It was the worst of times, it was the most apathetic of times. A crazed gunman with an itchy trigger finger eagerly fired on unarmed and innocent civilians. Many died as a result and even children were shot at. How should we respond? What do we want our government to do?
How would we feel if the authorities let Jared Loughner go free? How betrayed would we feel? Would we be so incensed that we would take matters into our own hands? Would we feel that we are now being forced to live by the rule of the jungle?
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Fortunately our government is taking action to ensure that Loughner never shoots another person. And our leaders have been addressing issues in order to prevent similar massacres in the future. But what our government is doing is fortunate for us; but how it handles other like situations is not fortunate for all. Our government is not treating all mass murders as being equal. But lets first talk about what happened in Tucson.
Currently, there is a great deal of pain, anger, frustration, fear, and a sense of loss because of the mass murder committed by Loughner. These valid and deep emotions sometimes give rise to illogical conclusions, something that is quite normal and understandable. The first conclusion is that our heated political rhetoric might have contributed to this horrible tragedy. I would like to believe that simply because of what one Town-hall blogger wrote publicly about me. He wrote that with my views, a patriotic American should have shot me by now. I am no fan of either explicit calls to violence or speech that incites others to violence. But there is a problem with this explanation. That is that while heated rhetoric might enrage an unbalanced person to assassinate a political leader, even the abundance of such rhetoric doesn't explain why Loughner came prepared to shoot many people.
Time's David Von Drehle postulated that Loughner was "at war with normal." There is probably some truth to this but such an explanation is overly simplistic. It is a blanket endorsement of the status quo. Sometimes, being abnormal is the only response to an insane situation. Being "at war with normal," would cause one to join the White Rose's resistance against the Nazis or to risk one's life against oppression in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Granted that those souls who were "at war with normal" laid their lives on the line rather than taking the lives of others; they were still battling the status quo. In those cases, it was the status quo that was deranged, not those who resisted.
A very valid conclusion regarding the shooting is that cutting funds for mental health services might possibly have contributed to this tragedy. In our current error of austerity cuts, we are neglecting, at our own risk, the tradeoffs when, for the sake of a balanced budget, we cut highly needed services. There is no guarantee that if there were no new cracks for Loughner to slip through, he would have been prevented from conducting this mass shooting. But it is a possibility.
But let's look at another possibility for this shooting that might appear to be offensive to some and a challenge to normal for others. Perhaps what we call normal provided enough mixed messages so as to help push Loughner over the edge. At this time, we must discuss the mass murder when it was the most apathetic of times.
We must ask why did Americans acted so nonchalantly to the Wikileaks' release of the "Collateral Murder" video (http://www.collateralmurder.com/
)? In that video, a gunner slaughters unarmed Iraqis walking the street and then shoots up a van that came to the aid of the injured. In that van were children. So why are we so upset at the murderous actions of one gunman Tucson while we refuse to be fazed by the violent actions of another in Iraq?
Again, lets take a look at the similarities between the shooting in Tucson and the helicopter massacre shown in the video "Collateral Murder" in Iraq. Both gunman came highly armed. Both gunman knowingly targeted unarmed civilians. Both shot randomly shot at children. Both killed in cold blood. Both showed no remorse after the shootings. One difference was that Loughner planed to assassinate a political leader. Another difference was that Loughner was not wearing a military uniform. And perhaps the most important difference was that Loughner's targets were counted as "worthy victims," and rightly so, while the victims of our helicopter gunship were inhumanely counted as "unworthy victims" because they were not Americans.
Certainly it is normal and understandable for us to be more upset at the shooting of fellow Americans. After all, the shooting in Tucson is closer to home and we can relate more with our own countrymen. In addition, the Tucson shooting took place in shopping center, a kind of place we have all visited. But our apathy regarding what happened in Iraq has been taken to extremes for we refuse to see why Iraqis might regard some in our military with the same contempt that we might have for Loughner. It is as if we, like Loughner, have had a break with reality and, in a sense, we have.
Perhaps, our insistence on being "city on the hill," American Exceptionalism, and our right to so freely use our military indicates that we suffer from more than just a case of narcissism, we too are out of touch with reality. Perhaps, we are suffering from a self-induced mental and personality disorder. After all, we only trust those whom we can control and we have become so hyper vigilant concerning our own personal peace and feeling good about ourselves that external messages, especially those that challenge our national image, are so disturbing that we seek comfort by retreating into a world of rituals that we have created. When challenged by the outside, we maintain our peace of mind by immersing ourselves in mindless entertainment, hallucinatory electronics, as Chris Hedges has described it, and personal ecstasy through religion, drugs, and prosperity. These distractions, which are under our control, enable us to maintain our inner world of calm but at a very high price. That price is that we must shut out the outside world.
We need to be precise here. It is not as though Americans never involve themselves with the outside world. We can be a charitable lot. But the only messages we can endure from others consist of affirmation and flattery. All other messages create a dissonance that quickly becomes too unbearable to endure.
When we consider what psychology has discovered about how humans react to internal conflicts, our prognosis is gloomy. Psychology tells us that when faced with what would be called cognitive dissonance here, which would consist of believing that we are good and decent while failing to act that way, people tend to resolve the tension by believing what is easiest to believe and thus by what expends the least energy. Unfortunately, listening to criticisms and changing our priorities and practices are not energy efficient ways of handling internal discord. At this point we can understand what Yoda said about how the Dark Side could forever dominate our destiny.
And yet if we don't change our national psyche, we will continue to give the same mixed messages to all of our fellow Americans, both to those who are healthy and to those who are not. We will see more occurrences of dehumanizing the other whether that other is of another race from another country, is a fellow American who simply disagrees, is one whose views are perceived as threatening our values, or has cheated us in some way. If we tolerate the relegation of some by our foreign and military policies, we will degrade others who are our fellow countrymen. The question we must ask ourselves is whether learning to be virtuous and in touch with reality is worth losing our current peace of mind. If integrity and reality are not worth the tradeoff, we could easily being seeing sequels to our tale of two mass murders.