Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Thoughts After a Tragedy

Take a look at this great new video, narrated by Carl Sagan:

In the wake of horrific tragedies like the shooting in Tuscon this past weekend, we are reminded that human beings are sometimes capable of terrible things.  But the events of the weekend also show that for one act of brutality, there are several acts of heroism. Such is, I believe, the nature of humanity.  For all our shortcomings, and the violence that perpetuates around the globe, we remain a hopeful and curious species.  Our intentions are heroic, and we long for peace.  We are not born with hatred in our hearts.  Our brains retain the vestiges of more violent epochs, but we have the capacity to temper our reptilian impulses of aggression, and triumph over all adversity.  We have evolved for cooperation.

One of my favorites lines from Contact sums it up well:

"You're an interesting species, an interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone.  Only you're not.  See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable... is each other."

It is too early to know the true motive of the shooter.  It may turn out that his mental instability is chiefly to blame, that a toxic political discourse is only peripheral, and that there was little that could have been done to prevent his rampage.  Maybe he's just insane.  But every mass murderer could be considered insane compared with "normal" human beings.  Some atrocities, like this one, may be driven by incoherent beliefs, but many others are perpetrated in pursuit of very common political objectives.  Whether we are talking about suicide bombs or genocide, these actions have been carried out with at least tacit approval from a larger group of people.  The line between "normal" and "insane" is sometimes blurry.

But we humans have it within us to conquer hatred.  It is possible to knock down the barriers that stand to divide us.  We can do it, and we must do it.  We have traveled a long way to get here, and we have a long way to go.  We'll have to work together.  The world is just too wonderful.


  1. Well stated. I teeter between that which is 'man' driven (hope/deity) and the empirical(universal chaos) which may be subjective yet in between there is a symphony, unheard by our ears.
    I hope one can make sense of this in analogy to the balance that you articulated.

  2. You say "that there was little that could have been done to prevent his rampage." Banning the sale of semi automatic guns with expanded magazines might be a start.

  3. Hi Barry,

    To be clear, I said, "it may turn out...that there was little that could have been done...". I am hesitant to jump to conclusions at such an early stage, but I agree with your sentiment. The expanded magazine seems to have one purpose, and that is a shooting spree. The Constitution gives citizens the right to bear arms, but it is the government's chief responsibility to keep its citizens safe, and we need to take a hard look at what that means.

    Thanks for reading.

  4. Perhaps the right to bear arms was instituted in those early days because of the many natural threats from wild animals and wild thugs that roamed the lonely countryside in search of easy pickings. But we are not there now and perhaps it is a time to change our view for a more compassionate one since wild animals no longer are a threat and we have established an organized force to pursue and apprehend the thugs who threaten us, even without the use of firearms.

  5. To Ric D: The established organized force is often minutes or hours away from many people who might their help sooner than that. Self defense if often the only way to prevent your death or the death of a loved one. I agree that guns need to only be in the hands of trained people. But i also know that knowledge of how to operate them and store them safely is the best way to keep people safe. Out of all the people who own automatic weapons, the one ones who use them for evil make up about .001%. The best way to avoid these tradgedies is to give people the help they need mentally at an early age. The man who owns a weapon to use it on a crowd of people is only the symptom of a greater problem; his mental instability. As any doctor will say, treat the source, not the symptom.
    I pose a question. Do criminals obey the law? No, they dont. so if you make it illegal to own firearms, who will have them? Well, since criminals dont obey the law anyway, they will continue to own them and aquire them in the same illeagl ways they do now. It only removes protection from those who are law abiding citizens.
    Take Austrailia for example. They out lawed guns entirely. Their gun crime has incresed since they removed the guns from the citizens. The gun doesnt create a criminal. The criminal existed long before he ever had a gun. The gun is only his latest weapon. Lets fight crime, not guns.