Be Silently Sad and Ashamed—It’s All That We Can Do

“Terence, this is stupid stuff: 
You eat your victuals fast enough; 
There can’t be much amiss, ‘tis clear, 
To see the rate you drink your beer.”

A.E. Houseman, “Terrence, This is Stupid Stuff” (1896)

There are, today, a few hundred people in Uvalde who have raw holes in their hearts.  And there are, in Uvalde, the United States, and around the world, a vast multitude who are cheerfully emoting grief without feeling actual pain.  I suppose one cannot blame them, since emotions are contagious and our mass media is a super-spreader of vicarious horror.  But still, one suspects that very little sleep has been lost by the public weepers in this great show of hypocritical grief.  Like Terence in Houseman’s poem, they moan as they wolf their chow, and groan as they guzzle their beer.

This grotesque line appeared at the head of an article in today’s newspaper.


One reason I say it is grotesque is because it suggests that Americans have lost their will for self-government.  The bungled response by the Uvalde police suggests they have also lost their capacity.  One hundred years ago, an event like the Uvalde shooting would have been handled by the city and county authorities. There might have been a terse expression of regret from the state Governor, but nothing whatsoever would have been asked or expected of the President.

American presidents of one hundred years ago understood that their job was to run the executive branch of the Federal government, and that it was the people’s job to look after their own children.

American presidents of one hundred years ago also understood that it was not their job to epitomize and emote the latest contagious emotion.

* * * * *

Another reason I say the headline is grotesque is because there is little that Biden or anyone else can do.  Mass shootings are hateful events, and this is why we may reasonably suppose that anything that could be done would have been done already.

“Gun control” probably will not do much because “controls” only serve to raise the cost of the “controlled” item, higher cost eliminates only the marginal consumers of the “controlled” item, and mass shooters are not marginal consumers.

There are no tradeoffs when you are spending your money on a suicide mission.

I don’t know what can be accomplished with more spending on “mental health,” apart, that is, from engorgement of the mental health industry.  But the real proposals in this vein are calls for what in another context is called profiling.  In this case the profiling entails persecution of scary, creepy people who are odd.  There are, it so happens, a great many scary, creepy, odd people in this Land of Liberty, and most of them do nothing worse than taint the social atmosphere with their scary, creepy oddness.

They remain citizens, and we cannot strip them of their rights just because they give off a bad vibe.

A “bully” was once a low-status thug who beat up wimps in the hope of winning the approval of high-status thugs.  It is now a normal person who disapproves of an eccentric weirdo.  The Uvalde shooter appears to have been an eccentric weirdo, and he appears to have suffered some of this second sort of “bullying;” but it is not at all clear that it is wrong to “bully” an eccentric weirdo like the Uvalde shooter.  The Uvalde shooter should not have been mocked for his alleged stuttering, but he (and 21 other people) might have been saved by strong social pressure (a.k.a. “bullying”) to cut out that whole scary, creepy, eccentric weirdo shit.

Peer pressure is good for people who are worse than their peers!

The fourth category of proposals to stop school shootings comes mainly from our side, and I’m sorry to say that these proposals are the most hopeless of all.  They begin with the obvious truth that the root of the problem of school shootings cannot be guns, or mental health, or bullies, since school shootings are a distinctly American problem.  Every country has enough guns, and nuts, and bullies.  Advocates of this fourth category of proposals then proceed to the equally obvious truth that the root of the problem must be Americans, since Americans are evidently a people unusually prone to run amuck.

Since Americans are unusually prone to run amuck, there must be something about America that drives people especially crazy.

So far, so good.  Things get more murky when these critics try to specify exactly what it is about America that drives people especially crazy, although most lists include such national glories as atomization, alienation, drugs, perverse amusements, and the simmering hatred endemic to a multicultural society.

Individuals will naturally stress their own pet peeves, but this diagnosis is properly understood as diagnosis of a systemic problem.  It is not one thing about America that drive people especially crazy, and not even a couple of things.  It is everything taken all together that drives an unusually large number of Americans over the edge, around the bend, and out the door on a murderous rampage.

* * * * *

I’m reminded of the diagnosis offered by Warren Zevon’s doctor.

 “. . . Well, I went to the doctor
I said, ‘I’m feeling kind of rough.’
He said, ‘I’ll break it to you, son
Your shit’s fucked up.’”

* * * * *

A systemic problem cannot be solved because the system is necessarily stronger than anyone in the system, and therefore no one—not even Joe Biden—is strong enough to change the system.  Slaughters of children are evidently, and very sadly, part of our system, as are displays of hypocritical grief, pointless calls for change, and fraudulent promises to make those changes.

