Selective sensitivity By Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves

Selective sensitivity

By Shea Howell

December 22-29, 2012

This is a sacred time shrouded in sadness. This is usually a season to celebrate family ties and wishes for peace. But this week the holiday season was disrupted by the senseless massacre of 27 people. Twenty of them were small children.

President Obama mirrored the grief of the nation at these killings. At his press conference, the President identified as a parent, recognizing the painful loss that families face with the death of a child. Later, at a service in Newtown Connecticut he spoke movingly, offering consolation to the community.

“No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society,” he said. He added, “In the coming weeks I’ll use whatever power this office holds” in an effort “aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”

“Because what choice do we have?” We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

It has been a long time since such public questions have been raised. Yet there is little sign that we as a people are willing to seriously pursue them. We fall quickly into the predictable debates of gun control laws, questions of motive and parenting, of mental illness and disturbed individuals.

But there is a deeper level of violence we continue to ignore.

For most of Adam Lanza’s life, we have been a country at war. We began these wars as an act of revenge, choosing vengeance over justice. We celebrated the obliteration of a city that played no part in the terrorist attack that provoked these responses. We have killed countless women, children, and men in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya. We have displayed the bodies of the son’s of our enemy on the hoods of cars, like animal trophies. We have justified the use of unspeakable tortures with legal arguments, unleashing the most sadistic impulses among us.

President Obama continues to justify war. He has celebrated the killing of Osama bin Laden and his right to have a list of enemies, to be killed by any means necessary. He has authorized the use of drone warfare, accepting as realistic politics the killing of those who happen to be nearby.

We, the people, have become so used to this killing, we rarely notice the formal apologies offered to those in Afghanistan and Pakistan when children are killed, wedding parties mistaken for armed attacks, villages destroyed as collateral damage. Such “carnage” is “routine.”

We have become a people of selective sensitivity. We identify with the children of Newton, but not those of Gaza. We understand the pain of parents at the sudden death of a child, but ignore the slow death of the spirit faced by families forced to live on the streets of our cities, amidst fear, hunger, and daily brutality.

If there is one lesson to be learned over this last decade it should be that we cannot commit public violence without private consequences. As long as we choose revenge over reconciliation and celebrate the death of anyone, we contribute to the culture of death.

We have come to accept a culture that claims some human life is more valuable than others. As long as our public life celebrates violence over virtue, those among us who are the least connected and most troubled will find our way to explode without restraint.

President Obama’s call for change is an opportunity for us to take an honest look in the mirror and to acknowledge how much we have to change if we are to become a people of peace.