I don’t know what to say about the tragedy in Orlando. Obviously we all see events as confirmation for our our preexisting worldviews, and in this case I see a man who chose to deal with his own powerlessness by hurting others. He chose to link his actions to a homophobic demographic (ISIS, in this case) because it helped him self-righteously justify actions he would otherwise have to admit were unconscionable. This is almost the same thing we all do, except he chose to murder people too.
Perhaps rationally I should be able to say that the particularly nightmarish aspects of this crime — the confusion of a dark, loud club, the long purgatorial hostage wait, the invasion of an assumed safe space — shouldn’t make this any more affecting than any other 49 murders, but of course they do. I don’t know what to say to the hateful but pitiable killer, who is dead, do the families of the murdered and wounded, to the clubgoers themselves, living and dead, and to my loved ones who could easily have been targeted for being gay or who who will have to deal with the fallout of being, or looking, Muslim.
I don’t even know what to say to the authors of various celebratory tweets, conveniently collected. I have to assume that at least some of these people do not actually endorse mass murder but are merely trying to signal the strength of their convictions through hyperbole; but, regardless, if you’re in favor of mass murder it’s unlikely we’ll be able to have a discussion about it. The gap between us is too broad on issues too fundamental.
But maybe I have something to say about our ancient friend Don Juan, author of the above tweet. Because Don Juan and I believe something in common. We believe people think in demographics.
Now, I don’t know Omar Mateen’s political affiliation, but assuming he actually was a Democrat, well, this fact hardly matters. No action of Mateen’s last weekend is endorsed by the Democratic party. If any Democratic politician were to support Mateen, there would be outrage and uproar. (The Republican party would not endorse Mateen’s actions, either, although the response of some politicians we could name has been embarrassingly tepid or ambiguous.) The idea that Mateen’s actions could be egg in the face of the Democratic party doesn’t actually make any sense.
The same could be said for moderate Islam. Of course ISIS would (and apparently has?) approve the attack. But we knew that already. Many moderate Muslims, even those who are more homophobic than my demographic’s Overton window would permit, deplore mass murder, just as even your grumpy old homophobic uncle who worries about bathrooms would balk at spilling blood.
Mateen’s act taught us nothing new. We already knew that the Democrats and many Muslims don’t want to murder people. We already knew that ISIS does want to murder people. There is no information here.
But we (as Americans, or possibly as humans) have so deeply ensconced ourselves in our identities that demographic arguments, of the kind Don Juan makes here, make sense to us.
When I used to gripe about Ted Kennedy a lot, because of Mary Jo Kopechne, one of the most common things people would say to me was, “Laura Bush killed a guy in a car crash, too.”
That is not a good argument. The fact that you can name another killer does not make killing acceptable. And yet we tend to think this way: Your argument attacked someone in my demographic; all I need to do to counter is strike back at someone in your demographic.
Don Juan knows well that his demographic, which I’m extrapolating from this one tweet, will be criticized someday soon, perhaps today. And when someone says to him, “Republicans want to build a Night’s Watch-style wall, ha ha!” Don can say, “Well, a Democrat murdered 49 people in Orlando.” When someone says, “The Westboro Baptist Church is made of monsters,” he can say, “Well, a Muslim murdered 49 people in Orlando.”
There’s not much I can say to Don Juan. I mean, I’d like to tell him that murder is wrong, but if he doesn’t already believe that I’m not going to be able to persuade him. So what I want to say is that his argument is flawed.
It’s partially flawed because it’s unlikely his interlocutor is going to be a guilt-ridden gay ISIS sympathizer, which is Mateen’s presumed demographic. But it’s also flawed because you can’t refute someone by attacking a demographic. You can’t knock down any “blue tribe” arguments by trotting out one anecdote. Well, you can, and presumably Don Juan will, but doing so proves nothing.
I wish we’d stop shooting each other. I wish we’d stop hating each other. I wish we’d stop pretending that your failure is somehow the same as my success.
That’s not very much, of course. But that’s all I could think of to say.