Alexandria & San Francisco: Thoughts and Prayers

By Elizabeth Mika

Yesterday morning we had two mass shootings. In one several people were injured, in the other several died. The former has been reported widely, the latter barely at all. Like all American papers, The New York Times featured an extensive coverage of the first one, while the other merited a brief mention hidden on the bottom of the page.  By the end of the day, the details of the first incident, including the private life of the perpetrator, have been analyzed in all media, but we still don’t know the basic facts about the second case and seemingly no one is curious about them, not in major news organizations and outlets.

The difference between reporting of those two events could not have been more glaring. We could call it the tale of two shootings perhaps, except the second one, which happened at a UPS facility in San Francisco, does not really have a tale.

It’s not difficult to understand it. We measure the gravity of such events on a narcissistic scale of victimhood befitting our culture and nature, assigning greater importance to those victims who are higher in social status. The wealthier and whiter the victims, the graver the case, no matter the actual injuries.  Pundits representing this demographic then shape the incident into something more than it is, as does, for instance, Steve Israel of NYT when he informs us that it was an attack on Congress and baseball. No, it wasn’t, not any more than the San Francisco shooting was an attack on UPS and our package delivery system — although who knows? We have no information about it and apparently, our journalists are not interested enough to find out.

Other outsized interpretations — that it was an assault on democracy or an attack on all of us — while sounding plausible, ring hollow as well. The main differences between this tragic event and hundreds of others like it happening in America every year is that its targets were Republican lawmakers and that, thankfully, all of them survived. If, as Paul Ryan said yesterday, we are all united in our humanity and need to put our differences aside, then we must start with according equal importance to all victims and, even more crucially, work to create a world where such (or any) violence would not happen.

But, let’s face it, post-tragedy proclamations aside, we don’t want such a world.

The usual questions and non-answers about the baseball shooting were offered during a live presser late afternoon; no such nationally televised, if any, presser for the San Francisco tragedy. The volleyball of obfuscations and platitudes used in these cases (“We can’t comment on this,” “We applaud the heroism of our officers,” etc.) ensures that we don’t talk about the real causes and effects of the violence that permeates our society, remaining forever in our purposely cultivated darkness. This allows us to maintain our status quo and not upset the apple cart of systemic injustice, and aggression it breeds, that is a built-in feature of a rapaciously capitalist world.

Our society’s willful ignorance ensures that its so-called winners continue winning, as promised by our uber (pun very much intended) narcissistic winner-in-chief, while the losers, condemned to misery and oblivion, will try to futilely fit in until they can no longer deny the reality of being failures and contain their resulting rageful desperation.

Mass shootings are always acts of revenge on a society that has wronged and rejected the shooters. There has to come a time — soon, if we are to survive as a species — when we acknowledge that most of the perpetrators’ grievances are real, despite (and/or because of) their personal psychopathology. They are also mostly preventable.

That prevention, however, has to start early, at the roots, with a just, equitable society that respects all its members and gives each and every one a rightful place with an opportunity to positively contribute to the world. Narcissistically disordered nations, unfortunately, do just the opposite: they purposely cultivate the characteristic split into grandiose and devalued segments of itself, wrongly attributing the grandeur with its rewards to the least deserving but most conniving “winners” and humiliating the vulnerable “losers,” with violence as an inevitable result.

We are so steeped in this mindset that we don’t see how it pervades every aspect of our behavior. Our language, for one, reflects that. Even when we celebrate our successes we use the vocabulary of violence: we say that we killed, smashed, destroyed, annihilated, murdered, burned, slayed, or at best — mildest — dominated. This applies to every domain of our life, including interactions with other people. It is of paramount importance in America to be a winner and place oneself above the losers who must be at least humiliated for us to fully savor our win. Our culture is built upon narcissistic aggression, but we don’t talk about it as our narcissism is our last taboo.

That’s why we now have Trump/ism, to confront us with this denial of our fundamental flaw, embodied with such frightening accuracy in our current White House occupant. He, like no other national leader before him, has given the clearest voice to this dark aspect of our nature, turning it into a symbol of national and personal pride for his followers. And he makes no bones about it, as when he says, for example, that to destroy ISIS we must humiliate it.

