As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise?
Watching Bill Maher's panel of the wise the other night was like being at the same circus you've been watching for too long. When the clown car pulls into the ring, you already know the names and number of the clowns and when the discussion turned to the Washington State school shooting I knew it was only a matter of time until every last one climbed out, from the NRA to Drone Strikes. But even a circus car can hold only so many. There's hardly room for objective truth and no part for him in the show. Why drone strikes When Muslim armies are raping torturing and beheading innocents? Because the drone strike clown is part of the circus crew and the mission of the crew is assigning blame, prescribing from the official pharmacopoeia as well as to blame everyone but the perpetrators, and of course he's a distraction, a way of substituting an answer we have, an argument we favor to any real discussion of what happened, its relation to other happenings and a way of attaching blame to what just might be random.
Last out of the clown car was the editor in chief of The Daily Beast to tell us that "surveys show" the people want background checks, which might have prevented this and the NRA was opposed. Facts are that we have had mandatory checks for decades, the gun in question was bought pursuant to one and was registered to a legal owner. But it's a small car and the clown has to stretch his legs.
So it happeneth to the fool and I'm getting tired of it happening to me. Just what is the risk to any one of us from Ebola, from ISIS insurgents, Central American child refugees, racist police -- and how does it compare with the risk of heart disease, urban street gangs and soccer moms texting while driving? Don't ask because you'll become the enemy yourself, the enemy of those who insist on there being trends and conspiracies and the ever growing risks of living in America today. Yes, the subject of drone strikes came up (Cornell West) as supporting evidence of Western sin along with the details of how "we" arbitrarily created countries to our benefit and thus earned the enmity of the Muslim world. Did anyone bother to ask if this mechanism made thousand year enemies of Japan and Germany after we conquered and occupied them? No because that would challenge the model of Islamic innocence. Do we examine the possibility that the media circus surrounding any of the events CNN chooses to obsess about every week or so, has made it glamorous for disturbed teenagers to become a bright shining star and go out like a supernova? No, that distracts from the need to obsess about the NRA and to reenact our passion play about weapons of war, spraying high caliber, armor piercing, cop killer bullets and the total absence of all gun control measures. The chess board is set up and only the official pieces can be played.
And how then are we wise? How do we decide what's true and what the risks are and who is to blame? There is much written about this question and related questions of how we see the world as we are, through rose colored or dark glasses. The psychologist Paul Slovic's oft quoted article in Science, about risk perception theory and what he called affect heuristics, the particular heuristics and biases people invent to interpret the amount of risk in their environment. Is the risk of Ebola running rampant to be compared with the existing risk of the flu, (about 2.5 million deaths per year) much less all infectious diseases still endemic in the US? How many die because enlightened people oppose vaccinations? Indeed fear of science rides in that clown car as it does in the Tea Powered version. Is the NRA opposition to study of gun crimes any different than the steadfast refusal of their opposition to discuss ( or to read or admit the existence of) gun laws and their statistical correlation to positive results?
Did Florida's revised self defense laws really "Make it illegal for black people to go outside" as one pundit said about a case that did not, by his own admission, involve that law, or is that the result of vision through a bias darkly? Did a "gentle giant" really commit a robbery and assault a police officer or is his innocence to be presumed and to the extent that we need no fair trial to hang the policeman? The answer was in the bias, the affect heuristics of the observer and the judgement to which he is accustomed to snap. Does the fact that over 90% of the shootings of young black men are by young black men enter into the equation and cause wonder about the lack of media circuses when that happens? Can we really not go to the movies any more, or send out children to school where they are statistically safer than they are at home or driving with mom and her smart phone?
Can we see current events and the surrounding hoopla as anything but a cosmic frame shop, selling framed reproductions of paint by the numbers reality? Should we look at the news of the day as another day's entry in the logbook of the ship of fools? Will our inherent nature ever let us be the rational beasts we pretend to be?