It’s always easiest to point to something. To say, ‘there – there’s the problem. Here’s how to fix it.’ It’s easier because it absolves us; it’s easier because it makes something impossible to comprehend make sense; it’s easier because it assigns blame. And it’s easiest because these thing we point to, they’re not wrong. But neither are they the answer.
It would be easy to say, “It happened because of violent entertainment.” But entertainment, of course, has always been violent. Has it grown more so, in the simulated environment of the PlayStation instead of the Coliseums? Have we evolved to believe it should be less so? If so, then it isn’t the entertainment that’s changed, but us. Once you move past the surface it gets complicated.
It would be easy to decide, “It’s because of guns.” Yet we’re not the only country with access to personal firearms. Perhaps it’s because of our early years, when guns were the defense against tyranny, and then – on the frontier – against chaos, that we (as a culture) cling to them so fervently. But this doesn’t explain it all.
It would be convenient to say, “It’s because we’ve lost a moral/religious orthodoxy.” But this often assumes one moral/religious orthodoxy. This can suggest that horrors like what happened in Aurora are because the attacker simply hadn’t been told what’s moral. This could even replace chaos for structured oppression or even violence.
It would be profitable to blame the conservatives, or the liberals. But this is opportunism.
It would be handy to tsk, and point a finger and say, “Oh, you know Americans. They’re just a violent people.” And, obviously, there is a real problem in the country, but reductionism isn’t a real solution, it’s just a way to feel superior. To say something like “You know Americans” means you don’t. Of course we all talk about cultural identities, usually in good humor. Canadians are like this. Japanese are like that. But as actual cultural dissection this is all but meaningless. The United States is a staggeringly diverse culture. There’s no question that something is terribly wrong in the US, in terms of a culture of violence, but suggesting that we’re just innately, geneticaly more violent than other cultures ignores the fact that we’re not from here. We are the offspring of the entire globe. We can’t ever forget that this entire country is a great experiment. The great experiment in the notion a people governing themselves – and not just people, but the suggestion that people of different backgrounds, cultures, religions and ethnicities can live the same place, elevated above these divisive elements. Because, ultimately, what makes someone an American is geography or genealogy, it’s philosophy: belief in these basic principles.
And it always tempting in the midst of fear and in chaos to look to the people in power, the politicians and cry out for them to do something. This, of course, is not the solution. They proved this pretty definitively after the massacre at Columbine in 1999, after vowing to take definitive action to address the violence problem in the US. By the time the lobbyists and campaign strategists and PAC’s were done, the only action Congress took was an announcement that the problem would be solved by posting the 10 Commandments in every public school classroom (knowing full well that this would be stricken down by the Supreme Court as an obvious First Amendment violation).
So how do you process what happened in Aurora? I don’t know. I certainly don’t suggest that I have the answers. I also don’t dismiss other people’s theories – I just believe they’re all part of a larger discussion. Because this is a terrible leviathan of an issue. This violence lies at the heart of our central national problem. And it can only be fixed by the strength at the heart of the culture.
Our culture, when it thrives, does so not despite our ideological clashes, but because of them. The great experiment resides on the idea that when you take people from different backgrounds and put them together, they bring their different ideas together and new ideas are born. Growth occurs. Problems are solved. But we have to talk to each other.
These things we propose as the cause – none of them are the answer. All of them are the answer.
Nothing’s going to make Aurora make sense, nothing’s going to make it okay. But we have to keep trying to progress. We have to stop hating each other so much and talk about these things. Winston Churchill once said, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, once they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” And maybe we’re not there yet, but I have to believe that we’re close to being out of ways to avoid confronting our problems, our dilemmas.