Don't use Boston Marathon tragedy as a soapbox for hate
The Kansas City Star
There’s a disturbing trend these days. Call it a sign of the times, of the polarization of the country, or just the effect of anonymity and social media. Probably it’s something that’s been there all along, below the surface until technology gave it voice. But whatever it is, it is nasty.
Take the current example. I am going through the comments page of a major news website. Thus far among the prayers for the casualties and demands for justice, I have seen accusations that this is the result of America “Going to the Devil”, Muslims, right-wing “Patriots”, North Korea, that it’s part of an Israeli plot to start war with Iran, even someone casting doubts on whether the whole thing happened at all or was meticulously staged (actually, this last seems to be increasingly popular, c.f. the Sandy Hook “Truther” movement). I’ve seen rants about the president, about gun control (despite this incident having exactly nothing to do with guns thus far), drones, “payback” for Libya, tax day, liberalism, even the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.
Now, as I write this, we still have no idea who did this or why. I suspect that, given the local scale of the thing and sheer “shock and awe” choice of targets, it will turn out to be some desperate loner out to get back at the world for some imagined slight. But right now, we just don’t know. All that is readily apparent is that every armchair ideologue with a keyboard and an ax to grind has seized this tragedy as an opportunity to thump on endlessly about whatever particular bee they happen to have in their bonnet, regardless of whether it has any relevance to the situation. Accusations are flying, people are slagging each other out, capital letters are flying. Frankly, it’s getting pretty ugly out there.
And it’s not isolated, not by any means. Over the course of the story breaking I’ve been to several different news sites across the political board, and the trend has definitely been toward heated, baseless accusations; lashing out; every sort of idiotic calumny you can imagine. Weeding through the comments today is not good for one’s blood pressure. Or one’s mental health.
So what’s going on? Have we always been like this? There was a time (so they tell us) when Americans united in the wake of tragedy, when we came together and did what we could to help each other. That was when Americans were at our best, so we were told. People lined up to volunteer; the danger was met with calm but determined resolve to get to the bottom of it. Anyone wanting to bet on someone accusing the government of staging the event (or even just allowing it to happen) would have faced long odds. I’m sure if you’re reading this you recall 9/11 and how that day was: all of us watching, comforting each other, helping each other heal. Of course, there was plenty of ugliness afterward, and in the months and years to come. But at that one horrific moment? It was different. I know it was.
But these days? It’s almost immediate. We are so polarized, so tightly set in our little camps, that the first reaction seems always to reframe the situation according to our worldview and shout down all the others. Think back to Sandy Hook, and how quickly the gun-control conspiracies, Muslim accusations, false flag theories and so on flared up. I’ve talked before about how some of the people on the ground helping were accused of being actors or worse. Any shooting in recent memory seems inevitably accused of being staged by the government as a pretext for gun control laws. Even natural disasters, such as at New Orleans and the eastern seaboard, are not immune.
I suppose it is human nature, to a degree, but one cannot help but feel it is also at least part of the polarizing times we live in, and the way our media (online and otherwise) allows us to settle comfortably into little ideological worlds, each with its own version of truth so that when we do have to step out into the world and encounter other truths, other ways of seeing things, we go into a defensive mode almost by instinct.
So what, if anything, can we do about it? Is it just an inevitable reaction to crisis, just something we have to vent as part of the healing process? I wish I knew. But it seems to me that we’re not completely gone. Most of the wilder accusations are being dismissed, more voices of reason are appearing on the comment boards. And no matter how nasty it gets, the single most prevalent comment I’m seeing, now matter where I look, is prayers of support and good wishes for the victims and for the rescue workers as they work through what must be an incredibly horrific job.
That is what I remember. Our sympathy for those who have been affected and our determination to make it right. Those things are America at its best. In the coming days, I hope we will see more of that, I truly do. Maybe once the initial emotional outburst has faded. But the important thing is that whatever the cause of this tragedy turns out to be, we do not fall out among ourselves, but put our differences aside long enough to heal and rebuild. Let’s stop trying to shoehorn every situation into our pet cause and recognize that some things are bigger than us. Because that is how we get better as a people. And right now, I think we could stand a bit of healing.
Kelly Luck works in information technology. She lives in Kansas City. To reach her, send email to email@example.com or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.