San Diego – The senseless shooting spree in Tucson, Arizona brought back memories of the Columbine shootings in Denver. I was there (actually quite close by) when it happened and a close friend and business associate had a nephew who survived it when friends all around him did not. So from that and the fact that I had spent years doing training videos for the Denver Police and so got inside data from them, I was privy to first-hand information about what went down. Fortunately the mentally disabled people who generally commit such heinous acts of extreme and only semi-directed violence are terrible at it. Had the two boys at Columbine been even halfway good at it the blood bath would have been far more extreme. Likewise, had this character in Arizona been good at it, he was sufficiently equipped to have done far more killing than he did (although, Keith Obermann and Rachel Maddow to the contrary, he did not have an assault weapon).
That is, I know, slim or no consolation to those who tragically lost loved ones or who were injured in the event; but for others it is a blessing. The event itself, and all of those like it, are examples of the worst expressions of human behavior, the most unacceptable displays of unchecked infantile rage, and the most pathetic examples of a system failing itself and its constituents. In nearly every such case the perpetrators left mountains of clues and usually when the perpetrators were young, their parents knew enough to be profoundly concerned but were in deep denial. So instead of seeking help for their children and saving not only their lives but others, they turned away and in doing so facilitated these heinous acts. They couldn’t be bothered and were just too wrapped up in their own lives and careers to worry overly much about their kids even though in the case of Columbine, one of the kid’s parents saw the shotgun and pipe bombs and still… said nothing. So not only were innocent people killed, families were emotionally and psychologically destroyed too. (And for the record, from someone who was there and conversant with the events and the laws of the area, Michael Moore’s idiotic movie about it had only an occasional and utterly coincidental connection to reality and the truth. It was simply another excuse for him to make money from his disciples and press his own agenda despite facts to the contrary.)
And now as the great polarization of our country’s political views continues and escalates, another tragedy has occurred especially in this last event that has simply served to divide us even more deeply. From the New York Times to the Senate to the Sheriff on the scene, this has become an opportunity for unconscionable political jabs long before a shred of evidence was brought to support any such assertions and continues now even after evidence is becoming available that clearly refutes it. Administration personnel famously said they should never miss opportunities provided by a crisis to further their goals. But this is beyond the pale. And it wreaks of hypocrisy as excesses on BOTH sides are ignored or misconstrued in order to focus on unsupported connections and ties in order to further their own political agendas. I would not be surprised to see it as the source for Moore’s next epic diatribe of cosmic inanity.
That a United States Legislator and a Federal Judge (or any public servant) would be assassinated at all is a tragedy for our country and its system. It is a specially egregious tragedy when a young girl, whose life is full of promise and potential is snuffed out in a heartbeat for zero reason. No one had a grudge against her, she was a true innocent and utterly unconnected to anyone’s philosophy, political leanings, or personal anger. There are no series of dots that even the most extreme spinmeisters can connect to lead from political points of view to her senseless death. It was simply the work of a psychotic brain run amuck.
But it is also a tragedy for the whole country when small minded politicians and politically biased newspapers and journals play loose and hard with the facts — or have NO facts — and still try to somehow place blame on the other side’s philosophies and policies. I listened in amazement as a caller to a talk show ranted on about how this was completely the fault of talk show rhetoric but when asked could provide not a single instance to support the contention. but that lack of personal knowledge did not even slow down the certainty they had that they were right and all people on the “right” should find it hard to sleep at night after this. It is a tragedy for honesty and objective reporting, a tragedy for integrity and a stake through the heart for people to be able to believe utterances of those they should be able to trust. But mostly it bespeaks a tragedy for the underpinnings of civil society that runs deeper than simple biased partisanship. All sides have cooperated in setting this in motion over the past several decades so there are no good guys here.
We are increasingly a society whose progressive attitudes eschew any dichotomy of “right” and “wrong” and who desperately want to create a society in which we can entertain all manner of choices of actions and behaviors but face no consequences for them since that would imply, gasp, there are rights and wrongs. We do not want bad guys to be seen as responsible for their actions and we do not want good guys to profit from theirs. And so we inevitably and predictably arrive at a place where instead of seeing this mentally dysfunctional kid who had been tossed out of school after frightening both teachers and other kids, who ranted incoherent venom on the web, who left a trail of personal animas at the main victim, not as the responsible person, but as somehow a victim of the other side’s beliefs. And in that effort to avoid any implication of personal responsibility/accountability for choices and behaviors we escalate the idiocy to claims of incitement to violence that have never, ever occurred. We facilitate reoccurrence by trying to find blame not in the perpetrator, but elsewhere, specifically in those with whom we disagree.
