On Politicizing Dead Children

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 15.678% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

In the wake of America’s latest mass murder, I heard a lot of complaints: “These children are dead! How dare you use this tragedy as an excuse to push your latest political agenda!  Give it a rest and be respectful.”
Now, I can understand if you’re personally unable to deal with political discussions at the moment.  Hearing the raw details about an entire classroom full of kids gunned down was an emotional moment for anyone with a heart.  It’s understandable if you need to step away from the debate to grieve.  I think needing some space to process this is a very human and honest thing, and people should respect your need for silence when they’re in your presence.*
Yet some of those complaints went farther, as if anyone who tried to pass a law or push an agenda based on the latest set of fresh graves was a disrespectful oaf.  To which I say, shut the fuck up.
The reason we politicize this tragedy is because we don’t want any more people killed by maniacs toting weapons.  And like it or not, the only real way we can affect that change is by passing laws to change the shape of society.  Certainly there’s been enough uproar and grief over the repeated spate of killings that if social pressure were enough to change such things, it would have fucking been changed. So something clearly has to be done, whether it’s getting politicians to pass more funding for the mentally ill, or giving cops more leeway in dealing with potential killers, or restricting access to guns, or discovering an effective way of stopping the media from turning killers into celebrities, or even arming teachers.
As it is, your cries of “Don’t make this political!” are the ultimate form of disrespect.  It’s a way of saying: do nothing.  Let’s bury our heads in the sand and hope this doesn’t happen again.
Here’s the thing: I think the folks who want to arm teachers are idiots, but at least they’re trying to push a solution that they think will stop tragedies like this in the future.  They’re utterly, bone-headedly wrong… but I’ll at least give them the credit that they’ve acknowledged how horrible this is and are taking proactive measures to try to head this off at the pass.
Because a tragedy on this scale should create a big, messy argument.  This is a big, messy problem.  Anyone who thinks that one solution will solve all of this is hopelessly simplistic.  It’s not just about banning guns, or better mental health care, or the media, or a lack of morality; it’s a convergence of all these factors, and many hidden ones we have yet to uncover, that is causing this.  We need to have a discussion, an honest discussion, about all the things that led to this grotesquerie… and then, while we still have the motivation, to enact a solution that will help ensure that jackasses like this will never do this again.
That’s what politicizing does: it creates solutions.  And it’s uncomfortable.  It involves listening to things you do not want to hear.  It involves dissatisfying compromises.  It means that yes, any of us might bear some responsibility in this killing, whether it’s in the way we fought gun legislation or the way we eagerly turn the television on to hear juicy facts about the killer.  It’s not fun, and it’s not clean and easy, and it’s like wearing a hair suit because fuck, if it was an easy answer we would have fixed that.
But the debate needs to happen.  And it won’t happen if you’re going, “Don’t politicize this!”, which is usually another way of saying, “I’m made uncomfortable by the fact that I might have some culpability in this issue, so please stay silent in order to enable my lack of soul-searching.”
It’s not pleasant, having these debates.  Yet it was far less pleasant for those shot in this latest butchering, and I think the least you can do is endure a bit of discomfort in an attempt to ensure no one else will be murdered. Which is the true respect.


  1. TheFerrett
    Dec 17, 2012

    * – A chronic problem being that people think a post on Facebook is “being in my presence,” but in reality it’s more like “I tuned in to this channel on television.” We all have the right to post what we want on our blogs, Twitter, and Facebook statuses; you have the right to unsubscribe. But that’s a post for another time.

  2. Chris
    Dec 17, 2012

    I think you’ve created some high-minded definition of politicizing means. When people talk about politicizing something they’re talking about shoving their political agenda down people’s throats. It’s Michael Moore coming out Friday afternoon and telling you why all guns should be banned, because all guns are evil. It’s right-wingers with the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” line. That is what politicizing is, it’s not altruistic, as you seem to think. So, while yes these are complex issues that need complex solutions; we shouldn’t be immediately thinking about how to gain political capital, we should be thinking about how we can help those affected grieve.

    • TheFerrett
      Dec 17, 2012

      we shouldn’t be immediately thinking about how to gain political capital, we should be thinking about how we can help those affected grieve.
      Nope. We can help a set of parents to grieve better, and then help another set of parents grieve better again, and then help a third set. All the while being very respectful and courteous and completely fucking ineffective.
      Or you can attempt to stop the solution now. You might not like what Michael Moore has to say, but he’s proposing a solution. You don’t like his solution? Fine. Let’s debate. But let’s not sweep this under the rug until such a point as we’ve forgotten about it.

