At the risk of trivialising the death of those kids and their teachers in the latest spate of school shootings, I guess I am going to trivialise the death of those kids and their teachers in the latest spate of school shootings. 

Of course no death is trivial to those whose life it was, nor to those who care about them. A child who is left to die of starvation in Yemen is no less dead than a child shot in Uvalde. Nor is the former any less preventable than the latter. A child who’s shot or left to die of starvation is of no greater value to herself or those who love her than is the octogenarian who’s shot or left to die of starvation. It’s what that child or octogenarian who lives next door, as distinct from the child or octogenarian in Uvalde, as distinct from that child or octogenarian in Yemen, means to us. The first means a great a deal, the second considerably less, and the third pretty much nothing at all. 

But this is not the contrast that’s irking me and what I want to write about here. What’s irking me, and so what I want to write about here, is the contrast between the schoolgirl who’s shot at school and the same girl killed in a car accident on the way to or from it. The former – or so it’s widely conceded – is both rare and pretty much unavoidable. The latter is neither. The absence of guardrails kills by the tens of thousands, and guardrails are expensive. Mental illness kills by the dozens, but monitoring for mental illness is both far more expensive and intolerably invasive.

We could rid ourselves of weapons of war in the hands of eighteen year olds, but we need them in those hands to keep our would-be rulers on notice. If it’s my child who’s gunned down by one of these crazies the cost-benefit analysis goes one way. If it’s an Afghani child caught in the crossfire of a war of human rights, it goes another. There’s no free lunch. The equilibrium between rights and safety costs lives. In America it’s largely been a bargain.

But the stupidity of our differential judgments goes deeper. The lion who slips into the village and mauls a sleeping child isn’t evil. It’s doing what it is its nature to do. As is the so-called terrorist who hijacks a plane and flies it into a tall building. As is the incel who’s fallen through the cracks of our efforts at inclusion. These things happen. Shaking our fist at the terrorist or the crazy makes as much sense as shaking it at the lion. 

This is not to say we shouldn’t do what we can – and what we can afford – to protect ourselves. It’s the moral high dudgeon that’s out of place. It’s worse than out of place. It’s unseemly. I’d have more sympathy – or is it empathy? I can never keep those two straight – if the parents who are bleating about their dead kids weren’t almost invariably the same people who were celebrating the return of Gilead. People like this have something coming. But I won’t comment on whether Uvalde might have been a tad overkill.

Categories: Critical Thinking, Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy, Why My Colleagues Are Idiots

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