I’m sick as a person with a bad cold today. And I am confused. Over at Niobe’s blog, people have been talking about expecting extreme violence and nothing being surprising anymore, specifically since the bombing in Oklahoma City twelve years ago. I don’t understand because I am shocked and surprised by terrorism and mass murder. In the United States and Canada, we aren’t at very high risk of being murdered in either of these ways.
I’m not attacking any individual feelings here, because actually I do understand why people say it, I just can’t comprehend the sentiment. I’m not naive. I’m certainly not arguing for my experience, but in all honesty I don’t understand because even though I have been very close to terror, I could only be more surprised in the United States if an armed woman or an alien began shooting in my classroom than if a murderous young man did. Yes, we should expect gun violence in this country where guns are so prevalent, where violence is glorified, and where medical care for mental illness is so difficult to procure.
Even still, folks, what we’ve seen this week is not unprecedented and it is too common, but it is still not commonplace. Here are time lines of school massacres worldwide from Infoplease and from Wikipedia. Yes it is significant that there was an over 150 year lapse between the first massacre at Enoch Brown’s school in 1764 and the next one on the list in Bath, Michigan, and that the world has seen so many in the past century. But life is not a Quentin Tarantino movie. I’m not reducing it. When I began seeing black garbage bags blowing on the street as body bags after coming a bit too close to Israel’s first woman suicide bomber, when I panicked in Paris because the subway is just too crowded and far too many people had full backpacks, and when I found myself frightened of a woman in a burqa in Milan, I knew I had a problem. I don’t believe expecting that school massacres will occur means that as a nation we have mass PTSD, but rather that we are complacent. Again, I don’t know what anyone who expresses that they’re not surprised has done in terms of activism against violence in the past, but the sentiment saddens me.
I am not mistaking shock and surprise with outrage. I just worry that by claiming we’re not surprised, we are normalizing this kind of event. That’s what media saturation does. What wouldn’t surprise me after this event is if nothing happens, nothing changes, and politicians and pundits do nothing particularly significant about it, because their constituents and listeners won’t make it a priority. And that after the furor dies down, intellectual discussion over how to change our thought and prevent more violence will stop.