So this event is drowning in tragedy. I do not wish by any means to seem to diminish the personal side of this tragedy; of the lives lost or ruined or damaged in some ways by this psychotic act; but I fear that a longer lasting tragedy will be for our system if from this, we cannot learn to steer clear of the vitriol that consumes our national discourse at present. We have to stop seeing the other side of the political aisle as necessarily the bad guys filled with evil intent. Competing political and economic philosophies are not a new occurrence; bright people have and will come down on all sides. But intelligent people can discuss and debate their differences without resorting to violence, and the really intelligent ones can do it without resorting even to violent rhetoric. But we, as a culture, seem to have lost something incredibly valuable and that was our sense of moral behavior. And that, I believe, is the existing, continuing tragedy that facilitated this latest tragedy.
When I was in High School I lived on a farm. I had a number of guns of my own that were kept, usually, in my closet. I practiced constantly with them, hunted with them, basically was quite good with them. Because I had chores to do in the mornings and evening I often missed the bus and had to drive to school even before it was completely legal. That was common in that community. Meantime, as farm kids, we fought frequently. Sometimes we knew we were in for a brawl and sometimes knew we were likely to be on the loosing end of it. But though we had bullies, and some tough ones at that, despite the fact that I could easily have put a weapon in my car and brought it to school to change the outcome of the expected encounter, it never once occurred to me (nor, apparently, to any of the others) to do so. Why? Because we were raised to know that was not acceptable. Even the “bad kids” knew better. We were taught morality by the simple expedient of learning that behaviors have consequences (which is all that morality is really all about at its core) and those consequences could be dire… more dire than whatever short term gain we might have realized from the unacceptable behavior. We were taught a code of behavior which we internalized and embraced. Some of us still have it though we are now a dying breed I think.
But as our society has increasingly adopted a view that behavior and choices should not have any consequences we have, in essence, facilitated and then even legislated immorality. No one stepped in to tell the shooters at Columbine or the shooter in Arizona that this type of behavior was not to be tolerated; no one pointed out graphically and clearly to them that it was, in fact, worse than any affront they may believe themselves to have suffered. As bad as the failure of law enforcement was, far worse was the failure of parentage. When parents, for whatever reason, fail in their duties to teach their children about choices and consequences and when those lessons are tested as is part of all growing up, but an object lesson is not forthcoming as an educational experience; or, worse, if the parent finally recognizes that something is not wired correctly in their children to allow them to operate properly in a civil society, help is not sought out immediately, then it is pointless to blame law enforcement or “the other side” for the final behaviors. Only the parent can be pro-active: law enforcement can only be re-active. Maybe they are afraid, maybe they feel inadequate, maybe they feel guilty for some real or imagined failure as a parent over something else, maybe they think they will stifle their kids’ creativity. What idiocy; parents these days seem more interested in being best friends than in being parents. But that is a failure of parenting and a huge loss for the children and sometimes their future. Get real: there is no “village” that can compensate for it. Parents are the first models of behavior most children accept. As was stated in Ecclesiastes, “Raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” It is not the job of teachers, police, friends, and certainly not TV or movies. Increasingly leaving a kids peers as the sole input of behavioral ethics is simply the blind leading the blind. It is time for a collective re-reading of “Lord of the Flies” to help us see where left to their own devices where socially immature minds will go.
It would be nice to think that this tragic event could lead us to re-examine this myth of consequence-free choices, this myth that society, meaning the schools, the neighborhood, the police, the “village”, is responsible for bringing up kids and not the parents; and the myth that in the end, we are not responsible for ourselves and our own actions but should be able to look elsewhere — ANYwhere– except internally for blame or at least causality. So for all of those politicos out there desperate for ammunition to spew at the opposition, this is not about political rhetoric, it is about a generation or two of policy that has chipped away at our culture’s values and at the supreme value of parents in the setting of those values in the minds and hearts of our children.
But I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that re-examination to happen. And as we as a society and culture, lose that common standard of behavior, that common view of morality and social interaction that was the defining glue of our culture, then we will slowly evaporate into a world very different than was anticipated and hoped for by our ancestors. Nowadays parents fear that if their children do not like the discipline they will call the police on the parents for child abuse; we see increasing acceptance of previously intolerable actions based on such sterling concepts as the “mordida” or machismo. We are on the edge of accepting honor killings as OK. I believe as that happens we will see more not less of such events as happened in Arizona this past weekend and until we learn to (a) declare there are somethings that are simply WRONG and start teaching such a code again as parents and educators, and (b) place the responsibility where it belongs instead of on some easy target that helps us sell our personal biases, it will only get worse until out of fear we adopt policies to protect ourselves from all the wrong sources an in doing so be vulnerable to the really scary things coming from our midst. The really sad thing is there are people who want exactly that outcome. And I think at the moment they may be the ones driving the bus.
So unless those of us who think differently get willing to stand up and demand a re-examination, then they will win… and probably before long. Think not? All you have to do is want to get on on airplane to see those fear-based losses in action already.