Far too many Americans believe that attacks by our foreign enemies or massacres by our own citizens are now just a feature of everyday life. The fact that these increasingly common flashes of violence are inescapable almost seems to make them endurable. "We have to live with this," the resigned seem to say. "This is the way we live now."
No, it's not. Or at least, it doesn't have to be.
On the other side are those who take to the internet to screech and howl with righteous indignation upon every act of violence, political or otherwise. They demand action. But they don't really take any.
Each political or ideological camp looks on the other as so misguided that it poses an existential threat to our way of life. And as awful as the Republican baseball practice shooting in Alexandria truly was — and how much worse it could have been — it's the feverish controversy over which kinds of violence we must live with that really ought to scare us.
Look at what happened in the aftermath of the Alexandria shooting. There was a mass rush to consume and produce shooting-related content online. There was a swarming, primal urge to find out facts that could be weaponized in tweets to prove your side right and the other wrong. It's an instant, infinite loop, and it seems to prove out social theorist Paul Virilio's warning that an information singularity is mechanizing our existence. Not all kinds of automated life are bad, of course. Instincts, customs, and habits are an irrepressible, often valuable part of being human, whether or not augmented by devices. What hurts is that the mechanics of consuming and producing immediate and endless information wipe out greater and greater swaths of the offline world we inhabit through habit and memory. "What suddenly comes to us is far more important than what leaves," as Virilio puts it.
So it becomes a potential scandal to drag back into the public square what has been repressed or deleted from the everyday world by our mechanized lives online. That's why it will strike so many of us as outrageous to talk about what has been taken off the table by the information orgy that every high-profile massacre or act of terror now breeds. Online, our shouting matches privilege those who think we must resign ourselves to one kind of nihilistic indignity or another. Yet they also privilege, in opposition, those who insist we must fight — and that the only way we can fight is by pouring our imagination and agency into an all-consuming, abstract war. This is why we still hear so much about "fighting terrorism" or "solving guns," despite the fact that we know a type or technology of violence can never be defeated. As a result, some fall back on the idea that we can and must rid the world of "the terrorists" or "the gun owners." But even this is an abstract fantasy now largely driven by hive minds online that have forgotten the rules of the physical world.
Righteous tweeting, it must be said, is a really dumb way to prevent real-world gun violence.
Stop howling about gun violence on the internet. Take real action in real life.
What sort of action? Well, the scandalous solution to the problem of persistent hard-to-predict massacre attacks is encoded right within our Constitution: well-regulated militias. Not an all-seeing, all-knowing federal government. Not high-density populations of private citizens packing heat. Until the deep social sources of organized terror and disorganized slaughter can be addressed and ameliorated, the readiest solution to both is the mobilization of militias patrolling public places, prepared to handle a crisis at any moment, the way Rep. Steve Scalise's security detail did.
Like all options in the real world of flesh and blood, the militia option is not a magic wand. It is, however, the kind of response to fearsome threats that once figured into our common sensibility, our shared lifeworld of habit and memory.
(For a thorough examination of the history of this idea, check out my colleague David Brown's case for well-regulated militias.)
The militia idea ought to provide a sobering example of what other kinds of common historical sense we have lost online. Instead of civil liberties or tyranny concerns, the real reason the militia option will not be exercised is because it is already seen as unjustly, immorally masculine — no matter how many women might participate. Despite the ravenous rancor of our endless consumption and creation of instant information, too many of us now believe that so intimately entrusting our bodies to predominantly male guardianship is a fundamentally illegitimate power arrangement, one without valid authority.
This kind of attitude is sometimes thought of as the product of a fringe gender-politics vanguard. It is much more likely the result of an information-age transformation in the kind of violence we think is inescapable, and the kind of violence we think is good — namely, our endless war of words online.