A Proper Response to the Massacre of Innocents

The knee-jerk response to a catastrophe such as Newtown is the banning of guns. The academic and journalistic reasoning is essentially this: Guns represent a neat way of killing people. The killer never touches the blood or the body. He can look away immediately after pulling the trigger and never has to look again upon the lifeless face or the death throes of the suffering victim. He can simply move on to the next hated enemy with each body representing the completion of his task anew -- like multiple kills in an electronic battle game.

Therefore, we must ban guns to remove the ease with which this terrible act was accomplished. There is some truth to this statement, but as with all social semi-truths this one is an inadequate post hoc fairytale when it claims completeness or a solution to the problem of individual or mass murder.

It never occurs to the reasonable liberals who formulated this sequence of internal emotional events within the perpetrator that it is he, the formulator of the theory, who has caused the current devastation. Why should he? Did he pull the trigger? Was he in the same country, state, or city when the event occurred? How could he be responsible in the remotest fashion? Here is how he is responsible!

There is a glitch of sorts with human thought processes.! We need to understand any event -- catastrophic or not -- in a context that makes sense to us. A disturbing event even more so must be fitted to a context that helps us to stop thinking about it. In that way, we can cease using so much energy to comprehend the devastating circumstance. Because we will have defined the problem, we can then put it aside. When a mass killing takes place -- something that almost no one has experienced personally -- an excessive amount of mental work needs to be done to bring to a halt our cogitations. Thus, we have article upon article explaining the pain of the victims in exquisite detail; article upon article explaining the mental aberrations that could lead a person to engage in such a hellish behavior. The press interviews everyone in the family of the victim and the victim's neighbors, as well, the family of the perpetrator and the neighbors of the perp. We are drawn toward the matter as the proverbial moth to a flame. The press needs to increase readership; academics need to proffer learned opinions; government officials must offer answers to justify their exalted status and salaries. And an essential part of this process is that we are forewarned by all expert parties that there will be copycat threats and even new killings.

What is the problem here? It can be analogized in the following rather common manner: the media, academics, and governmental officials are the prostitutes and the members of the public are the 'johns'. Important people need to explain threats in a way that reduces personal danger, so government officials, academics, and the media above all other institutions message us with their comforting expressions of reassurance: "you are personally still alive, you and your relatives and friends are now safe with the monster being dead or captured, and it will not happen again in the natural lifetimes of those who are important to you." We are told how to speak with our children to prevent traumatizing them. But it is we, the adults, who are drinking of the soporific of constant review, reformulation, and rehash that soothes our troubled neurology and souls.

But in this process of comforting ourselves, we create the seeds of the next series of tragedies. (They always seem to get worse.) Political terrorists know this truism like an infant its mother's milk. In fact, we all know it, but cannot help our poor selves. We are stuck attending, squinting down on the bestial murders, knowing that someone somewhere is contemplating how to best the situation to obtain more attention and greater notoriety.

How then to react to reduce future tragedies?

1) Never mention the name of the perp and certainly not any putative cause for which he committed the atrocity -- as a matter of law.

2) Remove the body of the perp and drop him in the ocean, uncovered by the press, unattended by officials and unaccompanied by any ceremony -- as a matter of law. Just as we pay no attention to the contents of the toilet bowl after flushing, our press and government officials should be encouraged to move on quickly.

3) Funerals should be private, not national events. The comfort offered by elected officials should be by a personal note, not by personal appearance.

This approach is not human and under current conditions has little chance for implementation. We are designed to assess threats to us and to those we value on a second to second basis, but not much past the immediate moment. The next mass murder is in the future and cannot be reliably predicted. But we also know intuitively that in attending to evil behavior, we make the next event more likely and, thus, more frequent.

In addition, publicly ignoring tragedy is expensive. Publications are loath to reject stories that are of interest to their readership. The emotional tension of these stories brings people out from behind their video games and social media. For-profit publications would, therefore, lose revenue for the sake of such a rational approach. We used to use law to enforce rationality, but law as an institution is under attack by the political Left (as unnecessary and unhelpful) and Right (as unreliable) and so it cannot now be relied upon to perform its historical duty. As mentioned, the people of the nation would also find ignoring evil painful. We all need comforting at such times. We are nothing but grownup children. But as true as this is, it is still irrational. So, it would seem that we are doomed to recycle tragedy forever -- at least in the near future -- by affording a public status to both the killer and his victims. If we cannot implement a rational policy that flies in the face of our irrational human limitations, then there seems to be no hope.

But there is hope of a sort. If law can regain a rational basis, rather than serving special interests, it can again be a vehicle for promoting and defending civilized life. As well, when a large number of individuals refrain from a behavior, it takes on the status and aura of custom and common sense. While it is unlikely that the nation will decide, individual by individual, to ban public reactions to tragedies, rational people might be able to formulate ways and means to encourage us to do the right thing for ourselves and for those we love -- by agreeing, perhaps, to obey such laws. Let us try!