Today Is the Outcome of Years of Inaction. What Will We Do to Change That?

The entire universe in blog form
Dec. 14 2012 3:50 PM

The Grand Experiment Has Not Failed. We Have.

Today is truly a horrible day, so terrible it’s difficult to process. As my heart sits in my chest, crushed, I think about the parents, the other children, everyone touched by what happened. I want to know why this happened, how it could happen.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies! Follow him on Twitter.

Online and in the media I see a similar urge with those talking about this. And it’s a natural reaction to try to assign blame, saying it’s the fault of the NRA, or politicians, or a failed health care system.

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None of that is true. I’ll tell you who’s to blame. You are. I am. Everyone is.

America has been called the Great Experiment, and it’s really true. When this country was founded it was a chance to start again, to try to learn from past mistakes, take what was good from learned experience, and apply all that to create a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

And since then, we’ve experimented. We—the American people—expanded voting rights to women, to blacks, to everyone over the age of 18. That experiment worked. We experimented with banning alcohol. That experiment did not work. We’ve experimented with a national road system, a space program, deregulating the airline industry, and more. Some things have worked, and some haven’t.

The purpose of an experiment is to learn. And one of the many purposes of learning is to act on what we’ve learned.

Politicians are the front line of this action. They make the laws. So in events like today’s we look to the politicians and try to lay blame. That’s natural, and not unwarranted. We also look to their influencers, like lobbyists. That’s also natural, and also not unwarranted.

But who are the ultimate influencers of politicians and the laws they make—or don’t make?

You are. I am. Everyone is.

Today’s awful news is not the first time we have seen mass killings, mass shootings. Aurora. Tucson. Columbine. The list is appalling, and sadly far too long.

But what have we done about it? What has changed, what new experiment was attempted to change this situation? The Brady Bill made it slightly more difficult to buy guns, but whether you are for gun control or set firmly against it, it should be clear to you that the Bill did not do enough to prevent them from getting in the wrong hands.

Of course this situation is complicated, and of course there is no one solution. We cannot take action just to take action, and convince ourselves we're doing something, no matter what it is. But all we have learned from doing nothing is that nothing has been done. Discussing this, just talking about it realistically, is the first necessary step.

But after all these recent shootings, there has been no discussion in Congress about it. Certainly we should be revisiting our gun laws, our mental health care, our school system, to see if there are any ways of improving them and either preventing something like this from happening again or minimizing its chances. We need to be looking to other countries, to past mistakes, past successes, and applying that knowledge to our situation now.

But this topic is actively avoided, as if so soon after such an event is not the right time to discuss this. But it’s precisely the right time to discuss this. If not now, when? In the coming days, as the immediacy of today fades a bit, this will still not be discussed by politicians. Now, is the right time, now, when this is on everyone’s minds. It is out of respect for the victims that we must discuss this, not keep silent.

Because we are the ones who are the caretakers of this experiment. And we’re abrogating our responsibility. We are watching the same events unfold over and again, and we’re not doing anything to change the conditions. That is not an experiment. That is irresponsibility, plain and simple. And the responsibility is yours. It’s mine. It’s everybody’s.

And we must ask ourselves: What have we learned today? And what are we, the people in charge, going to do about it?