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The Rush to Impose Reason on Horror



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I haven’t written much about the Newtown shooting. I did write my first column of the week about it because I felt I had to chime in. But I resented it. Maybe it’s because I’m becoming too sentimental about kids. Maybe it’s because I’m sick to death of death. Maybe it’s some other personal failing on my part, but I nonetheless resent being dragged into the political maw so quickly after a bunch of little kids were picked off by a madman with a gun. I agree with 90 percent of the things written by my colleagues about guns and gun control and the Second Amendment over the last week, but I nonetheless find it a bit grotesque that it’s necessary for anyone to be celebrating or defending guns before these little, little, kids have even been buried. It feels indecent to me. 

And, yes, I understand fully that this is what the proponents of gun control are hoping for. They are driven with the unseemly desire to exploit the unseemliness of defending gun rights at a moment when gun rights are at their maximum vulnerability. And so it may be necessary to push back on the hysteria and misinformation being peddled 24 hours a day by those desperate not to let this crisis go to waste. But, please, don’t tell me that there’s nothing unseemly about it. Even the NRA recognizes this basic fact, which is why they wisely clam up after such tragedies. Would that their enemies — and some of those on the right all too grateful for the opportunity to celebrate guns — had the same restraint. 

But it’s not just the gun debate. Fighters are rushing to their corners in all sorts of ways. Here’s Jim Sleeper making a parody of himself by muttering something about segregationists and gun owners. Yesterday, Barack Obama slyly suggested that the shooting in Newtown is a good reason for Republicans to cave on tax hikes. That’s grotesque.

And here’s our friend Charlotte Allen, writing for NRO. Allen says some things I agree with here, but her effort to blame this tragedy, at least partly, on the fact that it was a “feminized” setting strikes me as somewhat perverse; if only there were real men there to attack the murderer with chairs or staplers or something. First, I find this utterly unpersuasive, in part because she makes little effort to persuade. Plenty of men have been killed in other mass slaughters, some of them in the process of trying to tackle the shooter. And women, including the Newtown school principal, have been killed in the same manner. Indeed, as others have noted, Allen gets the facts wrong about how many men worked at the school anyway. 

But even if she had the facts right, so what? I’m all for arguments against the feminizing of the culture, the Nanny state, etc. But if those arguments take us to a place where some school — or the parents who sent their kids there — deserve the slightest suggestion of blame for this kind of slaughter, that’s where I get off the bus. And not just because blaming the victim, even obliquely, in a tragedy like this is unacceptable, but also because it assumes that such crimes are simply a fact of life so all of society should simply “man up” and get ready for them. But most of all, arguments like this bother me because they come ready-made off the shelf. 

The other night on “Special Report,” Bret Baier read an e-mail from a viewer:

“I would like to hear some discussion regarding the media coverage of the terrible school shooting, and indescribably sad situation in Connecticut. If SPECIAL REPORT won’t do it, no one will. I cannot be the only one to find the endless coverage troubling for what it says about the media and its viewers. We seem to be a society which insists on concrete answers rather than coping with the incomprehensible, which personifies through vicarious experience, seeking tragic catharsis without giving due respect to reality. Thinking this way does — does not lessen the horror of what has happened in Sandy Hook and what is happening to those involved. It simply acknowledges that no amount of TV coverage can lessen it or make observers a part of it. And that only our respectful sympathy is appropriate. It has happened to them, not to us.” 

This touches on exactly my problem with all of this. 

The human need to “do something” is primal after moments like this, not just for those in mourning but for those who want to help those in mourning. Most of us who’ve lost a loved one know someone — or perhaps ourselves — who had to cook, or organize, or clean, or plan or do anything that lets us grasp the handrail of sanity or hold at bay the uncompromising vacuum of grief, if only temporarily. Likewise, we’ve known people who’ve implored us: What can I do? Is there anything I can do? But, often, trying to translate human impulses into government responses is the source of great folly. 

Contrary to a lot of sloppy prepackaged rhetoric, these weren’t “our” children. They were their parents’ children. To claim otherwise is to try to purchase the sympathy rightly reserved for the grieving on the cheap. Still, we can imagine, at least a little, that they were ours. We can glimpse, however imperfectly, what that horror would be like for ourselves, and touching the dread that lurks just beyond reason we instinctively try to impose reason upon it. 

In the wake of the slaughter, there are arguments I agree with and arguments I find ridiculous. And everything in between. What I dislike is the immediate rush to turn the slaughter into an any argument at all. The problem, alas, is that the moment one “side” tries to translate this carnage into a public-policy victory, arguments are not only inevitable but required. Because in a democracy, the way you make laws is by arguing over them first. I just resent the forced necessity of it all. I wish the parents could just bury their children first.  



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