Quantum Arizona

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.


About moniacal @ X Rated

On a lifelong journey to be a person in a place...
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2 Responses to Quantum Arizona

  1. Mike S. says:

    In some ways, one of strange (but maybe not so strange) legacies in my life is that I have come to believe that my father’s death (from a plane accident) was part of what motivated me to become interested in philosophy. I also think it had something to do with the fact he died when I was 17, which might be considered the tipping point for boy-becoming-man, or some such. Needless to say, so many of the questions that had been passing thoughts before became sustained questions at that point. And, as it turns out, before the interest in philosophy, I consulted religion — and by “religion” I mean (in this context at least), Western religious belief systems and practices. Without meaning to depreciate what this exploration ultimately meant to me (like learning that you don’t like a job by doing it, sort of), let’s just say that I wanted to see if the shoe fit. It didn’t. And part of what I’m getting at here is that, for me, your explanation, Monica, demonstrates so thoughtfully the reason why: fear.

    I remember having a discussion with my girlfriend at the time (who was, admittedly, struggling with her own beliefs, in this case linked to Christianity). In particular, she had been asserting whatever more religiously dogmatic version of the “reductionism” that you mention, which here encompassed things like God’s plan, heaven, being “saved,” immortality, etc. I remember very distinctly asking her (at this point, exasperated), “So what about my father, then? I didn’t know him to have any particular religious doctrine to which he ascribed. What happened to him, then?” At first, she didn’t know what to say. I understood — that’s a tough one. But then, after some pause, she came up with what was, in my view, a rather insufficient explanation: “I’m sure he asked to be saved in the end.”

    Now, one of the things I can never bring myself to think about (and so I try not to think about it…ever…even though I sometimes can’t help it) is whether my father might have been scared just before his death…whether he knew something was dreadfully wrong. I tell myself, willingly, no. No — it all must have happened too quickly. He didn’t have time to be scared, I tell myself. At any rate, what I’m fairly sure of is that he didn’t ask to be saved seconds before his death. No, if nothing else, I embrace the uncertainty, the accidental, the mystery of it all. There was no “reason” — beyond the elements, the weather, the immediate circumstances — why my father died. Not everything happens for a reason (which is, I might add, one of those comfortable maxims that I find has an extremely broad currency, even beyond “official” religion; similar to “think positive”). And I WAS sad and angry that this happened…and I DID cry…a lot…and I DID question the meaning (or lack thereof) of human life. That’s very well put, Monica. It’s a messy thing. My embracing the accident of my father’s death — and my embracing of uncertainty in general — is paradoxically my own hard pill to swallow AND a relief of sorts.

    I said earlier that, basically, I consulted religion, but ultimately chose philosophy. But of course, that’s greatly oversimplified. In fact, it’s perhaps less and less the case, in a way. Yes, I can say that I turned away — probably forever — from a wholesale adoption of organized religion, particularly of the Western stripe. And it’s true that Eastern practices seemed much more accommodating to me. But why? I suppose it’s no coincidence that the thought and meaning implied by such terms as “religion” and “philosophy” here is a much more blurred affair (is Taoism a religion or a philosophy?). And that’s just it — one of my own little, esoteric (and maybe merely academic, although I hate to think so) idealisms is actually that something like religion and something like philosophy may actually find something to talk about…on a meaningful, thoughtful, more patient, more creative, more human…and less fearful…level. But that’s a long, messy, breath…not a quick, easy bite.

  2. Ben D'Antonio says:

    It’s hard to be comfortable with the knowledge that someone’s daughter can be arbitrarily shot down in broad daylight.

    That fear is real and at times dibillitating.

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