In the moments following any major, news worthy event the 1600s metaphore of Chinese Whispers is usually evoked. One source says one thing and in the process of reporting it is shaded, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not, with the colors of the reporter. Another source interjects, and then another. Speculation is made, hypothesis are made, assumptions to fill in the gaps are made even though those are sometimes disclaimered. Fact is far from reality, but since facts themselves are few and far between reality is whatever hearse, no matter how first-hand, happens to be disseminated. the world of communications is so broad, so fast paced and unfortunately so obtusely opinionated that the grand game of telephone takes form quickly, mutates immensely and leaves us reeling sometimes in more shock about it (the misinformation) than the event itself. The effects of the telephone game ran amock even as recently as the coverage of Hurricane Sandy where big news sources like CNN were duped into reporting incorrect social media inspired rumors.
In the opening minutes of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT some of the first reports came through social media. They were in-congruent but provided a voyeuristic glimpse into the ensuing chaos. Then dissemination began. The next thing we all knew several hours later and in the day that followed we were left asking:
Is there really a second shooter still on the loose?
Did Morgan Freedman really condemn the press for their coverage?
Does Asbergers really make people violent?
Did kids actually leave notes for their parents before they were shot?
Is that really Lanza’s Facebook page I’m vandalizing right now?
If the teachers / principle had been armed like Jacob Tyler Robers at Clackmans Town Center in Oregon or Joel Merek at Pearl Jr. High in Mississippi would this tragedy have ever happened?
Do guns not kill people, only people kill people?
Is there really an internet war between Liza Long and Sarah Kendzior now?
Will the Westboro Baptist Church picket these funerals because of Connecticut’s equality measures?
Did Anonymous attack WBC, the NRA and other websites over their responses to the killings?
Did former governor Mike Huckabee really say that this was God being vindictive because of laws outlawing Christian prayer in public school?
Did Fox News really draft an order of censor to it’s commentators to not talk about gun control to help the NRA and stifle the national conversation?
Is it easier to get a gun than psychological care in the United States?
Did Lanza do it because (insert conjecture here: bullied, abused, mentally ill/unstable, had access to mom’s guns, jealous, stressed, depressed, was exposed to a lifetime of entertainment violence, saw the glory of other shooters and mimicked it, etc.)?
Was Lanza’s attack supposed to be even more gruesome?
If you’ve followed any of the senseless massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT you’ve probably heard one or more of these from media talking heads, seen them among your social network posts or gossiped over them at the coffee counter or water cooler. Some questions point to more accurate ideas than others to a degree but few of them lead to actual facts. That’s going to be difficult for some people to hear but there’s hardly a fact among that jumbled mess until you peel away the biases and prejudices shaping some rumors and flat-out lies of others. Snopes and a number of other Urban Legend and Fact Checking sites have already begun debunking the plethora of myths spreading like wildfire across the prairie of the internet where some are fanning the flames because, well, that’s what trolls do.
At the foremost part of the conversation we shouldn’t be expending nearly as much time on the speculation in the high speed rumor mill. We should be reflecting on the lives lost… and that of the continued loss of innocence as a nation and as human beings. On the factual positive aspects of the lives lost in a respectful and careful manner.
This incessant need to blame someone or something in order to validate our emotional loss is unhealthy. This need to explain why everything happened as it did in order to shelter our fears of not being in control is not constructive. We aren’t going to “solve” “this” any more than we are going to change the very nature of human beings themselves. We can mitigate the potential fall out in the future but until we come to grips with our own species identity we’re simply falling prey to coincidence and circumstantial evidence to support the self-defined truth we are choosing to believe.
If there’s something we should take away from this its:
Unfortunately, The internet perpetuates this problem of pre-judgement and blame and is exasperating it. It allows like minded individuals no matter how extreme to congeal their ideas. It allows any, and everyone with an opinion, no matter how ill-informed or irrelevant to express it. It allows lies, half-truths and rumors to be propagated as fact.
Our first order of business as responsible beings once we’ve mourned is to use due-diligence and stop spreading un-filtered everything. We as a society need to have a conversation about how we have conversations. This begins with individuals desires to play journalist or activist and then carries onto the media itself to produce less rhetoric, hyperbolic
We propagate the media. The media responds to our actions. They know what we will watch, what we will read, what we as a society will migrate to and they feel that interest. The consumption of gossip entertainment outranks both hard news and educational sources and socially we thrive on drama. In the age of Twitter and Facebook and Foursquare they have a sense in real time for what we deem important. If we don’t begin by analyzing our own actions on the whole and consciously changing them as a society we have little room to criticize what the media brings us. The media, after all, is made up of people just like us.
That’s not to say the media doesn’t need to make its own self adjustment proactively but most of the biggest problems with the dissemination of information stem from individual virality and not from a skewed sense of reporting, just look no further than the reactions to Steubenville High School football team rape accusations to get a sense for how quickly and catastrophically social media spreads something. Until we can reign in our own sense of reality and focus on facts and fact-checking we’re apt to continue to mis-inform and do untold amounts of damage.
