The Sikh Temple Shootings, Random Violence, and American Culture

Robert Wright writes about a perceived gap between our attention to the Aurora shootings and to the Oak Creek Temple:

At the same time, one responsibility of journalists and pundits is to see things in terms of their larger social significance. And it seems to me that the Sikh temple shooting, viewed in that context, is at least as frightening as the Aurora massacre. This was violence across ethnic lines, and that kind of violence has a long history of eroding and even destroying social fabric.

Riddhi Shah is thinking along the same lines:

On Sunday night I turned on the TV to find that only CNN was covering the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin that killed six. Fox News had a program about a prison in Latin America, and MSNBC, something else that was equally irrelevant.

Compare this with the coverage of an incident that happened only two weeks ago, the shooting that killed 12 people in Aurora, Colo. Networks devoted themselves round-the-clock to the attack: Who was the shooter? Why did he do it? There were entire segments dedicated (rightly) to covering the vigils and a community in mourning.

By the way, my google reader feed had no new items about Oak Creek this morning.

Francine Prose has a thoughtful reflection on evil in the wake of the Aurora shootings:

But if we no longer believe in Satan, then what do we make of our sense that something is wrong with the world, that a random malevolent shooter lurks in the schoolyard or the cinema lobby? Our collective disquiet about the mass murders of our time is intensified by the sense that they select their victims at random; that they have come from different backgrounds and harbor dissimilar grudges, and that we have failed to come up with an “explanation” for their actions, or a reliable template to help predict or avert an attack. And yet we remain reluctant to accept the possibility that evil is not a problem that can be solved or a question that has a solution. How do we reconcile our wish to prevent further violence and to protect ourselves and our families with the suspicion that, as those who believed and believe in Satan would argue, evil is an element in the universal order, an aspect of nature and of human nature, a force and a constant threat that exists—and will continue to exist—despite our best efforts to understand and eradicate it?

 

And she too wonders whether it’s the randomness of the shootings (and the white victims) that grab our attention:

The media’s preference for stories about (preferably white) American victims—as opposed to reports of violence further from home—helps persuade us it’s fine to feel that way: a natural human instinct.

Innocent citizens in Mexico are regularly being sprayed with bullets in the course of their daily lives. But we can’t quite imagine ourselves waiting in line at a clinic in Veracruz, whereas we might think: Hey, I almost took the kids to the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in my town! The number of Syrian civilians killed daily during the last months surely outnumber the dead in Colorado. But I haven’t seen Assad’s mug shot on a tabloid headlined “Face of Evil.” Am I not supposed to worry about blameless Afghan citizens killed by mistake during a drone attack? Why should intentional violence perpetrated by narcos, soldiers, dictators, or machines—and resulting in the accidental deaths of the innocent—seem less evil to us than the methodical picking out of random strangers in a move theater? Aren’t all such incidents variations, in a sense, on a single theme—the theme being the evil things that crazy or “sane” people will do to one another given the opportunity, license, and a weapon?

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