You can strike a small blow at senseless tragedy -- a glancing, unsatisfying, hopeless blow, but a blow -- if you can learn from it.
The lesson I'm most aware of is how strong is our urge to interpret events in a way that fits with the world view we already had. You can see it in the blogs -- not so much the Big Blogs with hundreds of subscribers, but the thousands of individual blogs that were full of anger and pain yesterday. You could run a few searches at any given moment and learn what the Virginia Tech tragedy is about.
It's about . . .
It's about gun control, of course, and our "insane love affair with guns." If Cho Seung-Hui hadn't been able to arm himself so easily, Monday would have been a normal day. Except that it's about concealed carry laws, since any armed student could have stopped the massacre.
It's about violence against women, since some say one of the first victims was the killer's ex-girlfriend. And it's about the "vile, damaging misogyny" of the media coverage, like an Australian newspaper who called the supposed girlfriend "the girl who may have sparked the worst school shooting in US history."
It's about Korea, and "the level of violence against women [there], . . . in apartment complexes where you regularly hear women being viciously beaten and screaming at night." It's "another reason to stop letting in so many foreign students." And it's the fear of a backlash against Asians.
It's about bullying; is Virginia Tech another Columbine? It's about the heroism of a 76-year-old professor who, it's said, died blocking his classroom door against the young gunman, while his students escaped out the window. It's about the failure of mental health care, about loneliness and isolation in our culture.
A place for the new in the landscape we know
It's natural that people "know," so quickly and so confidently, what to make of Virginia Tech. This is what we do. We take what life gives us, whether it's commonplace or brutally new, and we give it a place in the mental landscape we already have. We do this quickly -- desperately quickly if that's needed -- and we work with the new fact from that familiar place. It's a lesson for trial lawyers, if that means anything today, because jurors do it. It's a lesson for me; I'm doing it now.
(Finiky's photograph of Virginia blossoms was posted Monday on Flickr to honor the dead at Virginia Tech. It's at http://flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=462193412&size=m, together with license details.)