I have yet to make any comments about the events in Boston. Until we know more, these will likely be the only comments I make. Just three quick observations about this incident (and similar incidents in the past).
Sympathy as Self-Promotion
Usually, when something like this happens, I do the exact opposite of what most people do. Most people immediately turn on the news and scour the Internet, looking for the latest updates. From the news, they get mindless speculation and a bunch of reported “facts” that often end up being at least partially wrong. From the Internet, you get a never-ending stream of absolutely everyone, from Lady Gaga to your weird uncle Fred, making their best attempt at a meaningful and heartfelt expression of sympathy for the victims. It’s as if as soon as a gun is fired or a bomb goes off, suddenly the race is on (no pun intended). Everyone who has a Twitter or Facebook account immediately rushes to show how sad they are and how much sympathy they have. I’m not here to doubt that these expressions are genuine, but they always make me feel a little icky. Why does everyone feel the need to post them on public accounts? Is this not essentially advertising: “Look how caring and sympathetic I am?” Do we not think that there are publicists out there calling up b-list celebrities and saying: “Hey, you need to express your condolences on Twitter right now?” While the sentiment may be perfectly real, let’s remember, every second you spend on Facebook talking about how you’re praying for the victims is a second that you spend not actually praying for the victims. The way I see it, anyone who makes a “pray for the victims” update is really talking about themselves, not about the victims. Of course, the undisputed “winner” of this particular tragedy is Patton Oswalt. It’s entirely likely that everything he said was perfectly heartfelt, a spontaneous reaction off the top of his head with absolutely no hopes or intention of advancing his career. It’s also completely undeniable that the public adulation he has received from his comments will help his career. And trust me, other b-list celebrities are taking notice of this.
Admit Your Political Biases
We all have them. They’re a part of human nature. We all identify with some group or another, and generally speaking, when someone does something evil, we all are hoping, deep down inside, that the perpetrator is someone who doesn’t belong to our group, and does belong to a group we oppose. When something like this happens, there are usually two groups of people: Those who publicly express their desires (often through speculation) of the identity of the attacker, and those who take the high-and-mighty, above-it-all, “let’s not make this about politics,” position. The second group are also known as liars. Can we just be honest about this? The second you found out about these events (unless you had friends or family in the immediate vicinity of the attacks), your first thoughts were hopes about the identity and motivations of the attacker. Muslims hoped it was a white person, Neocons hoped it was a Muslim, Leftists hoped it was a right-wing extremist, libertarians hoped it was a statist. We all do this. It’s perfectly normal. Pretending you don’t isn’t only lying and denying your human nature, it’s yet another attempt at shameless self-promotion. On another note, speculating as to how this event will be used by the political class and what new legislation will be spawned in the aftermath of it is also perfectly reasonable, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to do it. Using highly emotional public events to pass awful legislation is something of a precedent in this country. Exploiting tragedies is something our politicians do very often, and very well. There is no reason to temporarily suspend logical thinking, or attempt to shame and silence anyone who would think about such things. You can have sympathy for the victims and still be concerned as to how this might affect government policy, and how it might affect the standing of your specific group or philosophy.
The Death Count is…. Pretty Low
This is probably the part that’s most likely to upset people and get me in trouble. But in the grand scheme of things, judging by loss of life, this really wasn’t that major of an event. As of this writing, the death toll stands at three, with 176 injured. I don’t mean to downplay the significance of the horrific injuries suffered by the 176, but let’s just focus on the deaths for a moment. While every preventable and early death is a tragedy, three really is a drop in the bucket. A child in Africa dies of malaria (mostly preventable) every minute. 82 people were killed in the federal government’s assault on the Branch Dividians in Waco. It is estimated that over 10 people die in the U.S. every day as a result of texting while driving. American drone strikes have killed over 300 civilians in Pakistan and Yemen over the last nine years. On August 23, 2012, 19 people were shot in gang-related shootings in Chicago in a single evening, while over 500 people were murdered in Chicago throughout the course of the year. Not to say what happened in Boston isn’t significant, but some perspective is probably needed here.