I’m shaking like a leaf, three thousand miles away in Shenzhen. This kind of thing should not happen anywhere, but especially not in America.
At first, I was full of grief and rage. How could such a thing happen? How have we, Americans, come to this place where congresspeople, judges, pastors of churches, nine-year-old girls are shot because of their politics? I wailed, “what the fuck happened to America?”
Then someone answered.
It was the usual sort of answer, full of conspiracy and fear, full of paranoia and suspicion. It was Sarah Palin, it was the Republicans and the Tea Party, working together to eliminate their rivals using “the crazies.” The kind of answer you look for, the kind of answer you secretly want, when you yourself are shaking with fear and uncertainty.
It was also wrong.
This shooting was politically motivated. No one will deny it. The shooter was a madman. No one will deny it. He may have been working alone, or with accomplices. We don’t know. Hopefully, we will soon.
The Sherriff of Pima County, where the deal went down, pointed a finger at several politicians campaigning in the region last year, and the aggressive, inciting nature of their campaigns. The fiery rhetoric we’ve all had too much of for the last three (only three? Jesus) years. I happen to think he’s onto something.
But that’s not the answer either.
What caused this was ignorance. Being unable to tell rhetoric from truth, unable to tell good reasoning, good thinking, from false. Being susceptible to the kind of people who supply answers, when you’re afraid and uncertain and shivering and demanding to know: What happened? What caused this? Ignorance caused these deaths, nothing less, with other factors contributing. Fiery rhetoric, aggressive campaigning, even conspiracy, they all pale before the power of ignorance.
Right now, there are people who sincerely believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim terrorist bent on destroying America. They believe he is part of a secret plot stretching back to 1950s Kenya with the single goal of ending the United States. This is ignorance. Others believe that causing the United States to default on its loans in order to “balance the budget” will help America. They believe that gold has some intrinsic value, beyond the socially-agreed-upon material value, that makes it “better” than fiat currency. This is ignorance. Still others believe that we need “a strong leader” who can make “the tough decisions.” This is ignorance.
I’m not going to give you an answer to “what happened to America?” or “why did he pull the gun?” Don’t worry, plenty of people will volunteer. I’m going to ask you to, in the middle of your fear and your uncertainty, keep asking the questions, and keep questioning any answers you get. That is how we can stop something like this from happening again, by using our reasoning skills and our ability to think, not to give into fear and uncertainty.
Fear and uncertainty are true, especially now, especially for those of us who support public health care, are pro-immigration and pro-choice, who believe that society is measured by how it treats the least among them. They are true, and I do not think we should deny them. But we should control them, or they, and the people who can manipulate them, will surely control us.
If we let fear get the best of us, the terrorists have won.
To help with this, I am singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, here in China. I’d like you to have a look at the words and, just once, in the shower, in your bedroom, out on the street, or onstage, alone or with your family or your friends or both, sing all six verses. It helped calm me down, and it might even help you. With a little luck, it will remind us of the things we are defending, the reasons to hope, rather than fear.
EDIT: My friend Will Walker has an insightful message of his own about the shootings over at LiveJounal, to whit, this does not meet the definition of terrorism.