Many of us right now are thinking about and praying for the folks at Virginia Tech. Others closer to the scene are responding as their duty calls them. But it’s an ill wind that blows no one good, and there are two groups of people who thrive on this sort of thing: The news media, and political activists.
One can’t blame the media for thriving on disaster, because so many of us glue our eyes to the TV during an event like this, just looking for the latest tidbit of information that they can dig up. Our tendency is to criticize the media for overplaying the situation, finding everyone who may have heard a gunshot and interviewing them, and bringing in commentators to make lengthy comments on things they cannot possibly no. The media provides it because we watch it. They even got me for about 15 minutes, but after that I moved on, and I’ll keep up with written stories on the internet (MSNBC story).
For political activists a tragedy like this is a godsend. People’s emotions are stirred up. They want a solution and are less anxious to spend time considering how effective a course of action will be. If it looks good, they’re liking to jump on board. So for people with pet projects, this is the time to get out there and pitch them if there is any possibility that someone might think they’re related to the cause of the tragedy.
Whether it’s gun control, or increased gun ownership, censorship of violent movies or video games, greater police presence, less restrictions on police monitoring of citizens, increased education, drug legalization or greater drug enforcement, restriction or increase of immigration, or whatever it is, people will [immoderate metaphor stricken with apologies, see comments-HN] quickly appear on television/radio with their pet projects. I’m sure there are readers for whom many of these things are pet issues, and they may well be offended at my list. I’m not sure it is balanced between conservative and liberal causes, but it could be if I thought some more.
What the rest of us need to do is demand that as actions are taken they are carefully chosen for their effectiveness. Just because something looks like it will doesn’t mean that it will. Politicians will be glad to pass legislation that will make their constituents feel better. It’s quite irrelevant whether it actually works. In fact, it’s very difficult to get government projects tested for their efficacy. Generally we assume that if the government has an Office for Making Everyone Safer, that office will actually make everyone safer.
So let the sympathy flow to the families, but keep your other emotions under control. Check out what is and isn’t done and check out just how effective it is. After all just because there are violent video games and there are violent people doesn’t mean that one caused the other. It’s a connection that has to be checked.