We heard a version of this last night on PBS. The song was written for this singer, Colm Wilkinson. More versions here.
One more article about the mass shootings of late, because this takes an abstract look at the subject — it’s not about the subject, but about how we think about the subject.
The Atlantic, Elliot Ackerman, 2 June 2022: Our Narrative of Mass Shootings Is Killing Us, subtitled, “Stories are where people have always gone to find meaning. We need to tell a new one.”
We tell ourselves stories to impose order on chaotic events in our lives, to force a narrative onto the inconceivable. And what’s more inconceivable than slaughter, whether it arrives in the form of the Trojan War, the Holocaust, or the murder of 19 children by a teenage gunman in Uvalde, Texas?
In war, the victors write the history, placing themselves in the middle of the story as the good ones, the heroes. In narratives surrounding mass shootings, this dynamic is turned on its head.
The news media obsess about the details of the shooter, where he got his weapon, and so on.
What story does someone tell themselves when they decide to become a mass shooter? Grievance and alienation seem common themes. A classmate described the Charleston, South Carolina, Baptist-church shooter as having “a darkness to his life,” while a classmate said of the Newtown, Connecticut, shooter that “he just didn’t really connect.” The unmet desire on the part of many of these murderers to be at the center of a narrative, as opposed to on its periphery, is a unifying thread. Yes, easy access to firearms and a national mental-health crisis contribute to the incidence of mass shootings, but we’re already debating those issues vigorously. We pay far less attention to the ways in which our culture metabolizes narratives and makes sense of them.
The “center of a narrative” — or, the need to feel special, as I’ve discussed, which drives not only the way we edit and retell our own memories, but how we are driven to identify with religions that tell grand stories about our privileged place in the cosmos.
Some interesting evidence: a university study concluded, among other things,
“Recognize that the prospect of infamy serves as a motivating factor for other individuals to kill and inspires copycat crimes.”
With an interesting discussion about the Islamic State’s online recruitment strategy.
Pentagon planners were puzzled as to why so many would abandon a relatively comfortable existence to flock to the Islamic State’s banner and take part in a quixotic crusade in the Middle East.
The answer to the question should have been obvious, particularly to American war planners. Despite the risk of death, despite the atrocities, the Islamic State was selling a story, offering young men the chance to be the protagonist, the hero—or even the antihero—in a quest to create a new nation.
So how to tell a different story?
Here the article offers nothing I haven’t heard before: simply deny the perpetrators any publicity. Do not mention their names, do not show their photos. Deny them the infamy they sought. Some US media are moving in this direction, but not all.
In another study:
… “identification with prior mass shooters made famous by extensive media coverage … is a more powerful push toward violence than mental health status or even access to guns.”
A heightened awareness of the narratives we apply to mass shootings needs to be considered as a tool to combat this phenomenon, alongside attention to mental health and gun control. Murderous rage is not unique to America, but the expression of that rage is culturally determined, and so requires cultural countermeasures.
Well, I don’t think the article quite fulfills its implied promise; what *is* the new narrative we need to tell? I agree that the first step is denying the stories the perpetrators of gun violence think they are telling.
I think there must be a deeper story about *why* certain people are motivated to such violence, beyond mere personal glory. All you have to do is note which side of the political spectrum they are on. Isn’t that a fair observation?