Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reflections in a Tucson Eye

More than enough commentary has been put forward about the tragic events in Tucson this past weekend. Given that I want to emphasize more of a self-reflective tone as this year progresses, I have a few things to say about what happened.

First and foremost, change in our society and culture must come from within. No amount of finger-pointing and prodigious punditry will do anything at all unless hearts and minds are moved beyond words and toward personal action.

I have chosen to ignore the "blamethrowers" that seek to try to find some kind of barely plausible explanation for the actions of an irrational individual. These people spray the airwaves and cyberspace with their drivel, and leave a scorched, uninhabitable landscape of hysteria and hyperbole in their wake, much like their namesake in war. I'm pretty much fully aligned with Tuesday's editorial in the Daily Sentinel - all except the fact that it's paywalled.

That being said, I was largely unimpressed with what I saw on MSNBC Monday night. Keith Olbermann was a bit overblown, but brought some good points to the forefront. Now if only I could remember some of them. Rachel Maddow was focused on the NICS process for screening gun applicants, even in her Facebook posts before the show. I took the time to comment there:
I'm having a hard time seeing the point here. Absent of being convicted of a felony or a domestic violence-related crime, or being adjudicated mentally ill by a judge, Mr. Loughner's gun purchase was legal under the laws of the United States and of Arizona. Even tighter laws on gun purchases will do what, specifically?

As much as I agree that political histrionics may have something to do with Mr. Loughner's actions as a consequence of mental illness, I'm very hesitant to try to pin this on any one particular segment of our society. Sheriff Dupnik was right that free speech has consequences, but are we about to muzzle people as a result? Think along those lines before you start thinking about additional gun restrictions, or even worse, scrutinizing people for signs of 'mental illness'.
Ms. Maddow started her show by recalling and listing all of the major gun violence incidents of the last fifteen years or so. Like Olbermann, she also brought attention to the "gunsight" graphics now formerly a part of the website for Sarah Palin's PAC. Ms.
Maddow was focused on legal remedies to wanton gun violence. As Leslie is so fond of saying, blah, blah, blah..

The Sentinel editorial also briefly touched on this nation's cavalier approach to mental health treatment, and the stigma that still surrounds those who may have some form of mental illness that is not being treated. This includes a significant percentage of homeless individuals.

It's not just one thing that is setting people off - it's the manner in which our society glorifies excess, taking advantage of one's fellow man, the generally disingenuous approach toward living, and what constitutes success, in this purportedly Christian nation.

As much as I enjoy Internet discourse - sometimes to my detriment - I have to realize that there are people out there who take things too literally, and who don't understand sarcasm. The more misunderstandings we have, the greater the probability of negative reactions to them.

and Maddow continued down the same path on Tuesday evening. Keith reviewed previous presidential speeches in the wake of mass killings. He focused on President Clinton's speech to mourners after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing as an example of how President Obama needs to perform in Tucson tonight. I don't care much for this politically expedient line of thinking - it detracts from the respect we should be having for the mourners, and from the reason that the President is going to be there.

Rachel Maddow continued to focus on gun laws, specifically the assault weapons ban that was allowed to sunset in 2004, which if in place would not have allowed Mr. Loughner to allegedly purchase a 30-round clip for his legally obtained Glock 9mm pistol.

Knowing gun laws and the systems that support them, I'm not convinced that additional laws will have the desired effect, except to inflame those who are already a little paranoid about the government banning all guns - an extreme concept that for me has no sustainability in rational thought. But we're not talking about rational thinking when we talk about Tucson.

The question for me remains, how can our society readily identify someone who is mentally unstable to the point that Mr. Loughner allegedly was, and based on that how do we deny that person their rights under the Second Amendment, not mention the rest of the Bill of Rights?

The answer does not lie in more gun laws, but in caring for our citizens the way that they deserve to be cared for. That does not start with the government - it starts with you and me. Mental health services are part and parcel of health care. Instead of focusing on hasty new gun laws, perhaps Mr. Boehner and the House should be re-thinking the logic behind their hasty attempt at repealing "Obamacare".
    It's now Wednesday morning, and I've got too many other things to do. The Wall Street Journal reported today on Mr. Loughner's online rantings at gaming websites, in order to perhaps gain some insight about his state of mind. From what I've read there and elsewhere, his friends seem to pinpoint the end of a relationship in his teens as the beginning of changes in Mr. Loughner that may have contributed to some of his anger. A perceived snub from Congresswoman Giffords at an earlier public appearance may have made her the focus of that anger.

    Yesterday I rented The Social Network from the Redbox. Watching it again led me to to think about the film's portrayal of the impetus for the creation of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg, as well as what may have motivated Jared Loughner to inflict such destruction on innocent people. Both were apparently rejected by a woman. This brings up another good self-reflective point - great successes are often the byproduct of great failure and hardship. What we do with the lessons of failure and rejection shape us, perhaps indelibly, and help to govern our future interactions with others.

    I'll conclude with the best thing I've read about the Tucson incident so far, by Georgetown University linguistics professor and author Deborah Tannen, writing for The Christian Science Monitor:
    Connection and opposition are both fundamental to human relationships. We approach others and define ourselves by asking, consciously or instinctively, “Is she like me? Am I like him?” Those whose words are broadcast across the public sphere – and the Internet makes it easier for words to spread widely and quickly – can take advantage of either impulse: awaken compassion by helping us see others as fundamentally like us, or instigate hostility and aggression by reminding us that we’re different. In the extreme, they can lead us to forget or deny others’ humanity entirely.
    "We will not walk in fear, one of another". Nor should we walk in hatred. When extremes come into the mainstream, there inevitably has to be some form of adjustment - either toward the extremist viewpoint or back toward a more stable, centered view of ourselves. There are many examples in history of the swing toward extremes, followed by the swing back toward reason. Hopefully we can have the foresight to avoid this pendulum swing, and stabilize ourselves as a nation and a society.

    Please join me in praying for the victims and their families, as well as for Mr. Loughner and his family.

    Have a good rest of the week.


    Gene Kinsey said...


    Thanks for a thoughtful and measured essay.

    Kathleen said...

    Your insight on an unforgivable and tragic situation is enlightening. Thank you for your thoughts and obvious concerns.