Jul 25, 2012

Why So Serious

It's a strange thing, how the world and one's life gradually changes a person's perspective. Some forty-plus almost uninterrupted years of living in the United States of America, and if you were to chart my personal philosophy on a map, it does more closely resemble a highway than it does a city. But every so often I find myself marveling not just at the path the experiences of life have led me on, but at my reaction to the random sights that rush past me.

This past weekend, a random man walked into a theater of complete strangers and opened fire with a variety of weapons, killing 12 people and wounding dozens more.

It feels like I've read that sentence so many times, already, and not in the handful of days since this happened. A few years ago, someone did that inside the Trolley Square mall in my old home town of Salt Lake City, Utah. And there have been other malls. Schools. Other strangers. Other deaths.

In the past, these events have shocked me. Horrified me. Angered me. And this "Aurora Theater Shooting" has done this to me as well, but with an increasing sense that had not been present in years past. Now, I have an eleven year old daughter who is growing up inside this world full of strangers and bullets and random acts of violence. And I am not only biologically and instinctively her human shield, but because I love her more than my own life, I would do anything I could to protect her. And I woke this morning with the realization that there are many things I might not be able to do, but one thing I can do...is use my words. I might not be able to speak to the shooter's mindset - only time can tell if we will ever understand the thoughts behind his terrible act - but what I can do is write about my thoughts on this.

Today, there are renewed conversations regarding how to respond to these sorts of actions. Michael Moore sent me an email (okay, no, not just to me) outlining his arguments for refining gun control laws, for example. His movie "Bowling for Columbine" addresses his concerns and his issues with current gun availability quite well, and I'm happy to let him speak for himself on that platform. Plus, it's a good movie, and it's worth a watch.

Gun control is such an odd topic. It reminds me of the abortion/pro-life debates. For that matter, it reminds me of almost any debate that involves the two political parties in the US - namely, that rather than look to the root of a problem, rather than address the problem itself, people get distracted by the superficial symptoms of it. They look to a physical restraint as a curative, kind of like assuming that just putting a band-aid on a flat tire will fix the tire.

It's easy to get caught up in the emotional discussions - in the days and weeks following a powerful and traumatizing event, it's a simple thing to be led by our hearts, but I don't believe it takes a psychologist to tell you that making a decision in the heat of trauma is the best time to do so. But neither should we address our concerns with coldness and calculation that distances us from the true heart of a matter, either. A situation and conundrum of this magnitude requires a balance between mind and heart, between passion and reason, to find a healthy response; a measured solution. Something that will provide not just the means by which we can as a culture and community heal from the damage inflicted on us all, but a solution which will move us forward and upwards.

To be honest, I don't believe gun control debates are the solution. I know, I know, people LOVE a good debate, but right now they're just making people angry again about the same old divisive elements of the NRA's "you can have my guns when you pry them from my cold dead hands", and the calm and measured counter-response of "okay, that works."

I believe that the biggest problems with the idea of making it more difficult to legally acquire firearms is that the laws will only continue to impact those people who are prepared to follow the legal process to do so. The people out there illegally acquiring guns...well, they've shown great resolve in doing this no matter what kinds of laws get applied. And I'm also of the opinion that even if you could somehow magically take every single firearm off the street - both legally or illegally acquired - then people will just find another way to kill each other. If a gun exists, someone's going to find it, and they're going to do bad things with it. You can't stop a person from committing suicide by just taking away their guns - unless you're also prepared to outlaw sleeping pills, rope and tall bridges and buildings.

Then again, the Aurora shooter was able to get ahold of a variety of firearms, all through completely legal means. Technically, he completely followed the laws when he acquired his guns. He simply crossed the line when he began killing people with them. How can you make a law to stop that from happening? Unless we're going to start adopting laws involving thoughtcrimes or invent a Minority Report "precrime division", we just don't have the capacity to do this.

And even if we did, would we want to? There are moral issues here I can't even begin to scratch the surface of.

Obviously, the threat of punitive reaction for committing crimes with firearms isn't helping, unless we're really doing such a bad job of advertizing this. Which we might be. Clearly, we have some as-yet-unresolved issues with the punitive portion of our justice system.

But again, this is just the surface of the issue.

Take guns completely out of the equation, and what you have is a person who walked into a room full of complete strangers and killed a dozen of them; tried to kill dozens more.

