Bang, bang. another white man fires an assault weapon into a crowd of unsuspecting people. He is not a Muslim. He was hardly on anyone’s list of really dangerous people. It’s just another shooting that will make the headlines for a day, or maybe two, and then, like all the others, just fade away onto the long list of pissed-off, white men shooting people they don’t know. That is, unless the bullet went through your husband, sister or child. There have been about one school shooting a week, just at schools, since the massacre at Sandy Hook.
Already, it is clear that the explanation for this man’s behavior, as with all of them, is that he has”mental health difficulties.” This is a concern of mine since I am a mental health professional.
But this one at Planned Parenthood, in November, 2015, has upset me, perhaps even more than the others. This one appears to be much more of an American Terrorist who has been motivated and encouraged by the current level of political antipathy. But I doubt that Carly Fiorina, or Fox News feels that they have any blood on their hands.
I followed the messages on Twitter that were responding to the shooting as the man was being surrounded by the police. So many of them were supportive of his invasion into Planned Parenthood. I realize that it was Twitter, and that is the place to say as many outrageous and inflammatory things as possible, but so many people, many of whom seemed to base their comments on religion, felt that the shooting was somehow justified.
What frightened me was how these messages were full of the same kind of certainty, and the same kind of blind religious fervor that makes everyone fear ISIS. But that is a part of the freedom that America offers — the freedom to believe anything you want, and to turn in into a public truth.
None of these thoughts are completely new or wildly insightful. It just becomes increasingly upsetting for me, as I age, to see that even though so many aspects of our lives have changed, evolved and improved, these improvements are always followed by a strong paranoia about change. At some level there must be a genetic predisposition to fear differences. Changes in the way we live makes things feel different. People fear change. Fear is a more powerful and protective emotion than curiosity. We have to feel safe, and somewhat secure within ourselves to be curious. Fear takes that away.
Fear distorts our judgment about how dangerous a threat really is. The fears people have can be mollified by classifying the dangerous person as an outlier. We always say that the person who frightens us has mental health problems. He is not one of us, just like the foreigners, the Muslims and, very often, African-Americans. Politicians know that fear is very powerful, and they often inflate it, to distract everyone from calm, rational, reasoning; from finding a response that may be beneficial, that could lead to a solution beyond just placing blame. Stoking fear has always been a very successful strategy.
Any American is much more likely to be harmed by a disturbed white man with a rapid-fire weapon than by a band of ISIL jihadists. But I guess we accept that danger as part of the great American tradition of freedom of expression mixed with the right to bear arms.
That’s what frightens me.