April 16, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Day of horror at Virginia Tech

It will take some time before we know enough to absorb the full meaning of the hideous slaying of 32 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech today, finally ending with the suicide of the perpetrator. It is the worst case of mass murder in U.S. history, excepting acts of terrorism, of course. We get used to large death tolls in Iraq and other war-torn areas, but incidents such as this one bring into sharp focus the immense value that each and every human life has. Thirty-two people with promising, rewarding lives ahead of them have been taken from among us by one enraged young man, leaving an empty void in the lives of the hundreds and even thousands of people who knew the victims. God only knows all the great things in life these people could have accomplished, had they only lived. This is a time for prayer, and the public statements of President Bush, Governor Kaine, Senators Warner and Webb were appropriate reminders. As the precise facts of this case become known, we will be able to draw lessons about the increasing tendency for people to resort to violence, about gun control laws (cue Michael Moore), or about the difficulties that some foreign-born students have in adjusting to American social norms. Until we learn more, however, we should not prejudge the relevance of any of those potential aspects.

I would object to the frequent characterizations of such acts of evil as "tragic," however. Tragedy, properly defined, consists of a clash between the fervent efforts by human beings to realize their fondest desires, on one hand, versus the actual unintended consequences of their acts, on the other hand. Hence Romeo and Juliet and many other Shakespearian plays. As far as we know right now, this shooting rampage was an expression of pent-up frustration and hatred that finally boiled over because a particular human soul lacked a moral compass or self-restraint. It was, quite literally, diabolical.

Jacqueline and I have been meaning to pay a visit to friends and family in the Blacksburg area some time this spring, and it is just awful that this unspeakable atrocity will cast a pall over that placid, picturesque college town Burruss Hall for months and years to come. Austin, Waco, Columbine, ...