The Tucson Tragedy and the Soul of a Nation

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    A boy walks past a large American flag recovered from ground zero after the 9/11 attacks, outside the entrance at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church for the funeral of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011, in Tucson, Ariz. Green, the youngest victim of Saturday's shooting in Tucson, was born on the day of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. (AP Photo/Mamta Popat, Pool)

    Recent events in the United States have been heart rendering. The shooting in Tucson, Arizona left a favorite daughter of America, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, with a bullet through her brain. And it snuffed out the life of a promising 9-year-old girl, Christine Green, born on 9.11, who was so interested in politics that a neighbor took her to Giffords’ rally.

    Why is it that when God wants to tell a people something, these are the kinds of signs s/he sends? Is it because we humans refuse to listen in any other way?

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    For a few days after the event, the phrase that dominated the media was ‘soul-searching.’ But as of today, just five days after the killings and the day of Christine’s funeral, the event has already been reduced to an obsolete patriotic context. There was a lot of drivel about “unity,” and most disturbingly, the largest flag to survive 9.11 was flown at the girl’s funeral.

    There is no cause and effect between Sarah Palin and her minions putting Giffords’ district literally in gun crosshairs on a political site, and the murders in Tucson. But given that Giffords herself said, “such actions have consequences,” the metaphysical connection is almost impossible to deny.

    Clearly, mental illness played a big part in these events. But neither the comforting causation of mental illness, nor the knee-jerk political blame-game begins to address the core issue.

    When one of the most thoughtful commentators on the American scene, David Brooks, descends into rubbish such as “George Bush had a moral compass which he could fit 9.11 into, and it was the language of good and evil,” it makes one shudder at what could be coming.

    His view–that “it’s a small, small minority” who are demonically insane–doesn’t hold up to the light of day.

    At the nationally televised memorial on Wednesday, President Obama said some excellent things, such as we need to “make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.” But he also said some things that rang false, such as, “I believe for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and kindness.”

    The issue goes way beyond this darkness-saturated land. Evil is a very difficult thing to face and understand. Most people want to pretend it doesn’t exist, or relegate it to some other land and some other time.

    As difficult as it is for people in such an individualistic culture as this to accept, people themselves aren’t evil, even the demonically crazed young shooter in Tucson.

    Evil is loosed in this land. That, not the mental illness that often flows from it, is what we need to be “having a national conversation about.”

    Of course we may well not. Indeed, those who dare to bring up the subject may be seen as the problem themselves, as a national obsession with “identifying the dangerous” takes hold.

    A high school sweetheart of Jared Loughner said he “was caring, sweet and kind when they went out.” How do some humans degenerate from that lovely child of 9, to a crazed monster of 22?

    Evil exists in all countries of course; it is a byproduct of human consciousness. It does not have anything to do with God, nor with some supernatural “battle between good and evil.”

    In America, evil erupted politically through the previous administration, bringing death and darkness to millions beyond our shores in the name of misbegotten national self-defense after the evil of 9.11.

    That is why it’s utterly irresponsible to say, as Brooks does, “If there’s a political ramification, which I’m not sure there is…”

    The basic philosophical premise of most conservatives, which is at the same time spiritual and political, is that the shooting in Tucson was “one madman’s act of darkness.” Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, had the temerity to utter those words at the memorial service. For all their differences in degree of thoughtfulness, Sarah Palin and David Brooks share that core view.

    Though that philosophy has been proven grotesquely wrong in recent American history, from Oklahoma City, to Columbine High School, to Virginia Tech, the mentality persists, and rules.

    President Obama did not challenge the wrongheaded notion that the evil in Tucson can be pinned entirely on the individual. He uttered the usual platitudes about how “the fallen” (a military term popularly used to refer to American soldiers killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan) “represent what is best in the United States, best in America.”

    Evil is never the product of a single mind, no matter how deranged. Indeed, the more deranged the mind, the more prey it is to the evil that lurks in collective consciousness.

    Such darkness is not an American problem, but part of the human condition. Hell has nothing to do with a supposedly supernatural realm of fallen angels, and everything to do with the wrongful use of ‘higher thought.’ (Loughner, the poster child for alienated, angry young men, was obsessed with the subconscious, the dream life, and his “freedom of thought.”)

    Denying evil and refusing to examine its man-made origins only numbs us, and allows darkness to grow within.

    The mind and heart can be unburdened, and innocence preserved. However we have to realize how vital it is to passively observe and end the accretions of thought–the detritus of experience–within us.

    Martin LeFevre
    [email protected]

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