An act of violence like what happened in Colorado is not really something that we can make sense of, as much as we might try. It is sad but true that this was “just” the act of someone who’s clearly mentally unbalanced, with effortless access to assault weapons and riot gear when he clearly should not have been able to purchase anything more deadly than a set of plastic scissors.
If the first part of The Dark Knight Rises (more on the movie in the next post) is to some degree an expression of the idea that one person can’t push back on an ocean wave crashing on the shore, the second part embodies the notion that how we react, what we do, in the face of forces beyond our control matters. Standing up to something matters. The wave eventually recedes.
I admit that I wasn’t completely unconcerned about going to see the movie last night. The lizard brain is hard to completely quiet down. But I went, and so did a lot of other people. And there was something reassuring, small and yet valuable, about that.
I am not, by any means, saying that going to watch a movie represents some kind of a deeply held moral stance or a profound act of strength of character. Not at all. First, it echoes too much of the post-9/11 notion that “shopping is patriotic” (I’m paraphrasing–you know what I’m talking about). Second, I have no doubt some of the people that went did so mindlessly, that is, without specific intent. But I also have no doubt that for a lot of people there was a kernel of fear in their minds, and what matters is they got over it, and went on with their lives. Some people probably didn’t get over it, and didn’t go — and that’s fine too. I’m not talking about individual actions here, but about the reaction of the collective. Empty theaters on Friday night after what happened at midnight on Thursday would have been a bad sign. A sign that we as a group had given up, retreated to some degree in the face of what’s in essence a world that is beyond our control, even if we like to tell ourselves that it isn’t.
So if millions of people going to see a movie in spite of fear isn’t sudden proof of a culture-wide show of courage, it is also true that there is something important in that people did do it: the simple but powerful idea that life, down to its most routine and perhaps even frivolous moments, is worth living, not only when we can protect ourselves from every possible danger and somehow live without fear, but precisely in spite of the fact that we can’t.
Adding to something I said at the end of this post many years ago: Ideas are bulletproof — but only if we believe in them.