Saturday, December 29, 2012

(Not So) Good Grief, or, Empathy for the Devil

When I heard the news I worried about how it would affect my twelve year old son who is a sensitive child. I did not worry much about my older children until I received a text from my eighteen year old son reading, “turn on the news, I am so shaken.” Everyone is affected by what happened. Everyone needs a hug and to feel loved right now. This happened to the children of our nation and we must come together now to love and heal one another.

-- Blogger Tricia LaVoice

Oh, my.  Now on top of everything else I owe this lady a hug, and I’m morally obliged to sympathize with her poor son, who’s suffered being “shaken.”

At this stage, I’d gladly trade whatever hugs I have coming from the national bleed for a 24-hours moratorium on any sentence containing the words “grief,” “hug,” “heal,” “tragic,” “safe,” and “assault weapon.”

In defiance of all that is sacred, precious, and huggable, I’m proposing here that, while empathy is an admirable capacity when displayed in sensible proportions, in immoderate quantities, like any other emotion gone – frankly -- nuts, it is now only making things worse.  At this stage of our history America simply lacks civilizing norms to tell us when indulging an emotion has reached a healthy boundary, letting us know that any more of it will only be self-indulgence. The same social dictates that used to require a widow to wear black in public for a respectful time after her husband’s death also required that, beyond that point, she needed to stop wearing it, too.

Is there no useful human impulse we don’t manage to corrupt and spoil?   Et tu, empathy?  Alas, having suffered (because I support the Second Amendment) through two weeks of moral bullying over what happened in Newtown, I have to insist you have at maximum a two-degree proximity to the actual victims if you intend to claim my deference to your “need to heal.”  As for hugs – don’t even try it.  The Bible does indeed command that we’re to mourn with those who mourn. But if you expect me to send sympathy cards to all the rest of you who are mourning with those who mourn, I’m going to call a foul.

It’s not even the etiquette of all this that matters to me. It’s that all this boundless emotionalism is taken advantage of and exploited by people in this nation who know exactly how to use it.

Now, in the unlikely event that you are reading this and you actually are a parent or relative or associate of the victims of Sandy Hook, absolutely none of this intended for you. I’m sincerely sorry for your loss, and I have nothing more to add.

But for the rest of you, it’s time to get a grip. (Not a pistol grip, naturally. Those are going to be banned.) Or am I really the only one in America left able to distinguish what Adam Lanza did to 20 kindergartners in Newtown, Connecticut (he massacred them) from what “happened to the children of our nation” (nothing)?

Before six o’clock on Friday the 14th, the media powers-that- be had already decided the entire population of the country were in a state of mourning.  Even Fox News did a Thelma and Louise over the responsible-reporting cliff.  It was Nina Easton on Fox News’ Special Report who referred to the president as the “mourner-in-chief.” (Is there anything that guy’s not the -in-chief of?) Bret Baer spent 100% of that Friday’s newscast on Sandy Hook. 

The national wake – besides being arbitrarily open-ended -- has since been enforced according to the kind of Victorian-era rules of behavior we Americans don’t even bother with when our actual relatives die. In this case, showing a proper respect for the bereaved (none of whom I know, nor do they know me) for some reason means not contradicting the media’s lockstep adoption of this particular mass shooting as qualitatively different, more shocking, and more beneficial to a rational discussion about guns than any other.   A colleague at work told me she took offense at a gun-rights advocate on a panel discussion – not because of his positions on gun rights – but because he said that the Sandy Hook massacre wasn’t “that shocking.” Wasn’t how shocking? Is there a meter that measures these things?

We are now being divided over how bad we feel?  As William Hurt’s character in Broadcast News said to Holly Hunter’s drama-queen response to massive terminations in the office, “I won’t feel bad because I don’t feel worse. This has happened at every station I’ve worked at.”  And no one hugged me when JFK, RFK, or MLK were assassinated and I turned out – well, never mind how I turned out.

But here I’ve just said I didn’t know the bereaved, when I guess I do, because it’s all of us, right? Especially those who feel so deeply that Sandy Hook was caused by Too Many Guns. And we all do know at least enough about bereavement to know it’s just bad form to say anything to upset the bereaved in his, or her, grief.

The problem is that that kind of immunity, enjoyed by the wrong people, can be misused.  Look at what happened with Cindy Sheehan.  Maureen Dowd said the death of Sheehan’s son in Iraq conferred upon her “absolute moral authority,” and on the strength of that stupid comment the Democrats used Sheehan  as a blackjack for a while to clobber supporters of the Iraq War --  right up until they got tired of her and threw her over.

As just one example of the same kind of thing, we have the opinions of Tom Messenger, a St. Louis editor, published in The Detroit News the other day.  This writer is on record elsewhere opposed to permitting “any teacher or principal with a concealed-carry permit to carry a gun while teaching our children.” (“Editorial: More guns in schools? Wrong answer “).  Fine, so he has an opinion.  But he has more than that, or thinks he does; he has the moral authority of a man going through the “five stages of grief,” although he’s currently stuck at “anger.” He describes making full use of it on a radio talk show recently when he took issue with the host’s view that the struggle to protect the Second Amendment as a left vs. right issue, an opinion Messenger denounced as ‘bunk”:

I went straight to anger as I explained my grief over Sandy Hook.

On top of being an American, a human being, a father and grandfather of children the age of the 20 who were shot to death, two days before the tragedy I'd been thinking about what might happen in a real-life school shooting in my community.

Now I won’t spoil the surprise if I tell you all that Messenger turns out not to have experienced an actual real life shooting in his community, beyond thinking about it, and, of course, experiencing Sandy Hook through news reports – which, for some reason I feel it necessary to repeat -- is not the same thing as having it happen to you. Anyway, in his mind he’s one of the bereaved of Sandy Hook

And because he’s one of the bereaved, we have to listen quietly as he bullies us with his opinions (immunized by grief, don’t forget) that “we must do whatever we can to make sure our children are safe, [or else] we have lost our souls.”

But by “whatever we can” he really means the very limited list of things that didn’t work last time, (the assault weapons ban), wouldn’t have stopped Lanza this time (“making high-capacity ammunition magazines illegal”), or costly and impractical solutions (“finding the funding to support existing programs that put police officers — not armed teachers or volunteers — in schools.”).    Why not armed teachers or volunteers?  Messenger doesn’t say.  He only makes clear that he’s opposed to the NRA or “other pro-gun groups,” making  him, it’s fair to say, an anti-gun advocate.  This just happens to fit in nicely with the extremely anti-gun extremism of the party in power in Washington, which is nothing if not adept at exploiting tragedies to achieve its objectives. Messenger’s views, dressed up in widow’s weeds and multiplied by millions, are jet fuel for a crafty politician with a demonstrated record for harnessing emotion to political ends.

And that, my friends, is why we mustn’t humor empathy running wild.



Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Very well said. We're turning into a nation of emotional pansies.

Dearborn Citizen said...

Sir, have you seen the story of the mass shooting that DIDN'T happen in Texas because a GOOD armed person stopped the BAD armed person after he had shot his ex-wife, and then chased others into a theater next door. He wanted to kill more, but the GOOD armed person shot him before he could. That happened two days after the shootings in Connecticut, but we didn't hear about it on the national news. It very clearly makes the point of the NRA, and that made it politically-incorrect.

T.R. Clancy said...

No, I hadn't seen it, and I'm sure it was ducked for the reasons you say. Can you send us me a link?