I love America. This is a pretty startling statement for an infrequent visitor (to say the least), and an anti-capitalist at that, to make. The USA is an amazing, diverse, vibrant, colourful country. It gave us the 1957 Chevy Belair, the Fender Stratocaster, Jazz, the Harley Davidson 883, the USAF A2 leather jacket, and so much more – all products of the capitalism that I dislike so much. But I didn’t drag you here today to discuss my contradictory values, or my politics.
I have been reading some interesting pieces recently, following the bombing at the Boston Marathon and the commemorative vigil, the dignified public silence, which followed it. The thrust of these pieces has been to highlight or to question the public perception of and news coverage of violent death. Why – these pieces seem to have said – does a handful of deaths in a ‘terrorist’ incident bring out crowds of respectful mourners, yet the larger number of regular deaths by privately-owned guns warrant no equivalent coverage in the media and no equivalent demonstration of dignified public mourning. Here’s one such recent piece in The New Yorker, entitled ‘What if the Tsarnaevs had been “The Boston Shooters”?’
Now, this isn’t a political blog. I wrote elsewhere about gun ownership and the difference in the perceptions of freedom in countries that have grown up with and without private ownership of guns in their respective cultures. However, it is true that the ‘consumable information’ (a term I prefer to use for ‘news’) offered in the USA does prioritize in this way, and that the public’s perception is swayed by the mention of ‘terrorism’. To introduce the issue of death by guns, to give those deaths equality in the daily ration of ‘consumable information’ and in the public’s perception of what one should mourn would, however, touch a raw nerve in some people to whom the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is a matter of supreme importance in their personal philosophy. Thus people who raise the question of mourning gun deaths must tread on eggshells, no matter how often they might say that the issue is not about gun ownership, much less about gun control. Thus the question is, in effect, not put.
Let’s look at it another way. Let’s take guns out of the picture. You live in a country – let’s call it ‘Freedonia’, not the USA – where everyone is free to own an automobile. Nobody disputes that right, but equally you are free to not own one – you can travel by bus, by bicycle, by horse-and-buggy, and some people do just that. There has just been a dreadful incident at a public event; some people have been killed, others maimed, all shocked, by a bomb blast. A couple of days later people all come out into the public gaze and stand silently to mourn those who died, and to think about and pray for those who are injured or bereaved. Maybe you join the vigil too. But whether you do or not, the thought occurs to you that people die in greater numbers in accidents on the streets and roads, that the news broadcasts and newspapers hardly mention them, that no one comes out and publicly mourns them, and you want to do something about it. Most likely you wouldn’t dream of saying that people ought not to own cars, or that the Government ought to restrict that ownership by drastic legislation; but still you believe that you have found an anomaly, an imbalance, in the perception that you yourself had hitherto, and that the majority of other people still have. You want to make a difference. You want to change that perception.
So you find some like-minded individuals, and you decide to meet in a public place, for five minutes each week, and hold a silent vigil to mourn those affected by road accidents. You give as much public notice as you can about these vigils – you get permission to use the public place, you let the police know (and presumably they tell you what you can and can’t do, vis-à-vis causing an obstruction etc.), you inform local and national media, you blog it, put it on Facebook, tweet it – and you go and do it. Over an over you will, of course, have to keep assuring people that this isn’t about banning cars, restricting their ownership, or anything like that; you yourself might be the proud owner of a vintage Ford Cobra. You might have to endure some noisy protests from the local car club, who don’t understand or don’t believe you. You might feel pressure from the Automotive and Oil industries’ lobbyists. But you keep on doing it, keep up the silent mourning, keep on telling the media what you are doing, keep on telling everyone “It’s not about car ownership…”
Eventually more and more people may join you, the vigils may spread to other cities around Freedonia, and you might change public perception on the matter. You might change the way news agendas are prioritized. You might not. One thing is sure, however, and that is unless you try you’ll never know.
My respect to the people affected by the Boston bombing. My respect also to the people who wish to address the imbalance in public perception.
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