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Freedom of Speech and Incitement to violence

Following up on yesterday’s post touching on the dangers of excessive rhetoric…

Here’s the story of conservative radio host Hal Turner. Turner was arrested last week for advocating violence.

Here’s a sampling from his website:

Tonight at 9:00 PM, “The Hal Turner Show” will talk about the recent killing of an abortionist and what the shooter did wrong. No, not the shooting itself; but rather what he did wrong that got him caught! We’ll talk at length about how to carry out such an act and significantly reduce the chances of getting caught. Lets face it; America is in big trouble and only force and violence are going to clean it up. Tonight, we’ll talk about how to use force and violence and not get caught.

Reacting to U.S. Court of Appeals decision that upheld a Chicago firearm ban, Turner posted pictures, office addresses, a map and a picture of the building with arrows pointing to the offices of the three judge panel, saying that home addresses were soon to follow.

Then there was this (the “straw” on the arrest warrent) just a few posts down (link added):

TRN advocates Catholics in Connecticut take up arms and put down this tyranny by force. To that end, THIS WEDNESDAY NIGHT ON “THE HAL TURNER SHOW” we will be releasing the home addresses of the Senator and Assemblyman who introduced Bill 1098 as well as the home address of Thomas K. Jones from the OSE. After all, if they are so proud of what they’re doing, they shouldn;t mind if everyone knows where they live. It is our intent to foment direct action against these individuals personally. These beastly government officials should be made an example of as a warning to others in government: Obey the Constitution or die. If any state attorney, police department or court thinks they’re going to get uppity with us about this; I suspect we have enough bullets to put them down too.

Apparently this is nothing new for Mr. Turner. From 2006 during the debate on immigration reform and amnesty, posted on Mr. Turner’s website:


Quotes by “those people”… Don’t divide into “them and “us”

Guess the speaker… again, it is someone that roughly half the population really dislikes.

Don’t divide the world into “them” and “us.” Avoid infatuation with or resentment of the press, the Congress, rivals, or opponents. Accept them as facts. They have their jobs and you have yours.

Yeeha! The science behind The Village Square

haidtIf you’ve been hanging around with us for a couple of years thinking we might just be onto something, today’s Nicholas Kristof column in the New York Times, “Would You Slap Your Father, If So You’re a Liberal,” suggests you’re right. Plus the title is enough to make even our most conservative readers head straight for the Times’ website for a read…

So how do we discipline our brains to be more open-minded, more honest, more empirical? A start is to reach out to moderates on the other side – ideally eating meals with them, for that breaks down “us vs. them” battle lines that seem embedded in us. (In ancient times we divided into tribes; today, into political parties.) The Web site www.civilpolitics.org is an attempt to build this intuitive appreciation for the other side’s morality, even if it’s not our morality.

“Minds are very hard things to open, and the best way to open the mind is through the heart,” Professor Haidt says. “Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games.”

Thus persuasion may be most effective when built on human interactions.

We thought so.

Sunday at the Square: A lighthouse and a crossroads

notre-dameAmid the swirl of debate surrounding his visit, President Obama delivered his Notre Dame commencement speech today. He invoked Father Ted Hesburgh, President of University of Notre Dame for over 3 decades:

Father Hesburgh has long spoken of this institution as both a lighthouse and a crossroads. A lighthouse that stands apart, shining with the wisdom of the Catholic tradition, while the crossroads is where “differences of culture and religion and conviction can coexist with friendship, civility, hospitality, and especially love.”

Obama ended his speech recalling Father Hedsburgh and an inside story of the Civil Rights Commisison:

There were six members of this commission. It included five whites and one African American; Democrats and Republicans; two Southern governors, the dean of a Southern law school, a Midwestern university president, and your own Father Ted Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame. So they worked for two years, and at times, President Eisenhower had to intervene personally since no hotel or restaurant in the South would serve the black and white members of the commission together. And finally, when they reached an impasse in Louisiana, Father Ted flew them all to Notre Dame’s retreat in Land OLakes, Wisconsin — where they eventually overcame their differences and hammered out a final deal.

And years later, President Eisenhower asked Father Ted how on Earth he was able to broker an agreement between men of such different backgrounds and beliefs. And Father Ted simply said that during their first dinner in Wisconsin, they discovered they were all fishermen. And so he quickly readied a boat for a twilight trip out on the lake. They fished, and they talked, and they changed the course of history.