From the narcissist’s lips to a vengeful god’s ears — because what Trump, like all narcissists, does not really understand (even though he lives it) is that humiliation breeds rage and desire for revenge, and rage leads to violence, which then begets more violence, and so this narcissistic vicious cycle continues, leading us all into an abyss. We must put a stop to it already.

But that won’t happen through offering the perfunctory “thoughts and prayers” after our daily tragedies. It’s time to realize that these words have become meaningless as they don’t lead to action and change. Next time we hear “thoughts and prayers” from our elected officials and public figures let’s ask specifics: what thoughts, exactly, are you sending out? What is the content of your prayers? And, most importantly, what are you doing to change this unjust and violent world for the better?

Later in the day, PBS Newshour featured an interview with Rep. Joe Barton who was one of the players on the fateful baseball field yesterday morning. Barton choked up while saying that he and his colleagues represent America and not just their party. Then he became embarrassed and apologized for his “emotional outburst.”

How telling that he called this very brief and quickly squelched expression of feelings an “emotional outburst,” was ashamed of it and compelled to apologize, something that took him longer than the “outburst” (which wasn’t) itself.   Nobody would fault Barton, perturbed as he was by the tragic events of the morning, for this or any other emotional expressions. There was indeed no need to apologize, as Judy Woodruff pointed out. However in a narcissistically disordered society dividing itself into winners and losers it is unacceptable for anyone, but especially men, to tear up in public, unless those tears have to do with their duty to institutionalized violence and its symbols, something we champion as loyalty to one’s team or nation and their emblems (flags, etc.)

When Rep. Barton recovers from his trauma, perhaps he, along with his colleagues, including Paul Ryan, could indeed engage in that much-needed reflection proposed by Ryan and ask himself whether his actions contribute to building a more just and peaceful world for all members of our human family. With such power as he and his fellow lawmakers have comes great responsibility — and it’s not to their wealthy donors, but to the weakest and most vulnerable members of society, its “losers.”  If as he said he and his fellow legislators represent America and not just their party, they would take care to ensure that indeed all lives matter and not just those of people like themselves.

We may hope perhaps that this tragedy brings about a change in Barton’s and his fellow politicians’ outlook on life and subsequently in their behavior. With that in mind, we should send our thoughts and prayers their way, just as we do to the families of victims in San Francisco. We may yet learn who they are.


  1. I partly agree, the difference in reporting was hugely disproportionate. However, to only blame this difference on the fact that the victims in the former were ‘wealthier and whiter’ than the other is a misstatement.

    The former symbolized national divisions between the left and the right, politically activated incidents (especially in times with divisions as big as these) are simply – as crude as it is to say so – more interesting and important on a national scale.

    Now, it may be so that an incident is covered more thoroughly when wealthy or famous people are involved. Simply because people recognize them. However, claiming that extra coverage resulted from the victims being of different color or race may be true for some ignorant, conservative, less mainstream media, I’d be heart-pressed if such publications as The New York Times would ever engage in such racist action.

  2. Mmm. Elliot Rodger is my example of a shooter where it is hard to argue he has been wronged. Wronged by inculcating his grotesque sense of entitlement, perhaps. Or, the good society allows everyone the ability to flourish, use their gifts to the full, benefit from those gifts and have those gifts recognised, in which case most of us are wronged.

  3. Much more eloquently said than in my latest post, but similar conclusion. We talk a lot about fear, but less about rage. Helplessness, frustration, and anger grow in our society and I think you’ve done a wonderful job outlining the environment that is the reason for why this seems to be increasing. While I think Trump has exacerbated this problem, his election is much more of a reflection, I think, of climate created by the GOP for years. There message has been be angry about feminism, be angry about foreigners, be angry about secularism. Well done Emma.

  4. You do bring out the dishonesty of the reporting of the two events, and I agree with your premise that the attack on political types (elites) would generate much more outrage (fear?) than an attack from “grunt” to “grunt” – and hasn’t that been the case throughout history? If (God forbid) a general should die in a war, his name will be enshrined in the history books, not the names of the millions of soldiers and victims of said war. Of course such disparate reporting is deliberate and wealth, status and race motivated – in every possible way.

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