Of all the things that I read and heard about Sandy Hook the past twenty-four hours, the one that broke me down was an athlete’s tweet. I don’t have the emotional bandwidth for mass shootings anymore; all of the ones this year were met with dissociation on my part. I think it’s a defense mechanism more than anything else —it’s what I think people want to mean when say “I just … can’t,” or at least they did before that phrase lost its meaning through overuse. Whatever it is, it’s an automatic reaction. The amount of time that passes between the moment I first hear of a shooting and the moment the portcullis falls cannot be measured by the fastest of scientific instruments.
Clearly I felt angry, as I wrote a thing about gun control and posted it here. I have held firm to my opinions about Constitutional Law ever since I formed them in law school, and yesterday I abandoned one. But rare as it is for me to change my mind like that, it’s entirely trivial. What I wrote was barely less dissociated than if I’d written nothing at all.
And then, on the way to the bank, driving up a hill in my neighborhood, there was a story on NPR about how professional athletes were expressing their sorrows on Twitter. Among the tweets read out loud on the radio was this one by Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe:
The way we deal with this tragedy in CT will tell us a lot about where we’re headed as a society. Do we only address the symptoms (i.e. just gun control laws)? Or do we also address the disease — how we treat each other and those who need help.
Twitter! Never has man invented a tool more enabling of emotional dissociation than Twitter. Yet here I was, affected by a tweet. Twitter is good for communicating three things: breaking news, mindless trivialities, and smug jokes about breaking news and celebrities tweeting their mindless trivialities, with varying degrees of comedic skill and concern for originality. What I’m saying is it’s an unlikely source for something that moves you. But that tweet is the thing that broke the dam for me.
That tweet made me feel helpless and stupid about Sandy Hook and all the other mass shootings this year. The only thing I can compare it to is watching a dog I loved who suddenly couldn’t get out of bed and I didn’t know why. Chris Kluwe is right, in part. There is a disease in this society but we don’t know what it is. We don’t know what’s causing this. Everyone seems to have a theory —too easy access to guns, not enough church, too little funding for mental illness care and research, Hollywood and video games— but gut feelings that make sense on the surface are still, at base, conjecture. There’s nothing scientific that proves them a cause and not just than other symptoms of the disease itself. We don’t know why this keeps happening.
Western culture has cured many forms of death. We’ve eliminated a lot of really nasty viruses and bacteria. We curbed many of the worst practices of warfare and we no longer engage in genocide. Hate crimes are vastly diminished from a century ago. There’s no reason we can’t figure out random acts of terrible violence.
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