Every tragedy births a supplication. Every assault, violent attack, assassination attempt and murderous spree begets the same series of questions, a palms-open appeal to the gods of law, society, humanity.
It goes like this: What will we learn? What will change? Will any solutions emerge? Who can fix this? Is it even possible? And finally, what the hell is wrong with us?
So it is that, in the wake of the Tucson rampage wrought by a deranged monster named Jared Loughner, a man with far too easy access to firearms and a brain far too full of tortured rhetoric, comes the collective wail from the right, the left, the president himself: Something must be done. We will get to the bottom of this. We will examine from every angle, figure this out, heal the wound.
Right. What wound would that be, exactly? The bottom of what? What, really, can or will be done? No one seems to know. Or rather, they sort of do, but no one has the nerve to do it. Ain't that America.
Regardless, some have already taken action. Already, two political creeps have decided to reduce themselves to, well, almost the same level as Loughner himself. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Rep. Heath Schuler (D-N.C.) have declared that they will start packing heat, carrying their own handguns around D.C. like twitchy thugs, because gosh, it just makes sense. More guns will somehow equal less guns, and violence never begets more violence. Well done, boys. You're a couple of goddamn geniuses. Now shut up.
Cringingly childish, their response is nevertheless typical of the maleducated American ethos -- reactionary, fearful and seemingly unable to dive into the social subtexts and examine not only root causes, but a bogus value system that champions infantile cowboy machismo over, well, almost everything else.
But never mind them now. Let's dance backwards for a second. Do you recall if anything changed in America as a result of the Columbine massacre? Anything significant in terms of gun laws, the educational system, or our understanding of the troubled youth mind? Did we evolve a notch or two as a result of that profound and heartbreaking wound? What about after the '07 Virginia Tech massacre, in which Seung-Hui Cho's insane spree resulted in the deaths of 30 people?
Answer: Not so much. More school security, maybe. More cameras, sophisticated alarm systems, bars on the windows. A few schools hired more psychologists. Check that: We did learn something. We learned that if there's one thing we're good at, it's armoring up, locking down, imprisoning ourselves deeper into the cave of dread. Meanwhile, the kids are still not all right.
What about the granddaddy of them all, 9/11? No question: The nation changed violently, dramatically. But mostly toward the negative. Bush/Cheney's toxic response made sure of that: two wars, the Patriot Act, the TSA, wiretapping, Axis of Evil, terror alerts, Homeland Security, Islamophobia, the works. Not a single move toward self-examination, compassion, humanity or humility.
Only with Obama have we begun to carefully peel it back a little and re-examine our role in the world, open ourselves to international input and cooperation, realize we are not, and never really have been, the beatific Christian superman to the planet. Often just the opposite, in fact. But we've still a long way to go.
Another question swims like a piranha in the current headlines: Do the likes of Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Rush, Sarah Palin's "Take back the 20" list, Arizona's hate radio broadcasters, et al spur the mentally unstable to violent behavior?
More broadly: Does a blood-splattered, inflammatory media -- especially right-wing media, with its nonstop calls to attack the government, hate liberals, stockpile bullets before Obama comes for your guns -- help create a more explosive, Loughner-friendly environment, much like those fundamentalist mullahs who plant the seeds of hate in young Muslim minds?
You know the answer....
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Mark Morford is the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a mega-collection of his finest columns for the SF Chronicle and SFGate. Get it at Amazon and beyond. He recently wrote a fine letter to whiny young Democrats, a column about the adorable ignorance of the Tea Party, and the trouble with the Arcade Fire. His website is markmorford.com. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...
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