I learned about the shooting last night. I hesitated to write this post, because there is an undeniable racial element to this story and as an extremely privileged white man, my best-case scenario in any racial conversation is to understand the issues at an intellectual and emotional level, but I can, by nature, never fully grasp them at an experiential level. Usually, in the wake of tragedy, I wait for somebody smarter than me- usually Christopher Priest or Jon Stewart (who all but dropped the mic last night)- to articulate things much better than I ever could. Still, this time is different; I don’t’ have anything intelligent to add about race, but I might about tragedy.
Much has already been said- better than I could say it- about the big issues, so I’ll touch on them only briefly here. The physical details of the crime are unimportant; it is monstrous in both its motivation and execution. There is no conceivable justification for the environment that fosters and creates this sort of abomination. Those who are trying to remove the racial component of this story, or who are trying to use it further some political agenda, are the lowest form of slime and I won’t dignify them with a colorful metaphor about what they deserve. The only details that really matter to me are the victims.
I spent about an hour last night reading about the victims. Not the crime itself, the people it was done to. I believe that in the face of a tragedy like this it is important to feel it as deeply as possible, and to put upon that tragedy a human face. Nine dead means very little, emotionally, by itself. It’s a statistic. But Cynthia Hurd was an 81-year-old librarian who dedicated her life to educating others, loved books, and had her first job in an ice cream parlor; the world is a sadder, darker place without her in it. The profiles of the other victims similarly paint a picture of impossible loss. This is a beyond grievous tragedy, and Stewart’s outrage is admirable and dead-on.
His frustration with the systemic unwillingness of our country to progress- to become a place where this does not happen- is perhaps his most important thought. But I’m troubled by the way people seem to be taking it. It is not an expression of hopelessness. It is not license to stop fighting, to surrender, to accept the inevitability of evil. It can’t be. It must not be. The sentiment that nothing will change in the wake of this disaster may well be an accurate one, but it is also a completely unacceptable one.
Look, I know a lot about cynicism- I’ve quite literally written a book on it- and I understand the impulse to say “yep, the world sucks and no matter what we do, it’s still gonna suck tomorrow.” It would be so easy. But I can tell you that when it is easiest to be cynical- by which I mean now- is the only time when you absolutely cannot. Cynicism- and its bitter older brother Despair- breed weary acceptance. Futility. The correct response here is outrage- followed by hope. If you can’t manage hope, then go with what I go with: spite. Responding to this tragedy by bitching about it on Facebook or Twitter and then resigning yourself to what it means about the world is complicity. The second you accept this evil as a Thing That Happens, you have become part of the problem.
So hope. Or spite. And fight. I don’t mean throw a punch or draw a gun. I mean rally against everything that is wrong in this story. Against systemic oppression and corrupt media. Against wearied acceptance. Most of all against inaction. Against evil.
If evil destroys, then good must necessarily create. We are a species defined by our capacity for passionate creation. If you’re a singer, then sing. If you’re funny, tell a joke. If you write books, go write a book. If you’re not a creative type, then just go start a conversation with somebody that leaves the world a little more interesting place. If you have money, obviously use it for good, but even if you don’t, find a way to contribute. The only rational response to tragedy on this scale is the spiteful creation of beauty and joy. To plagiarize a classic, “Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance.” It is impossible to do enough good to make what happened go away, but is imperative that we try.
I know it’s hard. It is never more difficult than right now. A few years ago, I was working as a comedy writer the day Sandy Hook happened. I have never in my life felt less like writing comedy…and I have never in my life felt it was more important to do it anyways. Today I feel the same way; it may not be comedy, but I will respond to this destruction with creation. You should too, whether or not it makes any difference. Perhaps especially so if it doesn’t.
As for me, for all my cynicism, I do not agree that it is hopeless. That the world will not change. Millions of people were affected by this, and the pain those people- us- feel will drive them to create a world in which this shit does not exist. It will not happen quickly. There will be other tragedies in between. It will eternally be easy to be cynical, and being cynical will eternally make it easy to do nothing. But those who do something will do something. I truly believe that.
But even if I’m wrong, it hardly matters. You still must create, you still must fight, you still must live. Every second of your life you allow to be spent defeated by this tragedy is a second that could have been spent fighting against a world that allowed it. It can be difficult to figure out what, specifically, to do in the face of this sort of evil; the only answer I can offer is to simply contribute to a world that makes it more difficult for evil to exist; not everyone can smash the oppressive and corrupt systems that govern this country- this world- but every kind word, every beautiful drawing, and every act of acceptance, creation, or criticism is a blow against it. Some of you have been doing this your whole lives. Some of you need to get off your asses and get started. Most of us are probably somewhere in between.
Perhaps I’m naïve. I probably am. I certainly have no specific answers. But if I am naïve, there is a certain nobility in that naiveté; I do not mind being a fool who believes that art is stronger than evil, that change is not only possible but inevitable, that with every day the forces of bigotry, oppression, and hatred grow a little weaker.
So be foolish with me. Fight. Create. If you’re reading this, there’s about a 90% chance I know you personally, and there is something special about you. Take that special thing and do it. Do it out of hope, or do it out spite, or do it just to keep from crying, but go do it. It is an absolute moral imperative.
Still, for all that, we mustn’t underestimate evil. The enemy is numerous, powerful, and cunning beyond measure. Evil does not play fair. The battle may well be unwinnable.
But a good fight is never clean, and unwinnable battles are almost always the ones most worth fighting. If evil is in fact to win the day, let’s at least make sure it knows it was in a fight. Go down swinging, and die a warrior’s death knowing you punched evil in the dick at least a couple of times. First round in Valhalla’s on me.