Secondly, it should provide an opportunity both as individuals and a nation to explore the entire realm of psychological fitness and mental well being. The stigmas on one’s mental well being and psychological fitness run exceptionally deep.
There’s an aweful lot of bad information and patent misunderstanding about the state of being for most people in general. This conversation shouldn’t just be about the extremes in mental illnesses but in the overall treatment of even the perceived healthy within the confines of psychological health. We are more than willing to treat physiological disabilities and regulate physical pain or problems with combinations of medication and therapy and even provide a preventative support system when applicable and yet when it comes to the psychological there is no such maintenance or care.
There are legal and in some bases general social etiquette protections in place for physically disabled people and a culture built around attempting to ensure their success in society at all levels of ailment but those same don’t exist for physiological yet. True, there’s still harassment and discrimination and not nearly enough probably being done to combat it for physical problems but with mental health the infrastructure for change is non-existent in some places.
Whether or not Lanza was mentally unstable is only a very small part of the discussion. The greater portion should be related to the best possible support for the survivors, particularly the families of those who lost loved ones and the children who survived this terrible affair. How we as a culture view mental health begins in the face of tragedy with them and how to help anyone who has experienced a traumatic event, be it our soldiers returning home from war to bullying, to recover from it the same way we treat ensuring the recovery of physical damage to our bodies.
Until we are able to come to grips with the fact that the answer is not always ‘get over it’ or ‘pull up your bootstraps’ or even ‘pray it away’ we will be perpetuating many of the underlying problems that create unfortunate situations. Some psychological ailments cannot be fixed the same as some physical ones cannot but the solution here isn’t fixing, it’s understanding, it’s showing compassion, it’s providing acceptance and it’s socially integrating the fact that mental health is an important cornerstone to a productive society and we cannot continue to treat it as a bane.
Finally, it should provide yet another forum to better understand the most socially valuable execution of “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” and the ramifications of District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008); McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010); and others in interpreting the Second Amendment of the United States of America and how to move forward as a free society to mitigate the unintended consequences of mass weapons proliferation.
I’m not advocating one way or the other, my personal opinion based on the large body I research I’ve read over the years is of little matter compared to the suggestion we all revisit our understanding of the Second Amendment and how it relates to our lives in the context of not mass murder but moreso in access and use of weapons in general. If you don’t know the history of the Amendment and the Bill of Rights or the Supreme Court cases referenced you can, of course, visit your local library or find any number of factual, unbiased, first hand resources online to view them.
The only way to get to a point of compromise between access to weapons and the steps necessary to responsibly and legally possess and utilize them is to have an open, honest, unbiased conversation exploring it fully. Complete and unfettered access to all types of weaponry by all citizens is no more the answer than the complete reduction of weapons access to only the select few and both sides of the argument need to treat the middle ground of licensing, taxes and fees, waiting periods, mandatory training, weapon limits (in type and in volume), care guidelines and carry regulations, etc. not as slippery slope battles to one extreme or another but socially intelligent ways to mitigate many of the unnecessary deaths, injuries and other unfortunate outcomes be them accidental or intentional.
Guns do indeed kill. They are machines that were first designed to do it and continue to function primary for the use of invoking death. The conversation isn’t right to guns, or gun control, or any boogie-man catch-all intended to evoke emotionally driven unintelligent rants, because guns are one of many components involved in our most violent human outbursts. We would be having the same conversation about molotov cocktails and anything out of the Anarchists Handbook or samurai swords or if we can wear shoes or bring water bottles on an airplane if death of this magnitude were incited any other time so it shouldn’t be dismissed just because it’s about guns. It just happens guns were the executioners machinery this time as they were in the 30 or so previous mass shootings in the United States since just 1999 with the Columbine High School massacre.
It needs to be thought about as responsible execution of the Second Amendment and not an attack on it, because some logical regulation it’s not an attack on it any more than decency laws are on the First Amendment, for example. Until we as a society are willing to recognize this conversation cannot be dominated by business interests who’s sole purpose is to propagate the proliferation of their product at all costs, or those whose motivation is out of a form of Anthropophobia, Auctoritasophobia, Agoraphobia or Pantophobia, or those who’s understanding is limited to their perceived political ideology we will be subjected to the steady increase that is a diametric opposite to these kinds of outcomes throughout the rest of the free and civilized world.
These three elements are entirely inter-related in this case and the common threat is not only the shooting itself but the dissemination of information and opinions through modern technology. And that’s why I’ve chosen to address them on Tech Tuesday because technology is at the forefront of each of them right now. Opinions and information particularly about mental health and the Second Amendment are being spread like the telephone game and in the spirit of the first note about due-diligence I implore anyone who does come across these acrimonious posts to not just re-post them, not respond to them emotionally and not further the wrong parts of the conversation even if you think you’re trying to do it for the right reasons. Use technology for good, for a change.