The flip-side of black swans is that after they happen, people tend to forget about them. The Gabrielle Giffords shooting may have been such an event. In the immediate aftermath of these events, there were calls for legislation to fix the problem people thought caused the problem in the first place. But, due to opposition, none of those laws were passed, and now, almost a year later, any momentum for such laws have weakened, and any lessons to be learned have, well faded.
This story from The Onion illustrates this dynamic of black swans that were not acted upon.
In the wake of this national tragedy, there seemed to be a clarion call to have an open dialogue about gun control, a thoughtful conversation about the way this country treats its mentally ill, and a long overdue discussion about the consequences of overly inflammatory political rhetoric.
Well, seeing as I haven’t heard so much as a word about any of those topics in the past three months, I’m going to go ahead and assume that at some point we thoroughly explored those complex issues, resolved them, and are now living our lives based on the lessons we learned from the in-depth conversations I assume we had.
After all, if the crucial, imperative questions raised by this shooting—and there were many—hadn’t been satisfactorily answered, we’d still be discussing them, right? The violence was far too brutal and the loss of life far too tragic for the American people to treat the Arizona shooting like any other news event that consumes the country for a brief moment and is then virtually forgotten. So let’s just say that we handled the tragedy with the sophistication it deserved. Let’s say that we heeded the call for national unity and are as united today as we were five months ago; that the unspeakable violence left an indelible impression on all of us; that Congress came together and is currently working diligently on landmark gun control legislation; and that we are now living in a new era of mutual understanding. Can we do that?
If so, that would be great. Because after all, if we had just brushed aside the life-altering assassination attempt of a congresswoman, as well as the death of a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl without seizing the opportunity to address our nation’s glaring problems, then all the shooting victims would have died in vain, and all 300 million of us would be irresponsible, superficial hypocrites with the attention spans of newborns.
Once they pass from memory, the desire to change anything subsides. But, if laws were passed in their immediate aftermath, even after the event is faded from memory, we as a society are still saddled with what may be impulsive, knee-jerk, ill-thought-out legislative responses (or perhaps well-reasoned, thought-through legislative responses, though in our nation’s history, responses to black swans were more of the former, see e.g., the Patriot Act, Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, etc).