Monday, July 23, 2012

The Highs and Lows of Human Potential

When a person makes the decision to take so many lives - as happened in Aurora Colorado early Friday morning - it can lead to many questions that no amount of evidence collection, witness interviews, or the inevitable and seemingly unending media attention can answer.
Of course, there have been many devastating examples of senseless violence in recent US history. The 9/11 attacks, acts of arson, and bombings such as occurred in Oklahoma City are just a few examples. The effect of these events is difficult to overstate. No discussion of other tragedies can or should be allowed to diminish the horror of these events in anyone’s mind.

Finding recent examples of murder on a grand scale is made easier by the fact that three-quarters of the deadliest mass murders in the United States have occurred since 1980. And while mass murder comes in many forms, most of these deadliest acts involved firearms as the exclusive or primary weapon.

How does a person not only decide that they want to put bullets into the bodies of other people – people they’ve often never even met – but seem to revel in the act of random “up close and personal” murder?  We must assume that mental illness played a role. The alternative to that assumption is that these acts could in any way be considered sane. Personally, my reaction to the most recent of these events in Colorado was extreme and visceral. My struggle and the struggle of my community to overcome the shooting rampage of January 2011 are obviously still fresh in my mind.

Contributing to the repugnance of the violence is the context of the killings in both cases, as well as the cases of the murders at Columbine High School and Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Consider the contrast of these acts with the activity that was taking place in each location.

Self-betterment through education represents one of the most noble of human endeavors. (Columbine and Virginia Tech) Attempting to further the democratic ideals of our society by keeping an open communication between politicians and the people is also an example of a human virtue. (Tucson) The arts are also a reflection of the potential of human endeavor. Just one of the abilities of the arts is to enable self-examination that can be the catalyst of positive change. (Aurora) Further, the moralistic themes of the Batman series to date have been studies in the pursuit of the betterment of society and the conflicts and contradictions that arise when attempting to right wrongs which are inherent within and outside the system.
Destruction of the type that happened in Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson and Aurora is not only a senseless taking of innocent lives as if that weren’t enough. Nor is it simply a salvo toward an institution or industry. Whether it was a motive or not, it is an attack on these core societal ideals, values, and aspirations. Serious discussion about how to limit the ability of rogue individuals to visit this torment on others without unduly hampering the rest of us seems as inevitable as it is unlikely.
In these immediate days following the killings in Colorado, our thoughts and efforts surrounding Aurora must be primarily concerned with the victims, their families, and their community. Stories are beginning to emerge of the heroics of the moviegoers, first responders and medical care providers. Yet another community that has been challenged in the past comes to terms with a horrible day that will tarnish a date on all future calendars. Friday mornings’ events painfully remind us of the heights and depths of human potential.

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