Civility is a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

This, from an actual written brainstorming session on grants:

I recognize that Village Square and alcohol shouldn’t formally be bedfellows… I certainly don’t want to encourage tomfoolery which may lead to debauchery then vagrancy, or encourage some sort of “lush” connotation for the organization.

Don’t you wish your grant-writing were half as entertaining?

We have met the enemy, and it is us.

“If you look at what’s happened to great Republics in the past, they generally have not fallen because of external threats. They’ve fallen because of internal threats. Let’s look at Rome as an example, which is the longest standing Republic in the history of mankind. The Roman Republic fell for many reasons, but three seem to resonate today. Declining moral values and political civility at home, overconfident and overextended militarily around the world and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government. We need to wake up, recognize reality and that we have to start making tough choices sooner rather than later, so we can be the first Republic to stand the test of time.”

— Dave Walker, President and CEO, Peter G. Peterson Foundation

Sunday at the Square: Freedom and responsibility

purple-state-of-mind.jpgCraig Detweiler writes about the need for the dueling worldviews of the 50’s and the 60’s to come together, to value the lessons of responsibility from the 50’s and the benefits of freedom from the 60’s. “A purple state of mind borrows from both, combining freedom and responsibility.”

From a secular perspective, this is a repetition of the Village Square lesson that we – as a society – are not really whole unless we can engage with people who don’t see it our way. Out of that engagement comes an understanding of our blindspots and hopefully – eventually – better ideas.

From a Christian perspective, he writes in his book Purple State of Mind: Finding Middle Ground in a Divided Culture:

Our desperate need for freedom and responsibility rests in the seemingly contradictory letters of the apostle Paul. He applied his godly advice in a unique way for the audience he was addressing. To Corinthian Christians navigating a libertine culture, he preached caution. Yet to the uptight church in Galatia, Paul preaches freedom. Is Paul contradicting himself? In each letter, he concludes with an appeal to love. He preaches freedom to Galatia and responsibility to Corinth because they each need to apply the message in a unique way.

Unfortunately, we often fail to identify our particular blind spots. Legalistic churches will often reiterate the call to purity given to the Corinthians. Lax churches will return to Paul’s letter to the Galatians to justify more license. Those who need freedom cling to responsibility. Christians who need to learn responsibility insist upon the freedom Paul grants to Galatia. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Purple Epilogue: Atheists’ gift to the faithful

purple-state-of-mind.jpg To you, I’m an atheist. To God, I’m the loyal opposition.
–Woody Allen, Stardust Memories

From Craig Detweiler’s Purple State of Mind: Finding Middle Ground in a Divided Culture:

In listening to [John’s] hard questions, I am processing my own. German theologian Jurgen Moltmann asks the humbling question, “Is not every unbeliever who has a reason for his atheism and his decision not to believe a theologian too?”

Perhaps atheists offer Christians a great gift, some much-needed perspective. We can be strengthened and even encouraged by the loyal opposition…

Today’s atheists continue Nietzsche’s important idol-smashing work. They rightly expose toxic expressions of faith. They decry abuse of power and resistance to scientific progress, places where organized religion brought death rather than life. Just as ancient Israel needed correction, so the Christian community needs such critics. It is far too easy for us to get defensive.

Sunday at the Square: Civility on the Christian Right

The New York Times’ Peter Steinfels writes about a book by Jon A. Shields:

If you wanted a book title to speed the pulse of liberal academics, journalists and politicians, you couldn’t do much better than “The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right.” For many people that’s a title akin to “The Winning Ways of Serial Killers…”

“The vast majority of Christian-right leaders,” he writes, “have long labored to inculcate deliberative norms in their rank-and-file activists – especially the practice of civility and respect; the cultivation of dialogue by listening and asking questions; the rejection of appeals to theology; and the practice of careful moral reasoning.”

Mr. Shields, a 34-year-old assistant professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California, reached this conclusion after interviewing leaders of 30 Christian-right organizations, attending training seminars and surveying the materials used to instruct the rank and file.

Again and again he encountered the same injunctions: Remain civil. Engage others in conversation by inquiring into their viewpoints. Eschew arguments based on religion or the Bible in favor of facts and reasoning that might persuade people regardless of their religious convictions.

Read Steinfels’ piece in its entirety here.

A Bastille Day Special: Let them eat (purple) cake

LET-THEM-EAT-PURPLE-CAKESeldom have four words ever brought such disastrous consequence to the person who uttered them, or so goes the legend of Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake,” and that nasty business of her public beheading.

