Thoughts on genre, language, grammar, and other
rhetorical and linguistic norms
rhetorical and linguistic norms
Here we are again.
On some deep level, I can't believe I am here again, arguing for more than thoughts and prayers in response to another mass shooting. This one at a school.
I could just repost my blog from October 23, 2017 on "Generic Responses to Mass Shootings," after the ineffective responses to the murders in Las Vegas left a lot to be desired. I used the same photo from above, and that photo was from 2013, in response to a different mass shooting.
I'd have to add to it a shockingly different response from the man residing in the White House this time, though.
Here was my description of the usual, sadly now generic, responses to mass shootings last year:
When a type of event becomes so common that genres emerge, we lose some of our awareness of the situation. No need to think about how to react or what to say. Just follow the script.
But the man in the Oval Office has created a new version or even two. One response is to offer thoughts and prayers and then blame it on someone else.
Blame it on mental illness--even though records show that many perpetrators of mass shootings do not show signs of mental illness except for the obvious one needed to commit mass murder.
"There is little evidence to support the idea that individuals diagnosed with a mental illness are any more likely to commit a crime of gun violence than anyone else. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the U.S. between 2001-2010 were carried out by individuals diagnosed with a mental illness."
--Amanda Z. Naprawa, "Mental Illness and Gun Violence," Berkeley Wellness Newsletter, June 14, 2016
And here's a new one: Blame it on law enforcement and the FBI! Your own--and our own--enforcement and security forces.
Way to make us feel secure. Even 17-year-old students understand POTUS's job better than that. David Hogg, a survivor of the massacre, said on "Meet the Press":
"You're the president. You're supposed to bring this nation together, not divide us. How dare you."
Not only did the president point the finger of blame elsewhere and offer no mention of guns, though the numbers do show that violence and deaths increase proportionately with the number of guns in a country. A study published by the School of Public Health at Harvard University found that, across nations with higher incomes, "more guns = more homicide."
The man who is the president even added a new twist to how to respond to mass shootings--go to your resort for the weekend and try to deflect attention onto other news (the indictments from the Mueller investigation of Russian influence over the election that put him in office). And be sure to twist the news so that it's all about you!
So the emerging presidential genre in response to mass shootings:
Offer thoughts and prayers
Point a finger at someone else
Go to a resort
Turn attention to another topic and how innocent you are
It's all about you, after all.
At least his advisors were smart enough to warn him not to play golf this weekend. Too soon. Next weekend
Regardless of the failure of the man in office to unite or secure the nation, we can still try again to act in more effective ways in response to ANOTHER mass shooting in the US.
I could simply repost my conclusion to the post after the shootings in Las Vegas, this time saying it in response to the responses to the shooting at a school in Florida:
We can’t let that happen in response to mass shootings. We have to disrupt the business-as-usual model, we have to disrupt the genres, to make something different happen.
Nothing much happened after that one. No legislation passed. No new regulations or policies. No complex debate. No different response from the news media, holding legislators accountable. Not much more social action than hashtags.
Here are the facts about numbers of shootings from a University of California, Berkeley Wellness Newsletter of 2016, two years ago:
On average, an estimated 32,514 people die from gun violence in the United States each year and an additional 75,962 people are injured by firearms. Between 2007 and 2011, an average of 62 children under age 14 were killed every single day. There are over 17,000 children (age infant to 19) who are shot by firearms per year, whether intentionally, accidentally, or otherwise. In fact, American children are “sixteen times more like likely to be killed in unintentional shootings than their peers in other high income countries.” And gun-related deaths are expected to exceed automobile-related deaths in 2015. To put a point on it, 89 people die in America every day from gun violence. Want an even crazier statistic? In 2015, on average, a toddler in America shot someone once a week.
Nothing has changed since 2016 except more deaths, every day.
It is easy to despair.
But I'm at least a bit encouraged at the moment by the response of many of the survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida, who are calling out the president and vowing to lead the charge toward gun regulation, beginning with a trip to Tallahassee to demand action. I'm encouraged that those powerful students are calling for demonstrations against gun violence on March 24.
The surviving children at Sandy Hook weren't old enough to lead the charge to ensure their school shooting never happened again, and their parents did what they could within their gaping grief. And it happened again, in Florida, on February 14, 2018.
The survivors at Columbine High School in 1999 had not yet seen the lack of response that has become the norm now. They could not have known that guns would remain unregulated so that the mass shooting at their high school could happen again, in Florida, on February 14, 2018.
But these students now--and the millennials who have vowed to join them--are leading the way, are changing the generic response to mass shootings, are disrupting the norm and insisting that this time something different happen. These students are becoming the change agents.
They are calling out the politicians who accept donations from the National Rifle Association. They are citing the fact that the Trump campaign accepted $30 million dollars from the NRA. They are rejecting the statements that it's about mental illness, that the victims should have reported the shooter, that nothing could be done.
As Emma Gonzales, one of those surviving students, said in her speech, "We call BS!"
Action. Legislation. Regulation. Attention to the role of guns in these shootings and doing something about that.
Creating a new norm, I hope, creating a new generic response that doesn't turn away or point a finger or let time pass and forget that we must do something real.
So accept my call from last October:
Write a letter or make a phone call to your representatives
Start or sign a petition.
Organize a demonstration and make a protest sign
And let the young show us the way and follow those leaders to true action:
Join the anti-gun demonstrations on March 24.
May my next birthday, February 14, mark not another mass shooting, not a year of more shootings, murders, violence--in our schools and in our streets--but a year of committed action against the insanity of gun non-policies in the US, resulting in new laws and safer communities.
We can always hope that this time it will make a difference. That we can make a difference.
We tell children to use their words when they’re angry, frustrated, or upset, not to scream or throw a tantrum or hit someone.
Or shoot someone.
I can't believe I'm here again, that we're here again.
I’m grieving the victims of this most recent shooting—this one in Texas, Sutherland Springs, Texas, on a Sunday morning at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Spring. As I’m writing, an emergency medical technician is reporting 27 dead and 24 injured. Including children.
I’m beyond shock. How can we still be shocked when mass shootings are becoming so common?
I’m not beyond horror. Horrified. How have we become this? How has this become our community? How is this us?
I’m not beyond anger and rage. Those people in church did nothing to deserve this. No one does anything to deserve this. We should not have to live like this, with the thought that any public gathering might be the scene of the next mass murder. Someone needs to do something.
Legislators, where are you?
Leaders, where are you?
What are you doing to make this stop?
No, we don’t know all the reasons. Yes, it’s complicated. But our leaders, our legislators, our experts, our people need to do something.
Do something! Stop this! Someone just stop this!
I am not beyond sorrow and grief. Tears for those people, families, that community. Tears for all of us, once again mourning the loss of so many of us.
What I don’t want is to mourn the loss of “us.” Individuals are acting out, using their guns not their words. But they’re acting within our society—ours, the United States—because we make it possible.
So I use my words—grief, horror, anger, rage, sorrow, mourning—to try to hang on to an “us,” to feel like there is still an “us” who shares these feelings and these words.
Do words still matter? Can we do anything with words to make things change? Two weeks ago I urged us to act in response to the Las Vegas shooting and go beyond the scripted generic responses to such shootings. And now here we are again.
We can sign petitions, organize demonstrations, write letters to legislators. We can use our words as actions.
But at this moment my words feel completely inadequate. So do my tears. Like others, my heart is breaking for the victims, for us.
I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. But those of us who can still speak need to raise our voices, to use our words loudly and insistently and with the full force of horror, sorrow, grief, and anger behind them.
Maybe that way our words can still matter.
But in my worst moment today, this moment, I’m not so sure they will.