We Need Solutions to End the Age of Outrage

We live in an age of outrage.  And perhaps I have fallen prey to it.  But bear with me.

I just saw one of those memes that accuses the public of not caring when 23 veterans commit suicide every day, but people get bent out of shape when one lion gets killed.

Well what about those of us who care about both? Both situations are wrong, the unacceptable suicide rate, and the killing of a vulnerable animal.  You could argue that one is more egregious than the other.  But there is one very important point to consider:  you cannot mitigate one wrong by comparing it to another. It simply doesn’t work that way.

In terms of veteran suicide vs. killing lions for pleasure, well the truth is that one is far more easily ended than the other. One can control his lust for blood sport far more easily than one can throw off the veil of depression that leads to suicide.  In fact, I could make the case that the indiscriminate pleasure killing of animals by a Minnesota dentist who killed the Zimbabwean lion, or the sick photos of the “Idaho huntress” trying to look provocative wrapped in the carcass of a dead giraffe (the feeling she got from killing it was indescribable) places us precariously close to the same kinds of things that occurred in Rome, 2000 years ago.  Then, people flocked to arenas and coliseums to witness man vs. beast, beast vs. beast, and man vs. man.  Life was cheap and death was entertainment.  While we have not yet descended into the hellish morass of true human execution as entertainment, a spate of recent dystopian books and movies aimed at young adults has us on the brink of that.

Shooting a lion or any member of the catalog of threatened and endangered species for the sake of saying you killed one is wrong. (The IUCN estimates fewer than 30,000 lions in all of Africa, down from 200,000 40 years ago, which places them in a ‘vulnerable” category.) If you are a religious person, it says you don’t care about the very good creation God provided, despite your intentional misreading of the Genesis passages granting dominion to mankind. A better reading involves stewardship. Sport killing is far from stewardship, and the person who kills to satisfy blood lust is thumbing his nose at his God.

As for veterans, well, their plight brings to mind the quote from Union General William Tecumseh Sherman who said, “War is hell.”  Veterans who have seen combat, who have been in the cruelest crucible of violent human engagement, may carry with them more than the physical scars that disfigure or maim.  Their hell is inside themselves, warring with the better angels of their humanity.  The unseen reminders of violent actions, seeing in their minds’ eyes time and again, friends and enemies and innocent people torn limb from limb, being forced to kill or be killed—all of this is more than the psyches of some can bear.

But why only talk about the veterans?  I have deep respect for every person who by choice or conscription has served in the military.  But why are they any different from any other class of people when it comes to dealing with the too often misunderstood realm of mental disorders?  What about the children and teenagers who commit suicide because of bullying? What about the elderly who commit suicide because they feel they have become a burden? What about the middle-aged men who commit suicide because they have lost their jobs and their sense of worth?  The list could go on.

Until we are ready and willing to address the deeper issues of mental health, and perhaps on a different level, deal with geopolitical conflicts through more effective diplomacy and failing that, more decisive and resolute military action, we will continue to have veterans commit suicide. We can rattle off statistics until the cows come home, but statistics won’t stop a suicide attempt.

I understand the outrage.  But we need answers, not more outrage. What are you doing to prevent suicide, whether in veterans or the unemployed or transgender youths or the elderly?

Another side of this “my outrage is more righteous than your outrage” argument deals with one of the most volatile subjects in America today: abortion.  For those opposed to abortion, what are you doing to make abortion less prevalent? Many of the people most opposed to abortion are also opposed to frank, realistic discussions of birth control with young people. Abstinence-only approaches won’t work in the long run because we’re dealing with humans, and many humans, especially young people lack the will to abstain from sex completely. Abortions (as well as STD’s) may diminish if fewer young people have unprotected sex. They’re going to do it, no matter what. Burying our heads in the sand will only exacerbate the problem.

Becoming indignant over the supposedly misplaced emphasis on a dead lion will do nothing to reduce abortion. Teaching responsibility with the paradoxical necessity of stern compassion will do far more.

While we may tend to grade wrongs from slight to terrible, any wrong is indeed just that, and needs to be approached rationally and with a plan for correction. Continued outrage is fruitless. Unless you offer a solution and offer it with the right spirit of compassion and a willingness to put aside finger-pointing and guilt-assigning, it is far past time to just keep quiet.

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