Metaphors of violence

There's been a good bit of discussion of the appropriateness of using the language of armed conflict to describe attitudes of public contempt for legislators.  You have Sharon Angle's invocation of  Second Amendment Remedies for problems with Congress.  Sarah Palin posted a map with crosshairs on names of electorally vulnerable Democrats, and she's fond of evoking gun violence in how to exchange with Liberals, with "Don't Retreat, Instead RELOAD" as the catchphrase.

A few years back, CBS golf analyst, David Feherty, offered up the following joke:

If you gave any U.S. soldier a gun with two bullets in it, and he found himself in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Osama Bin Laden, there's a good chance that Nancy Pelosi would get shot twice, and Harry Reid and Bin Laden would be strangled to death

There was also a Nintendo DuckHunt-inspired game, Lame Duck Hunt (posted by "Americans for Prosperity"), where there are chances to really put the heads of  Pelosi and  Reid in some gunsights. 

Now Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) has been shot.  And John M. Roll, the chief judge for the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, fatally. 

In light of these events, it's right to ask: is the language of violence appropriate for reasonable political exchange?  Here's my initial try at an answer: People should be free to express their frustration and antagonism with those they oppose.  And the manner they express that opposition, I think, can appropriately use the language of violent conflict.  However, it is appropriate under the conditions that we are clear that the use of violent language is strictly metaphorical.  War metaphors for argument can emphasize the offensive tactical elements of argumentative exchange.  Some arguments are full frontal assaults, others are ambushes or surprise attacks, wherein one overwhelms an opponent.  One may lay to waste a position, skewer a point, or blow up a case.  Arguments may have a thrust, like that of a sword.  And consequently, every thrust can be parried.  One shores up defensive positions, and when defeated, one may be engage in rear-guard maneuvers.  One’s best arguments are heavy artillery, and one brings them out in long-standing debates to lay siege to well-defended viewpoints.

That's how I see Palin's crosshairs map and her 'reload' line.  The crosshairs are targets, that is, electoral targets – races that deserve focused attention.  The 'reload' line is more about self-confidence and trying again.   Neither are overt endorsements of violence.  But then there's Angle, Feherty, and the Lame Duck Hunt game.  These are considerably closer to endorsing real violence, not the metaphorical violence of winning an argument or election.  Angle and Feherty seem to be endorsing the use of deadly force in the face of disagreement.  The Duck Hunt game encourages you to put crosshairs right between Pelosi's eyes.

That is, there seems to be a difference between using metaphors of violence to endorse continued vigorous debate and exchange and using the language of violent confrontation as an endorsement of violent confrontation. Only the latter is morally unacceptable.  The former may have other dangers (perhaps in seeing argumentative exchanges through the lens of war), but it is not the overt commitment to physical hurt. 

There’s no modern Socrates, so you must be…

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist of some standing.  But he, unfortunately, isn't much for logic. Or, perhaps, simple consistency.  His recent article, "The New Sophists," over at National Review Online, exemplifies these two traits in spades.

Hanson's thesis is that there's just so much double-talk and empty rhetoric, especially from the left, and more especially regarding global warming.  Al Gore "convinced the governments of the Western world that they were facing a global-warming Armageddon, and then hired out his services to address the hysteria that he had helped create."  And the recent record snowfalls in the Northeast are clear evidence that global warming is a sham.  When climate scientists explained that events like this are not only consistent with global warming, but to be expected, Hanson retorts:

The New York Times just published an op-ed assuring the public that the current record cold and snow is proof of global warming. In theory, they could be, but one wonders: What, then, would record winter heat and drought prove?

It's not just climate science that has the double-talk, though.  Hanson sees it with discussions of the Constitution:

One, the Washington Post’s 26-year-old Ezra Klein, recently scoffed on MSNBC that a bothersome U.S. Constitution was “written more than 100 years ago” and has “no binding power on anything.”

To all of this, Hanson makes his analogy with classical Athens and the problem of the sophists:

One constant here is equating wisdom with a certificate of graduation from a prestigious school. If, in the fashion of the sophist Protagoras, someone writes that record cold proves record heat, . . . or that a 223-year-old Constitution is 100 years old and largely irrelevant, then credibility can be claimed only in the title or the credentials — but not the logic — of the writer.

OK. That's a nice point, at least if it were true about the cases he was discussing. (Did Hanson not read the reasons in the NYT article he never cites as to why we'd get crazy snowfalls because of global warming?  If he's going to talk about the article, talk about its argument, too.  Sheesh.  And Klein said it was over 100 years old, and that it's not binding, … but that doesn't matter to Hanson, I guess).  But it's on this point about sophists run amok that Hanson bemoans our fate:

We are living in a new age of sophism — but without a modern Socrates to remind the public just how silly our highly credentialed and privileged new rhetoricians can be.

So we don't have a modern Socrates.  So what's Hanson doing, then?  By that statement, he can't think he's Socrates or doing the job of criticizing the new rhetoricians, can he?  So what is he?  I think I know:  He's another sophist.