The Day After Vegas
We don’t have a word for the kind of wondering we do the day after Vegas.
Wondering, with its root in wonder, its shades of casual speculation on the hand, or on the other, awe, is the wrong word. And yet I cannot think of the right one to describe what I experienced waking up today, mind pounding and throbbing as I tried to understand: What goes through their heads?
Not the heads of killers. Neurological factors, early abuse, frontal-lobe injuries—the perfect storm aggregate of risk factors for committing a bloodbath is far too rare and isolated to give us actionable data.
Although the headlines in the papers would have us think otherwise, we do not need to know the motive behind the killing. We do not need to understand what led to this particular bloodbath. We do not need to get inside the “mind” of another white gunman. Gun-man as Rebecca Solnit would have us remember. Gun. Man.
Articles about the mind of a lone killer will get hits, clicks, posts, reposts, likes, retweets. They will generate ad revenue. They will help sustain investigative pieces attached to fewer dollar signs. In the long run, we hope, they can contribute toward a better understanding of sociopathology.
But we have investigated other gunmen. We have traced the paths that led up to their bloodbaths. We have studied their early lives; read their final emails; analyzed reports of their last conversations.
None of that will help us today. None of that will not serve us. None of that will save us.
As far as what we do on the day after Vegas, none of that matters.
Would-be killers exist worldwide. Only here in the U.S. are they given free access to endless weapons of mass destruction. Only here is it possible to say, when a concert on the Vegas strip turns into a phantasmagoric bloodbath: another day, another mass shooting.
But we’ve said all that too. Numbers—Vox laid them out beautifully—do not convince the ones who need convincing. The death of 20 rich, white, suburban first graders did not convince the ones who need convincing. A bullet’s lack of discrimination, its ability to shatter the bodies of the rich and the poor equally, members from powerful groups and from marginalized equally, distinguishes it from most other horrors that fall disproportionately on the poor and already disempowered. That lack of discrimination, perhaps we might call it terror-equality, of mass shootings, does nothing to convince the ones that need convincing.
Who are they? Who are the “they” I woke up wondering about?
The owners and traders and paraders of guns, the guardians of laws to protect semi-automatic weapons, they are hardly mysterious. They are collecting weapons of war. How much more concretely must they acknowledge their paralyzing fears?
They have made their inner states manifest. Their vulnerability, their sense of helplessness, their lack of inner strength are on full display.
Should we ask about the minds of the 49 members of the U.S. Senate and 258 members of the House of Representatives who accept NRA donations and bend to its will? Maybe, yes. But it is not so hard to imagine that in a country of millions a few hundred people exist so bent on power that they see these kinds of bloodbaths as a reasonable tradeoff to keep it. They are part of the same group that would seek to take away people’s healthcare, that favors environmental deregulation. Death is no obstacle to them. Refusing to pass background checks when 90% of Americans were in favor is just one more example.
We need spend no more time wondering about evangelicals, 80% of whom voted for Trump. “Are they really pro-life if they are not protecting the right of a child not to die from cancer? Are they really pro-life if they would rather give tax cuts to big business than help hurricane victims or give meals to housebound seniors? Are they really pro-life if—”
No. They’re not. They’ve told you this, again and again.
As the ever-wise Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” They are not our allies. We must not spend any more time trying to engage them in our fight.
The “they” that plague me, then, that leave me still wondering, are the people I grew up with who went to the best schools in the country, who studied with me at Dartmouth, at Fordham, the parents at my children’s school whose luxurious, non-working days are filled with volunteering for the already well-resourced PTA, my neighbors, my friends, my family, my husband, myself, these well-resourced people, these “far-left” people who talk a lot and post a lot on Facebook and wreck elections for Democrats and send us spiraling further downward into the Bacchanalian hell of white male empire, and the perhaps less “far-left” but often more practical and truly active people who talk a lot and post a lot on Facebook and try to win elections for Democrats, but the whole lot of us, that is, all of us who through merit, and hard work (in most cases) and, in every single case good luck, just pure good luck of circumstance, have been given enough stability, enough access, to have a voice.
What will it take for them, for us, to untangle the link between those who trade in the symbolic economies of Wall Street, stockpiling nihilistic billions, and those who openly parade what they must alone in the middle of the night feel is at bottom the completely emptiness and meaningless of life by stockpiling machines whose sole function is—with the greatest possible swiftness and efficiency—to end it?