There was another shooting last week, this time in Louisiana. The location doesn’t really matter, though, as these random acts of violence can and do occur anywhere and at any time. Strictly by the number, this one wasn’t too bad: “only” two dead, plus the gunman and we don’t seem to count the shooters much.
I’ve also been reading about episodes of violence in Nicaraguan society. Nine police officers are charged with the murder of citizens without cause. Two young men are arrested in the brutal deaths of two women. The confusion and outrage in Nicaragua seems to be identical to what we read and experience in the U.S.
Our responses to such events are predictable by now. First there is shock at the act itself, as though we still held onto a belief that such barbarism should not take place within developed societies. Then there are the questions. Regardless of the location of these acts, the questions in the aftermath are almost always the same: What kind of a person could have done this? What was the motivation? Shouldn’t it have been prevented by authorities? We feign surprise that it could happen here. (This week, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said, “We never would’ve imagined it would’ve happened in Louisiana or Lafayette.”) Amid the almost-weekly incidents that now haunt our morning news broadcasts, how could we not imagine such an incident happening anywhere? And finally, we engage in never-ending hand-wringing about what can be done to end the acts, or at the very least, to provide greater protection to the rest of us.
Like most people, I cannot but help thinking about the causes and preventions of the violence. I think about the proliferation of unimaginable weaponry and too many people who are unfit to access them. I wonder about the mis-firing in the brain sufficient to convince one to destroy the lives of other human beings. I try to analyze the societal conditions that exist to lead us to this point in our evolutionary journey.
With great frustration and a sense of hopelessness, at times, I realize that there are no simple or singular answers. But I have recognized at least one reality that bridges my experiences between life in Nicaragua and in the U.S. and which may offer at least one dimension to this conundrum.
The killing of a fellow human is predicated on a lack of belief in the sanctity of life. To terminate the life of another requires a disconnect from empathetic or personal feelings about the victim. Whether conjured from the depths of mental illness or from some malignant ideology, the malefactor has no affect toward the victim, no recognition of the target’s worth, value, or essential place in the cosmos. The absence of any such feeling allows the indiscriminate taking of life without the burden of conscience or remorse.
The circumstances which nurture such an emotional and psychological void and which foster uninhibited violence might seem to be infrequent. But reality is that such ambience has become part of our everyday existence. We are bombarded daily with news and messages which, like the relentless drip of water torture, numb our sensibilities and caring about life itself. Eventually, we lose understanding of the sanctity of life.
The continuing episodes of genocide in the world barely capture our attention these days. The unlawful and wanton bombing of neighborhoods almost anywhere in the Middle East are far enough away as to not generate much discomfort. The realities of undernourished, unemployed, uneducated peoples who are without shelter or prospect have become too commonplace for care. (Indeed, where we have demonstrated any emotion to care, such expressions have taken the form of anger and opposition.)
We have collectively allowed ourselves to be pulled into an increasingly deepening hole of disregard, marginalization, disinterest and heartlessness towards an enormous portion of the world’s population. And to the extent that we choose not to care, they are branded as expendables, as ones whose lives really do not matter. If lives are so cheap as to be expendable anywhere, they are potentially worthless everywhere, even in anonymous movie theaters, shopping malls, military bases and, yes, even churches.
The erosion of the hallowedness of human life has gradually permitted our insensitivities about social violence against the poor and the sick to transform, for some, into utter disregard and contempt toward our own neighbors. If we can learn how not to feel at-large, then we are increasingly capable of unfeeling individually. We become increasingly capable of great inhumanity. We know it from history, and we are reminded of it daily.
So I continue to be rocked with the frequent headlines of sudden violence brought down upon innocent and unsuspecting, undeserving victims. But I absorb the shock, in despair at times, as simply a different manifestation of a larger thoughtlessness toward others that rarely warrants the morning news….