This morning I drove home listening to the latest report of “some maniac with a gun”, the third such event this month. Memories of the “Batman Shooting” in Colorado and the attack at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin are already fading from my memory, lost in the volume of daily news cycle.
But what bothered me as I listened, not to FOX, but to NPR, was the repeated emphasis in the reporting that this “did not appear to be a terrorist act”. It reminded me of other such tropes I have heard on many newscasts. “The shooting appears to be gang related”, “It is not clear if drugs were involved.”, “neighbors stated that (the shooter) was a quiet person”, etc. The little humorous card image above does about as good a job of explaining things as any of these analyses.
While these may be “facts” their relevance to the situation seems rather limited. Are we really comforted that much by knowing that the killer was not working on behalf of the Taliban, a drug cartel, a gang, or under the influence of drugs? Do these statements do anything to actually explain a given shooter’s or bomber’s motivation and in the end help us prevent such tragedies? I don’t think so. The victims are no less injured or dead and the behaviors continue to be repeated. The loss of life is no less sad.
But the acquisition of facts like these, while sought after by news outlets and requested by readers, listeners and viewers, serve only to produce a sort of illusion that something is being done. The investigation is what gets focus after the initial report of the shooting. And a shower of facts come forth which appears to provide some at least temporary solace for some. And then we wait quietly for the next such event. We know that it will happen again.
All the investigations of banks, mortgage lenders, insurance companies, etc. have done nothing to alleviate our financial situation or even to prevent such things from occurring or even get many of the guilty prosecuted.. And all the analyses and revisionist histories of humanity’s involvement in wars have not succeeded in keeping us out of wars. But we look forward to these investigations, the more detailed, the better. And we anticipate the inevitably repeated mistakes of the past to occur again.
I think that there are situations in which these facts about violent occurrences can provide realistic comfort for some. If we know that the crimes are only happening in the black or hispanic neighborhoods or only happening in a particular part of the world, those privileged to live in relatively safe parts of the world could use such knowledge and simply avoid those neighborhoods or not travel to those parts of the world.
But these violent events are occurring much closer to home, in a suburban theater, a house of worship, downtown in the big apple or at an elite recreational island as occurred in Norway. And it is increasingly difficult to find a space where anyone can truly feel safe.
Another trope is the gun control debate. These shootings have and will continue to stimulate the ever contentious debate about our gun laws. And while I believe that gun laws need both reform and enforcement I don’t believe that we will ever succeed in taking guns from Americans or even that this would necessarily be a good idea. But the point is that I think many of us take comfort in the renewed gun control debate even though not much has really changed for the better.
To be sure there are the occasional human interest type stories that highlight someone trying to create peace in the world by any of a variety of methods, all well-intended. But as sincere and even successful as some of these efforts are they are usually dismissed as either a passing fad or a hippie pipe dream. Peace just doesn’t make good news.
I am not blaming reporters or news sources here. In part they respond to the demand from their consumers. I blame the lack of critical thought at large both in the news industry and in the general population. As education becomes increasingly expensive and inaccessible for most we will likely see less and less critical thought. And as frustrations and inequalities mount we will continue to see violent solutions which are as impotent as the majority of analyses that follow them. So as this latest event fades from my memory I have complete faith that it will not be the last and that the answers sought will likely remain just as irrelevant and ineffective.