Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Getting it off my chest.

I'm still thinking about what happened in Colorado. A lot of the Monday-morning quarterbacking makes me kind of sick, the idea that more gun laws, no, fewer gun laws, no, banning costumes at movies, no, rounding up "quiet" people and subjecting them to psych evaluations, no, whatever other thing....could have prevented it. I think I have two conclusions:

1. There's bad stuff that happens that can't be prevented. We can increasingly give up liberties, we can hide in our houses - but that won't stop bad stuff from happening. Granted, there are things you can do to lessen the risk of bad stuff happening to you - not walking alone late at night in a bad part of town springs to mind - but there comes a point where you have to live your life and just accept that there's a minute risk that something bad will happen.

By all means: get the "bad guys" off the streets. Allow people to protect themselves. But there's a point at which we're going to have to accept that bad stuff sometimes happens.

2. We're all looking for an explanation. We want to know why. I suppose on some level we want to know that because we think if we know "why," we can avoid something like this happening again. Look at how the news media jumps to (wrong) conclusions about the person's affiliation. People try to find some commonality. I was very put off on Sunday when one of the men in my Sunday school class remarked, "So often these shooters seem to be described as "highly intelligent and highly educated." " I realize I'm sensitive to that because I'm highly educated and arguably highly intelligent. I made some comment about that education doesn't necessarily grow a conscience, but at the same time I think blaming intelligence or education for this sort of thing is incredibly wrong-headed.

I think a lot of these violent crimes boil down to something very simple, and something that is unfortunately (in lesser degrees of severity of course) an epidemic in our society: not seeing the other people around you as fully human.

The only way I can imagine someone being able to kill civilian strangers (I exempt wartime situations here; that's sort of a form of self defense, or at least defense of one's country or way of life) is to dehumanize them to the point where they are like the enemies in a video game.

I've also commented in the past that I'm not a fan of separate hate-crimes legislation, because I believe any kind of crime against another human shows some level of hatred toward them. You can't beat up someone and steal their wallet without having hate in your heart on some level - whether it's a hatred born of feeling that life has wronged you and you are entitled to someone else's money, or a momentary hatred of the individual walking down the street because they refused to give up their wallet when asked, or whatever. It doesn't matter if that person is the same or different race from you, or sexual orientation, or gender, or religion, or whatever. There's still hate there.

The thing that fills me with sadness and dismay is the realization how common lesser forms of this hatred are. Look at a lot of the political commentary on places like Twitter - short bursts, often saying something horrible about the "other side." I've seen people actually wish death (or so it seems, if the statement is interpreted literally) on someone who opposes something they support. (And so often what is going on in the world canNOT be boiled down to 140 characters).

Or you see how people treat each other on the highways or in the grocery store or where ever. People shoving in front of others in line, people weaving in and out of traffic and cutting other people off. Recently I had someone cut me off on the highway and then give me the finger because I wasn't going quite fast enough to suit them. (I was driving at the speed limit). And while a lot of that is just anger and frustration, and I get that - still, it's so easy to see that person in the other car as less than human.

One thing a pastor once suggested struck me: that that person who is driving a little fast and a little recklessly, maybe they just got word their child was in the hospital and they were rushing to see him or see her. Or by a similar token, maybe the person driving slowly and cautiously just had a warning light come on on their dashboard, and they were trying to get to a place to pull off and see what was wrong without causing too much danger. There are sometimes extenuating circumstances.

I see this kind of behavior a lot at the grocery store. People yelling at cashiers, people pushing in front of other customers, people doing things like talking on their cell phones and nearly running into other people because they literally do not "see" them. And while I realize it's a long stretch from a person being selfish on a cell phone to a person harming other people....it seems in our culture right now selfishness is growing, that there are some people who seem to encourage "not seeing" the other person...or rejecting them as somehow "less" because of their beliefs or attitudes, or whatever.

I've decided that I'm going to try my best to, if I criticize, criticize POSITIONS or ATTITUDES and not turn it into an ad hominem attack. There's too much of that already and it does make me repulsed when I see, for example, the woman screaming at a person in the Wal-mart because that person got the last whatever off the shelf when the woman really wanted it. I'm tired of the ugliness winning.

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