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Death Comes to Texas
Do we deal with tragedy ethically?
From [Le Monde] headlines.
An 18-year-old gunman opened fire Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, about 85 miles west of San Antonio, on Tuesday, May 24, killing children as he went from classroom to classroom, officials said, in the latest gruesome moment for a country scarred by a string of massacres.
Authorities say the victim death toll now stands at 19 children and three adults, including the gunman. The latest figures come from Travis Considine, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety. The gunman was killed by law enforcement. It was the deadliest shooting at a U.S. elementary school since the shocking attack in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were killed, in December 2012.
In defiance of what passes for common sense these days, I don’t have a particular angle on tragedy in Uvalde. I’m not sure if that means I am progressing as a Stoic or I’m losing touch with the sensibilities of more and more Americans. It’s one of the reasons I picked a two day old story from the English version of Le Monde. Some fraction of Americans are too crazy to be trusted. I have no doubt that journalists here are infected. On the whole, however, I basically have two simple new ideas as the news inevitably reached me through the interwebz.
Several years ago I read His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis. It was quite a revelation to me. Granted I’m tech first, but it surprised me how little I knew about the man. One salient fact about Washington that I remember was that he learned guerrilla fighting tactics as a sort of mercenary with native troops in tribal warfare. So as it relates to the matters of a ‘well-regulated militia’ I interpret it in the context of ‘regular’ as in ‘regular army’ meaning in uniform as opposed to ‘irregulars’. So I became curious as to how Washington’s tactics served its purpose in the Revolutionary War. Were natives deployed in ways similar to Hessians mercs? Were they therefore ‘regular’? Interesting question.
It’s difficult, of course, to have questions of warfare discussed online with anyone but ex-military folks and simple-minded patriots, the later who sometimes think of themselves as Threepers. But I certainly recommend CDR Salamander.
Acts of God
The second concept I have considered is the political cynicism I perceive in the batting back and forth of interpretations of the Second Amendment and what legislative imperatives will ‘save us’. It’s hard sometimes for me to get around what appears to be juvenile emotes of “I can’t even.” when it comes to firearms. Then again, as settled and non-neurotic as I am, most things appear overdramatic to me. Nevertheless, I am drawn to a particular comedic routine I watched not long ago, the punchline was “He told me, ‘Well, some people suck.’ What could I say? It’s absolutely true.” I forget the context of the outrageous part of the shaggy dog story that this standup comedian was telling, but what a diffusing straight line. It’s simply and obviously an acceptance of fact. Some people just suck. Is it your job to straighten them out? Is it our responsibility as citizens to crowdsource and legislate new and improved ways of protecting ourselves for the unforeseen events of those who suck? We seem to be quite generative of police state mentalities.
In a certain way yes it is our marginal responsibility. Then again, consider whom we elect and what fantasy we vote for. Populist democracy itself sucks. We deserve better but won’t get better until we can vote with more sensible principles in mind. All of the drama in our faces does not serve this purpose well, but I digress.
It seems to me that if one can estimate that some fraction of us are psychopaths, then it is inevitable that some larger fraction will suffer the series of unfortunate events bound to originate in their twisted minds. The instrumentality of their madness is completely beside the point. The way you can understand this, even if you don’t enjoy dark films, is to watch River Phoenix’ stunning performance in You Were Never Really Here.
Hurricane Sandy killed 223 people in 2012. You may remember that 2012 was prophesied by the Mayans to be the end of the world. You know this like I know this, because Roland Emmerich made a movie. That guy makes huge money with his disaster films and in my book he’s a sociopath. The psychopath ran rampant at Sandy Hook in the same year, 2012. 26 people died at that place. We’re never far from the mentally ill and perverse.
It’s always irrational to punish and restrict people who are not guilty of crime for the actions of a psychopath and for acts of god. Both have legal and expert definitions that our society depends on being fairly consistent. If you agree to be bound by the spirit of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the Constitution it’s clearly unethical to even consider going after anyone other than the direct perpetrators of heinous acts. And yet…
I expect that vigilante calls for vindictive legislation and more questions about Constitutional rights, the NRA, the Brady Bill, the definition of an assault rifle, and a continuous parade of viral memes will continue. After all, we keep getting promised ‘never again’ and we have the nerve to expect that all of our first world problems can be managed away. Stoicism calls for me to consider all calls for zero tolerance to be wishful thinking. If you want zero tolerance, write software. It’s almost possible in that domain. Stoicism also calls for me to behave rationally, and I find it eminently rational to offer genuine sympathy for those destroyed by tragedy. Simple.
I yield to the temptation of asking rhetorically whether or not the demonic actions psychopaths are an act of god. Knowing that we have governmental systems, laws and principles for dealing with heinous criminal acts and disasters of all sorts, the question is moot. People all over the world have done a lot of institutional builds around what to do when such emergencies take place. Yes, I do put them on the same spectrum as war and other violent conflicts.
Here in the states, I also often yield to the temptation of asking whether any significant numbers of our genius and ruling classes take there responsibilities seriously enough to see this continuum and write stuff like I am writing. Shouldn’t we all know what to do when tragedy comes knocking? Aren’t we supposed to be a democracy of self-determination? Why then do we turn on each other politically in the wake of tragedy of one sort and not of another? Congress is not ‘human nature’, nor is FEMA, the National Guard or the Red Cross.
Although I don’t often say so here, I should make it clear that I don’t think we in the States are any more less biologically evolved and therefore less capable of adapting to the most drastic of circumstances. Same in all WEIRD places. So I am prone to comparing us to the human beings elsewhere whose self-determination has made them anti-fragile to the upsets that have us outraged. My goto reference for this is Gapminder. Do pay attention. I did start thinking about the Peasant Theory because we dither and fail. Liberal democracy is not a given, and it can be taken.
Computer mediated social credit scoring will come. They will be the next generation’s rules of the road. You might remember that book popular in the early 90s. We peasants will follow rules that pay off. Rules are for most of us when we get the payoffs. Sociopaths and psychopaths will defect first. If we fail to even make that distinction among ourselves, then the law and all ethics are at risk despite whatever rules may come.
So who do we know that is crazy? What do we do with them? Will crazy ever be cured? No it will not. It will generate tragedy. Tragedy is not an opportunity for the ethical to exploit the ethical out of fear. Maybe those who are trying are sociopaths themselves. They will not protect us from acts of god, of psychopaths or of climate change. We will all adapt. Some of us will die trying.