More civility, while needed, won’t end insane acts - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

More civility, while needed, won’t end insane acts

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at

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Posted: Saturday, January 7, 2012 12:38 pm | Updated: 3:39 pm, Wed Jan 11, 2012.

We are still desperately trying to figure out why they were attacked. And we are still desperately trying to improve political discourse.

These are two separate questions with few, if any, answers. We will never know why someone would aim a gun at complete strangers and shoot to kill. And it's difficult to tell how much that discourse has been since lifted up out of a pit of shouts, hisses and pointed fingers.

But we still try.

One year ago this weekend, a madman shot into a Tucson crowd and killed six people, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, and wounded several more, including a U.S. Congresswoman.

And in the months since we've been straining to understand, when really there isn't much to understand about such acts.

The truth is that some people are deranged and some will be disastrously violent, and the rest of us are going to try to understand. But we won't be able to, because such individuals are beyond understanding. They simply act unpredictably, irrationally, and nothing we can do or say will ever eradicate them.

This week there's been a good deal of talk in Arizona about achieving more civility in public discourse, just as there was a year ago. It's a noble goal, one that no one should be dissuaded from trying to achieve. Better quality of debate leads to a better quality of solutions.

This is a good time to remember, however, that the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and several others that Saturday morning a year ago in Tucson had nothing to do with a lack of civility in politics. Still, in our subconscious we think that maybe if we were a bit nicer to each other, maybe that might stave off the next irrational, violent act.

Of course, that won't happen. We can improve ourselves, yes, but most of us aren't insane. If we can improve the tone and tenor of our politics, that is a desirable goal, but it will never stop these disturbed souls.

But back to public discourse - truly a separate issue. The fact is that we've never had a period when Americans were that kind to each other in politics. A look at political cartoons published in the 19th century bear this out. Many depict our leaders as drooling monsters and snarling animals.

Today, a look at Internet opinions during Mesa's recent state senatorial recall election shows some attitudes have changed little.

Columnist Tim Rutten wrote in the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 23, 2009 - more than a year before the Tucson shootings - that throughout U.S. history our politics have been quite steadily not civil. But that's not the problem, he said, saying that what ails our country is an "insufficient regard for the facts."

He went on:

"The growing culture of assertion and the death of persuasion, rather than the loss of civility, are what we ought to fear about our politics. Because there's no insistence on a common set of facts, we're perilously close to the point at which we stop even talking past each other and the language of our politics dissolves into mutually unintelligible dialects."

After the shooting, the initial reaction was that our volatile, angry political climate might have been responsible. Once it was learned that the accused gunman likely was mentally ill, most of that reaction dissipated.

And yet somehow we were motivated, then and on this grim anniversary, to create a better nation, as we always are in the face of such tragedies. This is typically American, and it's something that recommends us highly as a people.

And as for a disturbed person with a gun: Imperfect as it is, this is a free society. No matter what we try to do the odds of encountering someone with a gun gone haywire will never fall to zero. The closed society of North Korea, where curfews and mass incarcerations are the norm, probably doesn't have incidents like the one we had in Tucson, although since information is also held prisoner there it's hard to say.

Meanwhile, we can teach our children how to interact better among themselves than many of us have among ourselves. Whatever it is that motivates us to teach such virtues, whether it be our better natures or a reaction to an irrational, violent act, doesn't matter.

What matters is that we're doing it.

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