t help but feel that something has been missing from the broader discussion about Jared Lougher and the horrific Tucson shootings. Institutions, individuals and legislation, rhetoric have been heavily scrutinised but it doesn’t seem to explain the deeper malaise it represents.

Maybe it is, as Horning suggests, a discussion about the lack and devaluing of critical thinking skills and with that, the dismissal of engagement in political dialogue.

Without those critical thinking skills, it becomes harder to make sense of the world you live in and express how you feel. If people are unable people to coherently express what they feel, adequately critique their world, it becomes difficult to engage in political dialogue with opponents. It can lead to disengagement from politics, either by apathy or a rejection of political dialogue. The act of political violence is the extreme end of this rejection of political dialogue and liberal democratic politics.

It’s food for thought.


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