I hadn’t planned on writing about murder and getting a grip this week. Or next. But another multiple murder is international news.
“California shooting: Schoolteachers ‘saved’ children from gunman”
BBC News (November 15, 2017)
“A gunman who killed four people on Tuesday in rural California fired into an elementary school but was stopped from entering by teachers, police say.
“Staff at Rancho Tehama Reserve School went into lockdown, securing school doors after hearing nearby gunshots.
“Authorities praised the teachers’ actions as ‘monumental’ in saving ‘countless’ lives….”
A man in his 40s killed several folks: four, most likely. Details are still getting sorted out in the news.
He’s dead, so we may never know why he started killing his neighbors.
The most likely explanation I’ve seen is that he argued with and then killed, a neighbor. He then stole a vehicle and killed other folks. Maybe not in that order. Like I said, details are still getting sorted out.1
This is bad, but could have been much worse. Apparently no children were killed, but some were injured.
Responses: Admirable and Otherwise
I grieve for the folks who died, their families and friends: for the victims and the killer.
That doesn’t mean I ‘feel sorry’ for the killer, or think he should not have been stopped. (November 6, 2017)
Killing innocent folks in near-wholesale lots happens far too often.
Motives vary, But responses don’t, much.
When I start looking, I find accounts of some folks running toward danger because others need help.
Some apparently experience emotional meltdowns.
A little later, many get together: grieving for those we lost, and expressing hope that we can do better.
And there’s the usual hysteria and crass opportunism.
I prefer looking at folks who do what’s right. (October 2, 2017)
Getting back to Northern California.
The usual politicos and advocates started their spiels quite promptly this time around. Many apparently think this country needs more rules intended to control a particular weapons technology. I’ll get back to that.
The Big Bad Wolf: Getting a Grip
It’s easy to see things we like as “good” and what scares us as “bad.”
Maybe that’s why my culture’s folklore often casts critters like wolves as villains.
But stories with a wolf as the ‘big bad’ don’t make wolves intrinsically evil.
Folks getting ‘scary’ and ‘bad, or ‘fool-proof safe’ and ‘good,’ confused is nothing new.
St. Thomas Aquinas talked about — quite a bit, actually.
What I have in mind is what he said about not blaming creatures for acting the way they’re supposed to. Or tools for being what they are. (February 10, 2017)
I think he’s right. Critters, including dangerous ones, aren’t “bad.” They’re acting according to their nature. If we don’t use our brains when dealing with them, what happens isn’t their fault.
The same goes for technology.
Tools, any technology, isn’t “good” or “bad.” What matters is how we use it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2294)
Our rules must change as our technology, and society, changes. Rules are “good” to the extent that they reflect underlying ethical principles that haven’t changed, and won’t. I’m a Catholic, so I call these principles “natural law.” (Catechism, 1954–1960)
I’ve talked about natural law, and why we must keep changing how we apply it, fairly often. (October 22, 2017; July 16, 2017; June 4, 2017; February 5, 2017)
How I see Yesterday and Today
Change happens. My culture, and others, have been changing a lot lately. Fast.
Change can be exciting or terrifying, unsettling or frustrating; depending individual differences.
Those aren’t the only options, of course. I suspect everyone responds a bit differently.
On the whole, I like living in today’s world. But I thought we could do better, back in the 1960s. I still do.
I do not think that adding yet another layer of unenforced — maybe unenforceable — rules makes sense.
I am also convinced that technology doesn’t make folks do what is wrong: or right. All that our tools can do is make it easier to do what we want.
That’s one reason I don’t think blaming firearms for murder makes sense. If that was true, the town I call home would have experienced mass murder on an epic scale a few generations back. We didn’t.
A Skunk, Kids, and Dynamite
I don’t think it was because quite a few kids carried rifles to school in those days.
I see that more as an effect of a very different society’s operation, not the reason most used non-lethal methods for conflict resolution.
The firearms weren’t for defense. Rules were different, which let the kids do a little hunting on their way home.
Kids, and adults, weren’t perfect, of course.
A case in point happened one day when kids outside the school noticed a skunk. The critter was hiding in a woodpile, and couldn’t be coaxed or frightened out.
The kids decided, correctly, that the skunk’s presence was a potential threat. The prudent action would have been to tell an adult, and go on with their daily activities.
They were kids, so that’s not what they did.
One of them went home; returning with dynamite, a blasting cap and fuse. Setting the charge and detonating it was a straightforward task. And successful. To an extent.
The skunk was no longer a potential threat.
It wasn’t there. Neither was the woodpile, along with most of the paint on that side of the school. Nobody was hurt, damage was minimal, but the blast had probably been heard across town.
Back then, we didn’t have the psychological and pharmaceutical options available today. I don’t think either are bad, if used wisely. And that’s another topic.
The kids were informed that they’d made a really bad mistake, and told to re-paint that side of the school. Some may have become criminals, but that is possible for any group.
My guess is that having them repair damage they caused helped them learn that actions have consequences.
I don’t think we can re-create that era, and am quite sure we shouldn’t try. What is past is past: and won’t return.
Maybe, though, we can think about why having ‘dangerous’ technology didn’t result in mass murder.
Don’t Blame Technology
I can’t argue that how we deal with each other today should change. I think that’s long since become obvious.
But I do not yearn for ‘the good old days.’
I remember them, and they weren’t. They weren’t all bad, either.
I think we can learn by looking at what worked. And what didn’t.
Again, I don’t think tech makes folks commit murder. Not even scary tech like firearms.
If that particular technology was the reason folks kill others, murder would have been unknown before the Song dynasty.
Hammurabi’s law code isn’t the earliest one we know of, but it’s the oldest complete set.
Hammurabi’s Mesopotamia wasn’t today’s America. But the problems folks had then aren’t much different from ours.
Remember: firearms wouldn’t be invented until about two millennia after Hammurabi’s day.
We live a bit over a millennium after that.
Things have changed.
But some things haven’t.
The first of Hammurabi’s laws says that accusing someone of murder, but without proof, was capital offense. Murder was clearly an issue in those ‘good old days.’2
I don’t want us to try re-establishing Hammurabi’s code. That era is in our past.
We can, I think, learn from it: and from all ages which came before ours. But emulating what had to be changed then does not make sense. Not to me.
Neither does finding a scapegoat. Blaming the ‘other’ political party, scary tech, or any other bogeyman might make me feel good.
But I’m quite sure it’d make about as much sense as blaming the November 5, 2017, Sutherland Spring murders on daylight saving time. Even though they happened right after the annual ‘fall back.’
I don’t have any quick fixes or easy solutions. I don’t think there are any.
But I don’t think we’re doomed to a grim and deadly future.
There isn’t much I can do to change the world, or even my homeland.
I must, however, work for justice — “as far as possible.” For me that’s pretty much limited to suggesting that respecting humanity’s “transcendent dignity” is a good idea. (Catechism, 1915, 1929–1933, 2820)
I must also try acting as if loving God and my neighbor, and seeing everyone as my neighbor, matters. (Matthew 5:43–44, 22:36–40, Mark 12:28–31, Luke 10:25–30; Catechism, 1825)
How I act matters. So does my ongoing inner conversion. (Catechism, 976–980, 1888)
Nobody said this was going to be easy.
But I think it’s important. And something we must try.
Living in a less-than-ideal world:
- “Murder — Again — Still”
(November 6, 2017)
- “Daylight Saving Time: A Modest Proposal”
(November 6, 2017)
- “Respecting Everyone”
(June 18, 2017)
- “London: Death, Hope, and Love”
(June 4, 2017)
- “Deciding Who Dies”
(January 11, 2017)
Making sense, anyway; or not:
- “Acting Like Truth Matters”
(May 21, 2017)
- “Natural Law, Our Rules”
(February 5, 2017)
- “Deciding Who Dies”
(January 11, 2017)
- “Authority, Superstition, Progress”
(October 30, 2016)
- “Not Going Native”
(August 14, 2016 )
- “Shooter identified as 44-year-old man who had problems with neighbors”
Jim Schultz, Record Searchlight (November 14, 2017)
- Hammurabi’s Code of Laws
Adapted from the L.W. King translation, M. Bailey, Collin College
Missing word: “unsettling or frustrating; depending individual differences.”
Missing article: “Setting the charge and detonating it was straightforward task.”
The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader
Found, fixed, and thanks!