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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Happiness is a warm gun (at least that’s what they say)

    Collective insanity. That’s basically what I’ve discerned from the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings. The media coverage. The letters to the editor. The calls for a shutdown of political dialogue in the name of “”healing”” and “”reconciliation.””

    We are collectively insane.

    I suppose what should happen here is the obligatory utterance of how evil Seung-hui Cho was. What a madman he was. How this kind of riffraff is par for the course and we should therefore all arm ourselves in the name of self-defense. The Wall Street Journal editorial board went so far as to (mis)construe the events at Virginia Tech as an affirmation that “”(T)here are evil and psychotic people in this world willing to do great harm to others if they aren’t stopped.””

    Like Cho, The Wall Street Journal editorial board is also insane.

    Call me a post-modern moral relativist (I made that up), but there really aren’t evil people in the world. There also aren’t good people in the world. A bit of pop philosophy perhaps, but we all make choices – harmful or otherwise – and the consequences become the domain of semantics and cultural mythology.

    Every act becomes constrained by its consequences and thereby dubbed “”good”” or “”evil.”” That damned law of unintended consequences makes everything else awfully fuzzy.

    What Cho did wasn’t evil; it was disturbing. It activated an emotional response in most of us – hopefully all of us – that made us sit down and feel wretched. We know deep down that Cho was a human being like the rest of us; we all identify in the minutest of ways with his predicament. We feel vulnerable not because we think, “”What if I had been shot?”” We feel vulnerable because we wonder, “”What if I had been Cho?”” But instead of a dialogue about Cho and what drove him to these despicable ends, we get outrage about the airing of his “”multimedia manifesto.”” We’ve given him a stage, they all fret. We’re inspiring others to do the same.

    Intrinsic to that logic is the assumption that others with the emotional and psychological makeup of Cho do exist in our society and might act rashly. Taking history as a guide, I imagine they do – but that’s more of an indictment of our culture than an affirmation that “”evil people”” exist in the world.

    Instead, due to our feelings of vulnerability, we fetishize the shooter. We call him evil, a madman, a raving lunatic. Case in point: Our friends at The Wall Street Journal tell us forthrightly that Cho’s “”madness can’t be explained by reason.”” The implication: Don’t try to understand.

    And yet, we ought to try to understand. We owe it to the victims and their families to try to understand. We owe it to every future victim that will come about because we didn’t try to understand.

    Maybe this cultural mythology of good versus evil, black and white – our inability to see that the truth lies in shades of grey – is rooted in our Christian heaven-and-hell heritage. Maybe our paralyzed response is somehow tied into that as well. But as Adam Gopnik notes in The New Yorker, of the 14 worst shootings in the Western world since the 1960s, 7 occurred in the United States. Of the other seven, “”no other country has had a repeat performance as severe as the first.””

    We obviously don’t respond in any appreciable way.

    Gopnik chalks it up to tighter gun control laws in the other nations, which isn’t a bad conclusion. I chalk it up to a cultural indifference to figuring out what’s wrong with our culture, why it draws such ire from “”evil”” types like Cho, Osama bin Laden and Mother Teresa.

    Indeed, the political discussion now will banter back and forth about tighter gun control laws and looser ones, about carrying weapons with you everywhere and the Second Amendment. It’s all a farce and a red herring; nothing will change, because we’re discussing the side-story – not the psychology of a person who felt his only recourse was to kill indiscriminately, not the culture that incubates and fosters these kinds of paroxysms of rage.

    No, nothing will change, and five years down the road, another shooting like this will occur. And then we will all sit down, feel wretched and wonder: Who was Cho? What if I had been him?

    Matt Stone is a senior majoring in international studies and economics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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