Losing Our Uncivil Liberties

The Matrix has avidly seized on the bloodshed in Tucson to further restrict political debate, the solemn injunction now to “tone down the rhetoric,” the implication being that anything “inflammatory,” from the “margins,” left or right, is now out of bounds. The call for “civility” in our public discourse is a call for a particular form of adult responsibility that fits within the boundaries of MSNBC and The Wall Street Journal. Even FOX network, or elements of FOX, is dangerously close to violating the new rules of speech, transformed by horrific domestic events into even sharper delineation and tighter restriction, accelerating a process begun with the Patriot Act. We now have a TSA screening of everything we say. Sarah Palin’s political career is likely finished. The Matrix, far more dangerous than the idiot from Alaska, reasserts its control.

Shocking as the events in Tucson were, they pale in comparison to the bloody deeds of state routinely carried out under the commands of responsible leaders and scarcely reported in the respectable media. On his third day in office, the Peace Laureate authorized a drone strike in Pakistan that killed twenty or more, including several children, the primary, cowardly purpose of which to establish his bona fides. This was a marginally newsworthy item. Since then his portfolio has only gotten bloodier, as befitting his office. In the world of discourse as defined by the Matrix the blood crimes of our leaders are not of interest. “Such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society,” intoned the president, who has overseen a major escalation of violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen during his stewardship. People who shoot down innocents in a public place are nut jobs, while those who order the slaying of thousands are sane and rational. These are oddities a child would notice but less likely than ever to be discussed in the sober and sensible corporate media.

It is rhetoric, not reality, that will come under increasing scrutiny, and this applies to the anti-capitalist left as well as the nativist disaffected right. We must keep our words civil and responsible, within the confines of what the Matrix has sanctioned. Its spokespersons, such as the Times’ Timothy Egan, have already laid it out: “The good news is that already, in just a few days time, this kind of talk from Beck, Palin and Angle is now being seen for what it really is ? something not to be touched by fair citizens or ambitious politicians. And the long-overdue revulsion is because such poisons ? death threats in place of reasoned argument, fetishizing of guns, glib talk of “taking someone out” ? were used so carelessly, as if they didn’t matter.”

So now the game for fair citizens and ambitious politicians is to cool the rhetoric. The Matrix will still try to “get” Julian Assange but discourages outright talk of elimination. Man-child Bush’s overheated boasting of “taking out” Saddam is replaced by Obama’s cool, understated, targeted assassinations that include citizens of his own free society. Violent entertainment, violent foreign policy, violent impoverishment and alienation, the militarization of culture all continue unabated, only now we must talk more civilly about it, or better yet, not at all, or not too deeply.

This is insane. There is a boiling, justifiable rage in this country that no amount of civility will rectify. Martin Luther King, who called for “creative maladjustment” in response to a profoundly sick society, was most uncivil when he called his own government the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. He was excoriated for those remarks and renounced by allies. The ugly threatening rhetoric of the right in this country is an abomination and obviously dangerous. The greater abomination and danger is a retreat from telling the ugly, uncivil truth, as loudly and insistently as we possibly can.

RICHARD WARD lives in New Mexico. He can be reached at: r.ward47@gmail.com


Richard Ward divides his time between New Mexico and Ecuador. His novel about the early 70s, Over and Under, can be seen here. He can be reached at: r.ward47@gmail.com.