Time for a New Conversation

The national conversations surrounding the Newtown, Conn. shootings continue, and with President Obama’s recent executive orders, as well as the NRA’s new, pathetically immature advertisement regarding the first family’s security, it’s conceivable that the tense and colorful debate over gun control is only going to continue to hold the spotlight for the time being. Already, there are whispers that America may be entering a grand, public debate on guns and violence, one that, fueled by the image of twenty dead children, may manage to avoid crumbling away under the media’s frivolousness sensationalism.

I certainly hope so.

We’ve had so-called “national conversations” regarding these crises in the past: most recently, following the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy. Topics of race, violence and environmental unsustainability made headlines before eventually giving way to the next big story. It’s not that we are necessarily an unsympathetic nation; it is simply a reflection of the realities of modern media and communication, in which priority is given to what is new and newsworthy. The media’s business cycle isn’t built for sustained discussion of specific instances and issues.

But I’m hopeful that we are moving away from these ADD-like tendencies. Too often have we, as a nation, suffered through and been complacent with the standard news hour procedure where, in response to event X, we are bombarded with two opposing opinions that simply state and restate the standard lines of the left and right. This trend has only continued following the Newton shooting, where for weeks now our airwaves have been filled with the same “ban assault weapons and high-capacity clips,” “don’t ban assault weapons and high-capacity clips,” “improve screening procedures,” “they won’t do anything” one liners. There’s merit behind most of these arguments, but none of them come anywhere close to addressing the root of the problem of American violence. It’s another palette of politically convenient, unoriginal stances that only take stabs at the problem at hand, offering small, reactionary political Band-Aids. Neither the left nor the right seems to be fully engaging with the problem.

We are a country that, like most countries, is facing a tremendous amount of problems, gun violence being one of them. We simply can’t allow ourselves to settle for these overly simplistic debates.

We’ve resorted too often to “little fixes,” on a variety of levels, local, national and individual. We look at our education system and say “more money, more teachers” without seriously considering that perhaps it’s time to re-examine the traditional pillars of our children’s education. We are in the depths of an underreported depression epidemic, to which our primary answer has been to become more dependent on prescription drugs, without considering the broader complexities of the issue, the rise of affluence, the corresponding social isolation and heightened cultural expectations. A hurricane lays waste to much of our eastern seaboard, and rather than address the underlying environmental issues regarding our unsustainable existence, our only answer is to send aid, which, while certainly needed, is simply temporary, and will not protect us from future environmental catastrophes.

On a more individual level, 21st century technology is changing the way we interact, offering a new frontier for the development of intimate relationships. Social networking has rapidly imbedded itself in our daily lives, subsequently making it more difficult to deeply connect with each other. In perhaps the most metaphorically perfect example of our quick-fix mentality, one of the possible “solutions” that was offered to avoid a raising-the-debt-ceiling-standoff was a frickin’ three-trillion dollar coin (an idea that was only recently scratched). A single, Band-Aid like coin meant to temporarily patch up the monetary bleeding that continues to come as a result from our unchecked national spending.

We live in an information age in which we are constantly being made aware of the countless problems surrounding us, splitting our attention and forcing us into shallow, rapid-fire debate. It would be easy to respond to the Sandy Hook shooting in the manner described by the Onion in their disturbingly accurate “recount” of America’s reaction to the event: “Fuck Everything, Nation Reports: Just fuck it all to hell.” But Newtown seems like it might be, and hopefully will be, different: that it will send us from numbing shock into constructive conversation. We cannot allow ourselves to fall into the standard bicker of the past, quoting overly simplistic bumper stickers and Internet memes. It’s time for us to move outside our comfort zone of well-rehearsed party lines and traditional “solutions.”

I don’t have the answers. No 750-word column, news report, or radio interview does. Newtown may have finally and permanently taught us this lesson – it’s time for us to take it to heart.

Get started on that new conversation by emailing John at jhmurray@stanford.edu.

About John Murray

John Murray is a sophomore. He enjoys eating cheese and crackers. He misses his dog.