Shelter in Place

Starting a new week, let’s take a brief moment to reflect on the one just past. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday – on each day, a High School or college campus somewhere across this country was either locked down because of reports of an active shooter or because of an actual shooting (two of which were fatal). On Saturday, a mass shooting in Columbia, Maryland, that left three dead and five injured, while in Baltimore proper, the murder rate is now just about one per day. And if you’ll look, you’ll find that Sunday was marked by violence too – not least in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where a group of local Pastors who had planned on marking the day as “Justice Sunday” and preaching against community gun violence did so as local police put in weekend hours investigating a triple shooting.

This is our normal, now.

On Twitter yesterday, the writer Jessica Luther of the Atlantic noted that, of the Columbia victims, one, Brianna Benlolo, was only 21 years old, and leaves behind a two-year old child. “There’s apparently no story tragic enough to create change RE: gun control laws,” observed Luther.

This is simply true, on the face of it. If the story of twenty toddlers mowed down within minutes in a wealthy Connecticut suburb can’t galvanize policy change in this jaded nation, then no story will.

No stories, no matter how tragic, will change anything, because this is how we’ve decided, collectively, to live. Or at least, it’s how some of us have decided that we are to live, with some of us living it more than others.

Stories are vital. But stories – no matter how heartbreaking – won’t end structural violence and broken lawmaking.  Either we confront our national history of violence, the way our culture is steeped in it – or we don’t.  Either we confront industry capture of our legislature, the ability of an extremist minority and the corporate interests that encourage them to overrule common sense and majority sentiment – or we don’t.

But for those of us who believe in the power of stories – and I’m one of them – maybe, also, there’s a place for talking about those structures in terms of stories, however crude.

A nation built with guns, under the sign of guns, is consumed by them. America’s ballistic growth has reached its limits, can go no further, and now turns in on itself. What gave us our manifest destiny now claims our future, robs us of our children in brutal atavism.

But: “Our” future. “Our” children. “Us.”

Therein also lies the problem.

Because some of the people who live on this continent, in this place, have been losing their children to this thing for much, much longer than others. And some people who once lived here are just gone because of it. Gone. Children, parents, entire peoples. Just gone.

Who are we to think we can live without this touching us? Do we really believe this?

We built this country – built “us” – on the premise that an economy of violence can maintain a strict logic of externalities, brutally enforced borders between oppressors and oppressed, settlers and natives, masters and slaves, citizens and non-. But violence doesn’t work that way, on principle, and definitely not in our crowded, contentious democracy. Violence cannot be contained. And there is no external, no outside anymore. Not here, not in this place, not within us.

So we go to the mall. We go to work. We take our kids to school. We wait for the bus. We walk across campus. We take in a movie. We sleep in our beds.

We shelter in place.

But there is no shelter.

Not in this place.

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