That is the issue here. Not guns, not orange hair, not Batman (or Christian Bale, though kudos to him for showing up and visiting the people who were recovering in the hospital), not Michael Moore, not democrats or republicans. The issue is that people walk into rooms filled with complete strangers and kill them, and we go right to asking the most ridiculous questions, like "do we need tougher gun laws?" or "do violent movies trigger acts of violence?"

Do we need to understand the why's behind this man's actions? Yes. But more importantly, we need to take a firm look at ourselves, and try to understand the culture that allows this to happen; and we need to look at how we respond to it. One really good point Michael Moore was making was that, in America, we have the equivalent of 2 Aurora shootings every day - roughly 24 people die in gun-related violence every day. And that's just here. In other countries, a lot of people are dying from acts of aggression on a daily basis, and we're letting those things happen as well.

Twenty five years ago, Sting released a really simple and intelligent song called "Russians." I'm fairly sure a lot of people haven't thought about that song in a while - after all, the USSR collapsed, and they're no longer at war with the Western world, right? Of course, if a song is 25 years old, it can't possibly have any relevance now, can it?


Well, take a moment and think again about what that song really meant. It was, of course, referring to Russians specifically, but was intended in a much broader capacity. Do people really love their children? Of course. It's an obvious question.... though one I think we all too often forget to truly ask.

And I think the reason it's easy for us to avoid asking is that the answer piles tremendous amounts of accountability upon us. So long as we can assure ourselves that the burden falls on someone else's shoulders, then we can sleep at night, tucked delightfully away in the confidence that we have someone else to blame when things go wrong. But the fact is, when these things happen, its all our fault.

Hate crimes, massacres - this sort of aggression seems in many ways wholly American. Granted, we don't have stonings, beheadings, gender-specific mutilations or that sort of thing, either. We've simply got a different kind of problem here. And our gun laws aren't the reason for it, so I'm not so sure that they're the solution, either.

People are killing people because they a) want to, and b) are able to. Gun control - in whatever form (either punitive measures for committing crimes with the help of a firearm, or by trying to limit what guns people have access to) only touches on the second half of that equation, and not even completely at that.

My dog has a problem with the dogs next door. If they're outside when he goes out, he completely loses his mind in a frenzied desperation to get at them and...well, I honestly don't think he has the slightest idea what he'd do if there wasn't a fence between them, but he sure loves to act like he'd eat them alive. He wants to get through the fence. He wants to bark at them. We've tried working with him on this, by using artificial, physical restraints - specifically, a leash. But he barks and barks and pulls at the leash as if his life depends on it. I effectively have tried to make it so he cannot bark at them, by placing a restriction upon him, but it doesn't work. The motivation persists. The only solution, then, is to make him NOT WANT to bark. And that's where water guns and the garden hose come in. A healthy blast of water, and he calms right down. His motivation to avoid getting wet is gradually eating away at his desire to bark his fool head off at those dastardly neighbor-dogs. Meanwhile, our other dog just runs right up to the fence, sniffs the neighbor dogs and makes friendly. She understands that they're nice dogs and just like to bark once in a while. And as time goes by, we're going to make our larger dog come to the same realization. He's slow like that, but we love him anyway.

The point is, it's like that old story about the sun and the wind, who play a game with a weary traveler in order to see who was the most powerful; whoever could take off his cloak would be determined to be the stronger element. The wind blew and blew, but the traveler simply pulled his cloak more tightly about his shoulders. Eventually, the sun came out and the traveler became so hot that he simply took the cloak off on his own. The moral is a simple one: motivation is the root of action. We do what we most want to do, after all things are taken into consideration.

In the applied sense - guns kill people, and bullets fired from guns kill people. But it takes a willing finger to pull the trigger, and THIS is the heart of it. This is what we should be trying to understand - why do we as a nation seem to believe that death is the answer to all our problems; that all we need do is simply kill the offending person and our troubles are fixed?

I keep thinking that we're close - so very close to finding a new level of social evolution, and that we're just a generation from having a world that our grandparents, our parents-  to some degree not even we could have imagined. I think that it's something worth investing in, because the generations who will inherit this world after we have passed away need to have a world worth living in. But every time I start to have hope that we are getting closer....it feels like we're still so very far away.

I want to believe, friends. I want to believe that it's possible, and that we're coming closer together as a civilization, as a planet. At the risk of triggering a sort of autonomic tree hugger gag reflex in people, I really choose to look to the potential of our world as one where we can actually learn to work together, in spite (or because) of our many differences.

Please tell me I'm not alone in this wish.

No comments: