Whenever there is one of these awful mass shootings, someone somewhere will blame some aspect of "society" for what happened. A collective "we" are said to share the blame and the actions of a mad man and whatever demons possessed him must be understood in the "context" of some social evil. There is usually a political slant. "Privileged" people don't value less privileged people. "Elites" encourage nihilism and resentment toward society.
President Obama went so far as to indict America for the Charleston shootings, falsely claiming that these shooting "don't happen" in other developed countries. This will come as a surprise to the people at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the AUF summer camp inTyrifjorden, Norway, the Tasso da Silveira Municipal School in Rio or the Dunblane Primary School in Scotland. It would have been accurate to say that mass shootings are more frequent in the United States but adding even that level of nuance would have stepped on his preferred narrative.
Of course, we can all play this game and find the villain we want, serving whatever hash tag philosophy we prefer. We can use the Charleston shootings to denounce white racism and public insensitivity to questions of "privilege." When two black teenagers set a kid on fire in Kansas City for being a "white boy" or a couple of cops in New York are executed as "revenge" for Eric Garner, we can blame black racism and pundits who play "the race card."
If I want to rail against environmental extremism, I've got the Unabomber and Earth Liberation Front. If I want to smear folks who don't like the federal government, I can invoke Timothy McVeigh. If I think Islam is a problem, I invoke the Fort Hood shootings. If I'm worried about anti-Muslim bias, I can point to the Sikh Temple shootings. Anti-gay animus? Matthew Shepherd. Gay hostility against Christians? The shootings at the Family Research Council.
Even if a shooting was demonstrably not motivated by whatever or whomever we want to blame, folks will do it anyway. The "Tea Party" was blamed for the shooting of Gabby Giffords even though the shooter turned out not to be a political conservative. Even fifty years after the fact, supposedly responsible writers blame "the right" for the assassination of John F. Kennedy even though Oswald was a Marxist who targeted Kennedy for his anti-communism.
Sometimes violence is a manifestation of an organized political movement and it makes sense to treat it as such. But more often - at least in this country - lunacy precedes whatever rationale the lunatic chooses, The Charleston shooter rooted his insanity in racial animus but this tells us little about the state of race relations or what, beyond denouncing his vile delusions, to do about them. The confederate battle flag, for example, should not be flown in any context that implies official approval of the confederate cause which is inextricably intertwined with slavery. But the flag did not make him do it. Take it down, by all means, but removal of the flag will not make future violence less likely.
Some of this rush to politicize the actions of crazy persons is shameful opportunism, but not all of it. Events like the Charleston shootings are inexplicably evil. The notion that they may be random and unpredictable and beyond our control is frightening. We want to believe that we can order the world to prevent them. We want to believe that we can alter humanity's attitudes or relationships in a way that will assure that no human will do things like this. In a sense, when we believe that the wrong politics are to blame for unfathomable crimes and that new attitudes or social arrangements will prevent them, we are like Job crying out to a different type of God.
But Job got no answer and I'm afraid that we won't either. The problem is not in our politics, it's in ourselves - not as products of bad ideologies but as broken individuals.
Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin