Navy Yard Shooting: Blaming Video Games?

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I’m not sure where to start with this one, or quite how to get my arms around it, so let’s go with the low-hanging fruit: Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s comments yesterday that sought to put the blame for Monday’s mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard on video games would be risible even if they weren’t so disgusting. With twelve people dead and several more wounded, there’s something uniquely craven and amoral about attempting to head-off predictable (and entirely appropriate) discussions about the relative availability of murder weapons and mental health treatment by taking a shot at video games, a medium the Fox demographic understands less and fears more than the federal government.

It should go without saying that the idea she was trying to articulate, that violent video games cause people to commit violence in real life, is demonstrably false. Putting aside the fact that among the millions of people who play video games, those who go on shooting sprees represent a statistically negligible minority of the player population as a whole, scientific studies published as recently as last month found no valid link between computer video game play and increased violent behavior. In point of fact, at least one study reached the opposite conclusion: that such games could have a slight “calming effect” on young people with attention deficit symptoms.  But the facts, however contrary to the narrative Hasselbeck and friends were attempting to stich together, are almost beside the point— because what she’s actually doing with her clumsy references to “gamer culture” and “certain demographics” is trying to paint the shooter as “Other.”

Barely a generation ago, there may have been some validity to the stereotype of people who play video games as the kind of weirdo outsiders Hasselbeck and her graying viewers imagine. The burnouts, the nerds, the frustrated— those were the “gamers” in the perverse little high school caste system some people keep attempting to hold onto well into adult life. In 2013, however, when the overlap between “people who play video games” and “people who breathe air and have access to technology” is so huge, identifying someone as a “gamer” is no more helpful or descriptive than saying they are bilaterally symmetrical. Or that they like pie. Lots of people like pie. Lots of people play video games. Most people, of both sorts, don’t go on murderous rampages.

Along those lines, it’s important to look past the straw-man arguments coming from the couch on Fox & Friends. At this point, it’s an inevitable part of the news cycle immediately in the wake of yet another massacre for pundits from the right to attempt shifting the blame for gun violence onto anything but guns. After Newtown, Wayne LaPierre himself was trying to sell us on the idea that video games simulating imaginary violence were more hazardous to our children then the legally purchased weapons that had just been used to slaughter twenty of them. But there are less biased, less rabid and delusional people making similar arguments.

Plenty of people, men and women of good intentions acting in good faith, have worked to advocate restrictions on violent video games out of the misguided belief that this will make us safer. For my part, I’ve always instinctively assumed that if someone commits mass murder because of what type of mass media he’s consuming, the problem is likely not with the media but the consumer.

But I’m a father now, and beginning to wrestle with the practical questions of what my son is exposed to and how that exposure is contextualized. I’m a pop-culture nerd myself, one who devotes an inordinate amount of my dwindling free time to comic books and video games (and video games about comic books)— so I’m beginning with the advantage of being immersed in the content and understanding it before my son encounters it. There are titles and genres that will absolutely be out of bounds for a while, at least until he’s old enough to download them himself. That’s not because I think exposure to CoD or ASSASSIN’S CREED will inspire him to acts of violence, it’s because— if he is anything like his father (and he definitely is)— that kind of thing is going to prompt some loud and terrible nightmares that I’d just soon spare the whole household.

So as a parent, I’m making a good-faith effort to keep my son from being exposed to content that might frighten him. As a citizen and a voter, don’t I have a larger responsibility to keep him protected from weapons that might kill him? Therein lies the challenge— the vast gulf between the imaginary, speculative dangers of gaming content and the very real dangers posed by legal murder weapons in the hands of the mentally ill. Video games are manifestly not to blame for the Navy Yard shootings. Aaron Alexis, and the system that failed to keep a gun out of his hands, is.

An edited version of this essay will appear in The Times-Picayune on Sunday, September 22nd.

What the Bible Says About Gay Marriage

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I forgive you.

I want you to know that I’m coming at this from a place of love, and that my faith teaches me to hate the sin and love the sinner. So please know that I love you, and I forgive you. But I cannot support you.

You have made a lifestyle choice— and I believe it is a choice—- that flies in the face of what my faith teaches me is right. What’s more, the things that go on between you and your partner (or partners) in this sin make me deeply uncomfortable. Disgusted even. I don’t know how to explain to my son what it is you do, or why you feel you have the right to flaunt your sinful behavior out in public the way you do.

You’re in the grip of a terrible sin, and as your brother in the faith I have some responsibility toward you to help lift you out of it. I cannot pretend, regardless of the degree to which your lifestyle is accepted or even encouraged by the culture in which we find ourselves, that what you are doing is acceptable or normal in the eyes of God.

Give me your credit cards.

I’m sorry— what did you think I was talking about? The lending and borrowing of money at interest is explicitly forbidden in the Bible. Scripture tells us that we should “owe no one anything, except to love each other” (Romans 13:8), and states unequivocally that “you shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest” (Deuteronomy 23:19).

And yet we, as loving Christians in modern America, see no problem with how our brothers and sisters conduct their financial affairs. What goes on between a man and his credit agency is between him and his conscience, and we as citizens and people of faith do not generally concern ourselves with his private business. We certainly don’t use that as a pretext for denying him or her equal protection under the law.

The Bible says a lot of things. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mark 12:31), and “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1) both come to mind as being relevant to the debate playing out on the steps of the Supreme Court this summer. There is of course, another quote that gets flogged an awful lot in this debate— the verse from Leviticus prohibiting a man from laying with another man (Leviticus 20:13).

Setting aside the fact that the verse in question was rendered in the original Hebrew in a style of language that as wholly incongruous with the language around it (think about finding a Westborro Baptist screed dropped in the middle of a Shakespearean sonnet), I think it is— at best— intellectually dishonest to pick and choose which Biblical admonitions we should use to set social policy in this country. Leviticus likewise prohibits tattoos, piercings, and Beatle haircuts (Leviticus 19:27-28), but none of those abominations is an obstacle to getting a wedding license.

If you believe, as many do, that the Bible is the literal and inerrant word of God, then fighting against equal rights for gay people while giving tattoo artists and people who love shellfish a pass is not just mean and petty— it’s hypocritical. If you believe, as many others do, that the Bible is a complicated philosophical inheritance that requires nuanced understanding to be applied to modern daily life, it follows that the proscriptions of Leviticus must have a limited place in our legal system.

We’re often told that the Bible defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. That may be true in a general sense, but it also defines marriage as being between one man, one woman, and that woman’s handmaiden (Abraham, Sarah and Hagar), between one man and 700 wives (1 Kings 11:3), and in some cases between the daughters of man and mysterious giants called the Nephilim (Genesis 6:1-6 and Numbers 13).  With such a broad range of possibilities allowed for under the Biblical model, picking just one definition hardly seems fair.

The truth is that the abuse of cherry-picked verses of scripture to justify denying our fellow citizens equal protection under the law is as intellectually dishonest as it is ethically reprehensible. When you do that you are beginning the debate with the insulting assumption that your understanding of the Bible and your relationship with God is superior to that of all others, and that the legal imposition of your religious belief on your fellow citizens is justified as a result. Neither of these things is true, and in fact both are at odds with how we define ourselves as Americans.

So if you want to be a bigot, that’s between you and your conscience. But leave my God out of it

Note: This post was initially written while SCOTUS was ruling on DOMA, but never made it to print for a variety of boring reasons. It is presented here as a kind of test-post for the new blog.

Welcome to AudibleWelt

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Howdy.

 

If you’re reading this, thanks in advance. It’s really just a sort of test post and curtain raiser. In restaurant terms, call it a soft opening. I’m just getting familiar with the WordPress interface and trying to sort out what’s what. But as long as I’m here, I may as well generate some precious, precious content.

The idea behind AudibleWelt was born out of wanting to find a home for various OpEd essays and pop-culture rants that may have otherwise fallen through the cracks— due to scheduling reasons, matters of taste, or because of a narrow field of interest for my thoughts on video games and web-comics at a time when Serious Matters ™ are at hand. Broadly, I’ll try and contain the material to essays addressing current events and the politics that shape them, pop culture in the video game/comic book realm, and parenting— at which I am an absolute novice hoping for the best.

The plan for now is to update daily with new material, either an OpEd post, some quick “Good Reads” aggregation, or a status update on the crisis of the moment. Check back frequently, and if you like what you see— please spread the good word with a link or a like. Not sure how comments are going to work yet, but I want to hear from you, so sound off if you are so inclined.

This oughta be … fun.  Yeah? Yeah. Here we go.

 

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