BY EDWIN E. VINEYARD
In order to make a point, personal anecdotes are often helpful. This piece contains two such personal stories, which hopefully will be drawn together to illustrate a point. That point regards the persistent vein of sophistry being practiced by one segment of our political spectrum as a form of denial and defense in the aftermath of the Tucson massacre.
This writer was once accused of sophistry, and while in some intellectual circles in early Greece that might have been a compliment of sorts, it was not perceived as such by this former professor. Having been called to the academic vice president’s office in one of our major universities regarding the work of an outside statewide committee which he chaired, this writer was told to disavow their recommendation which I was to present to another state governing body shortly. After my reply that began: “With all due respect,” all heck broke loose.
In the harangue which followed, I attempted to provide logical answers why I could not conform to his order. These were met by other demands, and by accusations that I would hurt the university. At one point, while stating a requirement of conscience, I was accused of sophistry. On that, I left. But I did survive, integrity intact, and the university never fell apart.
An accusation of sophistry, i.e. skillful but fallacious and deceitful reasoning, can be a quite insulting to an academic.
In one of our regional universities, where this writer once headed the student counseling services, he had the unusual experience of listening to a student with quite different problems. She was an attractive woman of about 30 or so, and she was referred to my office because of her complaints about being sexually harassed by one of the faculty members.
She related to me that Dr. X had made sexual advances to her. That seemed strange to me, as it had been to the referring faculty advisor, since we both knew Dr. X to be one of the older, conservative, fuddy-duddy types on our staff, even a bit dull and dowdy. She was non-specific in describing the nature of those advances, what he said, or the “looks” he gave her. Then she began to tell me about others who had also done such. She had complaints about the woman driver of her car pool, whom she mistrusted. That progressed on to her story about not eating in the college cafeteria because somebody there was poisoning her food. She had also had trouble with a downtown restaurant poisoning her food.
I recognized that I was dealing with a textbook case of paranoid schizophrenia. I offered to make an appointment for her with an area doctor [psychiatrist]. She was to come back. But the next time I encountered her was in the president’s office, where she had gone to complain that I had “roughed her up.” After we clarified the meaning of “roughing up,” I asked her to relate to the president about the food problem. Hearing that he became quite agitated, called that “crazy talk,” told her to go, and to follow my advice.
The driver of her car pool came to see me and asked, “Dr. Vineyard, do you think she is dangerous? Am I in danger?”
I answered, “No. Not unless she decides some day that you are the one who is poisoning her food. If she decides on who that is, they could be in some danger.”
This brings us to the point. Mentally ill people may be quite benign in society, except for requiring care and treatment, which many are not getting. But there are many out there who may be potentially dangerous with the distortions of reality in their thought processes. They are susceptible to voices, both imagined and real. They may have pent up impulses and repressed behaviors waiting to be loosed.
In other words, they are out there, but they are relatively benign – until they are told who is poisoning their food. When one of those breaks loose, and goes on a rampage that may include killing a bunch people at a political gathering, it is rank sophistry to offer reasoning why the rhetoric of violence and hate practiced by the right-wing bears no responsibility.
The talk of “in the cross-hairs,” “lock and load,” “Second amendment solutions,” “get your ammunition ready,” and all such are enough to focus the mind of a deranged listener on a target. Many of us have warned that the rhetoric and the symbolism of the Tea Party are suggestively violent in nature. Some Tea Party speakers have advocated outright destruction at targeted offices, of which the Tucson congresswoman’s office was one vandalized.
Carrying guns to political affairs is threatening. So are the signs carried insulting our democratic government. Use of Hitler, Nazi, communist, or tyrant are inflammatory. Speaker Boehner’s exclamations of “Hell, no,” or his use of words such as “job killing health bill” or “death panel” and “death tax” are meant to be inciting to emotions. Hooliganism and shouting at Town Halls, fomented by Tea Party sympathizers, have no place in civil discourse.
The incessant beating of the same drums by a certain television “news” channel and by certain radio commentators foments and incites anger and hostility.
Denying any responsibility for violence against political targets, when it occurs, requires rank sophistry. But there is also the matter of incubating genuine fanatics who perform or condone such acts as the shooting of the Wichita abortion clinic doctor, because they are provided the thought that it is right, necessary, or God’s will. There, too, we find similar sophist reasoning as a defense – just as in politics.
– Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate, lives in Enid, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer