Oh look, Peter Lanza has begun speaking to the media

Peter Lanza — the father of Adam Lanza and the ex-husband of Nancy Lanza — has stayed out of the media (for the most part) since December 2012 and the Sandy Hook shootings. He’s now in the media — although hopefully it’s a one-time shot and not a tour of some sort — with a huge profile in The New Yorker. It’s good that The New Yorker got this, because although some might want to see him in a visual medium (i.e. 60 Minutes), the way The New Yorker handles it is long, in-depth, and complex. Even though on surface the issue here seems not to be — some f’ed-up kid murdered a bunch of other kids — it actually is fairly complex, and I’m not referring to the myriad false flag theories out there. 

Here’s potentially the most chilling part:

Interview subjects usually have a story they want to tell, but Peter Lanza came to these conversations as much to ask questions as to answer them. It’s strange to live in a state of sustained incomprehension about what has become the most important fact about you. “I want people to be afraid of the fact that this could happen to them,” he said. It took six months after the shootings for a sense of reality to settle on Peter. “But it’s real,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be understood to be real.”

This is a big problem in everyday human existence. When we can’t understand something, we often dismiss it. Honestly, that’s a big reason why some news stories never become huge, road-blocked things and others do. For example, we can easily understand Justin Bieber drag-racing in Miami. He’s a messed up kid! Celebrity too young will doom you! (Plus, he has pop culture resonance.) But it’s much harder to understand the geopolitics of the Black Sea, or even the Raleigh protests. Adam Lanza was a horrible thing that happened, and we wept about it for days/weeks, and then we moved on — and there’s no new legislation on gun control or really any major inroads there either. This was all about two years after Jared Lee Loughner and Gabby Giffords, and about five months after James Holmes. Everyone knows the narrative is stalled.

The Peter Lanza interviews/profile have the requisite juicy quotes — “crystal clear something was wrong” / “he would have killed me in a heartbeat” / “pure evil” / “wish he wasn’t born” — and that’s what the media and the talking head segments will jump on. In fact, if you look at most of the headlines summarizing The New Yorker article, they all contain one of those quotes. Link bait, yo! Ultimately, though, this isn’t a flashy, juicy story. It’s really a story about empathy and how we treat others in society. Adam Lanza was a messed-up kid, but he was also 20 at the time this happened; that means he had 20 different years where people could have tried to help more, reach out to him more, smile at him more, etc. Am I saying this is the fault of other people in central and southern CT? Good Lord no. But at base, all these shooters — schools, movie theaters, supermarkets — are humans to start, so there was a point somewhere where everything started to go wrong for them. There was a context where the normal stream of understanding right/wrong, what to do now, how to move through a day and week, etc. — there was a point where that got off track.

Next time you’re in a town center look at how life works. People rush by each other. iPhones, cars, ducking into bars, avoiding ice (thank you polar vortex), etc. Very few people really notice things; what’s around them, how people are reacting, etc. This all could be a complicated, big-level game of diffusion of responsibility; there are people, after all, who are supposed to watch out for others — parents, doctors, psychologists, social workers, police, etc. Why should I, if I’m so busy with my own life and commitments? I understand that attitude, but I also do believe that “it only takes a passing second to turn it all around.” Re-contextualize someone’s life for them by being nice, asking how they’re doing, just casually smiling at them. Can that stop evil dead in its tracks? Probably not. But you have to believe it might help.

It’s impossible not to feel for Peter Lanza. There are maybe a handful of people in American history, and maybe two or three handfuls in world history, who have gone through something like he has, and had to come to terms with it. There’s probably less people in his boat than have ever been President of the United States, if you want to think about it that way. But in the breathless reporting of his remarks, I just hope people remember that at base, this is a complex story about a life path gone wrong, and the real goal shouldn’t be to find the best headline or assign blame the quickest … the real goal should be to think about what we can all do moving forward to help avoid these catastrophes in the future.

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. I read the New Yorker article, and I came away from it feeling a deep, overwhelming creep, pondering the characters involved. Peter – completely phased out of even the ability to communicate with his son, let alone try and help him. His mother – choosing to give in to Adam’s isolating whims, believing he was best off home schooled, and, quite unbelievably, teaching him how to shoot weapons. I suppose his obsession with mass murder may not have been discovered until after the fact, but a boy with either sever Asperber’s, or mild-to-sever schizophrenia, probably doesn’t need to be shooting guns.

    My broad takeaway is one that is fatalistic, perhaps sad, but only depending on your interpretation: perhaps had his behavior not been “cushioned” by his mother, as Peter put it, the shootings may not have occurred. Or maybe they would have come sooner with less coddling. Who knows. Ultimately, I’m inclined to bring it back around to access to guns, but I’m equally inclined to believe that people will flip out, and sometimes we can detect and stop it, but as in this case, I don’t think treatment has the capacity to prevent every atrocity. One can argue there is something freeing in that idea. We all walk around with that .000000001% chance. Let’s provide top-notch preventative care but accept when things slip from our control.

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