On Violence, Politics, and Intimidation

I don’t know and I don’t care very much whether Jared Loughner tried to assassinate Gabrielle Giffords for political reasons. Trying to divine the motivations of madmen is a fool’s game.

I do, however, care about political discourse and the rhetoric of our daily lives.

Back in 2000 I bid on my first E-Bay auction for a video camera. A few hours after I won the auction I received an outraged email from another bidder telling me that I had screwed everything up by bidding too high for the camera.

I was shocked by the anger of the message. Why would someone bother to call me a fu**ing moron just for winning an online auction? Why would anyone care enough about an auction to write an outraged email to the winner or the loser or anyone?

Such behavior was beyond my understanding and I think it still is.

But the message did have an effect on me. I didn’t bid on any more auctions for quite a while.

I’ve had similar feelings in online discussion forums. I feel physically drained after reading some flame wars. It’s why I’m not a very good online moderator.

It’s not hard to imagine that people are turned off of politics because of the level of vitriol expressed by some people. I know I wouldn’t want to run for public office if I had to face death threats or persevere through shouting matches like the health care open houses from the summer of 2009.

I might not like the votes of politicians but I admire them, often grudgingly, for being willing to step into the public sphere and take the heat.

It’s easy to stand back and watch events. It’s easy to have an opinion. A bit harder to write or talk about that opinion to friends or in public. Even harder to lobby others to accept your position. To run for office even harder.

So here’s a toast to all of those politicians who have taken up the difficult task of trying to make the world a better place. I may vehemently disagree with your policies but I respect your choice of profession.

Todd Suomela
Associate Director for Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship Department

My interests include digital scholarship, citizen science, leadership, and communications.