I’M SICK AND GODDAMNED TIRED of listening to cable news hosts asking their guests to explain the reasons why a mass shooter ripped several lives from some innocent community; to divine the thought processes that led to the erasure of life at so profound a level. The time spent listening and watching might be worthwhile if any useful insights were offered. Instead we are fed lists and chronologies and family trees. But any discussion regarding structural and endemic causes is about as easily found as hen’s teeth. Likewise, motives and motivations are sought out to assuage the shock of such outrages as the caging of children, the targeting of a religious faith, or the bungling of a government response to a global pandemic.
What galls then is the hypocrisy inherent in the reflexive, reactionary aversion to hearing someone try to explain why poor people are poor, or why criminals are criminals. People born on the wrong side of the tracks need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, we are told. Their failure to do so is their failure to understand the essence of the American ethos, which we are reminded is the frontier spirit, the clear-eyed vision of manifest destiny. Suggest that we spend a fraction of what we spend on empire on education and community investments, and the snorts of derision can be heard for miles and miles. By the same token, conventional conservative wisdom tells us, criminals are by nature thugs, and therefore little better than animals, to which they may be occasionally, unfavorably compared. Moreover, the criminals need not have committed or even been convicted of a crime in order to be described as such. Preferable instead, and so much easier, to lump together the accused and the sentenced alike, the better to tar them all with the same broad brush.
God forbid we seriously consider the suggestion that the application of criminality as a description of a despised demographic is a political weapon that’s been in use at least since the dark days of the loathsome Lee Atwater. Long after Nixon’s death, a member of his administration came forward to admit that they were well aware that by criminalizing cannabis and heroin, they were in effect criminalizing American youth and African-Americans. The calamitous and tragic results were, in today’s parlance, not a bug, but a feature. But no defender of the status quo wants to hear criminals explained; they’re criminals after all, you can tell because that’s what we call them. The very thought of perceiving it any other way would be, for those secure in their comforts, like seeing a looming chasm opening up before them.
We all know the why, or can divine it easily enough from the available evidence, whether or not we care to admit it. It’s just that the prospect of uttering it aloud for some is all-too-terrifying. If the idea of seeing the world from another point of view unnerves you, then that’s your first clue your own worldview is suspect. Understanding the why for too many means seeing the world in a different way. It means relinquishing the habit of seeing the world as the inherited preserve of you and yours. Of the belief that life is a zero-sum game. It means treating the act of sharing not as a duty but embracing it as a joy. Living in the world is hard enough without insisting on plumbing the bottomless well of paranoid fears and sadistic and masochistic addictions we’ve created for ourselves. But the likelihood of seeing the preponderance of my fellow citizens embracing that truth? Well, that’s an evolutionary leap I don’t expect to see anytime soon, or during my lifetime, for that matter.
Although hope, at least for me, continues to spring eternal.