The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

STFU and show some respect

You know who you are. Have a cup.

OK, that’s it. I cannot take it anymore. STFU. This is a time to mourn, not fight the pro-gun-control or pro-second-amendment culture war. STFU. Stop speculating on why parents bring kids to a midnight showing of anything, and thus – by implication – blaming the parents for the deaths or injuries of their children (they didn’t pull the trigger). STFU. Stop using Facebook and Twitter to send around cute graphics laden with logical fallacies and weak sense critical thinking. STFU. Stop trying to blame God, or science, or Tom Cruise. STFU. Stop trying to blame President Obama, or Mitt Romney. STFU. Show some God-damned respect for the dead and their families.

Keep the victims and their families in your thoughts. Hope for justice. Hope for the safety of the law enforcement officials who are trying to get into the suspect’s booby-trapped apartment. If you can’t do those things, STFU.

What set me off

This [**]:

Rick Warren just can’t STFU. From his Twitter feed yesterday. He demonstrates both a keen misunderstanding of science and Natural Selection and a strong inability to STFU.

and this:

Bryan Fischer should STFU. Can’t be a compassionate conservative and merely express grief and support? Can’t stop yourself from speculating baselessly on the motivations of the murderer or the underlying reason for the killing? Then STFU.

And really anything Texas Republican Louie Gohmert has said in the last 24 hours [1]. For instance,

“You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of a derelict takes place,” Gohmert said.

“Some of us happen to believe that when our founders talked about guarding our virtue and freedom, that that was important,” he said. “Whether it’s John Adams saying our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people … Ben Franklin, only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, as nations become corrupt and vicious they have more need of masters. We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country.”

Ernest Istook, the host of the show and a former Oklahoma congressman, jumped in to clarify that nobody knows the motivation of the alleged Aurora gunman. Gohmert said that may be true, but suggested the shootings were still “a terrorist act” that could have been avoided if the country placed a higher value on God.

“People say … where was God in all of this?” Gohmert said. “We’ve threatened high school graduation participations, if they use God’s name, they’re going to be jailed … I mean that kind of stuff. Where was God? What have we done with God? We don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present.” [2]

And finally, this was circulating on Facebook:

Acting was definitely your strong suit, Mr. Heston. STFU.

To my Facebook friends who re-posted this and criticized it: good on you. One of my Facebook friends commented on the photo that “We wouldn’t ban forks because we’re fat.” I mis-took this to mean that this friend was staunchy on the side of Heston in this graphic; his actual point was that neither side of this particular culture war is correct (somewhere in the middle lies the correct answer). I actually agree with him strongly there, but misunderstood the intent of his original statement and I posted this in response to his comment and the Heston graphic (sorry, XYZ – you happened to arrive at the moment when I reached my reason-induced snapping point):

There are a few problems with all of the reasoning applied here. First, a gun and a fork are not the same thing (see The Simpsons episode where Homer gets a gun to see the problem of using a gun for eating and drinking related activities). Second, being overweight is not the same as murder. Third, it is usually impossible to tell a good person from a bad person until you see whom they shoot. I am not for banning guns, but I also don’t understand why anyone needs to buy six handguns and box after box of ammo. I do understand why I need six forks – two for my wife and me, four for our guests. I need to eat three times a day; a fork makes that simpler. I fail to see why I need six guns. In an urban environment, one gun is a deterrent; six guns is a plan. There is a gray area somewhere in between.

He then clarified his short comment, noting the position I stated above (middle ground rather than extreme view either way). I posted this in response,

Oh, I agree with you there, XYZ. I think I took this post to mean the opposite . . . that you were on the platform for the “arm everyone all the time” crowd. 🙂

Regarding your comment on “if only there had been a couple of decent armed people…”. We conduct a study in our class of eyewitness behavior, which is a related set of responses in a crowd situation. For instance, we have a very weird event happen in class and then later ask the students what they saw. We have found that, as many other studies have found, that people are completely unable to remember details about the event and, in fact, make things up. This is because they are not trained to be good eyewitnesses – to react with vigilance in the face of a weird and mentally disarming event. Here is the most interesting and telling fact: in the 19 semesters of our class, no student has EVER whipped out a mobile phone and snapped a picture. They are almost all armed with mobile phones with cameras, but in the heat of a weird event they never think to bust them out and take a photo.

Imagine, now, being suddenly and unexpectedly trapped in a life threatening situation. You want to think that you will react clearly and with positive force; however, evidence suggests that you won’t. Just as people are bad eyewitnesses, they are also bad heroes. This is why it’s remarkable when someone does act to take down a criminal; most people freeze with panic and confusion, or are concerned with protecting themselves or those very close by to them. Few think to act aggressively. Even fewer do it and with precision.

Even if we armed every person in that theater, there is a strong chance that only 1 or 2 people would actually think to act. Even if they did, they would have to be trained to aim and fire in a stressful situation (the kind of training received by police or the military). So even if we armed everyone with one gun and one bullet, the evidence is strong that the tragedy would still be a tragedy. Worse than that, things happen so fast in these situations that most of the damage can be done before anyone even draws their gun. I suspect that if there had been an armed, off duty police officer in the crowd that things would have been different – they are trained for this. But your average person in a situation where they do not anticipate violence? That’s a very different situation, one where all the evidence says there is a small chance that person will remember to act in all the confusion.

I agree with you – this is not the time to argue the culture wars. This is a time to mourn.

Author’s Note: My friend, XYZ, decided to take down his original Facebook post after our very reasoned and nuanced exchange. I understand why he did it, but I also wish he’d left it up. After all, how often do two reasonable voices exchange frank views on social media? I fear that’s he’s left behind a sea of madness with no island of sanity. 🙁

[**] From the Patheos blog (hosting a conversation on faith), James McGrath wrote an excellent assessment of Pastor Rick Warren’s misguided and misinformed comments. You can read the whole article here:


[2] From a radio interview on The Heritage Foundation’s “Istook Live!” show with Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert and from the article