“Not Us”, As Usual

It’s tragedy, I won’t deny,
And everybody wonders “why?”
(They always do, when people die)
And argue… or discuss

The amateur forensics start;
His motives, actions, picked apart:
The hope is held, with all one’s heart
He isn’t “one of us

The facts are buttressed, or ignored,
Depending on whose ox is gored,
We’d take a chance, but can’t afford
To look at all the clues!

We have to stake a claim before
The facts are all made clear—what’s more,
We have to make our points full-bore,
Cos if we don’t, we lose.

And so, before all facts are out,
Opposing groups will scream and shout;
The one thing that it’s not about
Is answering the “why?”

Instead, we each protect our name,
Our faith, our group, our tribe from shame
The crucial thing? We’re not to blame
Whenever people die.

I’m sure I don’t need to give that many examples. Christian sites blaming the atheist. Atheist sites pointing out that he was some sort of pagan/wiccan/whatever. Right-wing sites ignoring his self-description as conservative. Left-wing sites seeing nothing else.
My favorite, so far, is this one, an angry rant that blames Obama for all of it, reality be damned.

When our primary motivation is making sure that blame goes to them, and not us, your primary motivation cannot be prevention.

I fully accept that the shooter was of my tribe(s). I have far more in common with him than not. An atheist could do this, as could a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist… mind you, it would be against the belief systems of any of these groups, but individuals are not groups. A member of any political party could, or any nationality, or any race, or any sex or gender. Most would not, but any could. (I absolutely do not claim that each of these categories are equipotent.)


I am told that when we blame the environment, we let individuals off the hook. I suppose that is true. It is likewise true that when we blame individuals, we let the environment off the hook. Can we prevent every bad thing? Very probably not. Should that stay us from preventing the ones we can?

The USA is a melting pot; we have people from everywhere. It follows that any major differences between us and everywhere else … cannot be genetic. It’s not that we are naturally more prone to kill one another with guns… we’ve got to be carefully taught. And it seems there must be some systematic difference that makes us different. Hey, maybe it’s the ready availability of guns. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t… it’s a testable question, though. One among many, if we can get past the “he wasn’t one of us!” focus, and focus on what the actual environmental factors are.

Thus far, pretty much everything I have seen has been some version of “not me!” Please, let me know what else is out there.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Hmmm. Until reaching the prose section, I thought this post concerned Kunduz.


  2. mesh says

    Fear not, for there is the home version of the “Not Us” game! Now you can externalize, rationalize, and decide the true Scotsmen with your family and friends for your own exculpatory needs!

  3. Al Dente says

    This was a man who, for whatever reasons seemed logical to him, decided he needed to kill some people. Guns made it easier to kill people but that’s just technology, not motivation or justification. I’m reminded of John Donne’s “Mediation XVII”:

    No man is an island,
    Entire of itself,
    Every man is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.

    Not only Je suis Charlie but Je suis shooter because as Cuttlefish says so aptly: “I fully accept that the shooter was of my tribe(s).” The difference is that I don’t feel like killing random strangers.

  4. corwyn says

    The difference is that I don’t feel like killing random strangers.

    …at the moment.

    That is partially what is going on here. People want to reassure themselves that they would *never* do something like this under *any* circumstances. My tribe is immune to this sort of behavior means that *I* am immune to this sort of behavior. Whatever it takes to get one out of the reference class of potential mass murderers. Which, of course, means that there is a deep down fear that it isn’t true.

  5. JohnnieCanuck says

    What Corwyn says. Well said.
    This is why the offender must be made out to be a ‘monster’ or declared ‘mentally ill’. Above all it must not be conceded that an ordinary human such as myself could be expected to behave that way if only my circumstances were different.

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