FIRST OFF, I want to say that I am neither opposed to praying, nor even opposed to thinking. I’ve occasionally had a thought or two myself.
But there is saying, and there is doing.
The unmitigated horror of what happened this past Sunday night in Las Vegas almost defies description in its savage intensity and overwhelming sadness.
But it doesn’t completely defy description.
Describing it fully is necessary to understanding it, and preventing another one.
However, there is by now a completely predictable, by-the-numbers response to these kinds of tragedies, propelled by social media.
The tribal lines immediately are drawn, literally within seconds of the unbelievable news breaking.
One side desperately wants the perpetrator to look a certain way and match a certain ideology.
The other side desperately wants the perpetrator to look another certain way and match a different ideology.
The actual flesh and blood victims of these massacres — daughters and sons and sisters and brothers — almost become afterthoughts in the mad dash to achieve temporary political supremacy in the tragedy of the day.
After the killer or killers have been identified – but while victims of gunshots and/or bomb explosions are still in intensive care — comes the push for or against some agenda item or another, which will inevitably end up helping some corrupt political party or another.
Often, as was the case in the immediate aftermath of the Las Vegas incident, we see an almost willful retreat into lame platitudes with barely even an attempt to disguise their cynicism.
We can argue all day about the particulars of gun control and probably not get very far. The two sides of that particular debate have become so polarized, with various forms of misinformation and self-delusion being rife all around, that there is little chance of such a debate even getting off the ground.
Because both sides are so entrenched, a more incremental approach is unlikely to be considered by either side, because an incremental approach is unlikely to mobilize a political constituency.
What is extremely disheartening is to see the vapid cynicism of easy words rapidly consume any possibility of just and reasonable actions being taken to save lives.
I do not expect, nor do I want, immediate knee-jerk reactions to be made in the heat of the moment.
But as an American I would like to see more than the rote repetition of easy catchphrases as a substitute for even considering responsible action, of whatever type we decide.
The ease with which the phrase “Thoughts and Prayers” is now being used as an almost involuntary mantra after horrible things happen has gone beyond the trite and now entered the realm of the dangerous.
It is very clear to me that the majority of elected and public officials who say “Thoughts and Prayers” are neither deep thinkers nor praying people.
The transparently cavalier way in which the phrase is used by men and women of great influence is frankly insulting to the intelligence.
The newest dodge on this front, seen the day after the Vegas tragedy, is to make the incident all about the heroism of first responders.
Not to bash first responders, at all. They deserve all our respect and then some.
But the point is, first responders shouldn’t be used as political pawns or window dressing to avoid difficult conversations as adult citizens in a republic.
The focus, as always, should be on the victims of these terrible tragedies – the broken bodies, the young lives snuffed out, the unquenchable heartbreak of their parents and loved ones, the weeks and months of laborious physical therapy for those lucky enough to survive the gunshot wounds.
We can thank and acknowledge first responders while at the same time seeking to influence society for the better.
Thanking first responders, and having a moment of silence, and having thoughts and/or prayers, shouldn’t be considered viable substitutes for considering the full gravity of the predicament we find ourselves in and looking for workable solutions instead of political battles.
Influencing society for the better might very much mean at least incremental changes to current gun legislation. It might mean dramatically ramping up mental health care.
Drilling down to the level of the very physically mundane and almost painfully simple, it might mean private property owners such as high-rise hotels will have to take more responsibility if they see people bringing very large amounts of heavy baggage into hotel rooms.
(Who knows, it might even mean discussing what is actually the single most prevalent common denominator of these kinds of violent incidents: It’s pretty much always men who do them.)
The inconvenient truth is there's really only one "solution" that is nearly foolproof: Going through people's personal items and baggage on a regular basis, a la the classic secret police state. That is highly unlikely to be something any of us, me included, will embrace in a democracy. Therefore it is highly unlikely to happen.
Unfortunately, complex problems in a free society require complex solutions, and we should be suspicious of any cut-and-dried proposal that just happens to completely match up with one political agenda or another.
At this point, we don’t even need bold leadership. Which is a silver lining of sorts, as we seem exceedingly unlikely to get any bold leadership anytime soon.
It may just take people just putting some fresh ideas on the table. Because the old ones clearly aren’t working for us.
We might know we’re getting close to a real solution when it seems to make neither side completely happy.