This post initially appeared on Science Blogs

Lately, I find myself disagreeing with PZ far more than I used to on a number of matters. Today though, I think he's 100% correct:

What we have here is an attempted assassination of a politician by an insane crank at a political event, in a state where the political discourse has been an unrelenting howl of eliminationist rhetoric and characterization of anyone to the left of Genghis Khan as a traitor and enemy of the state...and now, when six (including a nine year old girl) lie dead and another fourteen are wounded, now suddenly we're concerned that it is rude and politicizing a tragedy to point out that the right wing has produced a toxic atmosphere that pollutes our politics with hatred and the rhetoric of violence?

Screw that. Now is the time to politicize the hell out of this situation.

For anyone living in a cave (or in a lab) - a man walked into a crowd and fired a semi-automatic weapon many times, apparently targeting a conservative democratic congresswoman, and killing or wounding 20 people. There's been plenty of talk about the violent rhetoric that's been spewed for the last 2 years, and many have blamed talk radio, Sarah Palin's map with cross-hairs over congressional districts (including congresswoman Giffords') and the like, and I don't have much to add on that front. There's been no direct connection, and there may never be, but I find it hard to believe that this atmosphere of violent hatred had nothing to do with this gunman's actions.

But I'm seeing the word "tone" coming up again. Some of you may remember there was a little event in Washington a few months ago that had the intention of restoring sanity to our political discourse. This event was panned by folks like PZ for being to squishy, and by others for a feeling of false-equivalency. I went to DC to join in because I think Jon Stewart's rally was an attempt to shine a light on the political environment that allows, if not outright condones the hate-mongering of the Limbaughs and Palins of the world. Others saw it differently, but let's be clear about a couple things in the next few skirmishes in the tone-wars that are likely to flare up due to this tragedy:

  • Folks like PZ Myers, for all their insulting and derogatory rhetoric have NEVER advocated violence. Ever. Against anyone.
  • There's a fundamental (not incremental) difference between calling someone stupid and calling them a traitor.
  • Calling for people to speak out against government abuses, or attempt to vote someone out of office is not the same as calling them terrorists.

Wherever you stand on the tone debate, let's just remember not to fold all passioned disagreement under the same umbrella with "Don't retreat, reload."


Mike's got way better summaries here and here

Update 2: Paul Krugman makes largely the same point:

It's important to be clear here about the nature of our sickness. It's not a general lack of "civility," the favorite term of pundits who want to wish away fundamental policy disagreements. Politeness may be a virtue, but there's a big difference between bad manners and calls, explicit or implicit, for violence; insults aren't the same as incitement.