Every time a mass shooting occurs in America, you can map out the public discussions that inevitably follow. They usually deal with gun control, mental illness, or parental care. In other words, issues that are sociological. The problems are well worth discussing, but the outcomes are predictable.
The most recent mass shooting in Florida is no exception. The central point that binds the current debate is the possibility that the shooter is mentally ill. Any arguments that follow are based on that assertion. The usual reaction to an event like this is to look for answers that reside outside of the person who committed the crime in question. For the most part, the shooter was parentless, and without a doubt, this kind of social situation surely had a negative impact on him.
Perhaps this shooter is mentally ill. I cannot make that conclusion since I am not a psychiatrist nor have I evaluated him. But what we are failing to ask is whether this is an act of evil as opposed to one induced by mental illness or social conditions?
It is easier for us to accept the possibility of mental illness. It can be measured in various ways using certain scientific indicators and it gives us the illusion that, perhaps with the right tweaking, we can control it and thereby prevent future horrors. It can also absolve one from guilt. Evil is a much more difficult question to explore because it is both a philosophical and theological problem. It encompasses many facets of human personality and demands that we ask abstract and absolute ethical questions.
My objective here is not to engage in a theological discussion. What is more intriguing in the case of the Florida shooting is that people are not demanding justice but are instead demanding quick legislative changes. There is a disconnect between this particular event and any reflection about it. So far, reactions have been governed by emotions, which tend to be irrational and uninformed. Almost always, it is the Republican leadership that is blamed for someone else’s act of free will.
That an individual person has free will and that they act according to it is an unimaginable reality in the culture of victimhood. As a result, the media is conflicted. Should they treat the shooter as a victim of the system? That is tempting because then, perhaps, reform of the system might prevent future incidents? Of course, this always means more regulation. But if criminals are seen as victims, where does that leave the actual victims who have perished in crimes? By this equation, everyone involved is a victim. That still leaves us with the question of who is responsible? And the answer to that question always seems to be people who were nowhere near the scene of the crime.
Today, individual responsibility and a call to a higher ethical life is forgotten. It does exist, of course, and we see this privately whether in our own lives or in the lives of friends and family. It is yet another disconnect between the illusions created by the media and the reality of the private lives of the people who consume their products. They still believe that ethical decisions matter, that free will exists, and that virtue is worth cultivating. Yet as they pay heed to the purveyors mass consciousness, much of this is lost in the hysteria.
The illusions which are created every day by the media are predicated on the principle of fluidity. This means that reality can shift its shape in order to suit momentary appetites. If there are no grounding principles that can guide us toward an examined and a well-lived life, then how can we expect to address a particular event, such as the Florida shooting, according to universal and logical principles? If everything is fluid, then the line between good and evil is either very thin or it doesn’t exist at all. Only one conclusion can come out of this existential mess, and that is a certainty that chaos will dominate.
We underestimate the importance of consequences. Writing about intellectual life, Richard Weaver said that “ideas have consequences.” This is a true statement, but today we suffer from the lack of faith in firm ideas. This too has consequences. There is no permanence and what feels good today may be discarded tomorrow. In this kind of existential structure, any concept of traditional principles is bound to be lost. If we are unable or not allowed to name and recognize an evil deed, then how can we expect to have any fruitful discussion about this particular shooting, or from any other for that matter?
By nature, we desire an immediate solution to our suffering. But we can’t resolve this kind of suffering with more legislation. Unless we address the deeper maladies of our society, and our souls, we will repeat the process of the predictable reactions and debates.