I’m going to tell you a story. Stop me when you recognize it.
Two white males — obviously deeply disturbed — go on a mass shooting rampage, wounding and killing several dozen people, including children. There is immediate public outcry, speculation about Internet connections to extremist groups, then questions about violence in the media and its affect, incompetent, impotent political leadership, hand-wringing about this being a symptom of some larger, more insidious problem, then… Nothing.
I’ve described both Columbine and the events of the last few days, in broad strokes. It’s a common complaint amongst nerds that pop culture is far too repetitive, and the endless stream of sequels, remakes, and reboots is agony. I understand and sympathize with that, but, at the same time, culture is a reflection of the society that produces it, and, apparently, we’re still stuck in the mid-90s. I was — foolishly — briefly hopeful that we might get some sort of traction on some relatively minor gun control measures, now that the NRA has been revealed as a weird embezzlement/public corruption scheme (yeah; I know it’s been a busy week, but Wayne LaPierre’s delightfully venal accounts sheet is still available for public perusal). That hope lasted all of an hour. Somehow, even with the NRA losing a lot of its power, apparently, they’ve successfully programmed everyone in society to ignore and minimize massacres. How do I know we’re not going to see any change? Neil deGrasse Tyson Twitted about how many people die in 48 hours from other maladies. For that, I nominate him to go and explain to grieving families how they all need to keep a stiff upper lip and be grateful that they’re only living in the opening part of The Handmaid’s Tale, and not some shithole country. Or, God forbid, Baltimore (he also will be required to turn in a 500-word essay to the principal about how weird, whataboutism isn’t a valid or rational response to threats to human life). Other GOP politicians have started the whole asinine line of questioning about violence in video games. Guess what, assholes? If the shooters were at home playing Call of Duty instead of making it a reality, 29 people would still be here.
I know we are not going to see anything close to even minor changes, because Vox published an analysis (found here: https://www.vox.com/2015/10/5/9454161/gun-violence-solution)(of sorts; one has to remember that this is hardly a peer-reviewed journal, and the CDC is forbidden from keeping detailed statistics on gun violence, so writing about it, let alone trying to solve it, is seriously hobbled) detailing the massive, impossible changes that our society would have to make to bring gun violence levels to “acceptable” levels. Admittedly, they’re probably doing it out of the same cowardly sense of pseudo false-equivalency that most Real Journalism Pieces attempt (in case you haven’t figured out, I would describe myself as “writer,” not “journalist,” because I never, ever want to do anything that could, even tangentially, help genuinely evil people, and giving them a platform of any kind falls under that category), but it’s now out there. Again. Gun control is an impossible problem, so we’re not even going to attempt it.
You know what’s impossible? Going to the moon.
You know what’s impossible? Saving our species from the effects of global warming.
You know what’s impossible? Surviving a disease that was, until 25 years ago, universally terminal within 14–24 months. Admittedly, I’m only at 20 months, but I’m betting I’ll make it four months. In those four months, I’ll likely hear about 120-odd mass shootings. Or I won’t, they’re so common that you have to actually go out of your way for news on the latest one. You want to know how you survive a terminal diagnosis? You demand that your oncologists throw everything they have at it, damn the cost or long-term consequences. Again, until 25 years ago, most neurologists quietly refused to treat glioblastoma patients because it was incurable, and they could only give us a few more months. Imagine if your car broke down, and the mechanic could only get it back to 90% functioning, so he flatly refused any attempts at repairs. I’ve mentioned him before, so, apologies, but Ben Williams was one of the very first GBM patients who demanded his physicians actually do their damned jobs and treat him. Ben Willliams is still alive.
We can’t prevent every mass shooting, we can’t save everyone. That’s become a collective excuse for inaction. We are rapidly becoming complicit with the shooters. If you’ll excuse me, let’s talk about Nazis, briefly, because it does have some bearing on the current conversation. One of the shooters released a manifesto about how we’re being invaded by untermenschen (not his words, which were far more racially-charged and despicable). One commentator said they had mixed feelings about publishing it because they didn’t want to give the SS a platform, but the similarities between it and a Donald Trump speech are impossible to miss.
