I feel somewhat obligated to comment on the recent mass shooting incident in Tucson being that I am a current resident, and have briefly met Representative Giffords. My local friends and I are shocked, saddened, and outraged by this event, but I’ll stick largely with the facts here.
First, let us not minimize the fact that six people have already perished. Among them were a federal judge, John M. Roll, and a nine-year-old girl, Christina-Taylor Green. Congresswoman Giffords was staging one of her routine “Congress on Your Corner” events at a local strip mall, and Judge Roll had merely swung by on his way home to pay his friend a brief visit. The young girl, in irony of all ironies, had gained fame as one of the Faces of Hope, featured in the book of that title about babies born on September 11, 2001.
Additional fatalities included Giffords’ Constituent Services Director, Gabe Zimmerman, retirees Dorwan Stoddard, Dorthy Murray, and Phyllis Schneck. Twenty individuals in all were wounded. The good news is that four out of the five people on the critical list last night have now been upgraded to “serious.”
Gabrielle Giffords herself remains in critical condition, but a Sunday morning press conference held by the doctors and surgeons who are treating her was filled with optimism. Miraculously, her injuries involved only one hemisphere of her brain. Before and after surgery she was able to respond to simple commands (squeeze my hand, show two fingers, etc), which considering the gravity of her condition is nothing short of amazing.
I was giving a presentation at the Medical Entomology Today conference here in Tucson when this calamity happened. My topic was “Social Media and Self-Diagnosis: How the Internet has Made Medical Entomology Better and Worse.” While I was describing how electronic technologies are changing how the public gets information, members of my audience were receiving text messages about the tragedy. Politely, no one interrupted my talk.
When I was informed of the event my heart was in my throat. I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Representative Giffords when she attended the “Butterfly Affaire” fundraiser at the Tucson Botanical Gardens back in October. She was her usual smiling self, and I helped her find butterflies which she eagerly shared with her family and other members of her entourage. This woman goes out of her way to find opportunities to mingle with her constituents, and never gives the impression that anyone is beneath her. She could care less about your political affiliation, but cares deeply about your physical (read healthcare) and economic well-being.
I’m not going to devote one word to the gunman, you can find that out for yourself if you wish.
What continues to disturb me is the direction our American society is taking. One could make the argument that we are a devolving species, going backwards in our cultural evolution at the least. We are literally our own worst enemies, filling the roles of competitors, parasites, and predators once occupied by other organisms during the course of our divergence from the rest of the great apes. Clearly, we have the capacity to hold in check our destructive instincts and tendencies and behave instead in an altruistic manner that ultimately benefits us as individuals. We are increasingly choosing not to do that. We no longer have patience. We must have things “our” way, right now.
We also have more weapons at our disposal for forcing others to comply with our whims, or to destroy our (perceived) adversaries. We need to scale down our definition of “weapons of mass destruction.” Obviously, an automatic handgun qualifies.
There was a blood drive today at the two Red Cross donation centers, in honor of the fallen from yesterday’s tragedy. I didn’t go, figuring the facilities would be swamped (and buses run infrequently on Sundays, affecting my ability to get to and from the nearest location). I am overdue for donating, though, and will likely do so later in the coming week. It is a nice, tangible gesture to affirm life in general. Self-sacrifice, whether it takes the form of sharing one’s blood voluntarily, parting with money for a good cause, or some other act, is just the remedy for what ails us as a society so self-obsessed. Find a way to sacrifice, and do it regularly. Watch the positive chain reaction.