While a visit to modern day France finds Versailles proper positively dripping with the wretched excess history has assigned it, Domaine de Marie-Antoinette, the private residence of the French queen, tells a somewhat different story. Rather than the gilded surroundings the king’s riches would surely have afforded her, she built a likeness of a quaint Austrian village, complete with working vineyards and livestock.

Could Marie-Antoinette – symbol the world over of condescending wealth – be misunderstood? My trip to France last summer had me scratching my head and returning home to learn more about the queen we love to hate.

Turns out the words we’ve put in poor Marie-Antoinette’s mouth may have been spoken – if spoken at all – by the wife of a different King Louis decades earlier. And even if the doomed queen had said it, a familiarity with French law regulating the price of bread suggests she would have probably meant “let them eat expensive bread with less flour in it for the same price,” a rather generous and common sense suggestion during a flour shortage.

We do know that Marie-Antoinette said “it is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness.”


Apparently when vein-poppingly angry people pick up their pitchforks and roll out the guillotine, they’ve been known to get it wrong from time to time.

The Marie Antoniette Action Figure with Ejectable Head, will be given away as a door prize at a coming Village Square dinner!

The Marie Antoniette Action Figure with Ejectable Head, actual Village Square door prize!

As uber-partisanship and the culture war have opened a gulf between us, we have been toting our own pitchforks lately. We’ve created opposing custom-ordered villains a la Marie-Antoinette, complete with oft-repeated misquotes, half quotes, and an occasional story spun of whole cloth.

In Revolutionary France, misinformation about the queen was fueled by the libelles – venomous slander-filled booklets produced by political opponents. Besting the distribution of French libelles, America’s present day incarnation sends distortions by email clear across the universe tout de suite.

Even as Americans are called to other countries to handle the fallout of ideological hatred gone to seed, we have a homegrown and thankfully only verbal – version of what journalist John Marks calls “wars of absolute dichotomy” brewing, fueled in part by a lot that we’re getting plain wrong about each other.

John, assigned to cover Bosnia for U.S. News & World Report, has seen the danger of absolute dichotomy. He’s since teamed with college roommate filmmaker Craig Detweiler to make the film “Purple State of Mind,”a conversation between friends with different religious worldviews. John and Craig were our Village Square guests in Tallahassee in 2009 – see their program here.

John explains that shaking up partisan red and blue to make “purple” isn’t really about seeking homogenized agreement but “about taking ourselves and our concerns seriously enough to demand the utmost of ourselves and our political and cultural opponents, the utmost in moral and intellectual rigor, the utmost in compassion and decency.”

On the queen’s behalf, I’d add “the utmost in factual accuracy.”

If we’re going to bring the best of America to bear on the big problems ahead, we can ill afford the cartoon version of a civic dialog that neglects the real consequences of creating fictions rather than grasping facts. At another perilous time in our history, the Founding Fathers set a high bar for the debate because they couldn’t afford the luxury of getting it wrong.

Marie-Antoinette met her end at Place de la Concorde, Revolutionary France’s version of our televised public square, where her beheading earned the eighteenth century’s equivalent of high Nielsen ratings. Whether or not she had it coming, most of us would like to think our decision-making has grown to reflect a higher standard in the couple of centuries since, regardless of potential for market share.

As we begin writing the history of what happens next in America, perhaps we can start by at least getting the quotes right. To do that, we might occasionally put down our pitchforks long enough to break bread with someone who doesn’t see it our way. Or, maybe, in a hat tip to learning the lessons of history, we should eat cake instead.

Only this time, make it purple.


Liz Joyner is Executive Director of the Village Square

New rule: If you call names, you lose credibility

Has anyone else tired of the name-calling?

I thought so.

Why don’t we decide that from now on, if you have a hair-trigger “fascist” “socialist” “Hitler” “Antichrist” name-calling tick, we’re going to stop taking you seriously.

If you’re compelled to keep doing it anyway, you might want to stop to consider whether you’re doing your ideas good or harm. Plus you might need to save these terms for real radicals so the words still mean something.

And you might want to get out more.

There have been different ideas advanced by true patriots of different ideological persuasions from the very beginning of this country of ours.

Irony is dead.

Rush Limbaugh called Barack Obama “mean” today for his bad bowling joke.

Like how quickly the world owes him something he knew existed like ten seconds ago

“We live in an amazing, amazing world, and it’s wasted on the crappiest generation of spoiled idiots.”

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