Something struck me in the wake of the Giffords massacre as the national conversation turned to the “climate of violence” that has taken over right-wing political rhetoric as of late.
To start, I want to say that my heart aches for those who were injured or lost loved ones in that horrific event. I hope for a speedy and complete recovery for those who were injured, including Rep. Giffords, and peace for the families and friends of loved ones whose lives were abruptly ended that day.
That said, this post has nothing to do with that event except peripherally in the discussion of the language and metaphors people are using to process it, because some of those metaphors are scientific ones.
America has become a toxic political climate as of late, as many pundits have commented in the wake of this tragedy. And, indeed, there have been a great many incidents over the last few years of violent metaphors used in political rhetoric (“Don’t retreat, reload”), thinly veiled threats of violence (“second amendment remedies”), intimidation, and aggression. Whether or not you agree that these things are bad, the point that I want to make is that, since examples of this style of speach and these kinds of actions abound, the use of the term political climate makes an apt metaphor.
Climate, in short, is the generally prevaling weather conditions of a particular region. No one weather event could define a climate, but the composite of weather events over a span of years to decades or more compose the climate. So, the western Oregon high desert may get some days of heavy rain now and again, but the prevailing weather trend is for low precipitation, so we call it a semiarid steppe climate.
A political climate could be defined similarly as the generally prevailing rhetorical devices and activities employed in the political debate. Joe Wilson yelling “You lie!” in the middle of a presidential address is a political event, as was Michele Bachmann’s reminder that having a revolution every now and then is a good thing. These things collectively make a political climate that has, in turns, been referred to as “toxic,” “violent,” and “revolutionary.”
So, if Americans understand the concept of climate so well, why do I still hear people declaring the death of global warming whenever it snows?
Let’s just put an end to this now and forever, then, shall we? You know what climate means. I know you know what climate means. You now know that I know that you know what climate means. Stop playing dumb and start looking seriously at what global warming means and how we should respond to it collectively.
No more silliness.