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January 11th, 2011
11:43 pm

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Last week and every week (with apologies to Tiptree)
"The right to own weapons is the right to be free." - A.E. van Vogt, The Weapon Shops of Isher


Tragedy calls out for explanation - for meaning to be found - and what happened over the weekend is no exception. Perhaps I should not be surprised at the number of unpleasant things which have been said, ostensibly in the name of finding meaning from senseless violence.

I think that in our all-too-human drive to discern meaning, we are guilty of seeing either the pretty butterfly or the dead dog's head in the rorschach blot: we would be well served by letting the dust settle, and merely observing the events as they unfold.

The Serenity prayer, well known to anyone who has ever darkened the doorway of a twelve-step room, opens with the request to "accept the things I cannot change." Left unstated in that prayer is the assumption that there are, in fact, things that an individual cannot change - there are some answers which will never be known, some motives which will never be discerned, and that attempting to answer the unanswerable is vanity and striving after the wind.

We should consider the possibility that the blot is nothing more than ink on paper, and allow ourselves to feel the powerlessness that results from being tossed about by fate out of our control.

I believe in hashgaha pratit - that is, that God has a reason for permitting the things He does. He does not share those reasons with me, and I could not imagine myself able to understand His reasoning for tragedy - I was neither there when God laid the foundations of the world, nor have I caused the change of the seasons. However, that explanation requires faith in God, which I have, but I know that many do not.

Neither helplessness before impersonal fate nor ignorance before the All-mighty provide much guidance as to the right course of action - and yet there is the burning desire to do something: to act! How can we sit idly by after a tragedy?

I counsel that we should do precisely that: nothing in public policy changed over the weekend. The same arguments in favor of and against either aggressive speech or firearm ownership are still in force, the same debates between the advocates of security and the advocates of freedom are still relevant, and God willing, those arguments will continue to be made by honest believers in veracity of their positions. Personally, I'd love to see folks mellow out - maybe try decaf for a bit - but that goes across the board to partisans of every political persuasion.

Perhaps the best we can do right now is to remember how small and fragile we are, and how little we know.

Note: it was just pointed out to me that George Will's column from today expresses many similar themes.

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