It depends in part on the perspective that you have. If you look at the country over the time that I've grown up I'll be 70 this year or even over the period of time my parents grew up. The country was, I think, a country that tried to have both a civil discourse and tried to avoid the kind of explosive events of the last few days. I think that if you go back over the last hundred years, you'll see that up until the last quarter century, instances of this kind of violence were much more unusual didn't mean they never happened but were much more unusual. And what happened, I think, over the last quarter century is a combination of things that have made the society less civil and more dangerous.I think part of that has been the rhetoric, which calls into question not only differences of opinion but the inherent goodness and even patriotism of the people on the other side. It's a culture of personal attacks. I think that another trend has been the explosion of a media that not only plays the role of disseminating this much more widely and much more dramatically than would have ever happened before also plays the role of stimulating a level of intensity and extremism in terms of debate that is different, at least to a degree, than what we've been used to for most of the 20th century. The third thing is the increasing glorification of gun possession and use. We've always been a society where people have liked to hunt, but people have disconnected the normal utility of firearms from the culture of firearms per se. The automatic pistol, which has got no conceivable use in terms of hunting and very little conceivable use in terms of defense, becomes something that the possession of and easy possession of becomes almost a matter of principle to some people. I think all three of those trends together have a significant effect in terms of making events like that in Arizona more likely.
Now I think those are contributing causes, but not by themselves a sufficient cause. You need to combine those kind of things with a certain mental instability. But the problem is that we always have had and probably always will have people who are mentally unstable. And the question is: What is the culture in which they operate and how does that culture affect what they end up doing?
The reason I said it depends a bit on your historical perspective is that I think we are a much more civil and safe society than we have been at other periods in our history. While I think it's fair to point out that probably several more people were killed in Arizona in this incident than died at the OK Corral, that's a product in part of our increasing population. When events like this happen, they affect more people, but the level of law and order and even of civil discourse I think is probably better now than it was 150 years ago. I think the unfortunate thing is that after a long trend where a number of factors combined to make this country more civil, more tolerant, a more safe society, over the last quarter century you've seen contrary elements that have gone in the opposite direction.
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