On 12 June, I remember opening the Huffington PostHuffington Post website to quickly peruse the day’s headlines as I waited for my wife and daughter to finish getting ready to go out. I can’t remember where we were going; I only remember that my wife was impatient to get started, and I suppose irritated with me that I was on the computer AGAIN with the potential to delay our departure even further.
I saw the headline reporting 50 dead in night club shooting in Orlando. I can’t remember the exact headline and can’t find it, but the number 50 leapt off the page. Fifty, I thought, that’s a lot of people! Of course, I mentioned it to Josée, but she wanted to go, so I closed the computer and left.
My first thought was to be indifferent. It was another mass shooting in the US. It happens so frequently that I was prepared to not react emotionally. But, fifty. It nagged at me. Was it the most? Twenty-six was the number of dead in Newtown. Fifty, the most or not was a shocking number.
It took time for it to sink in. It took time for it to make it past the protective armor of cynicism and jadedness. It took time for me to steel myself to the inevitable pain that would come as more was revealed. It took time for me to strip away the protective layers of being a knowledgeable insightful expert on mass shootings — my usual defensive measure.
That evening, I sat down and read more about it. It was incomprehensible. Absolutely incomprehensible. I watched the videos of people fleeing the nightclub and waiting. I heard the gunshots. I listened to the interviews of the lucky escapees. I imagined the terror… and the crushing text from the young man in the bathroom to his mother reporting that they were trapped and the shooter was coming. I felt the helplessness of those men in the bathroom and the grief of the mother.
My heart ached.
But yet, there was part of me that held back. This was another shooting: how shocked could you be? How mortified? How could you wonder, How could this happen? since we know by now how it could happen: an angry desperate person bought a gun and planned a shooting. How could you wonder, When will these mass shootings stop? since it doesn’t seem like it will ever stop. The only real option is to endure and protect yourself from the pain.
On 5 July, I once again opened the Huffington Post to review the day’s headlines: 11 Police Officers Shot in Dallas at a Black Lives Matters Protest. My response was immediate: shocked disbelief. Mortification.
The follow up headlines were even more frightening: four snipers, ambushing police officers.
This mass shooting was different. It was a deliberate targeting of police. It was one thing to shoot innocent and unsuspecting citizens as they go about their ordinary everyday lives, but to shoot police officers was beyond the pall. If police officers could be shot en masse, then who would stop the shooters? Who would protect us? It tears at the fabric of our society.
I have become hardened to the shock and horror of mass shootings of civilians. But, the mass shooting of police was new. It was devastating. I really did wonder, How could this have happened? It seemed a complete disaster.
The Worst Possibilities
At first, I couldn’t identify a worst-case scenario. How could things get worse? But, unfortunately, it can always get worse.
In the immediate aftermath of the Orlando shooting, I worried that a connection to ISIS would be demonstrated. I hoped that it wouldn’t because then we could all stop thinking about the other contributing factors and focus on the demagoguing of Muslims.
I imagined that gun reform efforts would be even further derailed as people feared public random violence and lone wolf terrorist attacks. I feared the irrational response that more guns would some how make us safer. I feared nothing would get done on gun reform.
But, the fears I harbored after the Dallas police massacre were of rioting in the streets. After everything that had happened in the proceeding month, and then to have a black man shooting police officers from the rooftops, I thought could set off open ugly public violent strife between blacks and whites, progressives and conservatives. I feared the complete fracturing of the society, and the harsh conservative backlash setting off a chain reaction of oppression and dissent.
Now, I fear another Nixon: the cynical exploitation of the fearful chaos for personal gain: Donald Trump. Nixon completely countered the gains of the Great Society and stymied the advances of the Civil Rights movements. Reagan kept us treading water on civil rights and rolled back — think of the Welfare Queen myth. Now, we’ve had the Voting Rights Act repealed and Citizen’s United and stagnate wages. If we go further back, I fear for the stability of the country and the safety and welfare of our citizens.
Since I worked as a social worker, I’ve seen the effects of social spending cut backs: increased misery and early death. The programs that get cut, hurt people and hurt them badly. It perpetuates the situation and people suffer. It breaks my heart.
This has been a cathartic experience. I was reluctant to engage in the emotional processing, but it was good. I hope that it can be cathartic for others and I look forward to reading the other responses to the challenge and the resulting dialogue.
Television hardened us to violence. Decades ago I said that our “perception” to reality was altered by TV. How does one differentiate “reality” from “fantasy?” “Virtual reality” is now upon us commercially, it’s not in the science lab anymore. When one can see “real time” warfare happening thousands of miles away, is it fantasy or “really” happening somewhere to someone? You are the philosopher, CalicoJack, not I, but I think I’ve expressed the dilemma fairly well. B
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You’re right! TV, movies, live streaming, it all has hardened us to violence limited our empathy. And, you’re right again! We cannot distinguish between events on the screen, events in our heads, and events in real life. In our brains, they all activate the same areas in the brain. And, watching all those videos of the shootings where you can hear the shots and see the bloody bodies just makes it worse, which means that shootings will only increase. Sad, ain’t it?
I really really appreciate your contributions: insightful and valuable.