On Making Sense of Senseless Violence

Virginia Tech Shooting: Mark Twain: Feeding the Beast

“We build a fire in a powder magazine, then double the fire department to put it out. We inflame wild beasts with the smell of blood, and then innocently wonder at the wave of brutal appetite that sweeps the land as a consequence.”

The two “news anchors” sit on wooden lawn chairs, bracing against a cold wind sweeping across a wide expanse of green grass, somewhere on the campus of Virginia Tech.

No longer in their comfortable New York studio, the two are compelled by the previous day’s events and an odd notion that sitting in wooden lawn chairs in Virginia will provide more gravitas to their delivery of the news.

Another violent and unexpected mass killing from an unhinged soul with a gun, an imagined wrong to right, and a lust for violence.

“How could it happen here? What does it mean? How do we make sense of it?”

The talking heads sitting in wooden lawn chairs really have nothing to offer, and their presence at the scene of a horrible tragedy on a now quiet college campus does nothing to add any insight to their rhetorical questions. They fill time, not saying much, looking mildly ridiculous in the chill wind.

And yet there they are, drawn to the spectacle of violence that seems to define a society even as the society wrings its hands asking why every time the spectacle continues.

Instead of wasting our time listening to talking heads following the trail of blood, we can look to Mark Twain, whose words, written for a speech in the autumn of 1907, provides an insight that is uncomfortable yet telling.

Never is such an act that occurred at Virginia Tech condoned or excused for any reason. And yet we must face a human trait that compels us to find solutions through violence, and justify it as a means to an end – when in fact it is just an end – of life, of innocence, of the souls of people and of nations.

The smell of blood pervades, we inflame the fire, and when the powder keg explodes, people rush, yet again, to wonder why.