I didn’t do the second post yesterday. Baseball happened.
I read on an internet comment somewhere about the Oregon community college slaughter that the reason we have these mass shootings in America is that mothers go to work now, instead of staying home to raise their children where they belong. That was a new one. I raised a bemused eyebrow and carried on.
It occurred to me later, though, that the internet/social media and guns have something in common in the casual mass damage they can cause – as in, how quickly they can spiral out of control in the hands of an imperfect human. The damage is to a very different degree of severity, of course – bullets that split open bodies and blow holes in faces are a much more visceral, violent and immediate sort of damage than the chaos that often follows in the wake of an unsuspecting person’s video or fb post-gone-viral, or the drip-drip-drip of negativity that outraged trollish internet comments have on their subjects over years of exposure. For example, nasty troll commenters drove Heather Armstrong/dooce largely off the internet – every not-very-offensive word she wrote caused an avalanche of thousands of nasty emails, comments, and even stalkers. Each individual crappy comment she probably could have withstood, but thousands of bits of vitriol spun her way just because she chose to feed her dog a type of dog food that wasn’t the commenter’s favorite type of dog food, or dressed her daughter in pink (or dressed her daughter in not-pink) or whatever was just more pointed hate than any human could stand. I made those examples up, but they aren’t off the mark in how every tiny step this woman took caused thousands of people’s heads to explode, and their subsequent cruelty destroyed her joy in the act of sharing and threatened to completely destroy her nerve and ability to make any choice, no matter how minor, without second guessing.
This is an undeveloped idea, just a glimmer of a thought, and I’m not sure if it’s useful. I guess the idea I’m getting at is that a gun in the hand of a perfect human who never makes mistakes, never gets passionate or out of control, could never be overtaken by someone with bad intentions, and always remembers the safety/lock/gun case is not a dangerous item. The perfect human can handle it without causing any danger. It is the imperfection of humans that makes guns dangerous. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people – which is, you know, why we gotta somehow deal with the people who are buying the guns, and make sure guns only go to people who aren’t gonna kill people in mass shootings or domestic violence. If you get what I’m saying. Let’s get the CDC studying how to do that in a way that improves public health, reduces death, and also remains constitutional! Oh wait.
In the same vein, internet comments are perfectly innocuous things by themselves. In the hands of a perfect human, they can only cause good – supportiveness, or intellectual challenge, or whatever. But it is our hang-ups and imperfections as humans that make internet comments dangerous – we get defensive and blurt things, or we read things written by strangers and take them to heart, or we are actively nasty people who take vindictive pleasure in spreading meanness.
The last similarity, I guess, is the volume issue. If there were, like, 5 guns in America, then even if they were owned by imperfect humans, we would be pretty safe from gun violence. We have eleventy million bajillion, however, all of them in the hands of folks with poor eyesight or hot temper or good intentions but bad aim or control issues or whatever imperfection. Similarly, it is the size of the internet audience that causes the problem. 5 internet comments are easily absorbed. Thousands daily, or the terrifying onslaught of unexpected hyper-focused, viral attention on a previously unknown internet-hider (like myself), are much more damaging.
*and much like we risk being shot daily by leaving our houses, we risk ‘going viral’ by putting stuff out here. But just like leaving our houses and engaging with the world is important to mental health and connection, so (in the age of the internet) is engaging with our peers and others on social media. The horse is out of the barn, so to speak. This is how we do, these days, and saying “just don’t go online” is, to a millennial or Gen Xer, tantamount to saying “just don’t ever leave your house.”*
I think our gun issue in America is a public health problem, not an ‘individual responsibility’ problem. Because there are numerous irresponsible individuals whose poor choices w/guns (to put it mildly) wreak havoc and mass damage on the public, we as a public cannot just trust that people who own guns will be cool with them. We have to develop some sort of public policy that deals with this public issue, and can no longer simply say “hey gun-owners, be cool ok?” Enough gun owners have shown that they cannot be cool. It’s time to admit that and figure out how to handle it, so my 5 year old kid doesn’t have to practice lockdown drills and carry a bullet-proof backpack.
And I guess I’m seeing social media/internet as a public health problem, too? Maybe? Saying “hey internet commenters, be cool?” isn’t working. Mass mental health damage is occurring on a gigantic scale.
Constitutional issues GALORE, of course. Please don’t necessarily read this as encouragement of MOAR GOVERNMENT CONTROL – I don’t have a policy answers bc I am not a policy-maker and I do have a job that keeps me busy, but I think it’s an interesting problem, an interesting way to think about this stuff, and perhaps should be studied. (Ooops.) When does allowing an individual’s freedom to do something without restrictions make us all less free? (Example – you cannot beat someone with a golf club and call that “expressing yourself” or “free speech” protected by the First Amendment, even though beating someone with a golf club is definitely sending a message! His right to bodily integrity is greater than your right to express yourself via beatings.) Ever the constitutional tension, between public health and private rights.
I know this comparison may be sort of pointless, but I’m posting once a day here so it all just kind of spills out, unedited and not fully formed. I’ve posed a question that leads people to head-exploding reactions (I recognize the irony here that I may have just invited nasty comments), but it shouldn’t because it’s just a question that does not point to a pre-conceived answer. Anyway, I’ve finished my brain dump. Comment if you wish but be gentle or I shall delete – I am not the government and you have no free speech rights here!