There is a friend of the family who is a big Trump supporter, and he feels persecuted by the use of terms like “bigot” or “racist.” There is, of course, an obvious solution to that one; don’t be a bigoted racist. It’s like the Margaret Atwood quote (I’m paraphrasing), “ Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” The two threats are not equal. As a cripple with a terminal (well, not yet) diagnosis, I am acutely aware that I am at the very top of the Nazi shit list. Most of us are aware of the infamous “Final Solution,” (more on that in a minute), fewer people are aware of Aktion T4. This was, essentially, the pilot episode of the Final Solution; and it involved the “involuntary euthanasia” of disabled, terminal, and/or institutionalized people (I believe most attorneys would probably describe “involuntary euthanasia” as “premeditated murder”). Unlike the death camps, because this was, essentially, an experiment to see what they could get away with, it’s largely undocumented. As to what the German public would ignore; apparently, they ignored 300000-ish deaths, which soon skyrocketed into six million. And, even though that number was mostly Jewish people, there were also gay, transgender, Gypsy, Slavic — large swathes of people who had no vocal or powerful advocates to speak for them. Just like women learning the horrible reality that they — potentially — are being “allowed” to live, which, justifiably makes them angry, I’ve seen other minority writers discussing how minority members are terrified that if they encounter a bigot or racist on a bad day, that’s their last day. If you have a life where some black person or a grumpy cancer survivor with a walking stick calling you a bigot is enough to ruin your day, you have a truly blessed life that most of us can not even begin to aspire to, mostly because of policies enacted — or tacitly supported — by people like you. And if you fear the minority-majority shift that’s coming, you must be aware, on some level, that you or your beliefs toward minorities are unspeakably shitty, and you’re afraid we’ll treat you with the same vague contempt and indifference you’ve treated us. In some cases, like mine; that’s all that’s required to ensure my untimely demise; if science and medicine do not make significant strides towards curing brain cancer, there’s a 50–70% chance I won’t make it to 40. And I’m certainly not alone, a lot of us — future massacre victims included, won’t be killed by anything the majority does. We’ll be killed by what you don’t — or refuse to — do. Some of us will literally be killed by indifference. And if you’re terrified of being marginalized… well, I wish I could say that we’ll treat you better than you treated us, but you’re going to kill some of us before that happens. Hell, you’ve already killed almost 30 of your own, really, you shouldn’t be afraid of black and brown people or cripples or gays, you’re far more likely to kill each other. If you really fear the majority-minority flip, maybe stop trying to kill minorities, because you’re not really great at it, and you seem to get a lot of white, able-bodied, heteronormative people in the cross-fire. And it is beyond fucked up when minorities have to step in and save you from yourselves (here https://abcnews.go.com/US/army-solider-hailed-hero-el-paso-shooting-worst/story?id=64773030), or, in my case, beg you to save you from yourselves.
And if I seem a bit upset or overwrought, well, a phrase just pierced my brain from that Vox article, “get American gun violence down to acceptable levels.” I’m sorry, there’s an acceptable level of murder? There’s an acceptable amount of low-level genocide dressed up as crime? Because that seems like an unforgivably awful concept to give voice to, let alone make an unimaginably Herculean task. I’m sorry, I just never thought I’d see Nazis — sorry, Neo-Nazis or white separatists or whatever label we’re using to anaesthetise the public to the concept of mass murder by crazy, jack-booted thugs who espouse ideals of racial superiority and purity (yeah, I’m pretty sure history has already decided on that label)(also, if you’re afraid of minorities, let me remind you that Nuremburg didn’t exactly make allowances for people who liked Hitler’s economic policies or felt insecure about the future)(if you have a guaranteed future, again, you’re way better off than some of my friends at the infusion center) — on American soil, killing Americans, and then politicians and the media subsequently enabling it all by arguing about the semantics or ideology behind it. They’re right, we are being invaded by sub-human scum who should not breed, they just haven’t looked in the mirror.
But enough. We have a Nazi problem, and we’re going to have to deal with it as a society (again, if you’re a member of the majority in this country, I’d be worried, because these guys have repeatedly demonstrated that, even though they’re somewhat decent at murdering and brutalizing minority groups, they are spectacular at killing you lot, even if it’s unintentional). Let’s talk about something a little lighter, like torture, and what you, the average person can do in the face of insurmountable evil. During the Holocaust, there was a tiny segment of the population who did the unthinkable, and aided the Nazi’s victims. If there is one thing you take from my assorted, brain-damaged ramblings, it’s to go out and buy Malka Drucker’s incomparable book, Rescuers: Portaits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the most famous; Oskar Schindler (BTW, if the idea of being a decent human beings to people with a slightly different skin tone doesn’t appeal for its own sake, remember that Schindler lost most of his profits and company at the conclusion of the European War, and his former employees made sure he had a roof over his head, clothes on his back, and a hot meal for the rest of his life)(the flip side of that coin that someone may be able to repay you your old cruelty with interest is that you might be able to call in some really big, pension-replacement-level favors for being a relatively decent person). Schindler is just one name of 26513, that we know of (and probably loads more we don’t know of, because it was illegal to help Jews and other groups, so it’s not really something you’d want to get out)(in one case, a man was tortured to the point of permanent speech impediment; we can talk about bravery, but imagine enduring torture for a complete stranger just because it was the right thing to do). They couldn’t save everyone — and the most common line in the book is, tellingly, “I just wish I could’ve done more” — but that didn’t stop them from trying. I have a theory that, in a world gone completely evil-insane, they didn’t do this for any moral reasons or kindness, this was their way of preserving their humanity. By preserving their fellow humans.
That is who we have to look to at this moment. We’re never going to make this country completely safe, and we may never get to an “acceptable” gun violence level, but we can — and must — make the attempt; if it’s gun buy-backs, or basic back-ground checks even at gun shows, or just outlawing private (read: undocumented) gun sales. 120 projected mass shootings. Let’s make it 119. Let’s whittle off just one.
Just one. Because it’s just a human life, somewhere. It can not be impossible to prevent one shooting, somewhere, even if no one ever finds out about it. Especially if no one finds out about it.
This is how I made it through 12 sessions of chemo. It’s how I’ll do however many more it takes to get me through life, until insurance rules or the disease kill me. It’s how you make any impossible task merely improbable. You do it one step at a time.