Sunday, 16 December 2012

Why would someone do this?

It's a question that often gets asked at a time like this. During a crisis or tragedy it's a natural thing to do when there are so few answers. People find it hard to understand violence of any scale, but particularly on the scale of recent memory. You would think that it would be easy to understand given that so much of it happens on a regular basis. We wish it didn't and we wish it was really simple to understand. So much so that we polarize issues of violence into simple terms. The problem is one thing or another. Unfortunately, as with most things related to violence it just isn't that easy.

A lot of talk has started to go around about how we prevent tragedy's such as this from happening in the future, and it is now that we should talk about it and implement things. Where I think a lot of the talk is failing is in the single solution syndrome that develops. Things like 'If only we had tougher gun laws this wouldn't have happened' or 'We need to do more for the mentally ill and that will fix the problem'. In reality, I think that both are necessary to really make any type of difference in the world and much of the arguments that happen after a tragedy such as this are over which should come first.

Perhaps that is why nothing ever really gets resolved when it comes to the issue of guns and violence and mental illness, because in our rush to help the victims we end up forgetting the victims in the process. We are so focused on what can be done to stop more victims from occuring that we have stopped worrying about the people who are already victims of this type of violence. We brush it off as if to say 'The police and rescue workers and psychiatrists and the government will step in and help the victims so we don't need to think about them anymore, they are going to be okay' and then jump into political mode and start pushing our cause over another.

The politics of the situation are the problem that keep us from moving forward on this. We are so quick to take a political position on the subject that we force people to disagree with us rather then actually deal with the problem at hand. This isn't an issue of gun control or mental illness or more religion versus less religion in schools, it's a question of how we deal with tragedy. By which I mean we don't deal with it. In the age of the 24 hour news cycle we have over intellectualized tragedy, even among those who claim not to be intellectuals. We're so quick to analyze and discuss a problem so that we can put it in the proper context that we forget the most important context of all, the fact that people have died.

To point to an example that's fresh in my mind, a conversation arose not long after the tragedy in Newton, CT about why we are not focused on the victims instead of calling for gun control or mental health reform and a number of people came out in favor of gun control as a way of helping the victims. One person even went so far as to say that the best way to honor the victims was to push the tragedy in the faces of people who advocate for guns to show them the error of their ways. It was compared to when a dog craps on the rug.

Does that sound to you like someone who is concerned about the victims and not the political agenda they adhere to? I understand that it was well intentioned. I understand that gun control will help the situation. What I don't understand is why that analogy is at the forefront of someone's mind after a tragedy such as this has occurred. That, to me, is a problem. More of a problem then gun control, more of a problem then mental health reform, more than the media's coverage or the lack of religion in school. The idea that these people are not victims of a tragedy they are examples to be used for whatever political ideal a person is trying to put forward.

Why would someone do this? That depends on who's asking the question and who is answering it. A better question might be why is 'Remember the Victims' being used as a slogan rather than a reminder of what the real focus of the moment should be?

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