Sarah Palin, blood libel, and the Inigo Montoya problem
I have been planning on writing on this subject for a while, and the statement issued by Sarah Palin regarding the tempest swirling around the terrorist act in Tucson, Arizona, provides the last bit of incentive.
Former Governor Palin used the phrase “blood libel” in her statement, making me wonder why, in something that was supposedly responding to the condemnation of the violent imagery and phrases used in right-wing language, the word “blood” was invoked so soon after the shedding of so much blood, especially those of innocents as noted so poignantly below. (NOTE: According to Wikipedia, “Blood libel (also blood accusation) refers to a false accusation or claim that religious minorities, almost always Jews, murder children to use their blood in certain aspects of their religious rituals and holidays. Historically, these claims have–alongside those of well poisoning and host desecration–been a major theme in European persecution of Jews.”)
Although I fail often, I do try to recall Hanlon’s Razor, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” In this case, I think Governor Palin and her advisors suffer from the Inigo Montoya problem, named by me for and best illustrated by a quote from the character Inigo Montoya from the movie The Princess Bride, written by William Goldman:
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
I think the fact that Governor Palin (and by implication, her advisors) could not stay away from a phrase like “blood libel” with its implication of offense towards the self-appointed victim Palin (libel) and the imagery of violence (blood) indicates a fundamental problem of understanding on the part of the right-wing.
They do not understand that many take this imagery seriously. Many on the left-wing fear those who use the imagery are serious (and perhaps that induction of fear is purposeful), and many of the mentally unbalanced think that if these images are used by major public figures without condemnation, it MUST be accepted behavior as well.
In other words, I’m trying to give the benefit of a doubt in that those who are using the imagery and phrases of violence do not know that the imagery and phrases they use mean much more than they think they mean.
I have recently read on other weblogs many posts that state directly or indirectly, “you can’t argue with crazy” with the assertion that the crazy isn’t just on the part of the murderer in Arizona but also on the part of those who use the hateful, violent language and imagery that have become so pervasive from the right-wing. I say that you also cannot argue with stupid, and far too many on the right-wing are stuck on stupid, too busy taking offense at anything that infringes in the least on their worldview, and their words become ever more violent, and yes, bloody. Otherwise, why would Governor Palin, in the aftermath of so much bloodshed, use a phrase like “blood libel”?
The only way the violent imagery in this country will no longer be acceptable “speech” is when people choose to stop being stupid, because this stupidity is by choice. It’s too difficult for many to consider a point of view different than their own, so they just reject it out of hand, and then according to our historical norms in the United States, they demand it be destroyed.
The Inigo Montoya problem will never go away, but at the least we can insist that the imagery and phrases of violence, blood, and death be deemed unacceptable when used by anyone who wants to be taken seriously and listened to, just as the words “nigger” or “whore” or “bitch” or “bastard” are all thought of as unacceptable to be used in political speech.
Cross-posted to Random Fate.