In a perhaps oversimplified definition, the theory of Quantum Mechanics tells us, broadly and truthfully, that phenomena is random, and that the best we can do is determine the probability that something is going to happen. For some people, me included, to think of the world NOT as predetermined, but instead as a collection of probable events, is really freeing. But, I think for most Americans, randomness is a hard pill to swallow.
In the wake of Saturday’s shootings in Arizona, people have been looking for ways to deal with the tragedy. For Americans, though, dealing with something means finding an absolute answer and pointing an absolute finger. It’s gun laws! It’s Sarah Palin! It’s heated rhetoric! It’s lack of mental health care! Blah Blah Blah. I’ve been waiting for someone to blame Marilyn Manson, even though he hasn’t put out a record in a decade.
To me, absolute answers and pointing fingers are our ways of self-soothing – like a child sucking on its binky – and I think this is problematic. In fact, I would argue that if there’s one major problem in our society that needs fixing, it’s not necessarily the gun laws or Rush Limbaugh; it’s our reductionist mentality, the complete oversimplification of issues, and the reliance on absolute answers. It’s our inability to accept that most problems are complex, require time and patience to figure out, and may, in fact, never be figured out.
That said, there are obviously conditions that affect the probability of certain outcomes. Yes, it seems that our gunman is mentally ill. Yes, it appears that he had some kind of political motivation, as he targeted a Congresswoman and not customers at a Walmart. Yes, he did have a weapon that seems excessive for any non-military personnel to have.
Yes, the rhetoric in America on both sides of the coin has been hot (hot and stupid, if you ask me). And, yes, the Republicans and the right-wing in general tend to use more vitriolic rhetoric, particularly language that always seems to revolve around death, killing, and fear (the Estate Tax is the Death Tax, Obama’s healthcare plan includes Death Panels, and the Republican bill to repeal Obama-care is called the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act”). Yes, insanity, guns, and Republicans (not to be confused with “Lawyers, Guns, and Money”) certainly make great villains in this story…
So, to comfort ourselves, we extract all these issues one by one, scrutinize them until they barely exist, and pinpoint their exact role in the event. NPR interviews one of the gunman’s college instructors, MSNBC calls Christina Green’s mother on the phone mere hours after she just lost her daughter, and we watch from the edge of our loveseats as the gunman’s parents’ statement scrolls across the bottom of the screen on CNN. And, we start to feel some relief. Why? Because answers, even incomplete or speculative ones, make us feel better. We want answers so badly that we’re willing to exploit those directly affected by the tragedy, making them relive each moment in detail so that we can selfishly participate in their horror. Forget this whole “we’re one with the victims” shit…no, we’re one with our fear, and we’ll use any means necessary to quell it.
In terms of this tragic event specifically, my advice is the following: be sad and angry that this happened. Cry a little (or a lot). Question the meaning (or lack thereof) of human life. Solemnly appreciate the horror of it all. But, ultimately, chalk it up to the randomness of living in this world.
We will never know EXACTLY why this young man did what he did. We will never really know why anyone does something that goes against the grain of what we have established as moral social behavior. And, for better or worse, we just have to be comfortable with the uncomforability of that.