By Dave Lindorff
"The wranglers over creeds and dogmas are perhaps the most persistent of all agitators; the bedrock idea being that a wrong exists which must be found and exterminated."
-- Eugene Debs
"Get it straight, I'm not a humanitarian, I'm a hell-raiser."
I'm going to take issue here with the mainstream media commentariat (and even some on the left) about the issue of "civil discourse."
There are two main arguments being made, and both are wrong.
One is that our politic process is being damaged by violent and intemperate rhetoric, and the other is that this violence is coming from both the right and the left.
On the first point, there is a big difference between violent rhetoric and intemperate rhetoric. Violent rhetoric is where a speaker actually tries to incite her or his listeners to violent action. Intemperate rhetoric is simply rhetoric that is not temperate, as in polite, respectful, calm. That is, it is angry, it perhaps heaps scorn on some other party, it condemns the actions and motives of an opponent, and it seeks to rile up its intended audience.
There are times, I would agree, when violent rhetoric can be akin to the proverbial shout of "Fire!" in a crowded theater, and such speech--the kind of speech that used to be used to rouse a crowd to become a lynch mob--should rightly be viewed as a criminal act. But riling up a crowd to kill somebody is different from riling up a crowd to, say, damage construction equipment that is about to destroy a poor neighborhood to make way for a casino development, riling up a crowd of workers to break into a plant and engage in a sit-down strike to prevent the shipping of the machinery overseas, or riling up a crowd to resist a forcible eviction in a foreclosure.