Sooner or later, something like this will happen.
If someone were to call “The William Tell Show” proposing that the Sandy Hook shootings were a hoax perpetrated by the Obama administration as a pretext for seizing all Americans’ guns, and that Gene Rosen and the others were all “crisis actors;” I would be strongly tempted to dismiss the caller quickly and perhaps even hold up his or her beliefs to ridicule.
That would be exactly the wrong response.
Such folk presume already that the mainstream media want to silence them. Such dismissal and (God forbid) ridicule will only confirm their presumptions. They are in pain already from this sense of exclusion, and neither they — nor the nation — are helped when the gatekeepers of public discourse make it worse.
Sooner or later, among the marginalized, among those marginalized among the marginalized, if marginalization continues, one or more lost sheep will be pushed over the edge. Conspiracy theorists’ persecution of Gene Rosen illustrates the evil they can do. They can do worse.
Convinced that America’s constitutional government was a vast cabal intent on purging the nation of all happiness, Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols and others formed a cabal of their own, and on April 19, 1995 carried out the deadliest terrorist act ever perpetrated on American soil up to that time. 168 people died.
The first need is for those gatekeepers of public discourse who represent the mainstream media, to provide fora where all voices can be heard. No matter how preposterous I may think a caller’s propositions are, I need to seek to make room for them. That I take the propositions seriously is optional; that I take the caller seriously is not. America’s mainstream needs to be a place where everyone belongs. Lost sheep must be brought into the fold.
The second need is to dismantle the process by which conspiracy theories occur. The nature of those processes makes this a never-ending task. Folks’ attention must be redirected from a sense of powerlessness to a sense of power.
Sandy Hook deniers, 9/11 deniers, and Holocaust deniers recoil from the horror of those events. People don’t want to come to grips with the fact that they occurred. Wolves like Alex Jones provoke them to feel powerless before the shadowy monsters whom they purport to be behind such purported hoaxes. It is actually easier for lost sheep to fear them, than to face fears far more real: one’s powerlessness over events in one’s daily life.
Yes, as a nation we now face the thorny question of how to keep automatic weapons out of the hands of lunatics. We can all participate in that question. But none of us could have prevented the Sandy Hook event itself, nor can we change the fact that it happened. We are powerless to affect it. Where do we have power?
I stretch out my arms like a crucified man, and find there the limits of my power. Within that span, from my far left fingertip to my right, lies all within my grasp. All that lies outside it is literally out of reach.
Here and now are the things one can do. Here are the objects subject to my control, the events and people I can influence.
It may not be easy to face them; I may have grief enough already over difficulties with family members, on the job (or lack thereof), in the community, or with health. I face decisions that involve real financial and emotional risks. Obtaining what I want here and now may require me to change my ways. Exactly for these reasons do folk flee attention to the present, to escape into fears of distant events that one only hears of through the media. But it is possible to do good things here and now.
If big things aren’t available, do little things. Let go of grievances. Take steps to mend fences with people who’ve upset you. Clean the house. Spruce up your grooming. Look for work — or volunteer at a local hospital or charity. Advance your education. Take pride in your efforts.
Here and now, in the place of fear, despair and strife, one can choose to act on courage, hope and reconciliation.
In the end, it’s simple. Do you want to do good things?
(Originally published 2013-03-29 at Yahoo! Voices.)