If you’ve been perusing this blog awhile, you might not expect what you’re about to read.
Like every national tragedy, the horrific shootings in Arizona last weekend have led to instant analysis of the broader picture—especially what this says about us, our laws, and the remedies required. A groundswell of voices is calling for dialogue, for reaching across divides, for “disagreeing without being disagreeable.” More stridently, pundits like Gary Hart have explicitly blamed our toxic public discourse for Jared Loughner’s actions.
Naturally, as someone who cares deeply about dialogue, I would join that groundswell in a heartbeat. Right?
Would that I could.
Look, I am always delighted to see civil, compassionate dialogue get the support it deserves. I think the president hit the right note in his Tucson speech: this tragedy can serve as a catalyst to re-examine our actions and behave more civilly. But precisely because I care about dialogue, I don’t want to connect it causally to the horror in Arizona. Not yet, anyway.
Why not? First consider the evidence—or, more to the point, the lack thereof. We still know precious little about Loughner. What we do know points to serious mental imbalance at the root of his actions. Almost nothing connects him directly with our scorched-earth public discourse. Any connection we make, therefore, is tenuous at best, at least right now, until more evidence comes in.
Consider too our emotional state. Simply put, we are a nation in shock. If you have ever experienced shock, you know it is impossible to think straight. Same deal here.
Authentic dialogue is about clarity, a quest to uncover truth wherever possible, a “listening together” to grasp what the situation is saying to us. By its very nature, this kind of dialogue—whether among friends, between partisans, or across the blogosphere—takes time: time to reflect, time to build on one another’s perspectives, time for new facts to emerge.
Yes, we do need to restore civil dialogue to our public square. The effort to foster it should proceed regardless of any connection with the Arizona shootings. In the weeks and months to come, there will be plenty of opportunity to reflect on that connection. But now is not the time. Better to grieve now and reason together later.