Originally published 1/11/11 on The Doctor Weighs In
I have been watching the awful news from Arizona with a mixture of sadness and anger. This obscure (until last Saturday) representative from Tucson was gunned down while meeting with constituents. This brave woman was there performing her constitutional duties despite being targeted by the extremist nuts with threatening phone calls, with suggestive cross –hairs graphics, with vandalism against her office, with explicit threats to her life. The instinctive reaction throughout the country was revulsion at the political vitriol, the coarsening of our discourse, the ready resort, both rhetorically and physically, to violence. And the punditry’s reaction? From the right wing, Rush Limbaugh saw yet another conspiracy by the Democrats to suppress free speech. From the centrist punditry, an admonition that no correlation has been shown between hate speech and physical violence. And from the medical community –a deafening silence. Presumably because there is no data to suggest that rhetoric can affect unstable minds. Or is it because we are simply cowed by the torrent of vitriolic contempt that is sure to be unleashed if we spoke up? Is there really no evidence to support the relationship between verbal and physical violence? Is there really no relationship between the delusions of what is called in the argot de jour “deranged mind” and the social environment?