Saturday, December 22, 2012

Timid Ambitions: Newtown Reax


Timid Ambitions: Newtown Reax

by C. L. Cook

Last Friday, remembrance ceremonies were held for those killed at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Billed as an unofficial national day of mourning, a minute of silence was observed for the dead. A few days after the shooting, President Obama expressed his sadness and regret that 20 children, and six of their teachers, died in such a violent and seemingly senseless circumstance. Part of the president's speech touched on the existential mystery of all our lives, saying:

"You know, all the world’s religions, so many of them represented here today, start with a simple question. Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose? We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain, that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it’s wealth or power or fame or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that, no matter how good our intentions, we’ll all stumble sometimes in some way."

President Obama used the occasion to also question the nation's political environment, apparently challenging a status quo unable to prevent the growing number of hyper-lethal gun attacks. Assuring America, he said:

"In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine." And questioning: "Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?"

But is the problem in America today really something law enforcement can address? Is it a matter of the failure of mental health professionals, or parents and educators?

Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive of the National Rifle Association, or NRA, too took finally to a podium in response to the mass killings in Newtown, and the hundreds of people holding candle lit vigils and calling for gun control outside his offices. LaPierre is calling for armed police to be stationed in every school in America. He charges, others attempt to exploit the tragedy for political ends. He blames them, and the media, and video game makers, and liberal politicians who pass laws creating "Gun-Free School Zones." These hateful gun-free zones, he believes, tell "every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk."

His logic follows conducively; the way to dissuade murder/suicide rampages in schools is to arm up. The same to presumably follow in shopping malls, libraries, corner stores and delicatessens across the land, all bejoining fortified airports, banks, and football stadia until there remains nary a place in America free of at least one person standing ready with a gun. LaPierre essentially concurs with the president in calling for an active national database of the mentally ill, but concedes it is just a prelude for addressing the "much larger and more lethal criminal class: Killers, robbers, rapists, and drug gang members who have spread like a cancer..."

Michael Moore, whose film 'Bowling for Columbine' questioned American values and its rioting gun culture following another mass shooting/homicide spree at Columbine High School in 1999 remained quiet after the Newtown shooting, refusing myriad interview requests. He tweeted he had "...said everything I had to say on the subject in 2002" - the year his Oscar-winning documentary was released. But, coincidentally, Moore was speaking at the Bring Leonard Peltier Home event just hours after news of the Newtown shooting came out. He addressed the crowd, saying he would like to amend the famous NRA meme, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" to better read, "Guns don't kill people, Americans kill people."  

Moore went on to catalogue America's violence in the world: the drones that kill civilians; the five wars ("that we know of") currently being conducted; and persistent death penalty legislation. Michael Moore also included other kinds of violence not generally regarded as such: Depriving millions of health care, (44,000 of those dying each year for no other reason than the lack of coverage); what he terms, "home invasions" - the dispossessing of hundreds of thousands of families through evictions; and corporate decisions made that result in the loss of jobs in their millions: Violent in effect and in fact.  

If Michael Moore offered a prescription, it wasn't included in the clip I saw. The NRA's Wayne LaPierre offers, violent video games and "slasher films" that "portray life as a joke, and murder as a way of life" are offensive to "every standard of civilized society," and is "the filthiest form of pornography" leading a race to a societal bottoming out.

And here I think he has something.

A simple trip downtown at Christmas provides numerous examples of a callous disregard for, if not the rights, then the well-being of others. Drivers running lights, or glued to telephones and text screens as they careen planet-killer four by fours along our crumbling thoroughfares. Pedestrians blithely pushing past elderly and infirm, mere impediments to their own more immediate and infinitely more important missions. Witness shoppers, bustling past the begging poor, without so much as a glance, inured to the commonplace suffering our new society normalizes. It is narcissism gone nuts - a toxic counter-socialism that in Newtown manifested in a crazed young man who believed twenty-seven lives meant nothing in the greater context of his suicide narrative. 

Mr. Obama's promise to do everything the power of his office allows rings hollow; as does Mr. LaPierre's promise of an armed guard in every avenue where another massacre might happen. Until we see the violence our way of life engenders, and make bold moves to address the core of the issue, there will be endless victims, and the spectre of the next Newtown will haunt every town.

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