Monday, December 17, 2012
The morning of the Connecticut shootings, I was at work, and didn't even know it had happened until a co-worker told me about it. To tell the truth, I was more obsessed with another act of violence that had happened the night before - a man had been shot in downtown Wilmington on 2nd St, apparently as a result of a mugging.
It happened while I was downtown myself at Nutt St. for the open mic, at 11pm which is right in the middle of the Thursday drunken college kid bar crawl, and Downtown was particularly packed that night cause it had been the last day of UNCW finals and the beginning of Christmas break. There were also cops everywhere, on every block. We had speculated earlier it was because of an amber alert, but in general there are a million cops downtown anytime, this city makes its budget off DUIs. So...crowded streets, lots of police presence, and still a murder. Two weeks earlier, there was a home invasion murder a few blocks away from my house. For a place this small, there's a higher than expected proportion of violence.
So while some people at work were in a sad shocked state because of the murder of lots of little children, this girl at work and I were freaking out over the fact that both of us regularly walked around Downtown by ourselves late at night. We've both lived in much larger cities, and just hadn't expected crime to be a problem here, in this tiny little coastal college town. My roommate and I talked about how neither of us should be walking the fifteen minutes down to Front St. anymore once it's dark, and we had both been guilty of it lately. Another girl friend and I got drunk together the next night, huddled in her downtown apartment, and commiserated over walking to her car alone, over bus stops late at night, and I thought about how when I had moved down here everyone had warned me about a very violent rape that happened earlier that summer. I had completely blown the story off, assuming it was just a big deal here because Wilmington wasn't a real city. I wondered if my guy friends felt anything like the same Fear that is a constant stress for the girls they know. After all, neither of the murder victims were women. But there's a very real, always present fear of rape and violence that girls grow up with, a sense of danger right around the corner, a twitching of noses and eyelashes as we try to keep a look out. And we want so badly to be independent and brave, to not look like wusses. But I didn't stop at any of the red lights on my bike ride home last night, and it would be a lie if I pretended that I wasn't feeling scared and vulnerable and soft the whole way home.
I want to say some things about the school shooting, about all school shooting, about shootings in general. I want to say them, because I think my thoughts are just as important and meaningful as yours, even though we disagree. But I wanted you to understand my own version of the Fear at the moment.
1) I don't think it's wrong that I was more shocked and concerned over a single mugging than a mass murder. I think it's completely normal, I was more emotionally affected by the violent event near me than the one far away. By the same token, I understand why people are more shocked by a school shooting in their own country than the ubiquitous violence perpetuated against children in other countries all the time. They are good points to make, that other schools get shot up all the time, that state sanctioned mass murder happens all the time. They are true too. But...shut up. That's like someone's grandmother dying, and you responding with "well, grandmothers die all the time, some of them a lot more painfully than yours."
2) The other side of this is...I don't have the same reaction of shock to a school shooting, or any mass shooting, because I assume lots of people are being murdered in the world, all the time, always. I'm not saying it isn't terrible or tragic, it is both of those things. But so many things are. Like any sane citizen of the internet, I've learned to regulate my emotional responses to tragedy. This is called Not Letting the Fear Take Over Every Day. Frankly, Connecticut might as well be Pakistan to me. The world is huge, and full of more people than I can rightfully conceive of. I'm sorry if you think I should be more emotionally connected to all that pain and suffering, but I'm over here trying not to go crazy myself. Some of you can do that by focusing on one particular area of pain and making that your cause, other people fail miserably at focusing and end up depressed and ineffective. I choose to keep my eyes and head open to all of it, and my heart closed. That doesn't make me a bad person. But I gotta be honest - the fact that it was children instead of adults doesn't make it worse for me. I wonder about how you all can make such a big deal about that, like it would be better if it had all been adults murdered? That makes no sense. For a world that operates through systems of oppression and bloodshed, and has since its very inception, everyone is surprisingly sentimental over babies. I wonder why you can't see that it's biologically, instinct controlled? Like, this seems worse to you because of how you're genetically programmed. So much of the story of this Reaction is about evolutionary instinct, and the mutation of same. At least for those of us not related to any of the victims.
3) I watched all of you yelling at each other for days.
"Only idiots have guns!"
"Only idiots want to ban guns!"
" This is because of healthcare!" "
"This is because of gun control!"
