Violence

A man with a gun walks into a town hall session in a parking lot in Tucson, Arizona. He kills six people among them a judge, a child, a politician’s staffer, an elderly man, he seriously wounds a US Congresswoman. He is driven by some terrible certainty,  or some incomprehensible logic, or cognitive dysfunction, or insanity. Within hours, as the investigation unfolds, it becomes known that his behavior grew increasingly bizarre over the months preceding this action. It is also apparant that he planned to kill the representative. He took time to buy a gun, to buy ammunition, to say goodbye on Facebook.

Will we find out that he was an unhappy child, that he suffered bullying or other abuse? Or will we find out that he was quiet, a loner, or that he was popular and outgoing? Will we find out that he was indistinguishable from thousands of other children and only grew into unreason as an adult? I’m not sure it matters what we find out about him.

What we find out about ourselves is more important and has more potential to impact our world, our country, our communities. The man with the gun will be tried, judged, and sentenced. His power is spent, his day is done.

Has the event frightened people? Is that why we hear people voicing so much violence as they describe what should be done to the shooter? Fear is often masked by bravado, hatred, violence. So maybe that is what it is. Millions of terrified people. But I don’t think so. I really don’t. What I hear in their words is that they have identified their target, just as the shooter identified his. There was something wrong he thought he could make right by killing a particular person in a very public and deliberate way. He had his target. Now he is the target. He is the thing that can be destroyed in order to make things right again. There is something primal about this. A sacrifice must be made.

We scent the air for blood. Our noses twitching our hands reaching for the stones. Except that the rule of law stands between us and our bloodlust. All we can do, the most we can do is envision the horrible things that ought to be done to the shooter and seize the opportunity to broadcast our ultimate solution. And for some, for many, the vision and the chant will elicit glee, for some the pleasure will arouse.

A few, too few, will witness this mob madness with dismay, despairing that humanity will not ever rise above its baser instincts, that as a species, we will never learn how to reason. We hear Gandhi say, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” and then we pluck out eyes with greedy abandon. Gandhi was wrong. The whole world is already blind. We are blind people grasping at the blind eyes of our neighbors, groping in darkness afraid of the intolerable light just beyond our cave.

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