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Ellis Dean

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Until Something Different Happens

Posted: 07/23/2012 4:29 pm

Is it time again already? It doesn't seem that long since, what was it... Gabrielle Giffords and those other people were shot? Or was there something else in between? At a school, maybe? Shopping mall? Workplace? I can't quite remember.

In a way, I guess I don't have to remember. These days, the particulars of each new act of violence are quickly processed into a formalized ritual. The new stations of the cross are so familiar that we can follow them without thinking. An act of carnage is inflicted on innocents. Victims narrate electronically in real-time. Heroes emerge. People die. Flowers, photos, candles, and stuffed animals are left at the scene. Hands are wrung. Outrage replaces shock. Solutions that threaten the political status quo are debated. Then a new shiny object is dangled, and the collective consciousness changes the channel.

Except for the family and friends of those who are randomly selected for sacrifice to our gods of apathy and ignorance, everything else returns to normal. Until the next horror captures our attention and leads us once again through the ritual paces.

Let us consider that as these events become formalized and ritualized, it becomes harder to parse one's feelings, harder to give mindful respect to each new iteration. For ritualization is the first step toward detachment and indifference. And that detachment and indifference seem to create fertile soil into which the next horrific seeds will be sown. Ashes to ashes.

So forgive me if I fail to fall into the steps expected of me this time, when the scene of the crime happened to be a movie theater filled to capacity. Forgive me if my enthusiasm for the obligatory formalities is on the wane.

Instead, please call me when it's time to give clear-eyed consideration to new sensibilities. Call me when we can acknowledge that if a citizen should have the right to purchase an assault weapon, then a citizen should have the right to purchase a grenade launcher, or a surface-to-air missile, or a tank, or an armed drone, or a nuclear weapon, because the logic of the status quo does not allow anything less.

Call me when an elected leader is not savaged for suggesting that we act as a society (e pluribus unum), and not as a collection of teeth-bared individuals in a chain-link octagon eager to devour each other. Call me when popular culture stops celebrating the callous, the crass, the immature, and the violent. Call me when it's time to appreciate that mental illness is no more shameful than a cut finger, and that it is in desperate need of research and care levels equivalent to those afforded to breast cancer and heart disease. Call me when lawmakers are ready to address these and comparable problems, and not the needs of their wealthy benefactors.

Don't worry, I'm not naive enough to think that human cruelty can be legislated away. But we either make an effort to solve problems, or we sleepwalk, once again, through the new stations of the cross.

The victims who lost their lives in Aurora were all young and seemed full of promise. But here is another promise, by which we -- the survivors -- make their loss the more senseless. It is the promise that unless we do something, all of this will happen again. And no Tweets, tears, or teddy bears will change that fact.

So call me when you're ready to talk, to reason, and to think together. When you're ready to use that thing that provides us, in theory at least, our unique advantage over the rest of the animal kingdom -- our minds. Call me when you're ready to make things better.

 

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