“I shouted out, ‘Who killed the Kennedy’s.’ Well, after all it was you and me.”- Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil
“Can’t we all get along?”- Rodney King
The most recent mass shooting tragedy in the United States pretty much requires all reporters, bloggers, activists, etc. to focus upon it at least until the next such event or, in a more hopeful scenario, until the memory fades.
But we have less and less instances where memory is allowed to fade. One doesn’t have to look far or wait long before another such atrocity grabs the headlines. Right now there seems to be enough time to complete a memorial service before the spotlight must be ceded to the next star.
And, as I see in today’s headlines, there is the obligatory “search for answers”. But we really don’t get answers, at least not satisfying ones. We usually learn a little biographical detail with speculation on events and circumstances that might have influenced the perpetrator (ahem excuse me, alleged perpetrator) to commit the act in question. People seem to be concerned with things like socioeconomic status, education, geographical information about where they were born and raised, etc.
Are we asking the wrong questions? Well not really. But I think we are asking them from the wrong perspective. The fact seems to be that we live in an increasingly violent world but seem to think of violence differently based on the perception of where we are geographically, economically, socially and politically.
Violence in Gaza, Libya, China, urban ghettos, war/conflict zones and the perceived legitimacy of the given conflicts all serve to alter the way acts of violence are written about and, presumably, the way they are perceived. And it is easier to “analyze” a conflict from a safe place if one has that luxury. And it is easier to recommend solutions from that perspective irrespective of whether those solutions would actually work.
The perception and analysis of violent events is heavily dependent on perspective. The shooting in Aurora, Colorado occurred in a middle class, predominantly white (61.12% by the 2010 census) suburb of Denver. It was curiously close to the Columbine tragedy but the area is not one generally known for violence. The site of the tragedy, a movie theater, is also not a venue associated with actual violence. And the “alleged” perpetrator, a reportedly intelligent graduate student in neuroscience, also does not fit the picture of someone from whom we would expect violence. So the post event news reports focus on the seeking of “answers”.
In an earlier post about a very similar tragedy (Pressure Valves article) I proposed a pressure relief valve metaphor. And I think that the metaphor is still appropriate but I am now suggesting a widening of perspective.
Does this tragedy have racial overtones, political ones, economic ones, psychological ones, sociological ones, etc.? Yes, all of the above and more. I believe that, in the ideal world, violence is the last resort after having exhausted other more reasonable attempts at resolution. It is not an intellectual solution, nor a solution at all really to inflict violence. But it is an increasingly pervasive method at least by what I read in the news.
If someone had perpetrated a mass shooting in a theater showing a Batman premiere in Gaza (or Israel), China, Rwanda or some urban ghetto it would be reported and perceived very differently. But the “answers”, I believe, would be the same. “The tragedy occurred because of poverty of mind and/or pocket in a politically oppressed region with high unemployment, etc, etc.”. The perspective would have the connotation that somehow the tragedy is acceptable or at least expected in context.
So I would submit that we are asking the right questions wanting to know what kind of person/society/conditions causes someone to act that way. But the answers may not be the ones we want to hear. The answers will not tell us how different these societies or people are. They will show us instead a mirror. Anyone can be pushed over that edge.
And the solutions which I believe are in our hands are nonetheless ones which we seem increasingly reticent to engage: fairness, equality, kindness, etc. Easily said but these solutions require things like redistribution of wealth, serious scrutiny of how we treat each other, openness to non-violent strategies, cooperation, etc. Things I find pretty scarce right now. And the answers to why we don’t have these solutions are perhaps the questions we need to be asking more loudly.
So let us mourn quickly because, wherever you live, whoever you are, tragedy may be just around the next corner.