When President Obama says that those in authority will do everything possible to ensure safety in the light of the Colorado cinema shootings, I hope we can have a thoughtful conversation about how policies promoted by a national myth addicted to violence cannot be divorced from how some individuals may not be able to control their own violent impulses; a criminal justice system that equates retribution with justice and offers little possibility of restoration or rehabilitation; a news media whose dominant voices rarely question the social, cultural and psychological foundations of violence, nor recognize the relationship between their own reporting and the nurturing of the self-aggrandizing dramatic personal myths that appear to have found horrifying closure in yet another mass shooting; and a political discourse now apparently wedded, not just to zero-sum opposition to compromise, but to dehumanizing people who may only be slightly different from each other. The gunman, surely, is responsible for what he did last night; but what he did arose in a cultural context over which each of us has some influence. The sorrow of the victims, survivors, and their loved ones will not be honored by more of the same.
There are at least two things each of us can do in response. We can learn to thoughtfully lament, which includes caring for those who suffer; and we can learn about how the myth of redemptive violence cannot be challenged by more violence, retribution, and othering. We need to get serious about telling new stories about violence. Ironically, one of those new stories is the under-myth presented in the Dark Knight films. It’s an error of interpretation to say that the films inspired the violence: the dominant ethical assertion in The Dark Knight Rises is that human beings learning to live with thoughtful, non-reactive, nonlethal, selfless compassion (often at great personal cost) is not only our only hope, but the only thing that works.