Lives Bigger Than Any Big Idea

A familiar cultural script has been followed over the last week.

Interrupting the program with “breaking news,” networks competing for the first images, interviews with eyewitnesses, outraged demands for change, speculations about mental health, interviews with policy experts, outpourings of sentimentality, ill-considered attempts to explain, special interest-funded officials making statements, conservatives blaming liberals, liberals blaming conservatives, promises of new legislation, doubts about policy details, this group lobbing stats at that group.

The familiarity of the cultural drama is depressing because we know where it leads.  Despite vows of “never again” and “enough is enough,” this moment, brought to us by the “the way we always do things,” threatens to leave us where we’ve always been.

In the wake of events that can hardly be captured with words, there has been no shortage of words.

I was struck, however, by President Obama’s Sunday night speech.  Nothing that he said resonated as powerfully as when he read the names of those who had been killed.  Many in the audience could not contain themselves.  They wailed and wept out loud.

It reminded me of these lines in U2’s lament, “Peace on Earth”:

They’re reading names out over the radio
All the folks the rest of us won’t get to know
Sean and Julia, Gareth, Ann and Breda
Their lives are bigger, than any big idea

I wish there was cause for hope in the wake of this.  What, however, is different in how we’re responding to this that guarantees that things will change in the future?  What would make James Fallows’s prediction wrong, that the shootings will continue?

Is it that there’s a huge reservoir of outrage?  Isn’t that part of the cultural script?

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