It boggles the mind, of course.
Are they tributes, these students, and the ones that came before? Blood sacrifice to the gods? Are they offered to placate, do they keep us safe from something worse? Whatever could be worse?
In her book Blood Rites, Barbara Ehrenreich suggests that the tendency of humans to engage in the slaughter of other humans is born of trauma, specifically the trauma of having been, early in our evolutionary history, not predator but prey. Stalked. Hunted.
If she’s right, our violence against one another is coded in our DNA, held in our cellular memory, forever re-enacted in wars and massacres and school shootings. Which is not good news.
Still. Trauma has an antidote, or at least a mitigant: if indeed we are suffering as a culture from a sort of species-wide post-traumatic stress — whether it’s having been the favorite breakfast of saber-toothed tigers, or something more recent in our history — the sane thing to do would be to remove ourselves from situations that trigger our trauma. To remove, as well, the tools we reach for when triggered.
How do we care for the traumatized? What palliatives do we offer, what healing processes? How do we apply these to ourselves as a culture?
Yes, of course, we respond as necessary to horrific acts of violence and mayhem as they occur. But to do only this is — to borrow an analogy from Daniel Quinn — to station ambulances at the bottom of a cliff to tend to those who drive over the edge. A sane response would also include placing guardrails at the top of the cliff. Or redirecting the road. Or switching to another mode of transportation altogether, one far less likely to send us over the edge in the first place.