Saturday, December 15, 2012

Surprise! We all react differently to tragedy! Deal with it, people!

Humans are a goofy and widely varying bunch on any occasion. Sometimes that can cause friction in the face of tragedy when our guts tell us that we should stand in solidarity to a certain extent.

I was intrigued by a lot of the responses to Newtown last night. First, of course, everyone was heartbroken and grieving over it without a single exception that I saw. That's not surprising to me, I just want to make that clear before I get into how different people reacted. But after that sympathy and grief the reactions were startlingly different.

That didn't surprise me, but what bothered me a little was that I saw some people getting angry at others (or if not angry, incredulous) for responding differently. That doesn't seem healthy to me.

One reaction I saw a lot of on facebook is that we absolutely shouldn't be talking about how to respond to this (subtext: gun control). I didn't like those declarations because I didn't think the declarers ought to be telling other people they shouldn't think about something that they think is appropriate to think about. But one or two people on facebook went out of their way to accuse people talking about gun control as politicizing the victims.

Now that infuriates me to hear. There is only one reason why people are bringing up gun control right now: out of grief for the victims and a very sincere belief that irresponsibility around gun control is an important contributor to their deaths. I have my doubts about that, personally. Maybe draconian restrictions on gun ownership would reduce these killings but any kind of tightening consistent with the second amendment (which we are not going to be abandoning, and for good reason) is - in my view - unlikely to do much. My opinion is that there's probably some smart things you could do about background checks that could prevent it getting into the hands of certain people that may be a danger. I leave the details to people that actually know the issue, that's just my suspicion That's probably a good idea, but let's please not pretend that just because it's a "good idea" it will remedy the problem.

Anyway, to get back to my point the people you hear talking about gun control are not politicizing the victims. They don't just advocate this stuff randomly - they do it because they care about the victims and they don't want something like this to happen again.

The same goes for people who advocate concealed carry in response (this one actually makes more sense to me). They aren't politicizing the victims either - they also genuinely think this is a way to prevent tragedies like this. I heard Ann Coulter on the radio yesterday afternoon advocating concealed carry and she sounded like she was in tears about Newtown as she said it. As most of you know, speaking while teary-eyed is not a typical disposition of Coulter's. People don't advocate policies randomly - they do it because they think it matters.

Another response I saw from a friend was reacting that we shouldn't be surprised at evil in this world. That Newtown, horrific as it was, is very different from the thousands that were killed in Rwanda.

This is an appropriate reaction that a lot of human beings have.

But the people who are shell-shocked by this particular evil in a way that they weren't for Rwanda is, I think, understandable too. There are good reasons why we put our mutual butchering behind us a hundred years ago in a way that Rwandans and Serbians haven't. That's not to say that sort of evil can't come here again, but we've cultivated institutions and norms to prevent that sort of thing, and we get acclimated to a less-evil life. That's something that ought to be celebrated, not scoffed at. We want Rwandans to have a life more like ours (in some senses, at least) - not vice versa. That's not any kind of cultural imperialism. It can come with any variety of cultural characteristics. That's just saying that a life in which people don't butcher each other is better than a life where they do.

So to me, both of these reactions are perfectly legitimate: "Oh my God I can't believe it happened here" and "the world is evil, you've been in something of a cocoon".

Like wanting to talk about policy responses and not wanting to talk about policy responses, both of these reactions are OK with me because: (1.) they're both sincere in their motives, and (2.) they both have justification.


So in the face of a tragedy like this my feeling is that you should react in the way that you feel is right to react. Don't denounce other people for reacting in the way they feel is right to react. We're all very different and that's OK.


My gut reaction in the immediate aftermath was not to talk too much about policy if for no other reason than I don't know much about the policy areas that are relevant here. But I do think a policy response is reasonable because policies directly impact that likelihood of this thing happening. My gut says that passing concealed carry laws as well as tightening registration standards are both "good policies" but not silver bullets. But the biggest policy implication for me (this is public and private policy, btw) is to improve our mental health system. Aside from that, love your children and raise them right. I'm not sure what else there is to do.

My reaction is also very much in the "I can't believe it could happen here" camp. There is evil in the world, but we keep a pretty good lid on it. Of course it gets out, I know that. But I'm still caught off guard when it does. That's my reaction.


  1. The problem with talking policy right now is that policy has focused on "assault" weapons where this particular attack was all about hand guns and mental illness.

    Violence in all its forms permeates American society. Attitudes to violence are the problem. Concealed carry laws are a symptom of the underlying problem, not a solution.

    If America will not address its love affair with violence then it needs to ban hand guns.

  2. "If America will not address its love affair with violence then it needs to ban hand guns."

    Would that also include agents of the state? After all, they're a part of American society, as well.


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