Monday, January 10, 2011

Bang and Blame

Let the recriminations begin.

In the wake of the tragic assassination attempt and mass shooting in Tucson, everyone seems to want to play the blame game. We've blamed Sarah Palin. We've blamed violent rhetoric in general. We've blamed liberals and conservatives. We've blamed the state of Arizona. We've blamed anxious masculinity. We've even blamed pot.

So what was the real motive behind the shooter? Why did he start shooting people? If you ask him, he'll say... grammar. Or maybe getting blown off after asking a stupid question at a political rally.

Screw Sarah Palin. Let's all go blame Strunk and White. There was also something about dreaming and reality in there, so we should probably also blame Christopher Nolan.

There is something within us that does not like to accept senselessness. We want to think that there's something we could have done, something we could do, to stop things like this from happening. We don't want to turn over control of the universe to the fates, so we pretend that we have control over something. If only we were more civil. If only we got rid of drugs. If only, if only, if only.

But the truth is that we don't have that kind of power. All the civility in the world from the Glenn Becks and Keith Olbermanns of the world wouldn't have prevented this tragedy, and deep down we know it. One person - and one person only - had the power to stop this from happening: the killer himself.

The question the killer asked Rep. Giffords at the rally that one time was about how words have no meaning. It's an idiotic question to ask a politician. But it's ironic that the killers actions have set off a frantic search for meaning in an event that is inherently meaningless. Humans don't like meaninglessness or chaos - we seek to ascribe a meaning to everything. But the meaning of this event is not in what led up to it, since we will never fully understand what led to this shooting. We are constructing the meaning of this event now, as we speak. And that's what's going on with this blame game. We all know, deep down, that the shooter alone is to blame. But we want to use the event for something positive, because otherwise it's meaningless, and we can't handle that.

So if we're going to use this tragedy for something, let's figure out what the best thing to use it for would be. I think Friedersdorf is the closest right now - it doesn't make sense to get rid of anger and overwrought rhetoric, but we should make sure our political debate is based on actual facts. Birthers, "creeping Sharia" nutters, death-panel cranks: we're looking at you. A little toning down wouldn't hurt - things like Sharron Angle's "Second Amendment remedies" crack should never, ever, ever occur - but basing things on facts would, I think, make our debate a lot more civil by definition.

It'd be stupid to blame falsehood in politics for this tragedy. It's not our responsibility to place blame. But if the meaning we ascribe to this tragedy is that it was an impetus for returning rationality to our political debates, I don't think that's a bad meaning at all.

Oh, and if you want a heartwarming story of a community pulling together after a similar senseless tragedy, go here.

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