Amidst this insoluble grotesquerie, the only thing we can and ought “to do” is be silently sad and ashamed.

* * * * *

Here, by the way, is a photograph I took in Uvalde a couple of years ago.  No unspoken commentary intended.


11 thoughts on “Be Silently Sad and Ashamed—It’s All That We Can Do

  1. @JMS – “bungled response” – well, that’s one way of interpreting it…

    My conviction is that these events very seldom ‘just happen’ but we later discover that there has been a very significant degree of *allowing* such things to happen, mixed with a more variable degree of actively *encouraging* such things to happen – and *sometimes* what looks exactly like planning and executing such things (deniably).

    As for the mass media telling us that the town wants the president to ‘do something…’ – I believe that as much as I believe anything else the mass media wants us to believe, and reports other people as asking-for.

    All we know is that the mass media itself wants the president to ‘do something…’ – and we know exactly what that ‘something’ is…

    • I’m open to the idea of a hidden hand in these matters, but also think there are local factors that make it easier for the locals to be played. I don’t think there is any question that utilitarian moral logic would justify local slaughters as the means to some “great” (I’m fact nefarious) end. I also agree that the media hunts down the public opinion that it wants to publish, but more and more Americans secretly long for a dictator. The article I partly copy openly touts the advantages of rule by “executive order.” Of course “legislative gridlock” can be seen as a show staged to shift public opinion on rule by executive order–which should never, ever be mistaken for dictatorship!

      • …but more and more Americans secretly long for a dictator.

        As I’m sure you know, several of the leading “founding fathers” (Washington among them), while declaring our experiment in self-government to be worthwhile and a noble one, nevertheless were less than sanguine about its long term success, and predicted the day would ultimately come when Americans would clamor for a despotism, like the Children of Israel when they preferred their former bondage in Egypt over the freedom of self-government in the wilderness. That of course happened to Americans gradually over time, but we (as a “nation” so called – we’re really several nations, but that is another story) have arrived at that day. The only truly self-governing people I personally know or know of, live in rural areas and/or on their own farms.

        I’ve told this story before, but, back in the early 90s when I was in the USAF stationed at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, we came home for a month long vacation during the early part of football season one year. My dad and I and one of my younger sisters went to the local football game played at home one Friday night, where we arrived too late to get a prime parking spot. On our walk to the field I noticed a new building that had been erected on campus since I’d been away. Emblazened across its front above the main entrance were the words, “Early Childhood Development Center.” Which I read aloud and in question form, declaring “I thought that was in the home.” To which my sister aforementioned (two of whose children – ages 3 & 4 – were enrolled in the newly-erected “center”) replied, “who cares!; it’s a free babysitter!” And to which my dad, before I could react, proceeded to “rip her head off.” My sister is still pretty attached to government “freebies” of various kinds and is not what I’d call “self-governing” in any number of ways, but she never forgot that well-earned rebuke she got from our dad on the night in question – I know, she will mention it to me now and again when something comes up that reminds her of it.

      • I think most Americans would jump at the chance to be a slave. We just have to call it guaranteed lifetime employment. Explain that they could never be fired or unemployed, although they might be, err, traded to a different employer. Housing, food, clothing, medical care: they all come with the job. With the incentive of starvation-avoidance removed, there would have to be some other “whip,” but there is no reason for good slave to worry about the “whip,” or about anything else for that matter.

  2. Biden did something already. He sent the feds down there to do the shooting, to kwep the police from going in and killing their shooter, in an attempt to help Beto’s campaign. This was a federally mandated shooting.

  3. I know I sound like a broken record when I quote Dr. Dabney and his foresight on matters such as this, but he bears repeating in this context in any case:

    But now, what will be the character of the children reared under such a domestic organization as this? … when the mother shall have found another sphere than her home for her energies; when she shall have exchanged the sweet charities of domestic love and sympathy for the fierce passions of the hustings; when families shall be disrupted at the caprice of either party, and the children scattered as foundlings from their hearthstone.—it requires no wisdom to see that a race of sons will be reared nearer akin to devils than to men.

    -R.L. Dabney, Women’s Rights Women

  4. I have no answers other than to agree that society is hopelessly over-scaled and things will just have to run their course. We aren’t voting our way out of it, and fighting our way out of it would be foolhardy and just get lots of people turned into a pink mist by their own government. I also agree with t. morris’s sentiments, that our incredible societal wealth has generated millions of people incapable of self-rule. The Second Amendment was not written for such people.

  5. Pingback: The Enemy of my Enemy: from Ukraine to Uvalde | Winston Scrooge


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