Sunday, May 4th, 2008

Something Must Be Done”

Listening to Tavis Smiley’s show tonight, and the segment My America where they talked about gun violence. At one point they quote a man who lost his brother to gun violence:

You can be in a club and bump into somebody on accident, a little of your liquor, a little of your water spill on their coat, now, you go outside, he got five or six people out their because you spilled your damn drink. Which, a person should be able to say, “man, my fault dog, I apologize, you know how it is.” You got people that just ain’t gonna be right, man.

Tavis Smiley: So you take that, you put guns into the equation, that changes mediation efforts dramatically.

Several times they talk about how small matters of respect lead to violence. The conclusion is that guns are the problem.

I don’t really know what to do with this. In my life (and I suspect all of your lives) issues of respect do not lead to violence. As a result I have a hard time thinking of this as a gun problem.

OK, so it’s a violence problem. The other thing that gets me is there’s this strong undertone to this conversation that “we aren’t doing enough.” This attitude is of course the norm for an NPR show. But it’s not we — I, and everyone I know is not part of this we. My “we” does not resort to violence. My “we” does not project respect into minor social interactions. When I say it’s not “we”, I don’t think it’s just that I tuned into the wrong radio show — am I being recruited into this “we”? Do they really think listeners are part of this “we”?

There is no reflection in these shows about why this (whatever the issue of the show) is a general problem. Of course most talk shows tend to generalize wildly, to turn every anecdote into a sign of some change in culture, some disease of our society, something more than just an anecdote. (Though some good NPR shows do not attempt to generalize anecdotes at all.)

There’s a strong attitude, in this show and others, that this is a problem for us all to solve. Why exactly is this a problem for me to solve? Why is this a problem for government to solve? (I’m not a conservative, but I feel it’s unfair that only conservatives seem to be able to ask that question: why should government solve this?)

I don’t ask these questions rhetorically (and maybe that makes me different from the conservatives, who tend to only ask questions rhetorically). There may be a good answer to these questions. But it’s far too easy to say “we must do something about this” without saying who and why. We (especially those of us who listen to NPR) are all far too fatigued with the constant admonitions that not enough is being done, and something has to change. This kind of approach is not an effective call to action.

And it’s yet another thing trying to make me feel bad for something that’s not my fault. And dammit, it really isn’t my fault!

This is the personal site of Ian Bicking. The opinions expressed here are my own.