Our Response to Tragedy

We have far too many multi-victim attacks in our current society. Guns, cars, bombs are all instruments of death for those who seek to lash out for whatever reason. All deaths are tragedies, but those of children are especially devastating and the crime that causes them the most heinous of all. Now, the most immediate human response for tragedies is to seek those who we believe should bear the blame for the deaths and to punish them. Media outlets intrude upon mourners, urging them to name the guilty. Parents, unhinged by the pain of the unexpected loss, will rage against people and institutions without having a chance to engage in clear thought. The media will hypothesize, guess, ask leading questions, and finish sentences for those unable to talk through their anguish. Politicians will say we told you so one side to the other, each attempting to score political points in an upcoming election just as earnestly as the cable news channels are trying to be the most watched by reporting the gruesomest details of the event. They will continue to report until the news cycle is reset by the next most horrible event. That much of what they report is hearsay, as in, “I was in second grade with the perpetrator and I knew then he was no good,” bothers them not. And local, state and national police and politicians will parade every three hours in front of the cameras to tell you they still don’t know what happened or why. “Hello, I’m the head of the local union of teachers and I want to tell you how saddened we are and that we need politicians who will do something to prevent things like this happening in the future,” now let me introduce the local FBI Special Agent In Charge who has absolutely nothing to do with this incident but will still take your time and tell you nothing.

I will not discuss the particulars of any one of the most recent shootings, stabbings, bombings or people being run down in the streets and on the sidewalks or thrown under trains in the NYC subway system. I will, however, point this out: according to the Washington Post, the number of children who died by gunshot in Chicago in 2021 was 59; in Philadelphia 36; in Los Angeles 11; in Washington, D.C. 9. Where is the public outcry for these dead children? Do not their parents suffer as well? Where has the media gone? Where are the politicians? Where are the cameras and microphones?

When I was in high school we had pickup trucks in the student parking lot that had rifles in the back window. In my twelve years of school we never had a school shooting anywhere in the United States. Until Whitman climbed to the top of the Texas Library we did not have indiscriminate killing of multiple victims and Whitman had a pecan-sized brain tumor that may have caused his hostile actions. It’s hard to say given the state of medical imaging and knowledge of brain tumors in the 1960’s. There were no CT or MRI scans and so his aggression had been treated with valium. But Whitman was an exception to the rule and there were no other cases of multiple indiscriminate killings to give cause. And now we have a killings in the streets of all our cities. Single, double, triple homicides and every few months a Uvalde or Buffalo. What has changed in that half-century plus ten?

The answer is easy:first, the population in 1965 was 194 million; today it is 350 million. That means there are more people who might commit similar acts. But the most important difference is that society has changed. The concept of individual responsibility has given way to collectivism where no-one is ever responsible for what they do because society has shaped them to think they may do whatever. More importantly, we have devolved into a number of sub-societies with each having its own codes and expectations of behavior. We pushed people into ghettos, barrios and substandard living conditions and then were surprised when those areas morphed into encampments where the strong preyed upon the weak. We placed the blame for an individual’s action upon society and its environment while leaving nature and nurture out of the equation. We didn’t explain to children that actions in the real world have consequences or that the world is basically unfair. We haven’t shown them that pulling the trigger on a real gun vice a video game weapon has much different consequences. We, as a society have been exposed to the gore of big screen dismemberment and death We created programs for people to attend that was counter to the cultures in which they were growing up. So, no-one came. We pay people to have children out of wedlock and we pay others to stay home and not work. We devalued those who are victimized promising society would do a better job in the future, but it didn’t. We didn’t teach victims how not to be victims. We created a society where, if something is wrong, it is some else’s fault and not ours.

Perhaps one of the most important things we have not done is teach our children to fail. Failing is a large part of real life says he who routinely receives rejection notices for his essays and short stories. But we don’t teach children about failure and how to deal with it. Instead, we don’t keep score, we give everyone a trophy and we call for equity built into our education system and, for that matter, across society. The real world is all about failure for everyone but a gifted few who have learned to succeed within narrow paths and have the good sense to remain within those paths. Children need to learn that they are not equal to all others in physical, intellectual and other pursuits. They need to be taught how failure can be a significant learning experience so that when they have passed the everyone gets a trophy phase they don’t fall into a deep depression and drop out or become angry and strike out.

We have done too much for the criminal element by not addressing the root causes of criminality. There are many other things we have done in the name of justice for the criminal; bail reform is supposed to be unjust; It’s to keep violent offenders off the streets, but judges defense attorneys and legislators playing to special interests groups, haven’t seen it that way. Our punishments are not apt. We send young adults into a prison that will teach them to be more violent criminals. Our criminal justice system is neither speedy nor fair. We’re more concerned with motivation for a violent act than we are with whether a violent act was perpetrated. We don’t protect those in custody as we should. Lots and lots of things, and now we reap the crop of bitter weeds we planted.

Oh, for those of you who think I may be one of those gun lovers: I don’t own a gun but I am well trained in how to use them. My personal take on guns is: we should pass legislation that makes gun ownership like car ownership including taking out insurance. You must apply for a license, take lessons and pass a test that demonstrates you know how to use the weapon you’ve purchased. And for those of you who believe this would somehow violate the second amendment I cannot agree. The key words in the second amendment aren’t,” The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged.” The key words are, “A well-regulated militia being essential…” Congress could pass a law establishing well-regulated militias and requiring that you be a member of a militia to own a gun.

That said, the problem we face isn’t guns or cars or bombs. It’s a society which has embraced violence as part of its culture. It’s politicians who want to treat the symptom instead of the disease and it’s lawyers and judges who want to make law rather than enforce it.

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