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Is It Just Me, Or...?

June 24, 2015

 In the last week in Cincinnati, a guy ran out onto the interstate in only a pair of shorts and flung himself at trucks until one of them killed him.  Another guy went out and got into a gun battle with the police so that he could die, and unfortunately took a cop with him before he succeeded. In South Carolina last week, a guy shot nine people at a church and the country went nuts over the issues of race, gun control, and the Confederate flag. And all over the United States this year alone, cops have been killing and/or abusing people of color with little or no provocation.

 

So you hear the old refrain: "Is it just me, or is the world going to hell in a handbasket?"

 

The answer, I think, is: "It's not just you...but the world isn't going to hell any more than it ever was. It's just going to hell in different ways than it used to."

 

It's disheartening, but there have always been atrocities committed in our world. Always. People find the most heinous things to do to each other at every point in history, and whenever these things happen, people throw up their hands and say, "My God, what is the world coming to?" What makes it different in this day and age? 

 

Technology. In earlier times, when somebody went off the rails, they had to use whatever tools were at hand. Lizzie Borden took an axe, but what if she had access to automatic weapons? Now, when somebody uses the tools at hand, they are more likely in this country to put their hands on firearms that can kill people much more efficiently than axes.

 

Technology. Today, "news" is disseminated at the speed of the Internet, "news" being defined as "anything that will get people to click on our website." This means that viewers get fed a lot more bad news a lot faster than ever before. Furthermore, if enough people tune in, the story lasts a lot longer as the media dissects it ad infinitum. Sure, Lizzie Borden caused a sensation in her day, but many killings went completely unnoticed by the world at large--look at H.H. Holmes and his murder palace.

 

Technology.  If news spreads faster than ever, so does outrage. And it should. The number of deaths by guns, the treatment of minorities at the hands of police, the Confederate flag as a symbol of oppression--these are issues that our country needs to address. In other eras, that might have been addressed by writing a letter to a representative, signing a petition, or even going out on the street to protest. These things still happen, but many people feel like they have done their civic duty by sharing something on Facebook, Tweeting their indignation, or worse, trolling. 

 

However, I think there is hope. In every age, there have been issues that were ripe for change, and the movements that led to change were often reviled by those who opposed them. Those damn hippies, protesting Vietnam. African Americans, singing "We Shall Overcome" in the streets. Those pesky women, marching for suffrage. Uppity laborers, forming Bolshevist unions in search of safer work and better pay. Many of their protests turned violent, and cameras were there to capture some of those moments. And people shook their heads, clucked their tongues, and said, "Is it just me, or..."

 

So if the craziness that's appearing on our TVs and computers means that we are on the brink of huge changes in race relations and gun violence, then I for one hope it comes quickly.

 

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