Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Newtown massacre

The last three entries weren't about the shooting itself so much as some of the reactions to it (the really appalling/dumb reactions). In part that was because everybody, and I mean everybody, has been reacting to the story — online, on TV, in restaurants and bars and coffee shops, everywhere. I didn't see the point in adding to the noise, especially since I largely agreed with what everyone was saying.

In the last few hours, though, I've realized something: I am less viscerally troubled by this incident than I thought I would be.

When I saw the headline Friday morning, right after I had woken up, I was aghast. My stomach fell and my heart pounded furiously in shock. It wasn't just a mass shooting: it was a mass shooting of children. As time passed, it became clear that these were young children, too — all of them six or seven years old, as we now know.

It's customary for some people to wonder out loud how such an "evil" act could occur. Strange as it might seem, I didn't think of this as an evil act. It's not that I thought, or think, that it was in any way "good" or "not evil". No: rather, I couldn't fit this incident into my comparatively limited notion of "evil". The enormity of the tragedy transcended my idea of what constitutes evil.

I don't entirely understand why I should feel this way. I am well aware of the butchery of the Nazi regime, and of Stalin's purges. I don't know how many of those who died in those bloody episodes were children, but obviously it was a lot more than the twenty killed in Newtown, CT on Friday.

Yet those twenty weigh far more heavily on my mind than the millions who perished unnecessarily during the twentieth century.

Is it because I watched the terrible story unfold as "news" rather than "history"?

Is it because the shooting was an isolated incident in a country whose soil hasn't known the carnage of war since the nineteenth century? In other words, would it have had the same impact if it had happened during a war being fought on our shores?

Is it because my images of the bloodshed are in vivid color rather than black and white?

Is it because so few grieving relatives of the earlier massacres survived to tell their stories?

All these reasons no doubt play into my feeling that this shooting somehow is more than evil. I think that repeated exposure to documentaries and histories of the terrible slaughters of the twentieth century forced my mind to squeeze them into a mental box marked "evil". The trouble is that this had the effect of making butchery on an unimaginable scale imaginable. Rather than leaving me with a proper understanding of the true scope of those tragedies, I was left with what you might think of as scale representations that would fit neatly into that mental box.

The Newport massacre is life-sized — it doesn't fit into that box. It's not an historical abstraction. It's a warm, bloody, pulsing, raw wound in my psyche.

So how does this conception of the massacre as "more than evil" square with my previous assertion that I'm not as troubled by it as I thought I would be?

Well, I can already feel the story fading into abstraction.

The pictures of the victims are becoming disturbingly similar to the ones I've seen in World War II documentaries. I even understand why. All victims, you see, eventually are reduced to flat and static images in the minds of spectators. Only those who actually knew the victims have a genuine emotional connection to them that keeps them vivid. And the more the victims become flat and static images, the more the incident resembles the "scale representations" that fit into my mental boxes. As it can be mentally filed and pigeonholed, it becomes more distant and less viscerally real.

What I just described, though, is a normal and unavoidable mental process. Someone once said our memories are scars — and like physical scars, they become less vivid over time. We can take some comfort in knowing that the fading is not of our own volition.

My concern, though, is that not that the shooting is fading into memory. No, my concern is that I'm all but completely resigned to the idea that nothing will change as a result of it. I am sorrowful, but not truly angry.

You might be surprised that I'm not angry. After all, the last three entries were fairly bitter in their denunciation of fanatical gun rights advocates and holier-than-thou scolds. (In fairness to Mike Huckabee, by the way, I must admit that on reflection, my insistence that further gun-control laws are obviously the only responsible reaction to this incident is no less strident, and possibly no less irresponsibly opportunistic, than his insistence that not proselytizing the Christian God in schools was a proximate cause of this tragedy.)

My bitterness and anger, though, were and are directed at The Usual Idiots who advocate what I consider to be borderline insane positions. I'm angry at egregious stupidity and arrogance.

Where, you might ask, is my anger at the shooter, Adam Lanza?

I've certainly been asking myself that.

We know so little about Lanza, and so much of it is frankly of dubious reliability. All of it comes from people who claim to have known him, yet all of them acknowledge that he was difficult to know. How much can we trust their recollections and impressions, especially after the information has been filtered through the warped glass of the media? (I would like to know, for instance, whether the New York Times' frequent assertion that Lanza had a "flat affect" is a direct quotation of someone claiming to know Lanza, or an interpretation made by a reporter or editor. I consider "flat affect" to be a clinical description that is trustworthy only if provided by a mental health professional.)

Was Lanza a conscienceless monster? Was he a deluded madman? We will probably never know.

Should that matter to me? After all, he slaughtered innocent women and children. It could scarcely harm anyone to hate him, even if he was not in his right mind: he's dead and can't be hurt.

Yet I don't hate him. He's dead and gone. What good would it do me to hate him? He's not around to feel my wrath, and that's the only satisfaction I could take from getting mad at him. I would want him to feel my anger and sorrow.

Anyway, I'm still baffled: what on earth was going through his head to make him do this? My extreme puzzlement trumps my righteous anger, at least for now.

If I'm not angry at Lanza, shouldn't I be angry at those who have lobbied so hard for our permissive gun ownership regime? Shouldn't it have been a hell of a lot harder for Lanza to get his hands on so many weapons of such great lethality?

I can't muster up such anger.

Right now, my feeling is, "This is the way people want it, apparently." A majority seems to want the broadest possible right to own and to bear weapons. A tragedy like this shooting is, as far as I'm concerned, a foreseeable and inevitable byproduct of a society that esteems the Second Amendment as all but sacred. A pox on the gun-rights zealots, is my feeling. Let them bleed in the house they made for all of us.

It is probably true that I would feel differently if I had kids, or if I were younger. Since neither of those conditions holds true, I'm a lot less concerned about gun violence than most. If I fall victim to it, it will affect no one but me, and I'm not all that fussed about dying.

The arguments on both sides of the gun debate are so stale, and the possibility gun-rights advocates will experience an epiphany is so remote, it's impossible to imagine any sensible change coming out of even this atrocity. Just as I can feel this shooting starting to fit into my mental boxes, losing its ability to fill me with consuming shock and sorrow and anger, so I can feel the shooting being digested by the body politic and turning into mere fuel for the gun debate. The Newtown shooting all too soon will be no more than another data point in people's mental spreadsheets, and we have so many such data points already that even this one won't make a difference to anyone's mental calculus.

So I don't care for myself and I doubt society will care enough to do anything constructive, even though we're talking about the most primal of dichotomies: life versus death.

That's a troubling resignation to terrible circumstances. And yet, I'm not that troubled.

I suppose it's a good thing I'm but one passing stranger in this world.

No comments:

Post a Comment