America, Pain in Vain
Healing the Absence
Mass shooting incidents inflict intense pain, grief, and shame on affected communities. Surviving the fallen are dozens and sometimes hundreds of people with loved ones taken away. The loss of friends and family hurts like a gaping wound. These "unfallen victims" of mass violence are forcibly subjected to a sudden and massive Reality change, condemned in-the-facts to feel absence for life.
Experiencing loss of kin is unique among painful experiences because it colors the rest of waking life. Its intense affective signature registers clearly in psyche and body, a visceral feeling of misery and helplessness that persists, felt and refelt every time the absence goes noticed. As a pain of the highest intensity and dimensionality, we could call it a limit experience.
To keep functioning, unfallen victims have to heal. To make life bearable, they have to acknowledge the pain and desensitize from it. Healing this way is a form of sensemaking. You have to make sense of the event, understand the causes, forces, and agencies that brought it into happening. You have to come to terms with the fact they exist, that they happen. Identifying the causal origins behind your loss is essential to make sense of the feeling you're having, a feeling that demands — strongly — to be understood.
Spiritual healing is tortuous precisely because it involves unlearning pain from the most painful experiences, achieving a level of cold detachment from the feeling of having a child, friend or parent murdered for no apparent reason. In the process of healing we give pain a place in heart and mind, so that the feeling isn't forgotten, so that its lessons may be remembered. This place is called memory.
Good or bad, events of mass transcendence get a place in our minds. Numerous lives, touched. Their stories, altered, colored by joint incidence. Collective memory emerges, a memory that asks for release and finds its way into art, into journals, into ceremonies and memorials. These externalized memories serve the purpose of harmonizing the story, of getting all the angles out, so that we may remember how it felt.
The wars, the 9/11s, the genocides, the school shootings... Mass loss of life is always remembered. Collective memory has a function, just like the memories in our individual minds. We need memory of it, so we remember how it happened, how it came to be, so it doesn't happen again.
In the face of tragic loss, a caring community goes through a process of healing and redemption. Memory is created. In the healing journey, the community acknowledges what just happened. Their grief and agony are tempered. A self-governing community would take positive steps to prevent anything similar from happening again. A covenant with itself, crafting sensible rules to make future atrocity less likely. Translating pain and grief into law, redemption. A society matured.
A Fetishized Freedom
Redemption. One would wish this happened in America, a maturation, a growing up. But no, the sheer size of this country acts as a straitjacket that forces the unfallen victims of mass shooting incidents swallow their pain so a glorified right may continue untouched. The logic holding us back: It would be irrational to let the pain and grief of a small community affect the rights of 350 million people, specially one so sacredly upheld, the right to bear arms, the right to hold people at gunpoint if need be.
How many more have to die for the sake of a fetishized freedom? The perceived need of Americans for guns speaks of a fundamental distrust among our people. You don't need guns when you're amongst family, having it otherwise amounts to self-defeating acknowledgement that America is something else. If you cannot proof your system against tyranny by the very way it is structured, you have failed at proofing the system. Guns held by neighbors won't change that. Guns are further made unsafe by synergy with hyper-individualistic attitudes, giving people an opportunity to punish others when things don't go their way.
A Sad Fraternity
Communities that have endured mass shooting incidents have their ability to adapt and prevent further loss taken away by a sentence written back in 1791. Their ability to redeem, neutered by fetish.
It's a sad fraternity, the one formed by American families who have lost son and daughter to an arcane law. Pain in vain. Condemned to feeling absence, in the name of freedom.
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