"It was on just such a blustery day as this," began Owl's story to Piglet. As you may recall, Owl has been added to my many nicknames, and it certainly is blustery today. You do not seem much like Piglet, either as an individual or in relation to me, but all is not always as it seems. My Dad, who, as an adult identifies with Eeyore, just as you tend to, told me once that he used to identify with Piglet when he himself was small. So, maybe you have an Inner Piglet, too, a hidden self that is small and loyal and brave and easily embarrassed. If so, you can sit down and I will tell you a story about blustery weather...but I dare not take this comparison too seriously, since at the end of the Pooh story I'm referring to, Owl's house blows down.
And I'm kind of worried, actually. The wind is quieter now, but earlier the gusts actually set the house vibrating, you could feel it in the floor. We're not at our house, we're at Chris' parents' house, which is not protected by trees and is right on the edge of a large river, so the wind whips off the water and slams into the house. There were whitecaps on the river, and the grass of the lawn fairly glowed a weird and unseasonable green under the hours and hours of rain. No snow here, just rain.
It's been worse elsewhere, of course; the news is full of tornadoes tonight. A handful of people have died, a drop in the bucket of a nation, but a drop the size of the sea as far as the affected communities are concerned. I'm thinking about how similar these tornadoes are to the recent mass shootings, also in the news, how violence falls, literally or figuratively, out of the sky, unexplainable and nearly unpredictable, and divides the lives of those in the way into before and after. There is no reason behind a shooting or a tornado, nothing to bargain with, nobody to convince. Mass shootings, of course, are the work of humans, and we think humans are supposed to be amenable to reason. The evening news makes it seem as though the shooter is in our living rooms.
But, while I am sympathetic to these scarred and torn families, I am not personally afraid of mass shooters. I am afraid of tornadoes, but that is because I'm a bit neurotic. Neither tornadoes nor armed maniacs are particularly common. I don't mean that steps should not be taken to improve tornado warnings or to prevent mass shootings, I mean that neither really represents a national crisis and neither is a reason for generalized fear.
I'm not afraid of mass shooters. I am afraid of the political consequences of panic. I am afraid of people who do not understand the statistics of risk; for so many, the death of ten people in a dramatic events seems worse than the death of ten thousand in ordinary car accidents. To avert one frightful tragedy, we will gladly ruin the quiet multitudes. I go online, and I read that people are seriously asking whether perhaps all people who are "mentally unstable" should be locked up. Maybe all schizophrenics, or all recently diagnosed schizophrenic men, or everyone with some other condition should be locked away from normal people to protect the innocent. Never mind that mental health diagnosis is neither simple nor consistent. Never mind that the mentally ill are an extremely small minority whom many people are all too happy to dismiss as "other." Never mind that many mass shooters die before being diagnosed, so any statements about their mental health are pure speculation. A nation is afraid, so clearly a small and unpopular minority needs to lose their civil rights. It's for the Greater Good.
I'm not talking about mass shooters when I say are these people crazy? We've seen societies go down this path before, and the result is horrific abuse. What I want to know is;
How many people actually have mental illnesses that could cause mass shooting behavior?
How many of these ever actually attempt violence towards randomly selected victims?
What proportion of mass shooters were actually diagnosed with mental illness?
How many people die in mass shootings annually?
What I suspect is that the mental health status of most mass shooters is unknown, that the vast majority of people who are diagnosed are never violent, and that locking up the "mentally unstable" would involve violating the rights of tens of thousands of people in order to save the lives of a dozen or so people who would likely get shot anyway because you can't lock up the mentally ill until you find them, and many mass shooters are never diagnosed.
But these questions are not asked in a climate of fear.
Oh, my sensible friend, I miss the afternoons of talking together in the sunlight and messy alchemy of your office.