“Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue?”– Elie Wiesel
Famously, people often chalk up love and hate as polar opposites. The summer of love in 1967 was somehow equaled by the summer of hate in 1976. We are also somehow equally fascinated by stories of deep love alongside stories of horrific hate. Romantic comedies have always been popular along with stories about serial killers and mass murderers.
In many instances we are fascinated by both. It isn’t so much that we are romantically drawn to the immense wreckage that someone brings with a mass murder event or serial killing rampage. It is the simple fact that we often wonder how those people could get to a place where they could do such a thing.
We have been told that indifference is in fact the opposite of love. It is the absence of feeling one way or another. If one were to take a healthy point of view they would simply acknowledge that each of us has a capacity to love or hate and that capacity is not infinite. We each has to decide what and who we choose to care about.
We say all of this to sit as a backdrop against the mass shooting that happened in Georgia last week. The question is obviously why that individual chose to do that. Most assume it was an anti-Asian hate crime and want to proceed accordingly. Of course, that begs the question of why you would want to differentiate between hate crimes and good old-fashioned regular crimes.
One could credibly argue that any crime is a hate crime. In particular, if someone opens fire in a crowded room when all of those victims are unarmed it is difficult to reach any other conclusion than someone motivated by hate, rage, or both. I suppose it won’t change the outcomes for that shooter, but categorizing crimes gives law enforcement insight into which communities might be the most vulnerable.
According to worldwide crime statistics, the United States is fourth in the rate of homicides per 100,000 people. All of the countries eclipsing them come from Central and South America. They all have major drug and gang issues that can explain the problem. Venezuela, Honduras, and El Salvador are the only countries that eclipse the United States.
This is where we get into a heated and long-winded discussion over why that is. Many will point to the disproportionate amount of those deaths that can be connected to guns. I certainly have pointed that out numerous times before in articles I have written over the years. Simply put, there are more guns per capita in the United States than any other country in the world.
The first rule in all social science is to avoid attributing causation where it does not exist. Any endeavor involving human behavior can have correlations and not causation. Gun activists are correct when they assert that people kill people and not guns. The gun is simply a tool. However, it is a bit rich to assume that all homicides would have occurred anyway. The relative ease of obtaining a gun is a factor in that homicide rate, but it is not the only factor.
A large part of it comes down to who we are as a nation. Centuries of independence on multiple levels have hardwired are collective DNA. We are much more individualistic in nature. We care about ourselves and our family. We rarely see a great deal of caring outside of that. It seems counterintuitive to suggest that indifference leads to a lot of crimes, but I would have to think it is more difficult to kill someone I have an emotional attachment to. That’s even if it is someone I actively dislike.
When we consider what serial killers have in common it is that they don’t form emotional connections with those they kill. The emotional attachment comes in the ritual they go through. It goes in the act itself and not who they are doing the act to. Give the killer an attachment to the person and they might not be able to kill.
So, the cries for gun control and improved mental health treatment are certainly valid. All endeavors in social science have multiple factors that have to be considered. Maybe we need to delve into the hardwiring to see if we can foster some additional feeling of affinity for our neighbors. I’m not one to talk. We may have talked to our neighbors a few times total in the last few years since they moved in.
So, I’m not sure how to get there, but we know what it looks like. I’m reminded of a committee I was on at my church where the pastor suggested forming another committee to determine how we could be more welcoming. I made the off the wall suggestion that maybe we should just be more welcoming without the extra committee.
Generally speaking, we treat people we care about better than the ones we don’t. So, maybe the road is more simple than we think. Maybe we just need to find ways to expand the group of people we care about to include more people. The aforementioned Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust survival who spoke in front of Congress at the end of the 20th century. He suggested that indifference was never a virtue. In point of fact, it is the only way that something like the Holocaust could ever happen again. Yes we need to pass common sense gun control legislation. Yes, we need to find better ways to treat mentally ill people and treat more of them. Yes, we need to continue be on the lookout for people committing bias crimes against targeted groups. These things are all true. However, maybe more important of all, we need to find ways that each of us can care a little more.