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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Tragic GUBU....

Friend Ciarán posted on a story about the deaths of four members of a family in County Wexford Ireland a week ago, and tracing back to the news stories and blog post that drew his comments brought a number of things to mind.

First is how oblivious we Americans have become to stories such as this one -- perhaps because this kind of tragedy has become a such a US media staple that we regard each reported (and over covered) instance as just another episode in an ongoing reality show. We have become immune to the shock and horror these stories initially generate, and our national ability to reflect on such is pretty much worn down to minimal levels of head shaking. The Irish and their UK neighbors seem to retain the national capacity to be shocked, to reflect and perhaps to take actions when such tragedies occur. I think we in the US have lost that capacity -- if we ever had it.

A second reaction is to the theme of "blaming" that runs through the discussions whenever such events occur. Engaging in the "blame game" is in many respects a despicable outcome, but it seems to be an essential and unavoidable ingredient in our collective response to tragedies, disasters and catastrophes. Rather than approach blaming as socially dysfunctional, we should acknowledge it as a necessary aspect of modernity in which society is driven to find reasons and causes for everything that does not fit into our assumed order of all things normal. This blaming can range from attributing events to some supernatural "evil" or (alternatively) "stuff happens" to elaborate inquiries that seek to pinpoint causal factors. With that in mind, the primary task of social science ought to be enhance our understanding of blaming rather than seek to overcome it.

A third reaction is associated with the general feeling that there is no way to make sense of the bizarre behavior of folks -- individually (as in the case of the Virginia Tech shooter), collectively (e.g., Jonestown) or in this case as a parental pair. The fact that they went out together shopping for funeral arrangements indicates a great deal more premeditation than I originally assumed when reading the initial reports of the deaths. GUBU is certainly an appropriate acronym, although there is little humor to be found in this shocker....



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