As one who has lived in South Carolina since 2003, the events of the last few days have filled me with an embarrassing ambivalence.
I don't mean to say I am ambivalent to the loss of life. I am emphatically not.
Rather, my most honest reaction is to shrug my shoulders at The Palmetto State, and ask: Well, what did you expect? The way that you're living has consequences.
The civic ecology of the American South is layered and festooned with the signs and symbols of an ugly past. We can tell ourselves that devotion to that past really is about states' rights, or a constitutional ideal, or the genteel manners of an agrarian society. But that is--at its very best--a half truth. The full truth must be closer to the most powerful expression of those symbols and that past. A picture will tell the whole tale.
The man in that white hood did not choose the flag he is holding randomly. It has a powerful meaning for him, and for those whom he would try to intimidate with it. To pretend otherwise is to indulge delusion, a purposeful evasion of facts.
The purposeful evasion of facts, indeed, is our most urgent topic here today. There are other facts to consider, and we should not overlook them.
Yesterday, President Obama offered his fourteenth statement on a mass shooting in the United States. He has been president since 2009. Another study finds that the U.S. has experienced a mass shooting at the pace of about one-per-month since 2009. Quibble with the details, but however you want to measure it, the fact is that, "this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency."
This also can be traced to ecology. The United States of America simply is awash in guns. Their numbers are staggering.
Pew finds that there are between 270-310 million guns in the United States. So we can deal with it reasonably, let's just call it about 290 million.
One survey finds that a total of 875 million guns exist in the world.
Put those numbers together this way: the United States of America is home to roughly 5% of the world population, and one-third of the world's guns.
The predictable reply will be that guns can't be so dangerous, or else there would be millions of mass shootings in the United States.
But that is a strawman argument. We have a lot more guns than anybody else, and we have a lot more mass shootings than anybody else. Those are facts, and to pretend they are totally unrelated also is a delusion, a purposeful evasion of facts. Guns are in our ecology, and what is in the environment gets used.
Put those evasions of reality on race and guns together, understand how we have ignored our environment and the costs of ignoring it, and where we find ourselves after Charleston is totally unsurprising. All that shocks me is that people are shocked.
Then again, I have come to think that the release of Laudato Si' on the day of the Charleston shootings is a piece of serendipity that tells us something. Here is Pope Francis:
Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. Here I want to recognize, encourage and thank all those striving in countless ways to guarantee the protection of the home which we share. Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded. I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.Our environmental degradation is not only something we find in the physical world. Our civic and cultural environment has been degraded, too.
Many do work "tirelessly" to protect our common culture and our shared social space.
The "excluded" do 'suffer' most from the ecology we have cultivated.
Most of all, "We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all."
The world is filled with those who deny and delude themselves out of recognizing the plain facts that Pope Francis teaches us about in Laudato Si', just as many deny the plain truths of the different ecology that spawned the Charleston shootings.
But denying the facts won't change them. And just as this blog project is built on seeing a continuity among the life issues, from abortion to war to economic justice, there is a common thread that runs through Pope Francis's teaching on the physical environment and his teaching about our social environment. Indeed he points right at the linkage, writing about how in some places
“ecological” neighbourhoods have been created which are closed to outsiders in order to ensure an artificial tranquillity. Frequently, we find beautiful and carefully manicured green spaces in so-called “safer” areas of cities, but not in the more hidden areas where the disposable of society live.We know what he means. We know who he means. We live in this environment, and we cannot help knowing.
As Pope Francis reminds us, whether we mean the physical environment or the social environment, only we can make the choices to change it.