Now that at least 50 of us have been slaughtered in an Orlando, FL night club two days ago in the worst mass killing in US history [at least until someone else gets an AR-15 or eight and decides to go after, say, people using the “wrong” bathroom], so many public statements trot out the usual tired rhetoric, all of which I’m going to compile in a single sentence:
We don’t know why this disturbed lone wolf perpetrated such senseless and unimaginable violence, but our thoughts and prayers go out to all those people touched by this tragedy.
To hear such statements, one would think that it’s a complete mystery why this happened. Omar Mateen was completely isolated from all societal context and cultural influences. This atrocity is so puzzling that we literally cannot think about it; our minds fail when we try to encompass it. In response, we are not going to do anything except for think about all the victims and their families and wish they wouldn’t be so sad.
I have a few responses to this bullshit. First, Mateen may have operated without official connections to a terrorist group, but I object to the phrase lone wolf. That epithet implies that he came up with the idea of killing a bunch of us all on his own, which he didn’t. He was a part of a society that promoted his murders through the institutionalized oppression of people based on sex, sexuality, and gender, the valorization of toxic masculinity, officially sanctioned anti-Muslim racism and xenophobia, and easy access to largely unregulated war-grade machines of death, just to name a few influences. Analysis, commentary, and action on this massacre must account for these factors if we are going to create a more humane and just future where stuff like this doesn’t happen.
Second, the term unimaginable reeks of denial to me. Mass killings happen with such horrible regularity these days that, by now, they’re news, and they’re shocking, but they’re neither rare, nor unique, nor strange. We know how they go. They’re anything but unimaginable; in fact, we can all too readily conceive of them. We just don’t want to because then we would have to confront the horror of hatred and terror embodied in a man and enabled by the very culture we live in.
Finally, thoughts and prayers aren’t enough here. Sure, let’s wish all we want for peace on behalf of the victims and their families. However, contrary to the deleterious lie promoted by this bootstrapping culture, in which desiring something a lot automatically translates into success, thinking and praying alone will accomplish nothing. We need to challenge the anti-marriage campaigns and the bathroom police and rule their legal wangling unconstitutional. We need to make movies about men who face life’s challenges with compassion and honesty, rather than blowing up everything in their path. We need to stop supporting war in and/or invading Muslim countries and then regarding the refugees as vermin. We need to enact some serious blanket bans on guns. In other words, we need to do something else besides the same old shit.