"This is because of Pakistan!"
"This is because of god!"
This is because of no god!"
"How dare you tell me how to feel!"
"How dare you not feel this way!"
It is like watching a small child who has been told his friend has died, and he is incapable of dealing with the reality of it, so he screams "it's not fair" over and over. It's not the kid's grasp of metaphysical policy that leads him to scream, it's his inability to articulate The Fear. Confronted suddenly with a symptom of how the Universe actually works but unable to comprehend the mechanics that led to this moment, he resorts to a childish denial and blame.
Something terrible happened, and you are all scared of it, and you want someone to blame. It is easiest to blame the person who disagrees with you, especially when that person is also scared, and yelling back at you. Everybody is sorta right and everyone is sorta wrong. The ones who want to ban assault rifles are not wrong. The ones who point out it's not the guns fault but the person holding it are not wrong. The ones who point out that maybe the blame should be placed at the feet of our society's highly ineffective healthcare system of diagnosing and treating mental illness are, in my opinion, the most right.
But... regardless of how we feel about policy, couldn't we all just stop for a little bit and appreciate the fact that you are all upset about the same thing, you feel the same disconnect and vulnerability and grief? We're all reacting differently, but the common emotion is there, promise. Everybody just stop yelling, grieve a little, calm down, and then maybe talk policy when you've had some time to process.
4) The Fear. There are six billion of us. We lived packed into houses, cities, tax codes. We are told from the moment of our birth how to behave, how to survive the constant interaction and judgment of society, how to act and look and buy and work and think. We are set up to standards of beauty, of intelligence, of popularity, financial success, religious morality. We are pumped full of sugars, indigestibles, drugs, adrenalin, serotonin, validation and sex and failure, all the brain chemicals that go along with those emotions. We are put into the system of judgment as soon as we're able to speak, and we stay there our entire development, then move right into another system of grading in the workforce. We are constantly on the lookout for love and affection, because we recognize it as a survival tactic. We throw ourselves into the communities that will take us because we need the security of numbers. And there are so many numbers. Think of all the stresses you face just every normal day - talking to strangers, getting lost, worrying about how you look, driving and trying to avoid dying, finding food, paying for food, disappointing people, finding affection, feeling stupid, feeling sad, trying to not get raped, trying to not get shot on your way home. There are so many people out there, and most of them are broken and just trying to function - we are the Misfit Toys all of us, and every once in a while someone cannot pretend to not be broken, or they give up, or they can't help it because they are THAT broken, and they do something horrible and evil. It's not something you can pin on one particular cause or consequence - the human brain is a delicate fragile desperate thing.
If you packed ten million rats in a cage, some would become petrified and comatose, others would try to create their own power structures, still others would adjust and just go on doing normal ratty things in a state of denial. But for sure a few would start killing and eating the others.
I guess what I'm saying is all of humanity is crazy, and the more beings we try to squeeze into this tired dated cultural trope, the harder it gets on everyone, and also the higher the proportion of actually broken people we're going to produce. I guess I just expect that this sort of stuff will keep happening more and more frequently. I guess now I'm a nihilist? We can try banning assault rifles, that would be a pretty good step in general I think. Less weapons is always a good thing, at least until the next revolution. Also a rehauling of how we diagnose, treat, and pay for the support of those with mental illness (you know, everyone), from the lightest seasonal depression to the most violent schizophrenia, that would probably be good for all of us. Since we all live so close together. Is it any wonder that the city dwellers are more in support of social welfare programs than the ones living by themselves in the country? Hey Country Boys, if you don't support family planning policies, how much longer do you think you're gonna be able to live in low population areas? Guess what, it's a lot harder to ignore the ills of society when they are 500 feet away from your door instead of 5 miles, or 50.
In the end, I don't think we're gonna learn any lessons from murder, we'll just use it as another badge to justify The Fear. We've had centuries to learn, and it's never worked. It's never not the end of the world, or even the end of Society. The Fear is always out there, it's been out there since the days of Demons and Sea Monsters. The more people we have, the more receptors for The Fear we have, it's just going to keep getting stronger, more frequent, crazier. So the insight I'm choosing to take away from this latest violent episode is that I need to get faster on my bike, and I need to get some pepper spray.
Posted by Bridget Callahan at 4:08 PM