Over the past two weeks, we have had two more mass killings. Last weekend we had one in Texas, where 26 people in a church were killed. The week before we had one in Manhattan, where eight people walking on a city street were killed by a truck.
Did these tragedies have anything in common? Yes, they did. Innocent people of all walks of life lost their lives while going about their daily business. Were these tragedies the same? No they were not.
This week’s murders in Texas, like the ones in Las Vegas a little while ago, were committed by a crazy person using a semi-automatic weapon. So, liberals, you can now key up the anti-gun, pro-Muslim rhetoric and get ready to watch a week’s worth of gun control advocates opine about it on CNN. But wait a minute, last week’s murders were committed by a Muslim, who likely was a follower of Isis, using a truck. So, conservatives, you can now bring out your anti-Muslim, pro-gun narrative (since these murders were not gun related) and listen to the talking heads on Fox discuss the war on terror and spout their anti-immigrant views.
And it will have even more impact when each of you posts on your social media about how this is or is not Trump’s fault (completely based on your party affiliation). You then add to your post or reply to the comments to your post by friends who pretty much all agree with you (other than that angry token friend from college or grade school who doesn’t agree yet must be tolerated due to the longevity of your friendship, which started before social media existed). We insist that if we had no guns, or at least a lot less of them (that’s the liberals) or no Muslims, or at least a lot less of them (that’s the conservatives), we no longer will have these senseless mass murders.What’s the most interesting thing is that on the one hand, it is all true. Yet, on the other hand, none of it is true. And, on the third hand, as Tevye would say, NONE of that matters.
What matters is that we live in a world of sound bites that is not designed to handle the complexities of difficult issues. So none of that matters because we are dealing with a multilevel issue with many causes, each of which requires several different solutions. Do we have a problem with guns in this country that needs attention? Absolutely. But do we need to be sensitive to those who strongly (yet incorrectly) believe that the Second Amendment guarantees them the right to own any type of weapon they like and/or like to hunt or want a gun for protection? Yes we do. We also need not to be so blind as to believe that the strongest gun laws will prevent all (or even most) of these gun-related tragedies, though they will help a lot.
Do we also have a problem with Muslim extremist terrorism in this country? Absolutely. But do we need to be sensitive to those who strongly (yet incorrectly) believe that the United States has an obligation to allow anyone to immigrate here without regard to factors that may make a person more likely to engage in terrorism? Yes we do. We also need not be so blind as to believe that the strongest immigrations laws will prevent all (or even most) of these terrorist related tragedies, though they will help a lot.
The last piece of the mass murder puzzle, and the trickiest to solve, involves mental and emotional illness. This has become the great, secret tragedy of our times. Neither political party has the tools, or more accurately the inclination, to do anything about mental illness. So people who desperately need help do not receive it. Some of them turn to the cult-like philosophy of Isis and its ilk. While others, with damaged human capacity to understand the results of their actions, turn to murder for some psychological reason that is beyond my ability to either understand or explain here.
As for emotional damage, which isn’t on the radar of anyone who is not on the front lines of the mental health field, we appear to have become more connected through social media, though it is artificial, as our real social connections are loosening. People are taking anti-anxiety and anti-depression meds in record numbers as they try to figure out why their real life lacks by comparison with others, at least as depicted in social media. This is causing more and more people to lose the compassion and sensitivity to others that helps to keep the social contract alive. It is also what causes a small minority of these emotionally damaged people to either lash out due to some inadequacy in their lives that causes them pain or to try to become infamous in their attempt to be relevant. In any event, unless and until we are able to replace fake friends and fake online lives with real ones, which I don’t see happening, our gun laws and anti-terrorism will be mere fingers in the dyke.
To combat these mass murders, we need to morph into a country that cares more about preventing mass murder than being right. One that cares more about preventing mass murder than satisfying each person’s worldview or furthering their agenda. This means that we need to be open to other people’s ideas about creating a solution even if we don’t agree with them on causation. Much like the idea that you never learn anything when you are talking, you never come up with as many creative solutions when you listen only to those who agree with you. It is only through the exchange of ideas, including ones that conflict, that real progress can be made. It is how our democracy arose.
In “Hamilton,” the song “The Room Where it Happened” details the compromise among Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson, who hated each other but were able to put that aside to agree to locate the banks in New York and the capital in D.C. It is also the way that the Jewish traditions and Torah studies have evolved throughout our people’s history. Knowledge is gained through debate. But this is hard work. It takes time and involves a lot of openness. It cannot be accomplished through sound bites on social media, and even less by engaging only with those in your echo chamber. Our society seems to have an abundance of openness when it relates to art and lifestyles, yet very little when it comes to different points of view.
Nevertheless, this debate is too important not to engage in it honestly and deeply. If you don’t want to engage in it and prefer only to attempt to advance your agenda, just know that you are only half right. And as a result, you will continue to reap only half-baked results. If we truly want to stop these mass murders we all need to agree to source out their multiple causes. Once the source of each is identified, then different strategies can be designed to combat each type. But if you think that by getting rid of guns or getting rid of Muslims without addressing the underlying problems causing people to murder others in bulk, whether it is ideology, opportunity, or mental illness, you are part of the problem. And this problem will only continue to worsen until, like our Founding Fathers, you care more about solving a problem than advancing a useless and flawed philosophy.
Daniel Shlufman of Tenafly is the Treasurer of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. He is an attorney and a mortgage broker.