Mourning’s end

Journalist Christopher Hitchens has a book called, “Letters to a Young Contrarian,” for heaven’s sake and his new book is called, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” So you know what you’re getting into when you read his work.

As Traveler News Editor Robert Bell said, Hitchens has a limey’s smarmy grin and snide comment about everything. Damn Brits. It only took eight days after the Virginia Tech shootings for Hitchens to write holier-than-thou words about the event. The title of his column? “Suck it Up: After the shootings came an orgy of mawkishness, sloppiness and false sentiment.”

Jeez Louise.

Although it hadn’t yet been three hours after the New York Times first reported on the shootings April 16, its comments page was already 200 deep with many of the messages focusing on Brady’s Baby, i.e. the gun control issue.

It’s been obvious that since the day of the Virginia Tech shooting, people have been talking or preparing to talk about all the related “issues” surrounding the tragedy. The nation, in terms of media and the collective voice of the country, has done well up until now staying focused on getting the facts and not straying too far into other areas of debate. For me, though, it was with Hitchens article that I thought, “Well … here it comes. Here comes the crap-storm of useless opinion articles and unrelenting head-chatter on every TV station.

Once the first shots were fired at Virginia Tech, almost immediately there formed a thought cloud of four possible “issues” that the nation seemed eager to discuss once the initial shock of losing 32 of an estimated 300 million people subsided. “Making sense of the senseless” an oxymoron in and of itself provided the best kind of creative thinking for these issues.

The two silliest, and mostly ignored (thankfully), issues were/are gun control and a some sort of fear over a possible backlash against Koreans.

The Korean issue was always punctuated by a question mark at the end of TV headlines, which usually is a warning sign that it is an incredibly bad story.

In regards to the gun control issue, Ted Nugent is already declaring that if there were more guns on campus then the Virginia shootings wouldn’t have happened and sappy hippies who’ve never had to hunt their own food are calling for fewer guns. Both sides are wrong of course. It’s an established fact the founding fathers had meant the Second Amendment to read, “The right to arm bears.” John Adams, unknown to many, was both dyslexic and a enthusiastic bear-lover.

It’s the other two issues, Campus Safety and “helping” the mentally ill, that are becoming the developing topics of debate. I imagine these two issues spawning like the creatures in “Aliens” and wrecking havoc on many things we hold dear in this country – like basic freedoms.

I’m over reaching a bit, of course, but I see nothing funny in the growing debates.

Concerning the mental health issue, pundits and advocates are beginning their battle cry for more involuntary confinement for those who suffer from mental problems. Everyone knows Cho was one screwed up kid. Depressed and shy, he expressed his mental frustrations through his fantasies and writings. A few blockheads worried about profiling Koreans; I worry about profiling people who have minor difficulties coping with the ordinary madness of every day life.

Half the things in my files would land me jail if proponents of increased intervention by officials who deem me mentally unfit got their way

Michael Allen, a mental health advocate who’s been quoted several times on CNN and other news operators said, “Would we go through the records of every Virginian who has ever been to the doctor concerned about anxiety and depression, and lock them up? It’s simply inconsistent with the American way.”

Many people recognized that Cho was seriously disturbed and it appears everything was done to help him. He wasn’t locked up any more than he should have been and his ability to get his firearms can be attributed to a “loophole” in Virginia’s gun laws. It was the lack of communication between the federal government and the state government that allowed Cho’s illness to slip through the established floor boards and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is already on that little problem with an executive order.

The real question, for me at least, behind this mental health debate is one that I fear will never get answered because its too complex and requires us as a nation to look too hard into the mirror.

What is it about our culture that makes a person feel so desperate and lonely that the only solution is a violent retaliation against themselves and their personal symbol of evil. Death and violence happens everywhere and for the most part we’re apathetic about carnage everywhere else in the world. (Columnist David Prater has a great piece in Monday’s paper I recommend everyone read.) But here, in the richest land of the free and brave, we have well-fed, educated people horribly attack those around them thinking the only way out is a permanent one.

Without validating Cho’s rant or those of the Columbine boys, the nation should listen closely to what they were saying. There was a shared feeling of isolation and loneliness between those kids. It’s the same feeling I’m sure many people have who go through their third wife; who gamble; who take numerous pills for “sleeping” and “eating” and “depression” and who spend all day on Web sites looking at the quick snippets of other’s lives.

I don’t think these boys were completely off their rocker, sick, yes, but not completely crazy. They tapped into a sense of lonely individualism that’s apparent everywhere, particularly in the U.S. Just look at the memorial for WWII – a single image that represents an entire idea. This, juxtaposed to the Vietnam Wall where every single name is listed under no unified idea. Now, instead of a moment of silence, we have a bell rung 33 toneless times.

But I’m getting off course…..

As I mentioned, the other big issue is that of campus safety. Chancellor John A. White, speaking in North Little Rock Tuesday seemed to be caught in a pickle. He couldn’t go right out and say, ” a senseless act is a senseless act and we can’t do a damn thing to stop it if it happens.” Jesus, they would have had his head for that.

No, instead he said the UA could have had an incident like the one at VT.

We didn’t, though. We had an angry kid kill one person.

But we could have had a VT situation, what then? Well, the educators at the NLR conference recommended drills and likened practicing those drills to practicing golf.

Ignoring the absurdity of that statement, Daniel Pugh and the other department heads at Wednesday’s town hall meeting seemed to be the best collection of adults I’ve seen yet at the UA.

At the meeting, populated by less than 20 members of the public, Pugh said the UA need to “have the materials there [and] make them easily accessible.” It’s very possible that there could be an incident where a rabid elephant tears through campus and kills several people. Hey, it happens in India. But are you really going to train everyone for that type of situation?

Pugh said it was important just to have safety information available to people who want it. After all, that’s about as much as you can do. Other members of the discussion table, talked about the problems inherent in a campus-wide text message – well, we’ve told them flying monkey’s have taken over Walton College, now what?

Senseless acts of violence happen because there’s nothing anyone can really do to stop them. A person crazy enough to crave blood is crazy enough to figure out a way to get it. Period.

The point of all this, if there is one, is now that all the half-hearted and selfish mourning of a nation begins to wind down, there’s going to be even more half-hearted and selfish “debate” on “issues.” But how can anything that’s senseless have any substance behind it?

I pray in the next few weeks that a big-breasted actress dies a shocking death if only so the nation can forget any sort of discussion of senseless crimes and how to prevent what you can’t stop. Most people have given up debating the senseless deaths happening everyday on the other side of the world. Don’t give me Cho or Iraq. Give me the Olsen twins caught in the wheels of an airplane. And most of all, please, please don’t give me the one-year anniversary specials on April 16, 2008 that I know are coming. I don’t know if I could take something so senseless.

[Original article available here.]

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