In the face of tragedies, we so often ask Why? How can this seemingly inexplicable loss fit into any meaningful plan?
One of the most heroic and constructive answers to this question I’ve ever heard came from a Spanish mother who had lost her son. Once I was over the shock, she said, I decided not to ask myself “Porque?” but “Por qua?” She stopped asking why – as if somebody else were in charge – and started to ask instead “what for?” What, she asked, could she do with this loss, how could she make something good come of it.
On Christmas Eve this year, Michael Moore wrote a letter that gives me hope that perhaps America is beginning to ask that question after the Newtown massacre.
Moore’s view is that the National Rifle Association is slowly self-destructing with its call for guns in every school in the country. Nonetheless, he says, “These gun massacres aren’t going to end any time soon.”
Yes, we need strong gun laws, we need a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons and magazine clips that hold more than 7 bullets. We need better background checks and better mental health services. Yes, it would help. It is virtually impossible to buy a handgun in New York City and the result is the number of murders per year has gone from 2,200 to under 400. But America’s problem with violence is too deep to be controlled simply by tightening our gun laws.
It would not have stopped the Newtown massacres, just as it would not have stopped thousands of other gun killings that take place every year in America with guns legally owned by people who are not mentally unstable.
The problem is America’s love affair with violence. There is no other country in the world with a murder rate approaching ours. Even in those countries where more than 50% of households have guns.
Moore points out that we are a nation founded on genocide and built on the backs of slaves. We slaughtered 600,000 of each other in a civil war. We “tamed the Wild West with a six-shooter.” Even today we rape and beat and kill our women at a staggering rate: every three hours a woman is murdered in the USA ; every three minutes a woman is raped in the USA; and every 15 seconds a woman is beaten in the USA. And we are a country that invades countries who didn’t attack us. We’re currently using drones in a half-dozen countries, often killing civilians. We, along with North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, Iran still have a death penalty. And without compassion, we put up with the death of tens of thousands of Americans each year because they are uninsured.
After Newtown, though, Moore thinks people really do want change. Meaningful change. Not just sympathy and flowers, and feeling sorry about it but ultimately carrying on as usual. But we’ve got to change something more than our gun laws. Moore suggests we have to change ourselves in fundamental ways.
We need to change the fear that convinces us that we need guns to protect ourselves from each other. We don’t buy guns to protect ourselves from invading armies. We buy guns to kill each other. Unfortunately, racism and ethnic prejudice rather than the facts determines who it is that we fear is going to mug or burglarize us.
And we need to change our transformation of American independence into what has become a ME society. Instead of being our brother’s keeper, we have started to tell people unable to get a job, the homeless, the woman who has been raped, children who are hungry or abused that this is America: you are not my problem – solve your own problems for yourself. We need to become a real society again, not just a huge group of separate individuals. We need to care about what happens to our brothers and sisters.
Because, writes Moore, ” it all sooner or later becomes our problem, doesn’t it? Take away too many safety nets and everyone starts to feel the impact. Do you want to live in that kind of society, one where you will then have a legitimate reason to be in fear?”
Moore’s original letter is on his website.