Tuesday, September 17, 2013

S.O.S.

Just last Sunday a picture in the New York Times caught my eye. It showed a group of middle-aged folk standing out of doors. In the forefront was a large placard saying GUNS SAVE LIVES. What struck me was the piety of the people, their hands over the hearts. No doubt they were listening to the National Anthem—and the fact that they looked very much like the American citizenry might, on average. The picture is accessible here.

The picture came back powerfully when the Washington Navy Yard shooting spree began to dominate the news yesterday morning. It reminded me to what an extent the concept of an informed citizenry is something of a chimera. Information is simply not enough. The receiving mind must transform it into rational thought, comprehensive understanding.

We’re sure, eventually, to hear the argument that the dead in Washington could have been saved if only an alert civil servant working there had been carrying a gun and, observing the maddened killer, would have dispatched him before he had managed to get off his first shot. What erodes democracy, ultimately, is that public opinion—rather than responsible thought—influences people. They have a menu of opinion served up by the media. They can choose their flavor without thought based merely on feelings.

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