Our hockey team was supposed to travel to Pittsburgh on Saturday for a game against Chatham, whose campus is less than a mile from where the mass shooting happened at the Tree of Life Congregation. The game got cancelled.
1) Despite mass shootings in the United States, and terrorist incidents around the world, we are still living in the most peaceful time of human history. Steven Pinker makes this case in The Better Angels of our Nature and Enlightenment Now. Violence around the world is at an all-time low. The opioid epidemic, traffic accidents, and obesity are much larger issues.
The problem is how the media covers mass shootings. When the NFL stopped broadcasting fans who run onto the field, fans stopped running onto the field. No media attention gives the action no meaning.
This is not to diminish tragic events of violence, but to put them in perspective.
2) Humans are story-making machines, and not all stories are created equally.
A group of cross country runners gathered for SUNYAC Championships on Saturday. One team called themselves, “Geneseo,” another “Fredonia,” another “Oswego,” and so on. Everyone agreed that they’d run a certain distance, and that the team that ran the fastest would “win.”
This event’s story is about status, and would be devoid of meaning otherwise. It probably doesn’t do any harm to human well-being, and if you find meaning in it, go for it.
But if you think your interpretation of the Bible is more true than someone else’s you’re liable to recreate what happened in Northern Ireland. If you think that killing people who don’t take the Koran at it’s literal word will result in your immediate arrival in Heaven, you’re liable to recreate 9/11.
And you might bring a gun into a synagogue if you think that Jewish people are destroying America. You’re telling yourself a harmful story about nationalism, and you probably ought to search for meaning elsewhere.
There are a lot of bad stories out there, and they’re worth fighting.
I just finished reading Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Cenutry. I’ve been contemplating the closing lines this weekend:
“So if you want to know the truth about the universe, about the meaning of life, and about your own identity, the best place to start is by observing suffering and exploring what it is.
The answer is not a story.”