Trying to make sense of the nonsensical.
Because it gets dark and we need to sleep eventually, we have this mechanism that attempts to make sense when there is no sense to be had. It is just part of our mentality that allows us to put our minds at rest, at least for a short time. But events such as that which transpired in Connecticut last Friday are nonsensical. We often here the phrase “senseless violence.” But I see a subtle difference in nonsense and senseless, for surely all involved probably had heightened senses. I frankly don’t know many of the details, and I really am not all that concerned with them. All I think anybody needs to know is that a young man entered a school with a relatively rapid-firing weapon and killed a bunch of innocent people, many of whom were just babies, the most innocent of us all.
Over the course of the past few days and the coming weeks, there will be discussion of preventing these tragedies. There will be discussion of the “causes” of this particular incident. There will be “experts” who give us opinions on what solutions are available to us. There will be those who espouse some cure or another, and there will even be those who take advantage of the deaths to further their own political agenda1. The reality is, I think, that events like these are really beyond our comprehension.
Life is a sliding scale.
We live by a matter of degrees. We often, consciously or unconsciously, ask ourselves, “How much can I get away with?” Most of us have this sense of good and evil. We can recognize good when we see it in the face of a nurse coming to the aid of an injured child or a young man assisting an elderly man in a grocery store. I am afraid however that we are not so good at the evil part, for I believe that evil is like most intoxicants, we develop tolerance.
I have no doubt we can sense pure evil in the form of a guy like Adolf Hitler, when we see piles of desiccated bodies in mass graves, but I think our slider of what is evil and what isn’t changes position from time to time and our exposure to events such as the Sandy Hook shooting forces us to examine where that slider sits and perhaps even overcompensate a bit in sliding it back toward the middle.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and a priest at my church this past Sunday were quick to place the blame for this event on the “lack of God” and “forces of evil” respectively. Is it a “force of evil” when a bus driver keels over from a massive heart attack while driving the interstate with a busload of little children? Is it a “lack of God” that causes the driver of a pickup truck to get behind the wheel far too drunk to drive, and yet still does and manages to cross the center line and kill a busload of kids on the way home from an amusement park?
I don’t know much about the shooter in Newtown, but I can see what lies in his wake. I see death. I see pain. I don’t know why but I can’t find the lack of God. I can’t find the lack of God in this anymore than I can’t find the lack of God in the cancer-riddled body of a ten-year old. I’m not all that certain I can find a force of evil. What I do see is a person whose good/evil slider was missing or badly skewed. What I don’t know is why. When we face that question, “How much can I get away with?” and we know the answer, and still go beyond, we are to blame and that, my friends, is perhaps a lack of God and a force of evil. But when the person can’t even form the question, where lies the blame?
Take baby steps while ignoring the bigger picture.
This is our likely course of action. We will first blame the gun. Sure, if we take semi-automatic military-style weapons away from the public, the likelihood a person who has lost himself and can shoot as many people will go down. No right-thinking2 American can possibly believe there is a reason for weapons like these to be in the hands of ordinary civilians. Also there is no need for high-capacity magazines and hollow-point cop killer bullets. I expect that some will use this tragedy to finally get something going in that regard.
But a gun is not the cause. It is an aggravating factor. But taking away guns makes us feel as if we’ve taken steps to prevent this from happening again. It won’t. Honestly, is it tangibly any less a tragedy if this happens again and only three innocent kids are murdered?
After we decide to take away the guns, the next thing we look at is how we take care of our mentally ill brethren. You know in the old days, when we thought of mental illness in wholly different ways, we used to lock away the mentally ill in asylums. That fell out of favor for some obvious reasons. Today when a person is thought to be mentally incompetent, we have procedures in place to temporarily treat them, but almost invariably3 they end up back with a loved one if they are very lucky, or on the street, which is probably where most of the them are destined to live out their days.
It is a monstrous problem and it will take a lot of money and a lot of resources to treat mental illness the way it probably ought to be treated which is to say it is unlikely much will change. We can talk a lot about doing something, but is some cases doing something and doing nothing put us in exactly the same place, and this is one of those cases. Seems to me we either go all in, or we hold the course.
The bigger picture is us.
We are the cause, really, aren’t we? All one must do is take a look at our movies, at our music, our popular culture. Guns. Death. Destruction. Immorality abounds. Look at what we worship. Brainless athletes, who beat their wives and girlfriends. We cheer them on. Beautiful and empty-headed actors. Fame. We worship fame, even fame just for fame’s sake with no redeeming quality at all. Not even athletic ability or beauty. Just dopes. Don’t even get me started on cage-fighting.
But it doesn’t even stop there. How do we pay these guys back who go into our schools and shoot up our kids? We put them and their acts on television non-stop for days on end. Broadcasting events like these continuously doesn’t help the victim. If anything, it prompts others, who may even have the benefit of a working slider, to seek fame by imitation.
These bad things don’t happen in a vacuum. We can look to Australia or China and see what they do differently, but whatever it is they do differently, I am sure it’s a wholesale difference. It isn’t a gun policy here or a mental illness facility there. It comes as a package. How we change it, I cannot say. I’ve got no answers, only questions.
I suspect we will all have more to say on this subject as the weeks progress.
1 Agenda is a plural word.
2 I realize that one ought not equate “right” with “like-mindedness.” Suffice to say that “right-minded” is a colloquialism that bears usage in this case. This is such a huge mistake, we are making here. There is simply no reason whatsoever that we allow military-style weapons in civilian hands. None at all. Shame on us for not doing something about this sooner. More shame on us if we do nothing.
3 A phrase I despise. Using pretty much any word coupled with “almost” is a mistake. However, I would suggest that there may be a few mentally ill people who end up in some sort of institution permanently. Therefore the use of invariably without a modifier fails.