(By Mateen Elass, posted on his blog). As America mourns and seeks answers to make sense of the carnage inflicted on innocent tourists in Las Vegas, some have been quick with offering solutions to prevent similar slaughters in the future. Unfortunately, such outcomes will never be possible, even if every gun were magically removed from the world. The problem is found not in the hand that pulls the trigger, or guides the steering wheel, or pushes the remote control detonator, but rather in the human heart and its seemingly infinite capacity for hatred. A soul filled with malice can invent a thousand ways to inflict mayhem on its targets.
As I listened this week to newscasters ask their talking head experts, “Why is it that the number of mass murders has been increasing recently?”, and to their guests’ befuddled responses, it became clearer to me that in the quest to “solve this problem,” we are only treating symptoms while remaining ignorant of the disease. The debate on gun control, background checks, bump stock modifications and high-capacity magazine clips, while a good exercise (in my opinion), will at the best lead to banning one method of mass killing. Of course, that is nothing to sneeze at, but a human heart filled with seething rage will find other means of destruction (think of Timothy McVeigh, the Boston Marathon bombers, the Nice truck driver, and of course the 9/11 hijackers).
In doing a bit of research, I discovered that the newscasters’ pressing question was actually based on a false premise: There is actually no statistically significant increase in the number of mass murders committed in the USA since 1970. But there certainly is a growing sense that our country is a more conflicted and less safe place to live. No doubt the relentless 24/7 worldwide news cycle has much to do with this perception, and the ensuing reality.
As a solution, some have proposed more laws and law-enforcement, and greater government surveillance in order to protect the public from evil plots. Even though no one likes to give up some freedoms to privacy and easy access to public space, some sacrifices are necessary in such an age of violence and insecurity, so the argument goes. Others say that these freedoms are too precious to sacrifice, and we must just get used to an increased threat matrix in our lives.
How do we find ourselves in this downhill slide? I think the answer, to quote the words of Carl Sandburg, is that we have forgotten where we came from:
When a nation goes down or a society perishes, one condition may always be found; they forgot where they came from. They lost sight of what had brought them along.
Why today do we see such a willful disregard of life, where far too many human beings are casually snuffed out before they even exit their mother’s womb, where innocent children become the victims of sexual predators, where teenagers die from gang violence or drug overdoses in such large numbers that their deaths become simply “more statistics,” where mature adults are targeted because the skin they are wrapped in is of the “wrong color,” or their belief system somehow disqualifies them from inclusion in the human race? Why does our society see the elderly and infirm as civic detritus, to be swept aside or quietly ignored rather than cherished and appreciated?
The incivility among our political leaders seems epidemic today, but it only reflects what is found in our larger culture (have you checked out the comments sections of controversial news stories reported on the Internet, or been of late to any public lectures on hot-button topics?). Debate descends into name-calling and vilification.
And yet we seem amazed and shocked when hatred breaks out into real-life violence.