Karl Marx gives us an insight that reveals a new response to school shootings.
Karl Marx gives us an insight that reveals a new response to school shootings. When Marx called religion “the opium of the masses,” he wasn’t saying that religion puts its adherents in a stupor or gets them high. He was paying religion a compliment. He was acknowledging opium’s value in pain relief. Religion helps people deal with the pain of life.
But here’s Marx’s point: that’s not a good thing when it masks the underlying problem. Opium isn’t doing you any favors if, by reducing the pain of a broken leg, you’re no longer motivated to see a doctor. And religion isn’t doing you any favors if, by reducing the misery of life, you don’t take steps to correct the problems in your life.
Step back to take in all of society, and religion’s soothing the misery of injustice, poverty, and hunger is doing the people no favors if it reduces their drive to fix the root causes of those social problems.
Now see this applied to catastrophes like school shootings. Our habit is to fall back on easy platitudes. These might be Christian, such as, “Trust that God has a plan” or “We’ll have to ask God when we get to heaven.” Maybe it’s struggling to find something positive: “I’m grateful for our heroic first responders.” And there’s the conservative politician’s favorite, “We’re sending thoughts and prayers,” which has a perfect track record of producing zero good. How about sending us some useful legislation instead?
The Uvalde shootings didn’t happen in my neighborhood, so the last thing I’ll do is scold someone who did lose a loved one for finding solace in whatever way works for them.
Call to action
It’s a priority to focus on the grieving families, but—and here’s the delicate balance—platitudes and time contain the feelings of outrage, and that’s an opportunity lost.
To politicians, those who can help fix this, I say, stop offering comfort. Don’t share your thoughts and prayers. Stop thanking the heroic first responders—leave that to someone else, someone not holding the reins of power. You’re in the rare position of being able to address this crisis. Don’t release the emotion but build it up. Channel that grief and emotion into justified rage. Create a firestorm and use it to make positive change.
This is the 27th school shooting in the U.S., and this makes 212 mass shootings, just this year. What the hell? Is it not obvious that something major is wrong here? I appreciate that gun control is a political third rail for some politicians, but why is their job security more important than doing the right thing? Wouldn’t it be admirable to see a politician tell us that they knew that gun control legislation (say) would be politically unpopular, but, damn it, it’s simply the morally correct action? How can politicians live with themselves if they know that their inaction on useful legislation—or their loosening of gun laws—has led to the deaths of children and anguish in their families?
For a tangible first step, let me suggest a federal legislative committee titled One Month to Common Sense that would hear from the experts what research tells us is effective and practical. With its sunset clause in its name, it could harness the outrage from Uvalde. No, its recommendations won’t fix the problem by reducing the incidence of mass shootings to zero, but a comparison of U.S. statistics with other Western countries’ embarrassingly lower incidents of gun violence shows there is much room for improvement.
What Would Karl Marx Do? Marx got a lot wrong, but his observation about opium dulling the drive for change was right. Comfort after a crisis is the opium, but we’ve become addicted and have ignored how its short-term effectiveness is its long-term weakness. To make real change, let’s channel that grief into justified rage.
Never doubt that a small group
of thoughtful, committed citizens
can change the world;
indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
— Margaret Mead