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The Gabrielle Giffords conversation continues: Looking for meaning in Tucson

January 11, 2011 | 11:44 am


A CBS News poll released Tuesday found that 57% of people surveyed didn't find a connection between heated political rhetoric and the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Such was not the case when the news broke on Saturday; message boards were flooded with knee-jerk accusations before any facts were released.

In Tuesday's Opinion pages, Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and the author of "Why People Believe Weird Things," explains why people reacted the way they did. "Our brains abhor randomness and seek meaning," he writes, explaining that people are hardwired to connect the dots between cause and effect; in this case, Sarah Palin's infamous cross-hairs map and the Giffords shooting. "Patternicity is what our brains do. We can't help it. We see those clusters of events and naturally seek out deep causal meaning in some grand, overarching theory. But as often as not, events in life turn on chance, randomness and statistical probabilities that are largely beyond our control."

Elsewhere in our pages, the editorial board points to two lessons we can learn from the Giffords tragedy. One: People should wait for the facts before they react. Two. It's time to tone down the vitriol in our political discourse. Just because there's no connection between the "tea party" and the shootings, "That doesn't mean … that anyone should condone the increasingly incendiary and violent rhetoric that characterizes today's political debate."

 Keith Olbermann would agree with that. Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg would not.

 In Tuesday's column, he rolls his eyes at what he calls a liberal movement to change the "lock and load" tone of the political rhetoric. "Mark David Chapman, the madman who murdered John Lennon, claimed to be in no small part inspired by 'The Catcher in the Rye.' Should that be banned?" he asks. "Or if not, should we "dismiss" from public life anyone who doesn't denounce J.D. Salinger?"

On Wednesday, President Obama is scheduled to speak at a memorial service in Tuscon. It will be interesting to see if his comments take a political tone.


Two gay heroes thwart assassinations -- what a difference 35 years make

Shooting from the lip in reaction to Gabrielle Giffords tragedy

The exploitive rhetoric of tragedy

Vitriol and violence

Cause and effect and Tucson

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Flowers left by well-wishers are stack on the center steps of the U.S. Capitol to honor the victims of Saturday's mass shooting in Arizona. Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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