Waking up to news of a mass shooting spree at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut where 28 people, including 20 children and the shooter, are confirmed dead, is about the only event worse than the actual tragedy. It’s impossible to express that shock.
Yet, at some point, even those involved do begin to deal with the shock, and spectators start to react. The first responses are usually not pretty. The Onion captures in words that first incoherently stunned nanosecond of disbelief.
Americans reported feelings of overwhelming disgust with whatever abhorrent bastard did this and with the world at large for ever allowing it to happen, as well as with politicians, with the NRA, and above all with their own pathetic goddamn selves, sitting in front of a fucking computer instead of doing fucking anything to help anyone—Christ, as if that were even fucking possible, as if anyone could change what happened, as if the same fucking bullshit isn’t going to keep happening again and again and fucking again before people finally decide it’s time to change the way we live, so what’s the point? What the hell is the goddamned point?
And then, the witch hunt began.
Early reports, citing Connecticut law enforcement sources, identified the shooter as a 20-something from Newtown named Ryan Lanza. A Facebook profile fitting that description was easily accessible, and social media users—from professional reporters to online onlookers—immediately assumed they had discovered the Facebook profile of the gunman who had perpetrated the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. News outlets including Buzzfeed, Mediaite, Gawker, and Fox News speculated that the account belonged to the shooter. Journalists from Slate, Huffington Post, CNN, and other news organizations tweeted links to the Facebook profile.
But it was the wrong guy. Press reports are now identifying the shooter as Adam Lanza. Ryan Lanza, identified as Adam’s brother, has reportedly been questioned by police. According to the Associated Press, “a law enforcement official mistakenly transposed the brothers’ first names.” The result was that, for a few brief hours in the middle of the day, based on press speculation about the suspect’s identity, social media users brought out the digital equivalent of pitchforks and torches, vilifying the alleged shooter’s brother and haranguing Ryan Lanzas all across the intertubes.
And, why not just blame the entire media complex for the incident while we are at it. It’s a heart-rending history of violence America has.
Pundits across the ideological spectrum fired their first salvos in an only relatively less vituperative discussion of why this tragedy occurred, even as the White House criticized gun control proponents. Jay Carney obviously didn’t believe speculation centered around angry desert storm gods who routinely wiped out dissenters and the right to bear semi-automatic weapons and 100-round clips was just as inappropriate.
What we as human animals lack is not firepower, but the ability to overcome our own cognitive limitations. As Annalee Newitz at io9 concludes, dismissing the anti-video game frame, “I believe that people always indulge in their most violent and thoughtless acts when there is no way for them to imagine another possibility. The worst human behavior always originates with a lack of stories.” This is the time to fight through the shock and the human inclination to band together in tribes each rallying around unexamined narratives.
Whether it’s bullets or beliefs, humans are just gullible, violent monsters.