This morning and today I will hear people offer peoms, politics and prayers. I am as skeptical as Sting of poets, priests and politicians but De Doo Doo Doo is not all I want to say to you. I want you to be mindful of the numbers. Because today is another crisis for which a certain small but influential group of people would like to exploit as what they call a 'teachable moment'.
How this works is that they don't use numbers. They will say 'far too many'. They will say 'all too often'. They will say 'never quite enough'. They will say 'gone too far'. They will say 'beyond the limit'. They will do everything possible to make what's happening right now seem to be the biggest, the most important, the most extreme, or as Judy Jetson once put it, "the most ut". What is the most ut? Well, that's obvious, it is the utmost. And that is exactly what the poets, priests and politicians will seek from you, and they will make you feel selfish if you don't participate in their teachable moment.
These will be 'pro-actions' which will be done by pronouns, and it will all sound good until somebody says how much it will cost, you know, in actual accountable figures. As soon as the anti-gun lobby says exactly how much money they have raised, the game is up. Fortunately most of us can still be snapped into reason when the poetic rationale becomes translated into dollars. Of course the poets know this, which is why they tell you how much money the gun lobby spends - so you focus your analysis on Them and keep your hearts with Us.
People will offer prayers. It sounds nice until you try to quantify it. How much prayer should I offer when it's 27 dead? Is that a linear function? Should 'a moment' of silence do? If five minutes of silence was appropriate for 9/11, how many seconds for 27? Nobody will do the math.
Nobody will count the number of flags at half staff. Nobody will count the tears. Nobody will count the blessings of this not being Syria. Nobody will count the hours of airtime spent which paper over the other 17,000 murder victims who will have died this year, or the 30,000 suicides in this country alone. Nobody will count the refugees in Namibia or the number of ships in the Sea of Aden or the price of touchscreens in China. That kind of science is not popular because it starts clarify what is outside the Agenda. That kind of science is outside of the scope of the Narrative. Until it isn't - you know - until all the leaders of the Chatting Class cite another Harvard Study that tells us if red wine is good or bad for us as compared to the French, and that is the talking point of the day.
But the talking point of this day will be to unify the sense of outrage that none of us good people should have to endure in a country as wealthy and powerful and good as America the Beautiful.
But here's what I'm saying. Today of all days, be on the lookout for adjectives and adverbs. The people who find them to be their most powerful tools will be using them instead of numbers to get your attention. My bet says that we can expect 'senseless' and perhap a 'heinous' or two. 'Gawdawful' is rather popular. I guarantee that 'tragic' will be in the top three adverbs. And I gather that some people will even see this text as 'disrespectful'. Ahh but it is not. I challenge people to be a nation full of adults who are not led by men who weep at the obvious.
And now to my personal story.
Just the other night, there was an armed robbery somewhere in Moreno Valley which is a good 90 minute drive from where I live. But it was a short high speed chase for the cops and robbers to where my son attends university. One of the robbers decided he would hide out at CSUF among the students - maybe blend in and fool the cops. I discovered this crime in progress when I was somewhere in New Hampshire about 3024 miles away by car and 3 hours different in time zones. My news source told me that the school had been on lockdown for several hours meaning that all students should 'shelter in place'. I figure the drill is much like we see in movies, men in tactical garb going room by room and then shouting 'clear!' After four hours of looking for an armed robber, I'd be wanting a donut break if I was a SWAT officer. I know the students waiting for the drama to end were wanting one - I read the twitter feeds. It took about 3 hours to get a text from my son, who was OK. But he might have been shot. This is the third time my kids have been blanketed by scores of cops over such violent matters.
I should note with irony one of the tweets that was often repeated portrayed 'The militarization of our college campus' with a shot of these officers, along with complaints about the helicopters. All which come with the territory of politics - and disappar quickly when the first victim is shot dead (by someone other than the cops).
It's very difficult to get good information about when and where precisely people are, what their skill levels are and who is safe and who is in danger. All the texting and Instagramming of the masses lacks the precision of the kind of radio traffic we remember hearing between Eagle and Houston during the Space Age. Most people don't know the difference between Roger and Wilco, and we should not expect that to change. The point is, even when you want precision and science and facts, (like is my son dead or alive right this minute?) you can't hardly get what you want. So it's frustrating to hear the standard litany of adverbs and adjectives from the local standup newscaster. Just as often you don't get what you need. Until your son shows up - or not.
When it comes to the facts, you're on your own.
I know enough about personal tragedy to understand that sympathy is due and small gestures matter. I also know that all the sympathetic language from the anonymous public does not. But what I'm thinking about today is the extent to which people are seduced into making their sentiments into law without looking at the hard, cold facts, and how much they are coming to expect that this is how democracy should work.