As news broke out about the Tuscon, Arizona shooting on Saturday, media outlets were busy deeming the event a result of US economic troubles instead of just reporting the facts as they became clear. Analysis doesn’t belong in headlines. But we were all on the alert because those who report the news have demonstrated their knee-jerk tendencies time and again, right? Right? There can now be no doubt that the incident was the direct result of mental illness which went untreated, but not unnoticed. According to many sources, several people have since come forward to describe shooter Jared Lee Loughner’s behaviour many months ago as having been unstable and frightening. He just happened to have certain political opinions. He could just as easily have believed that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was actually an alien masterminding a coup d’état of the US government.
While people continue to quibble over whether any responsibility lies with Sarah Palin for her ill-conceived campaign graphics (did you honestly expect anything intelligent coming from her camp?) or whether we should finally do something about the economy or gun control, I’m wondering why we need an assassination attempt on a politically significant individual to realize that people are suffering every day in numerous ways because of the policies of our governments. Like, now we’re supposed to sit bolt upright and pay attention, but last week the state of current affairs didn’t warrant intrusion into our daily thoughts? If there was no deep socio-economic unrest, would we still run the risk of something like this happening? Yes, for two reasons:
- Mental illness needs no motivation for violence – it’s an unfortunate fact that many people go untreated and are capable of harming themselves and others at any time, with or without social destitution or other catalysts;
- Gun laws are ridiculously lax because many Americans feel entitled to carry weapons, regardless of whether they face any reasonable risk of personal injury. This most recent tragedy, so highly publicized and bulging with rhetoric, will likely not result in a sobering of the US discourse on gun culture and laws. So as usual, people will feel shocked and then they’ll argue, none of which results in an improvement in the situation. News providers can’t be expected to provide this either, so it’s up to the rest of us.
Oh, and here’s a word you don’t see the media using in this situation that it would otherwise opportunistically flash: TERRORIST. Why? Because Loughner is white? American? Not Muslim or Arab? The omission is not lost on everyone (see An American Terrorist in Tucson Arizona by Paul I. Adujie) but unfortunately not obvious enough in the mainstream imagination.
What theme am I taking away from this? We don’t need massacres or events officially deemed ‘tragedies’ by officials or the media to give social causes meaning and urgency. I understand that information fatigue contributes to the fickleness of a public body that largely only pays attention to sensationalized events. But we run the risk of reinforcing in people’s minds the idea that we can go about our daily lives in a bubble unless and until something arbitrarily significant happens. A lot of people seem to feel that they can’t handle thinking about the terrible things that happen in the world every day. How many times have you heard people say, “I have my own problems to worry about”? Well, I’m not asking people to worry, cry or really even react to these things. If you’re the type of person who’s accepted that these things are a part of life for many people on a large and small scale, occurring in hospitals, boardrooms, schools and homes, to people who are public figures, members of the clergy, parking valets or the cashiers at your local grocery store, then you don’t feel compelled to react emotionally to every tragic event. The last thing we should do is freak out or tune out. Instead, we could empathize and reflect. We can’t prevent people from crumbling under the pressures of their lives. We can’t as individuals change guns laws, public perception or the media. As a collective, however, there’s always massive potential for change. But the answers to our problems are always more simple than they seem. Interestingly, a pivotal philosophy of both a militant revolutionary (Guevara) and a pacifist (Gandhi) was simply this: the first step to changing the world is changing ourselves. It’s all about perception.
Accused Arizona shooter’s lonely descent into instability and paranoia
Jared Lee Loughner: erratic, disturbed and prone to rightwing rants
Accused Arizona killer Jared Lee Loughner had others fearing for lives before shooting