The Dark Side of Freedom

A few weeks ago I did an NPR/KERA radio commentary about free speech in wartime, pointing out that an open society will always be more vulnerable to enemies than a closed, authoritarian society. That’s just one of the prices we pay for freedom, and it’s more than made up  for by the positive benefits of liberty. Listen here if you like.

I’m afraid that the Virginia Tech killer is another example of the dark flip side of freedom. Here’s this bizarre, atomized person floating through the society, clearly dangerous, and yet few wanted to infringe on his little bubble of freedom. Okay, man, he’s weird, writes about all this violent stuff, but…I mean, it’s his thing, you know?

That’s how we treat each other: the individual is primary, and the needs/fears of the group a distant second. (Add to this the perpetual fear of litigation; if VT had just tossed the guy out, you think any plaintiffs’ lawyers might have been interested?)

In 99% of cases, live-and-let-live works just fine. And, in 99% of cases, people buy firearms for hunting or self-protection, never hurting another person. But once in a great while, someone comes along who can’t handle the wide latitude that America, for better and worse,  gives people to make up their lives as they like. When these damaged and dangerous but free and mobile people exercise their right to buy deadly weapons, the mix is combustible indeed. We’re lucky that the vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent.

By the way, none of this would comfort me  if I were the parent of one of these murdered kids. It’s always easy to take the long view of suffering when we’re not doing the suffering.


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