Some of our readers may find this a difficult column to read, so we believe that those deeply affected by last week’s shootings in Roseburg may do well to skip to somewhere else in the paper—we understand where you are, many of our own staff are with you.
That said, mass shootings like the one in Roseburg have tripled since 2011 according to a study compiled by the Harvard School of Public Health and Northeastern University. President Obama noted that even his own responses to these incidents have become pro forma and ineffective—he appears genuinely frustrated, though he may have shed light on some larger and darker threads running through our society currently.
Almost concurrent with the break of the Roseburg story, all the predictable outpourings and posturing poured over social media, our body politic, and the news and infotainment outlets. However, conspicuous by its near absence this time was the notion that this latest horror would motivate any substantive action or change, possibly because an expectation has set in that it won’t—and why would it?
Our leaders have become both master and servant to their own now polarized bases of support built from constituencies so brand loyal that their own identities are wrapped into their politics. You may be able to get a mind to change with data or persuade it to compromise, but an identity is a whole other psychic kettle of primordial stubborn.
In other words, a feedback loop of dysfunction has taken hold. Our leaders kowtow as we toe the line and it makes action and change damn difficult, no matter how dire the need.
And, as no small aside, in a society that challenges the tolerances of the human brain for stimuli, we’re all going to have problems communicating anyhow. But then, back to the point, if we are to have any chance at addressing these shootings, we are going to need to reset the conversation.
For instance, regardless of anyone’s views about guns, some simple polling would show that we will not be banning them anytime soon and neither will we be allowing just about anyone that asks to carry one legally to do so. There are compromises in the middle, and it would probably be better to see a deal struck than to do nothing. Same goes with mental health interventions.
It seems likely that myriad causal factors are behind the phenomena outlined in the aforementioned study, so whatever first steps we take to bend the curve are unlikely to be our last—we will learn more as we go. What is important now is to take some steps, if not nationally, then at the state or even local level. There will need to be compromises and our leaders will need to explain that, and we need to stand ready to accept that. Otherwise, there is only paralysis and no hope of even ameliorating the horrors such as occurred last week in Roseburg.
We need action and change, we need our leaders to lead, and we need to accept them when they do.