Grief, Chaos, and Silence

December 20, 2012

Multiple Pages
Grief, Chaos, and Silence

The shooting at a Connecticut elementary school last Friday was a dreadful business, doubly dreadful for happening a few days before Christmas. Any citizen with any power of imagination can see the presents that will never be opened, the festive tree in the living room on Christmas morning waiting for the eager little figures who never come, and the excited little voices that will never again be heard.

That said, it didn’t take long—around 24 hours—for me to feel that there had been quite enough coverage of, and commentary on, the incident.

Not that there is necessarily any harm in so much coverage, though there may be. There’s the copycat business; and yes, crazy people get ideas from other crazy people. The Herostratus factor is in there somewhere—the desire to attain fame by any method at all. Herostratus was the bloke who burned down the temple of Diana in 356 BC for no other reason than that he wanted to be famous. The yearning to be famous is widespread and normal and has inspired great deeds; but in the mind of a lunatic it curdles, like other normal desires.

“The Soviets locked political dissidents up in asylums. Does anyone think our liberal elites would hesitate to do the same, given the power?”

Certainly I would not want the authorities to restrain or suppress coverage. There is quite enough bias and outright suppression in crime reporting already, most of it voluntary. Let ’em report the Connecticut massacre as much as they want to. I just don’t want to read that much about it; not because I’m too squeamish or fastidious, but because I don’t think there’s much content there.

News-wise, once it was clear that the killer was a lunatic and would be making no further trouble, the only things conventionally newsworthy were the pronouncements of politicians, which were of course uniformly jejune. The nasal tones of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg were prominent. Regarding Obama, Bloomberg honked that “The country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem.”

To fix it! Once and for all! Just like that! Bloomie’s criminal-justice coordinator, a chap named John Feinblatt, chimed in: “I think the American public wants a plan—is demanding a plan—how the president is going to keep them safe.”

Because, you know, if the president can’t keep us safe, who can? We will lift up our eyes unto the hills. Whence cometh our help? Our help cometh from Obama.

For the left it’s all about gun control. The people who’ve been telling us for years that we can’t possibly deport eleven million illegal infiltrators without gross violations of human rights are insisting that we can confiscate three hundred million privately held firearms. Yes we can! The arguments for gun control are in fact flimsy and easily disposed of: See Radio Free New Jersey do it here.

An alternative thread of commentary has targeted [sic] the mental-health issue. Given that psychiatry is much more an art than a science, and a very approximate art at that, I’m no more keen on giving the authorities the power to lock up weird people than I am to hand over my Second Amendment rights to Nurse Bloomberg. Half my friends are weird. The Soviets locked political dissidents up in asylums. Does anyone think our liberal elites would hesitate to do the same, given the power?

Least helpful of all were the comments by pious folk of various denominations that the Connecticut shootings prove “the existence of evil in the world.” You don’t say. Didn’t the previous administration put an end to all that, though?

The search for reasons and solutions is futile. Adam Lanza didn’t kill all those people because of anything; he was just crazy. Evil isn’t a problem you can solve; it’s part of the human condition, which you can at most hope somewhat, and imperfectly, to tame and corral. We are not here in the realm of cause and effect, of problems and solutions: we are in the realm of chaos, of purposeless randomness—an inescapable component of the universe and of the human condition.

Returning to the real substance of the matter—the bereaved parents’ immense grief—I think there is a better, saner approach than the endless news din. Once the facts have been reported and public condolences expressed, I think silence should reign.

That was also the opinion of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Mourning her beloved brother Edward, who died in a sailing accident while visiting Elizabeth at the English seaside, she wrote:

…Full desertness,
In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare
Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare
Of the absolute Heavens. Deep-hearted man, express
Grief for thy Dead in silence like to death….

Our present civilization does not much favor silence. (I write as a frequent railroad commuter.) Silence can, though, be very expressive. Those great masters of verbal expression, the poets, have ways to make the careful reader pause for an instant now and then, these brief silences adding force to the line. Silence can also carry meaning, though there are cultural variables involved:

In response to the question ‘Will you marry me?,’ silence in English would be interpreted as uncertainty; in Japanese it would be acceptance. In Igbo, it would be considered a denial if the woman were to continue to stand there, and an acceptance if she ran away.
—Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (1987), p. 172

So be careful with those silences.

I shall now take my own advice and fall silent until the New Year, taking next week off. Readers here at Taki’s Magazine, and Taki himself, have been wonderfully supportive in my various tribulations these past few months, and I again express my heartfelt gratitude. From all the Derbs to all of you, a very Merry Christmas, and may you receive everything you wish for yourselves and your loved ones in 2013!


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