Friday, April 01, 2005

Pre-emptive Illogic

I noticed a couple of news stories from the last few days here in Denver that illustrate some trends I'm seeing.

You've probably read or heard about one of them already. President Bush was in Denver a few days back as part of his pitch to sell his proposed changes to Social Security. If you've followed Bush's public events for the past 5 years--including his campaign appearances-- you know that only carefully screened folks who already agree with Bush get into these things.

Bush rarely faces anybody who disagrees with him in public. Everything is carefully state-managed and controlled so nothing spontaneous or "off-message" can occur.

Anyway, three folks from Denver showed up at the event. Apparently they pulled up in a van that had a bumper sticker which said "No more blood for oil," which all of us have seen from time to time on lots of cars over the past few years. They were dressed appropriately and behaved well by all accounts and came in and took their seats.

A guy dressed up like a secret service agent then approached them and forced them to leave. Turns out it wasn't a secret service guy but a Bush political worker. He had seen the bumper sticker and ejected them on the basis that they might "cause trouble" at the meeting.

Something so silly was destined to find it's way into the news, and the story broke quickly around the country.

The current White House press secretary defended the action by claiming that it may have stopped potential heckling at the event. Of course, this is the same White House that very recently claimed they don't believe the press has any "balancing" function in our national affairs.

Welcome to "pre-emptive" event management.

These people had done nothing inappropriate or illegal, but were bounced out of what is euphemistically called a "town meeting" simply because they had a bumper sticker on their van that took issue with a Bush policy.

Apparently, the Bush operatives read the minds of the people attending, or maybe they had information from the CIA that these people possessed weapons of mass disruption and an intent to heckle.

I'm heartened by the fact that a few folks--both Republican and Democrat--have obviously found this goofy and somewhat disturbing. But it seems to me that most folks simply accept it as ok given the current cultural climate.

Since when are hecklers ejected from a town hall meeting before they actually heckle? And even if they did eventually heckle Bush, so what? Are our political leaders such whimps that they can't deal with the kind of thing that professional athletes face on a daily basis? Past presidents faced down hecklers all the time.

Since 9-11 this idea of pre-emption--basically, let's take action against anything that might be construed as negative even before it happens--has taken hold in ways that I think are both silly and scary.

Here's another quick example that I think is closely linked to the town hall events. Last week a couple of Latino high schoolers here in Denver got in a fight at some social event off campus. Ten of their fellow classmates witnessed the fight.

All twelve of these high school students-including the 10 kids who just watched the fight--were suspended from school for an entire year.

Many folks here are up in arms about the injustice of the punishment, particularly for the kids who were simply bystanders.

Here's how this is related to the pre-emptive illogic theme. Colorado had its own local 9-11 a number of years back at Columbine High School.

Folks here since that time are hyper-attentive to any hint of school violence. Every school does extensive educational programs warning against violence and also against bullying other kids. Most folks here believe the Columbine shootings happened mostly because the two shooters were bullied and harrassed relentlessly by some classmates which finally led them to snap.

I'd guess it was more complicated and disturbing than that, but their basic point is important.

While the officials who handed down the suspensions haven't explained their reasoning, their implicit logic is pretty clear to everybody in state. Some like the logic and some of us don't.

They believe any altercation, even if it happens off-campus, could lead to violence or repercussions on campus.

In this version of pre-emptive illogic, all measures must be taken--including suspending people who only witnessed the fight for an entire school year--in order to preclude any possibility of fights or altercations which might escalate into a shooting or something really serious on campus.

The school officials here--along with the Bush political operatives--want to avoid any unpleasant outcomes. Even if you have to go to extremes and inflict harsh outcomes on others to do it.

Paranoia is pretty popular at this point. We can thank 9-11 for that. That's probably the main point I want to make, so you can skip the rest of the post if you'd like.

In the case of the town hall meeting, George Bush might have faced--God forbid--people that disagree with him in a public setting.

The high school administrators here in Denver are obviously covering their butts in the current fear-filled environment. Their careers and their committment to support their families are at stake if they aren't seen to be making every effort to stop the potentially violent barbarians who are at the gates. The barbarians always seem to be Mexicans or Arabs or somebody else that doesn't look right.

I understand that some government officials thought it was better to be safe than sorry after 9-11.

But when paranoid thinking leads to the ridiculous (in the case of the Bush town hall meeting) and the unjust (in the case of the suspensions), and when people start accepting those kinds of actions in the name of heading off some vague or highly subjective "negative outcome," it's time to start making some changes in the public mood and the cultural direction.

Hey, I thought this whole Jesus take was about overcoming fear with faith. Christians helped create these embarrassing and unjust cultural currents and we can help change them.


Blogger Jason said...

I could be way off on this because I don't know much of anything about the British Parliament, but I always enjoy watching the British parliament sessions, because they are all packed into this tiny space and Tony Blair is constantly getting heckled by the parliament - but he handles it so well, it really makes you like him. But its refreshing because it seems like conflict, and even teasing, is encouraged and built into the system.

11:59 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home