Thursday, June 9, 2022

Shrug is an Action Verb

What we do is shrug. Honestly now, isn't that true? All we've been through here in the past two years, with each news broadcast bringing the pain of hundreds, thousands, millions right into our homes. We begin to develop an emotional callus, a protection against feeling all that misery.

So, a guy with a gun kills nineteen children in an elementary school. How horrible! Deeply, truly, irrevocably horrible. Where did it happen? Oh, in Texas. That’s when the out-of-state reader or viewer starts to shrug. Of course, such a shooting is terrible, but I and those I love are far away. Safe. And then they move on.

We move on.

Shrugging has become our national answer to disaster. Shrugging followed by prayers.

Is it working?

We Americans, we Texans, pride ourselves on finding practical solutions for big problems. If ever we needed a practical solution for a problem, this is it.

The problem is complex, and our culture has difficulty dealing with complexity.

Faced with complexity, we gravitate toward any argument promising a simple answer. Gun control looks like one, at first. We grab hold of that and hunker down.

We’ve got to do something different, people. What that will be, I don’t know. I don’t have an answer.

But I do think I understand some contributing factors.

It’s all about those calluses.

Visualized violence permeates our culture. Moving images of violent acts are on the television, computer, smart phone, accessible to anyone, anytime. Increasingly realistic video games place our children and young people—whose brains are still developing—at the killing console, vaporizing “enemies.”

Frequency of exposure can develop those calluses. And it’s the calluses that allow us to view torn limbs, squirting blood, explosions, etc., without a scarring revulsion.

Just like frequent exposure to mass shootings can cause us to shrug.

The recent catalogue of threats—terrorism, violent storms, pandemic, mass shootings—has left us feeling so vulnerable. Of course, people who feel vulnerable grab for armor, and arms.

And broadcast media—TV and radio—just wallows in it, escalating whatever fear there is to escalate.

Our fear prevents us from thinking. In fact, it’s caused us to stop believing that we can think these difficulties through and arrive at a plan.

We face problems of a planetary dimension—climate devastation, pandemics—and our brains cannot handle that. There are interrelated, complex systems at work that it takes computer modeling even to begin to understand.

Our fear in the face of all these stresses is logical and rational. But it’s preyed on by people whose motive is only to gain power and wealth in the short terms of their own puny lives. They rely on us to be afraid.

Maybe, for now, simple solutions are the best we can do. Here are a few:

Stop watching TV news; stop trolling the internet to fuel your anger and feel righteous; stop thinking that those who look different are out to harm you.

Look to your home and your children. Where are your guns—are they locked up—can your children find the key? (Most of the time, they can.)

Stop looking for dystopian drama, for end-of-the-world cheap thrills. Boycott the stuff. Read a newspaper, instead.

Get to know your neighbors. Stop feeling that you, in your small wisdom, are smarter and better than anyone else. You are not. Neither am I.

We are a vulnerable species, like every other. But, like every other, we occupy a specific place at a specific time. Know that place, know it in detail. It is everything. 

Leave the “vesper flights” that arc above the Earth’s clouds and confusions to swifts and angels.

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