This piece is a response to the original writeup in this node. Therefore, I urge you to read that first, so that this one will make sense.
Please go ahead! I'll wait here.
OK, welcome back.
Fair warning: What follows is a criticism of Mr. Scott's speech, at least the part quoted by Lometa. Mr. Scott has suffered the grievous loss of his daughter in the Columbine High School Shootings, and it's considered decent and pious to give suffering victims a "moral bonus," perhaps as a kind of compensation by society for what they've gone through. I feel this is an OK idea but I draw the line at giving anyone complete immunity from everything. Some people feel that you can't criticize a wheelchair-bound person before you've had your own legs cut off. I feel that this kind of thinking leads to a proliferation of assholes in wheelchairs. A system of thought that places any human beyond reproach is flawed. Bad dogma! Sit!
My emotional reaction to the speech
After reading, I felt as if I'd just watched a half hour of back to back TV commercials while listening to a reading of one thousand Hallmark cards to a background of elevator muzak: I was annoyed at the irrelevance, irked by the triteness and angered by the untruths presented.
A detailed examination
A minor quibble about style: If a message is meant to be "powerful, penetrating and deeply personal" it should be presented in formally correct English: The ampersand in the title is completely out of place and makes it hard for the reader to take the ensuing text seriously. But as we're talking about a speech delivered verbally, I suspect it's some transcriber doing the topic injustice here, or possibly Lometa.
Though unimportant, the first untruth appears in the fourth sentence: "The first recorded act of violence was when Cain slew his brother Abel out in the field." This act was recorded in the Old Testament, but literate civilizations existed two thousand years before the oldest known Hebrew text, and those writings by the Sumerians and Egyptians are sure to contain accounts of violence. The naiveté displayed by this sentence bespeaks the parochial mindset of the speech's author.
Much more shocking in my view: Mr. Scott finds himself on a soapbox as a result of personal tragedy, yet his very first order of business is to champion the cause of the NRA. Is he relating his feelings, or is there an agenda? The NRA is no doubt pleased that the first thing on his mind is their exoneration.
The doggerel Mr. Scott calls a poem offends my sense of literary taste, though I would accept it on the merit of its emotional appeal were it written in earnest. Scott claims that he wrote it before he knew he'd be talking to a body of legislators. Whether that is true or not, its wording ("Your laws") seems directed at legislators, so it was written as an appeal to action rather than an expression of feelings, as the author claims. I resent this attempt at manipulation.
With the "message from our sponsors" taken care of in the first couple of paragraphs, Mr. Scott finds his way to the centerpiece of his message. He claims, incorrectly, that prayer has been outlawed and that some kind of "heritage" has been "stripped away". He implies that the lack of prayer has created a vacuum that is filled by evil, prejudice and hatred. He claims that God is the answer.
Two paragraphs after moaning about the decline of religious values, he claims there is a spiritual awakening taking place. Well, which is it now?
I quote the next three sentences verbatim to point out their complete falsehood:
"We do not need more restrictive laws. Eric and Dylan would not have been stopped by metal detectors. No amount of gun laws can stop someone who spends months planning this type of massacre."
Actually, I almost agree with the first sentence. Depending on how many school shootings a society is willing to accept, current levels of legal deterrence may be adequate. The second sentence, however, is completely false, as I argue below in the "Counterstatements" section.
"God is what we need" three paragraphs away from "we do not need more religion" leaves me shaking my head. Are these contradictions a clever ploy to make some deeper point? Or do they simply lead up to another falsehood, namely "that that this nation was founded on the principle of simple trust in God?"
So "prayer was brought back to our schools." Mr. Scott, no student was ever denied the right to pray! All that's happened was that prayer was made non-compulsory. Way to hack at your own straw man. As for "the basic needs of people... ignored:" How about the basic needs of non-Christians? Atheists? Does Scott realize that "freedom of religion" includes freedom from religion?
Finally, before a last endorsement of the NRA (how much are they paying him, anyway?) he enjoins his audience (legislators, remember?) to "disregard ... legislation that violates your God-given right...." This speech is thoroughly consistent in making very little sense throughout. Highly emotional, highly incoherent. If the purpose of speech is persuasion, this speech is doing a so-so job at best. It appeals to people who think with their gut, not their brain.
Ignoring the appalling style and disjointed argumentation, two principal topics can be distilled from the text:
Apart from style and polish, I differ diametrically from Scott's views. Here are my arguments.
I live in Germany, where most individuals do not own guns. Aside from professional use and demonstrated need for self protection, gun ownership is mostly restricted to members of sports shooting clubs. Of the three school shootings I've become aware of in the past several years, two were perpetrated by young men who were either members of such a shooting club or the son of a shooting club member who failed to properly secure his weapons. For those who care, the third weapon was stolen from a military facility. But with respect to the other two cases, both were made possible by the availability of guns through a recreational shooting organization. Yes, it's people who kill people, but without access to guns, these people would be reduced to stabbing or clubbing. With no available guns, two of these tragedies could have been averted. Though not stated in so many words, a primary objective of the NRA is to make weapons available in households across the nation. I believe that "less availability" = "fewer opportunities" = "fewer tragedies" is a conclusion that practically draws itself.
