People Kill People

Names have been cropped.

Much as it pains me to admit because I think the woman is the exact opposite of what is truly needed in a government official, I don’t think Sarah Palin really had much to do with the shooting in Tuscon this weekend. Even with the awful map that she promptly took down from her website.

There’s nothing the news media loves more than a tragedy. It’s a time when anchorpeople can try out their “solemn voices” and they can interview people who went to elementary school with the cousin of a victim and pretend that they have anything to say other than what is obvious: when people die from the gunfire of a mentally unstable person, it’s awful.

And it shouldn’t happen.

The worst part of the media coverage is all the speculation about “why?” and “how?”.

It’s times like these that I want to start passing out Hume tracts. Let me sum up: According to Scottish philosopher and empiricist David Hume, there is no such thing as causation. It’s not real. We don’t experience it. There is only constant conjunction, and we human beings try to explain things by causation because it’s easier for us than to admit that there’s really no infallible way of understanding or predicting any of this.

The alleged gunman (Jared Loughner, 22) in this weekend’s attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was known for having bizarre, nonsensical outbursts in classes at his community college. He smoked marijuana and salvia. He was a stickler for grammar. He found skulls aesthetically pleasing. He liked conspiracy theories. He was known to be mentally unstable and possibly an undiagnosed schizophrenic.[1] He had access to guns.

The media likes to lump all of these things together as causes, playing into the stereotype that being a little morbid or skeptical of reality makes you a violent lunatic capable of murder. That he had access to guns I would say we can reasonably call a cause, even with the Humean stipulation, because any idiot will tell you that getting shot can kill you. That he was prone to crazy outbursts and threatened to kill people I think we can reasonably consider a warning sign, though having schizophrenia (or whatever label you want to stamp on him) does not necessarily entail violence. That he smoked marijuana has a lot less bearing on the matter, unless a) he was smoking something that was a bit more potent than marijuana, or b) that he had smoked enough marijuana in his short lifespan that he suffered severe brain damage.

But the media doesn’t distinguish and stamps a big “cause” sign on all of these things.

It doesn’t work that way.

We’ll never know all the contributing factors. We can never really identify a true series of causes because we aren’t omniscient, but it worries me that we don’t even separate between reasonable conjunctions and completely contingent correlations. The fact that the obvious contributing factor – access to a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and extended clips[2] – is being lumped with a fondness for conspiracy theories really troubles me.

If we were truly interested in preventing things like this from happening, we’d at least be logical about this. Nearly 12 years ago Marilyn Manson’s name got unfairly lumped in with the Columbine High School massacre, when the fact that the highly constant conjunction that gunfire kills people is never dealt with in legislation. I can only conclude that lawmakers don’t actually want to prevent people, including children, from being shot to death.

You tell me why.


[1]I don’t know how accurate that bit of speculation is, and I think perhaps the discourse of “mental illness” needs to be re-examined.

[2]I should probably note that I’m not opposed to gun ownership for hunting, but I live in a city where errant gunfire is a legitimate risk, and I don’t think civilians need to own handguns. I find it troubling that people who cling to the 2nd Amendment refuse to treat the Constitution as a living document, thus missing the original point of it entirely. (I’m looking at you Justice Scalia.)

Let’s Hope It’s A Good One Without Any Fear

[1] The thing is, no one knows. When it comes down to it, no one knows anything and everything that points to the contrary is all a ruse.

I read this fantasy series – The Wheel of Time – and ever since I started reading it as a teenager, I’ve found myself wanting to be in that world. It’s probably more a tribute to likable characters than anything else, but the fact that I would rather be in a situation where the end of the world is immanent than here surely says something about me. When faced with the fate of the world, none of the characters gives up. Sometimes they make stupid choices, but they never choose not to act.

They never really stagnate.

I think maybe this is why I read fiction. When you read a good story, you get absorbed in the world; more specifically, you get absorbed in a world already full of meaning. You don’t have to make it for yourself. Meaning is already included, told to you by the author, and in a good piece of fiction, you accept it.

I used to think that the appeal of fantasy to me was the character traits exhibited by people faced with a world gone mad – courage, honor, pride – things that seem to be lacking in the world today.

But it’s the meaning, I think, that I am lacking.

I don’t know if most people just accept the meaning they find in this world. I don’t know if they simply don’t see it as a burden or if everyone feels the pressure of carving out a life. One life. The only life you’re ever going to get. I’ve had conversations with my dad the past week about the limitations of human knowledge. Human beings are capable of knowing what they don’t know, and for some reason, I take this on as a heavy burden. It weighs on me. These limitations frustrate me more than I let on and there’s nothing I can do about it, nothing I can do about it at all, but let it go.

Let it all go.

The only things that make my life worth living, I think, are tears and laughter. I’m good at the tears. Tears come in solitude and solitude I have. It’s laughter that my life is lacking. Real laughter. The kind that comes from the absurdity of living in this place. The kind that comes from engaging in a world with others.

If you know me at all, you know I laugh a lot when I’m around other people, and I like making people laugh. My sense of humor is probably my most valuable possession, but I waste it by trying to navigate what can’t be navigated.

As another year ends and another begins, and many people make resolutions.

I only have two – to laugh and to let go.

Nothing else, really, is all that important.


[1]Title taken from “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon.