Saturday, December 22, 2012

Blues for Newtown

I really wish Adam Lanza were still alive.  Because everyone's got an explanation why he would have gone to an elementary school to shoot and kill children and their teachers, and at least some of those people are wrong.  Only Lanza knows why, and he's not going to tell anyone, and that's either a problem or a blessing.

I suppose the response to this event is proof that it is still possible to blow the Western world's mind.  And yes, it took the mass gun death of children to do it, but the past week of rhetoric has been a general referendum on "My god, how did we get here?" across many platforms.  As so often happens, and will happen again, mass disaster is the only wake up call that registers on a large enough scale to have people reexamine their priorities.  Everyday tragedies are just too personal, right?  And there are many issues at hand here, so come on and walk with me.

GUNS.  Observation of much of this discussion has reminded me of one point:  I am not an American.  I live in Canada, and though I am greatly influenced by American culture, and I consume their products, and I am connected in some personal way to a number of American citizens, I don't live on American soil.  And what that means is that I don't, to the best of my knowledge, know a single person who actually owns a gun which is kept in their home.
The immediate knee-jerk reaction of many who live in a non-gun culture is that Americans are nuts to keep insisting on their precious Second Amendment.  But I've come around to the idea that there really is no easy fix.  I've witnessed an ongoing online discussion - and a genial one, surprisingly - that's been attended by advocates on both sides of the gun argument.  I've seen levelheaded arguments in favour of not just guns, but high-powered assault weapons, and high-capacity clips.  And what eventually struck me is that it's rather difficult for a Canadian to appreciate the climate in which this discussion is held in the USA.  Over the course of this discussion, I saw a gun ban advocate eventually move his thinking around to the viewpoint that perhaps he ought to consider purchasing a personal weapon of his own.  Newtown effectively became a trigger in convincing this person that, rather than taking others' guns away, perhaps he should arm himself too.
I'm a man of colour.  I am vigilant in public.  I am aware of what's going on around me, and situations I should avoid.  But I have never once considered that perhaps I should arm myself.  Being Canadian, I have completely internalized our fact that ballistic weapons are only to be held by law enforcement officers and soldiers. 
Though I am aware that life could change around me at any time, I am not paranoid about it because I still believe that I live in a largely just society.  I have never once, in my life, felt like a situation might arise which I might have to kill my way out of.  And what I see now is that a surprising (to me) number of Americans actually feel like this.  Like it's still the 1700s, or something.
I used to have a very simple position - ban guns.  My position is even simpler now.  I can't tell Americans that they should ban guns.  But as long as Americans continue to enjoy this hard-earned complete freedom - which it is - I personally have no desire to ever set foot on American soil again.

TEACHERS.  Yes, we've heard of many acts of everyday heroism.  I know what teachers do, I know many of them, and I know that they would die for my kid.  It's bigger than that; I would die for your kid.  President Obama says we are all responsible and I agree.  I've been on a field trip.  I've been in the schoolyard.  I would take a bullet for your kid, and so would any teacher I've met, and I would hope you would do the same for mine.  Because I hope that's who we are.

"MENTAL ILLNESS."  I'm actually more interested in seeing what the American discourse on this element of Sandy Hook will be.  How are you going to define mental illness now, and what effect will that have?  Aside from his brother saying Lanza had Asperger Syndrome, what clinical evidence have we that Lanza's acts were a result of any "mental illness" at all?  Is that not just a gigantic assumption?
I actually worried for about six seconds there that Asperger Syndrome would immediately become somehow demonized, that we'd see things like the next James Bond movie featuring a super villain with Asperger's.  People with Asperger's aren't violent, if anything they appear withdrawn and aloof to others.  There's a whole lot more going on here than that.
And frankly, as long as we're talking about "mental illness", how are we going to answer questions about the role of Lanza's mother?  The guns were her possessions.  One thought is that mentally ill people should be prohibited from purchasing weapons.  According to anecdotal and unverified sources, she was somewhat of a "survivalist", someone who chose to arm herself and her household in the event that the economy would collapse.  Sounds a little to me like someone spent too much time watching creepy HBO TV shows.  Isn't extreme paranoia a form of "mental illness?"  What's your perspective?  The President of the National Rife Association, Wayne Lapierre, said that "the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."  From a Canadian perspective, that line of thinking might indicate a form of "mental illness" in itself.

MEDIA.  They're everywhere.  They're us.  And they're interviewing kids coming off school buses who don't even know their friends are dead yet.  Quite the spectacle.  As someone with many friends who work in media, it's been interesting to see how tastelessly my ex-colleagues feel their own cohorts have behaved.  But this is what the business of news journalism has become - a mad sprint to produce "Content".  Many more people work in the content producing business today than who used to.  Schools are cranking out talking heads who know little of the old school ethics.  Giant media companies are focused on filling up airtime regardless of what is used to fill it up.  How are young journalists supposed to learn their craft in such an environment, anyway, now that the older ones can't even show them the ropes because they've been dispensed with?
As a highly online person, the fact is that today I learn about current events first through social media.  The world happens, people react, and I see their reactions.  But then I go to traditional media sources for information, data, and confirmation of fact. 
Traditional media needs to behave, hold itself to higher standards, and conduct itself with respect for its own profession.  Because if that sequence is ever reversed, that's when traditional media will become irrelevant.

TRUTH.  A six-year old boy named Jack Pinto was shot to death.  (Jack Pinto subsequently became famous for being a fan of New York Giants player Victor Cruz, which only made Victor Cruz more famous in the past week, which says a whole lot of what about our culture exactly?)  Jack's little friend John wrote a letter to him, and this is what he said:

Jack, you are my best friend.  We had fun together.  I will miss you.  I will talk to you in my prayers.  I love you, Jack.
Love, John

Speak like a child, indeed. 

I'm done now.