Scott argues that gun laws and checks cannot prevent gun crime. Actually, he's implying that since it's unlikely for such measures to be one hundred percent effective, there's no use trying at all. This is a dangerous non sequitur. Comprehensive and conscientious weapon checks at all points of entrance would be highly effective. Has any passenger brought a weapon on board an El Al aircraft in the past 30 years? See, weapons checks work. Contrary to Scott's view, I believe that:
- A law severely limiting access to weapons would indeed reduce opportunity even for the determined, and stating otherwise is to lie or ignore common sense; and
- many of these massacres happen with far less than "months planning."
The wisdom or folly of widespread gun ownership is the topic of many heated debates. I've already presented my point of view above and don't intend to get involved any further. Thus I'll present my opinion on the second, religious theme.
Mr. Scott calls on the metaphysical to explain human behavior. There is good and evil in everyone, he claims (so far so good), and if people aren't praying to God then they may be drawn to evil.
My own stance on prayer is displayed in the following quip:
"Give a man a fish, he eats one day;
teach a man to fish, he eats every day;
teach a man to pray, he starves while praying for a fish."
Yes, this is blatantly irreverent
of prayer and God himself. As a Strong Atheist
, I consider it apparent that God is nothing more than a figment of the human imagination. Studies, even by religious organizations such as the Templeton Foundation
, have never shown prayer to be effective.
I don't advocate stopping people from praying if that's what they think will make them happy or hopeful. I do submit, however, that time and energy spent in prayer could often be more productively spent in actively working toward a positive outcome. For this reason, I consider prayer worse than useless.
A simpler explanation for murder
Doing away with supernatural explanations, there are actually some pretty simple explanations for why, every once in a while, some nutjob decides to go on a rampage. It's like this:
Most youths are frustrated at some point in their High School career. Many feel hatred for one or more people who they feel are responsible. Some would like to kill someone. But 99% of these people don't act on this impulse, either because they have a conscience, they are cowards or they are aware that they won't get away with it and will be punished. These people, whom we consider sane and functional, weigh the satisfaction from seeing their enemies crumpled in a pool of blood against the misery of decades in prison and a ruined life. They make the "right" decision and abstain from murder. But somewhere beyond the 99th percentile are a few people whose decision-making machinery is broken.
Maybe they come from a backwater community where everybody marries their cousin, and their brains are defective; maybe they were abused in their childhood and driven insane; maybe they're on some kind of drugs that impair their judgement; maybe they're temporarily insane with grief after losing an important relative, or they simply just got dumped by their girlfriend. Now you have a person where the murderous impulse can overwhelm their better judgement. Sometimes a good brawl will help them get their head straight again, or catching a night's sleep. But sometimes the idea of mass murder becomes firmly entrenched, and then it's time to make a plan.
As an aside, I consider the amount of violence to be seen on TV in the US unconscionable. Crime dramas every night outdo one another with an endless stream of ever more gruesome murders. Some people believe that Satan puts murderous ideas into these poor unstable minds. I think that TV programming is a simpler explanation. Given an unstable mind that may or may not be contemplating murder, I'd bet that a steady diet of crime shows can sometimes tip the balance.
The jury, by the way, is still out on video games. Many of the "think of the children" crowd blame violent video games for tipping potential murderers over the edge. However, many experts believe that to most people death on TV is more realistic than death in the PC, and that in fact video games can be therapeutic in harmlessly relieving stress. Whatever the case may be, those 99+ % of us who have their ducks in a row are immune to being inspired to murder by video games or even TV.
But back to our rare psychopath, who is hatching a plan for his Great Revenge. He will poke around for a suitable weapon. If he's in the US and old enough, he may just enter a weapon shop and walk out packing enough iron to equip a SWAT team. If there are no guns in his house, and there's a delay on buying weapons, there's a chance he'll drop the idea while looking or waiting. But if he's determined and manages to get a hold of weaponry, then pretty soon it's time to call in the news teams. The nation will be shocked, politicians will promise solutions, and people like Mr. Scott will make silly speeches.
Scott goes on about how religion was historically part of civilization and education. We may quibble about details, but what's been with us for far longer is death. Violent, horrible death has always been part of human existence. Medical science has pushed natural death back by some decades, and political science has cut down a little on violent deaths. People are shocked when a handful of kids are shot by a classmate; but it's silly to overrate this kind of death. Many, many more children die in automobile accidents, from drug overdoses, from AIDS after unprotected sex, or from being shot on the street in gang fights. God-fearing parents of modest means send their all-American kids to foreign countries to get butchered for Big Oil. Among the causes of death in youths, school shootings are... hardly a blip on the radar. The severity of the problem of school shootings is mostly a matter of public perception.
Cynical though this may sound, the lesson to take away here is that Shit Happens, and that prayer doesn't prevent it, and that beyond a certain point, nannying by the state brings diminishing returns. The death of a few children is a regrettable but relatively minor side effect of forcing so many people to live together that there are bound to be a few psychos in the crowd. The really horrible consequence of school shootings, the effect that should be striking cold fear into our hearts, is the dynamic of the fearful bleeding hearts on one hand and their state on the other. "Protect us," they clamor. "OK, we'll protect you if you give up just a few more freedoms..."
I'd be agreeing with Mr. Scott on the "don't legislate us" angle, if not for the fact that the only freedom he is apparently concerned with holding on to is the freedom to obtain, own and use tools for killing humans.
It's a crazy world out there, take care of yourselves!