I saw a collage of the victim’s faces yesterday and began to cry. I don’t know any of these people personally, but sadness knocked on my chest and made its way inside. I thought of the time in 2005 when I was in Santa Cruz, California. A young dead soldier victim of the Iraq war was on the front page and I couldn’t help myself then either. He looked so innocent.
As usual after such a tragedy (the Orlando shooting, not the one of Iraq), plenty of cowardly Neanderthals slithered from the dark confines of their self-interest to belch the usual arguments: if only more guns, if only more patrolling, if only more ratting out your neighbors, if only harsher treatment of suspects, if only we could rid ourselves of those damn communist/socialist/muslimist bad actors, then we could all sleep peacefully again.
The problem is that cowards can’t look in the mirror to see if perhaps they could be part of the problem. Tiny minded cowards who have absolutely zero capacity for self examination can only point the finger at the scapegoat of the day while other tiny minded cowards who support them and also have absolutely zero capacity for self examination cheer.
Yeah, I’m a bleeding heart. But I’m also not a coward (at least not in this respect; I admit that I am afraid of cows). I also know that enemies exist. But if you want to defeat an enemy, it does no good to become him. I’d say that most demagogues know this, but don’t care. Demagogues aren’t interested in defeating the enemy, only in having one as a way to get people to go along and allow them to exercise the power they think will fill the sad poverty of their heart. Good ol’ Pogo got it right years ago. We have met the enemy and he is us.
As a nation, the United States has the capacity to do something, to take some steps in the direction of a less violent society, a more peaceful society, a more peaceful world. But as these shootings become more common, the thoughts-and-prayers-with-zero-action platitudes more predictable, it becomes clear that although the U.S. has the capacity, it completely lacks the will.
News flash. People don’t like it when their friends and family are killed. It doesn’t matter where they live or what color their skin is. Who would? Some will accept that their friend or family member put themselves in harm’s way and therefore knew the risks, but many others – too many others, I’m afraid – know that their loved ones were just going about their business, or having fun with their friends, and were suddenly turned into collateral damage.
And yes. The Orlando victims are indeed collateral damage. Directly, or indirectly, the United States has a tremendous amount of influence in the world. Some of it is good, and inspires people to great things, but there is still too much of it that moves people towards a mind-blackening vengeance. That’s not to over simplify and say that the U.S. is completely at fault in Orlando – the shooter bears the brunt of the responsibility – but radicalization and perceptions that violence is the answer don’t appear in a vacuum. This would be a great time as a nation for some serious self-examination, to ask: what might we have done?
The U.S. is strong. Check. Got a lot of cool toys. Check. Super TV and movie industry. Check. Many a Walmart, awesome pizza, delicious coffee. Check, check, check.
Still, internally and externally, the U.S. could lead by setting a better example. World wide arms sales; drone attacks that kill innocent civilians; unaccountable, out of control internal police forces; civil asset forfeiture laws that enable authorities to seize a person’s home, money, and other possessions without a conviction, without even charges filed; indefinite imprisonment; a for-profit prison industry; the corrupt political system; covert intervention in the affairs of other countries. These are areas in which the U.S. could make significant changes in the way it operates. To do so – as the Dali Lama recently said – would require moving away from “old thinking”. It would require prioritizing human rights and livability within societies over pure economic and territorial interests.
And the U.S. can still be an economic powerhouse, perhaps even more so. It has the clout to influence the world in many ways, in many directions. It’s a matter of deciding what’s important. It could start by acknowledging that its own actions (and its inactions) have played a part in producing this new pile of bodies in Orlando. If the U.S. ever collectively decides that peace is more valuable than violence, they may begin to move themselves – and slowly the world – into a new era of maturity. This is my dream, that all of those men and women in Orlando, and all the child and adult victims before them, may provoke at last, at long fucking last, an awakening. It is my dream that they did not simply die in vain.