      • Autumn Foghamar
        Dec 23, 2012

        As someone who has lost two family members to violence I’d like to say that if someone had told me they wanted to help me “grieve better” I’d have probably slapped them silly them for rank stupidity.
        I don’t want to grieve better – I want a solution to a problem. All the grieving in the world won’t help. I want solutions. If you don’t get something done during a time of crisis they will all go back and stick their heads in the ground again. I’ve never seen such a bunch of lamebrains in my life. Other countries manage to deal with these problems effectively.
        Of course there is a tiered approach in other countries – physical and mental health care easily accessible, lack of a population armed to the teeth and ready to stand their ground, no huge gun culture with the NRA wanting to put armed guards in every school (what a crock!) and so on and so forth.
        To every person who now says, “What is the hurry?” I respond, “Emilie Parker – she’s dead. Charlotte Bacon is dead too.” I can’t remember them all so I selected two children. I don’t mention the name of the shooter, I just say that we’re in a hurry to protect everyone in America and we totally blew it over and over and over again. It is time to stop the carnage.
        I’m not anti-gun. I used to hunt. I never had an automatic weapon with a huge clip for deer hunting. I used a bolt action rifle. You’d have blood shot meat if you riddled the deer with bullets.
        I do not give a (insert obscenity of your choice) if someone thinks it is “fun” or “cool” or a so-called constitutional right to own dangerous firearms that are meant to just kill people.
        I’m an attorney – I don’t even agree that the present interpretation is the correct one. We don’t live in the 1700’s where every farmer needed to be armed. The National Guard is the militia. But this ultra conservative Supreme Court is not going to be reasonable – that will have to wait for my grandkids – and I hope we lose no more family members to violence before then.
        Thank you for your blog on this.

  3. Katherine Marie
    Dec 17, 2012

    I have to ask, why is it so important to push agendas and laws through right this second? And I think the answer is that you’re right, we do feel bad. We feel responsible because we are part of a society that allowed this tragedy to happen. A big part of my problem with all the immediate politicizing is that it capitalizes on that. People come in with their political agendas and say “If you really care and want to fix the problem you’ll vote for x, and if you don’t then you should feel responsible for this tragedy”. The problem with that, is that as you said, this is a complex issue caused by a lot of combined factors, and voting for x may not really have anything to do with it, but people WILL vote for x because they feel bad.
    Would it be so terrible if we waited until after the funeral, give everyone a chance to grieve and get their heads back on straight before we bombard them with the political?
    Yes I think this should make us demand changes in our society to prevent future shootings, but there are dead children, can we not give them one moment of respect before we slap their faces on our agenda?

    • TheFerrett
      Dec 17, 2012

      Would it be so terrible if we waited until after the funeral, give everyone a chance to grieve and get their heads back on straight before we bombard them with the political?
      Yes, it would.
      Because then some other big news story would break, and we’d forget about this one, exactly like what happened the five times before this.
      Maybe in a better world, it’d be lovely if we put nicety and lots of thought into it, and came back to it. But we don’t. What happens is that you bury the dead, and then bury any chance at change. And you ignore that fact at your peril. And in ignoring that fact, you create more dead faces.

      • b
        Dec 18, 2012

        What’s more, that this discussion happens now is not because it is aimed at the people who are directly involved in the tragedy, the families of the victims and their friends. This is aimed at the 99.9% of America that isn’t directly involved but is focused on this, and further, knows very well that it will happen again without action. Why do they know this? Because it happens the same way every single time. The rest of us must rally to the cause, be it firearms regulation, revamping mental health care, or just general awareness of our culture and our treatment of others. There is no longer a “future” time for this debate and action. The time is now and tomorrow, and the day after that until it’s solved. Like Americans normally handle such business.

    • alexander hollins
      Dec 17, 2012

      Yeah, that gets said every time. No, the time to start the discussion is NOW, while it’s fresh, while all the nerves are raw. Strike while the fire is hot, or we will never do it, and history backs that up.

      • Daniel DuBois
        Dec 17, 2012

        No one has forgotten Columbine, or Virginia Tech, or 9/11. We don’t need to “act now, before we forget”. The problem with pushing a political agenda here and now is that gun control advocates are taking advantage of people’s normal tendency to do something (“something! anything!”) rash in the heat of the moment. When people react emotionally, and out of fear, instead of logically, we up with the government curb-stomping our civil liberties, e.g. the Patriot Act.

  4. paola cresti
    Dec 17, 2012

    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” Edmund Burke, though not verbatim.
    No other tragedy brings up the “this is the wrong time to talk about this” such as the ones with people shooting people with no clear agenda (terrorists, bank robbers etc..)
    One where there is a group you can go after instead of the randomness of someone “going crazy” and being able to cause massive amounts of damage due to the access to high powered weapons.
    You don’t hear as much of those that all they could access was a stick or a knife. You also didn’t hear people complain about “this is not the time to” add more security after 911.

  5. Vienneau
    Dec 17, 2012

    As a municipal government employee, there are a number of bylaws that exist purely as a response to some politically charged event in the distant past. The risk of legislating while emotional is that it’s done poorly or hastily.
    But you are absolutely correct that big change requires a big crisis to get action, and that a crisis should never be wasted, callous though that sounds.

  6. Emily Frank
    Dec 20, 2012

    The problem is that people cash in on emotions of the aftermath. The truth is, I don’t want to hear about your (the general “your”) stupid agenda at this time, because, as you’ve had virtually no time to create it since the 27 people were shot, it probably isn’t even close to the kind of complex solution we need (and we do need one, as the author states). Oh, you say you’ve been working on your agenda for a long time? Well aren’t you a donkey for waiting until all of those children died before you grew the cahones to advocate for it. 26 kids were killed in a school like the one I work in every day. Sit down and feel something for more than three seconds before you impose your rashly constructed, egocentric and probably profit-mongering plan on us. Sure, said plan seems logical, but not all logic is sound, and an “agenda” is by definition unilateral. Feel something, and you might want to actually do something politically useful. And then when you do, your argument will have the pathos to convince Americans that it makes sense.

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