Vegas and imagination

Enrique Eguiguren

It is unfortunate to say the very least that we live in a world where despite me not yet being able to vote, I’ve lived through four of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. But that’s not the topic of this discussion, nor will I go in depth on the many ways our politics and gun regulation (or lack thereof) and our poor mental health support system leads to these kinds of events. I want to talk about a simple truth this latest shooting has revealed.

In the wake of Las Vegas I realized something: apparently, the American media/people has a very limited imagination on what white people, or people in general, can be or are capable of doing. The news was flooded by people who “couldn’t imagine” why such a mild-mannered (white) man would go and commit such an act. And I don’t know either. I can’t tell you his exact motive. But can I imagine it? Totally.

I can imagine any person, even people I’ve known and loved all my life, going out and doing something terrible. If you told me tomorrow the Pope himself had poisoned all the communion wine, I’d be shocked and appalled and disappointed, but I would never say that I couldn’t imagine it. People who say such things seem to assume that people can never have ulterior motives or parts of themselves that aren’t readily available to other people. They assume that this middle-aged man couldn’t do this because, from their perspective, they have no precedent for this.

This is not entirely the public’s fault. We assumed Stephen Paddock  couldn’t be a terrorist because he doesn’t fit the profile that we know, he wasn’t young, didn’t have any radical connections (that we know of), didn’t appear to have a mental illness, and also he wasn’t brown or tied to Islam, a religion we love to blame things on instead of the consequences of our own xenophobia or world-policing.

The people who can’t imagine that he did this have no frame of reference for this, or at least they don’t think they do. That’s why these stories, and history in general, is so important to teach. Because if we simply teach the stories of Hitler or Christopher Columbus or this man without also teaching that these were ultimately normal, human men who had lives that led to their actions, then we make others believe they could never emulate the bad ways of these men. By labeling them as evil we make them detached from humanity, so no one looks at them and then has to look within and wonder if they have the potential to be like them.

At the end of the day, you don’t have to imagine if this man could do this. Because he did it. He committed, what is at the time of this article, the largest mass shooting in American history, but doubtfully of all time, because there are no efforts being made to stop the root causes of these tragedies. If there is any silver lining to this, which I don’t think there will be, it could be that other people will start recognizing that people like their friends and neighbors and even themselves are not that different from this mass shooter, so we must always be vigilant and check ourselves to keep us from giving into that same darkness that consumes men and women like him.