The meaning(lessness?) of the Fort Hood shooting
James Fallows at the Atlantic thinks there are no lessons to be learned from the Fort Hood massacre:
In the saturation coverage right after the events, the “expert” talking heads are compelled to offer theories about the causes and consequences. In the following days and weeks, newspapers and magazine will have their theories too. Looking back, we can see that all such efforts are futile. The shootings never mean anything. Forty years later, what did the Charles Whitman massacre “mean”? A decade later, do we “know” anything about Columbine? There is chaos and evil in life. Some people go crazy. In America, they do so with guns; in many countries, with knives; in Japan, sometimes poison.
Fellow Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg counters:
I am not arguing, of course, that American Muslims, as a whole, are violently unhappy with America (I’ve argued the opposite, in fact). But I do think that elite makers of opinion in this country try very hard to ignore the larger meaning of violent acts when they happen to be perpetrated by Muslims. Here’s a simple test: If Nidal Malik Hasan had been a devout Christian with pronounced anti-abortion views, and had he attacked, say, a Planned Parenthood office, would his religion have been considered relevant as we tried to understand the motivation and meaning of the attack? Of course. Elite opinion makers do not, as a rule, try to protect Christians and Christian belief from investigation and criticism. Quite the opposite. It would be useful to apply the same standards of inquiry and criticism to all religions.
Despite recent reports that Hasan’s religion may have played a large role in the shooting, I still tend to agree more with the former opinion than the latter. “There is chaos and evil in life. Some people go crazy.” Just because there’s a reason behind the shooting doesn’t mean there’s any meaning in it.
On the other hand, “do we ‘know’ anything about Columbine?” Yeah, we do. We know a lot more about locking down schools in emergencies and paying attention to signs of mental illness or violence in teenagers. If a kid has ambiguously angry messages and pictures of guns on their Facebook page, schools are much more likely to take notice and deal with it. That’s a good thing. There are lessons to learn from every tragedy and there will be lessons to be learned from Fort Hood.
But acknowledging that there are lessons to be learned and reasons behind the violence doesn’t mean that the act of shooting unarmed people is somehow meaningful. It’s not. It’s empty and random, a behavioral outlier. Hasan isn’t a crusader or a messenger, he’s a drunk driver. A day later, someone else shot six people in an office building in Orlando. Different reasons, different lessons to learn, same amount of meaning: none. “There is chaos and evil in life. Some people go crazy.”