Washington D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier (center) discusses the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard with aides. PHOTO: Reuters
The shocking events at the Washington Navy Yard this morning have halted business as usual across the country. At the time of writing, twelve people plus one shooter are confirmed dead, and two more shooters are at large. Attacks like those at the Washington Navy Yard are terrorism, because they use terror to disrupt the lives around us, and make us feel less safe and certain. Though terrorism kills a small fraction of the people of less startling causes like cancer and heart disease, it has an outsized effect on how we see the world. The Washington Navy Yard shooting is already having that effect, and the reaction it has stirred on Twitter shows this:
just what type of psychopathy would cause THREE (presumably military) men to go on a mad shooting spree in the Navy Yard? #NavyYardShooting— Alain Nu (@alain_nu) September 16, 2013
This is the sort of question the Washington Navy Yard shooting is meant to make us ask. Who would do this? And why? How are we even the same species as those monsters? Hopefully the shooters will be caught and identified so that we can start to answer some of these questions.
Thoughts and prayers for the innocent lives lost, and anyone affected by the #NavyYardShooting today. Disgusting world we live in.— alana alongi (@Asquared23) September 16, 2013
Again, the Washington Navy Yard shooting changes how people see the entire world. Despite the fact that we hold the capacity to wipe out more or less all of human life hundreds of times over, we live in the least violent time in history. An event like the attack at the Navy Yard reaches deeper than this intellectual concept, however, and makes us feel like our world is one of evil and danger.
Another mass shooting, this heinous act is becoming a common occurrence in America. Very sad state of affairs. #NavyYardShooting— H.I (@Hodaneye) September 16, 2013
How do I reconcile the above statement that our times are the least violent ever with the common sentiment that shootings like those at Aurora, Fort Hood, Newtown and now the Washington Navy Yard seem to happen the moment we forget about the last one? It may be true that we are in a rash of mass shootings, and that the Washington Navy Yard shooting will be followed by another one before too long. But it's also true that less shocking attacks, which don't make the national news are historically at very low levels. That's not to brush off these tragedies, nor is it to say that the Washington Navy Yard shooting doesn't deserve our attention and concern, but it's a perspective that often gets lost in times like these.
Jarring events like the Washington Navy Yard shooting make us reach out for a coherent narrative, but state the idea tweeted by @AdmiralStoney in plain English and it falls apart: that because of atrocities committed 22 and 9 years ago, six people tangentially related had to die. This sort of long-narrative karma is satisfying in the same way that conspiracy theories are: they imply a cause and effect around the Washington Navy Yard shooting, where currently there is none.
Why is it that when people are going thru something they want to take frustration out on others??? #NavyYardShooting— Cheryl LoreaLee (@carmelsunkissed) September 16, 2013
This is the sort of question we should be asking in response to the Washington Navy Yard shooting. From what we know, the Navy Yard shooters fired at people indiscriminately without picking specific targets. Why would someone want to kill innocent strangers at the cost of their own lives. This is a question that deserves our consideration and attention.
The Washington Navy Yard shooting has captured all of our attention, but that doesn't make it an event of cosmic significance. Rather, it matters as a local tragedy for the lives lost, and a gruesome psychological puzzle in trying to understand what made the Navy Yard shooters do what they did.