“Dealing with massacres” seems too ambitious a title for this post; it seems to imply that I’m going to give you a course of action. No; it’s only that I have been thinking about them, and I’m reporting the most obvious conclusions I have arrived at. Actually, there’s only one major conclusion.
A massacre such as happened in Las Vegas on the night of October 1st is ultimately an act of communication. This man is telling us something. Unfortunately, what he is trying to say is, at the moment, completely unknown. Some light may be shed on it if he has left behind something, but until that happens, the whole thing is an act of communication that never succeeded.
The (missing) statement could be something like: “I hate [blank],” where blank could be almost anything: country music, or young people enjoying themselves, or the government, or people who wave the confederate flag, or people who have unprotected sex; who knows? It is possible that a suicide note has been found, and that the law enforcement people are keeping it a secret until the public is less interested in it, and (hopefully) less likely to act on the information. The man has been said to be mad, but everybody calls everybody mad, to make it appear that only insanity causes people to resort to violence.
Acts of communication of this magnitude are probably planned and executed by those who feel insignificant. They probably feel that they’re neglected or disrespected, or dismissed or ignored. We all feel that way at times, but we don’t take the trouble to acquire a score of deadly weapons, and spend all our savings on shooting a pile of innocent people. I’m not a psychologist, but it seems to me that an important task we have to address is to teach our citizens how to put feelings of insignificance in perspective.
Increasingly, looking around me, I see that our society is becoming one in which only people of higher than average intelligence can function satisfactorily. A college education Enables even those of modest intellectual gifts to function to a certain degree, for a few years. They know where to look for answers, and the point of the old adage: “It isn’t what you know, but who you know” becomes clearer: If you’re an idiot, it helps to have smart friends, who can explain things to you. As time goes on, and most of your smart (and attentive) friends begin to die off, you’re left high and dry, and ignored, confused, and disrespected (and you begin to acquire automatic weapons). This problem is going to get worse, and nobody is causing it intentionally; the world is getting steadily more complex, and there are all sorts of complexity. Some of us can handle some sorts, others can’t handle much of any sort of complexity.
Education is the best tool for teaching younger people how to handle complexity. Of course, it cannot teach them how to handle an Emergency Situation in progress*, but it will go a long way toward preventing our children from becoming the causes of such a situation. The NRA, which started out as a group of hunters and gun users who were appalled at the lack of safety training of their fellow-gun-owners, ended up being a collection of frightened men manipulated by gun manufacturers, and the women who love them. Perhaps they view those of us who do not own guns as idiots living in a fool’s paradise, but I strongly believe that, except for children, the ones most often hurt by gun violence are gun owners. [I never finished this thought, but here goes: the NRA started out being a force for gun education, but became a club for anxious men. Perhaps I should never have drawn the NRA into this . . .]
I hesitate to bring up this next thought, because it smacks of religiousness. Let me cover my bona fides before I lay it on you. We are all very angry with drug users and drug dealers. In our minds, the entire business of drugs is accompanied by the image of a suspicious-looking foreigner lurking at a corner, waiting for someone.** I was never shy of declaring that drugs and those who use them were despicable and senseless things that I would never associate myself with. And, unfortunately, some individuals close to me were listening carefully. It happened unexpectedly that I learned that members of my family had become addicts, and had been frightened off from coming to me for help and support, because of my stated anti-drug stance.
The way back from addiction is a long, long road. I watched with horror, and admiration, as the young people involved tried to fight their way back, and failed many times, suffering horrible physical pain, and mental agony, before there appeared any promise of success. And the fact that saved us all was that these were my people. I could not turn my face from them.
If we can choose to understand the perpetrator of a heinous crime, it doesn’t make things better for the victims, but it makes things better for us. Nursing hatred towards the man gets us absolutely nowhere. Of course, nobody I know personally has actually been killed in a massacre. You could hold that up as a fact that invalidates my idea. But, at least those of my readers who have thus far escaped the experience of having a friend or loved one mowed down, you could start out by adopting this attitude.
When you see members of your community able to empathize with and reach out to those trying to recover from addiction, you have to strongly suspect that they have been touched personally by addiction—themselves, or members of their families, or loved ones. Taking a long step away from the scene, one begins to understand the message of The Beatles: All you need is love. It is almost impossible to misunderstand that sentence; Love enables you to understand, and understanding enables you to forgive, and forgiving enables you to stop feeling the pain.
So, remember, it isn’t just Christians who own the idea of Universal Love. Perfectly ordinary people, including atheists and agnostics, can choose love, as a principle for living in the world we have, rather than the world we want!
Well, after that, I suppose I should give up blogging; it sort of says it all!
*Any techniques for dealing with an emergency situation in progress, except for the most minor ones, is likely to be as scary as the situation itself. Just saying.
**Or this sleazy-looking muppet on Sesame Street who tries to sell Ernie a Letter N. "A LETTER N?"" he screams, and the panicked muppet tries furiously to shut him up. (You had to be there.)