The Silence of a Shooting and the Sounding of a Modest Proposal

Hi Everyone,

This is my first post, so enjoy!  Since it’s the weekend, my news feed is pretty empty (and I can’t figure out how to justify talking about Paul Ryan on here.)  So, I’m going to talk about something that happened last week, because I don’t think it’s being talked about enough.

I have been left speechless by the internet’s relative lack of discussion of the Oak Creek shooting that happened last Sunday.  (I tie this into another point at the end, so bear with me if this seems random.)

When the Aurora Shooting happened (on a Friday, July 20th), the blogs I read lit up with posts about it and several even posted about it on the weekend, when blogging activity drops a couple notches. In total, I have counted eleven posts about it in the week following the shooting.

Here’s the tally from my RSS feed of non-news blogs I read:

July 20th – Friday – 4 posts (here, here, here, and here.)

July 21th – Saturday – 2 posts (here and here.)

July 22th – Sunday – 1 post (here.)

July 24th – Tuesday – 2 posts (here and here.)

July 25th – Wednesday –  1 post (here.)

July 26th – Thursday – 1 post (here.)

When the Oak Creek shooting happened (on August 5th, a Sunday) I knew no one was around to blog about it that day.  But then Monday came and went and as I scrolled though my news feed, I was shocked to find only two articles about it. And in the following week?  In my feed, there was only one other post.  For some context, most of the blogs I read are focused around some aspect of social justice; I would expect them to write about this sort of mass shooting as much as, if not more than, the Aurora shooting.  This relative silence extended to my Facebook newsfeed where I watched *no one* talk about Oak Creek this past week.  When the Aurora shooting happened, I watched several people micro blog about it throughout the day and following week.

Here’s the tally from my RSS feed of non-news blogs I read:

Aug 6th – Monday (here and here.)

Aug 7th – Tuesday (here.)

The cynic in me chalks this discrepancy up to people (read: the people in my social circles and who write the blogs I read) feeling a rush of empathy for the victims at Aurora, but not having so visceral a reaction for the victims at Oak Creek.  In my less jaded moments, I wonder if many of us in the U.S. are literally in shock over having two mass shootings in our country only two weeks apart.  At the end of the day, though, I think the powerful force at play is that there are a whole bunch of people, including myself, who can sit there and vividly imagine ourselves in a movie theater chomping on stale popcorn watching Batman (in fact, I did that very thing on July 21st) but cannot so imagine ourselves in a gurudwara  preparing sweet rice pudding.

Here’s why I think this relative silence is worth talking about on Feminist Philosophers. Our social biases can help shape who we care about, what we care about, and what we think is newsworthy. In this sense, I’m starting to suspect there is a connection between the silence on Oak Creek and the recent deluge of internet chatter surrounding Schliesser and Lance’s “A Modest Proposal.” 

The Gendered Conference Campaign has been around for a while now, and people are just as vocal about it now as they were when it first got up and running (as far as I can tell).  And yet, a pair of men take it a bit further to discuss a boycott and the internet bubbles up with enough reactions and posts to coax into existence an article that dubs the boycott proposal a catalyst for discussing gender in philosophy. (I won’t reuse the hyperbolic language of “war.”  People dying in bomb explosions is a war; people writing a flurry of blog posts is not.)

I can’t shake this feeling that in a way similar to how people felt compelled to talk about Aurora—but didn’t feel so compelled to talk about Oak Creek—people likewise feel compelled to talk about this boycott proposal whereas they don’t feel so compelled to talk (as much) about the GCC.  I know a part of my reaction  is the classic “Woman makes a comment; silence. Man makes same comment; uptake.”  And while I recognize that proposing a boycott is substantially different from contacting conference organizers and posting about those conferences, the discussion around whether tokenism is an issue is just as relevant for the GCC as it is for the boycott.

I invite readers to help me think through this.  Why are we collectively so silent about the shooting at Oak Creek?  Why has the Modest Proposal stirred up such a flurry of discussion?   Are there two completely different dynamics responsible for these patterns of noise (news) and silence?

23 thoughts on “The Silence of a Shooting and the Sounding of a Modest Proposal

  1. I do think the general question you are asking is immensely important. I am not so sure the Oak Ridge Shooting has not been noticed enough, though as I think of this, I realize I have seen much less about the individuals killed.

    That seems pretty awful. Some lives are too different? Ugh.

    What is the connection with the GCC and the Modest Proposal.? One shudders. Men’s concerns are just more interesting?

  2. With two shootings in two weeks, people just get used to it.
    Also, more Americans can relate to sitting in a cinema than in a Sikh temple. It’s therefore much easier to identify with the victims of Aurora.

  3. @annejjacobson – I agree I don’t think I would say the Oak Creek shooting hasn’t been noticed enough; but I do have this impression that once people are aware of it, more of us have let the event pass by without commenting on it (or we have said much less about it than we said about Aurora.)

    @Andreas – Thank you for seconding my intuition on this matter, especially that since movie theaters are much more familiar haunting grounds for many Americans (and others) than gurudwaras are, many of us were heavily moved by Aurora but were able to remain much more detached from Oak Creek. As annejjacobson alluded to, it’s a sad and even disgusting prospect.

  4. I find both halves of your post really insightful and interesting, but I am not really understanding the connection you are drawing between them – beyond “Bad!” Help me out a bit more please?

    One thing that bothers me about the response to the modest proposal in comparison to the GCC, in addition to your excellent (and kind of exhausting to confront once again) point about who gets uptake, is that the GCC has been in action and apparently very effective for years. The success of the GCC seems to me to be what is newsworthy, and it has also represented the ongoing work of many. So far the proposal is just a proposal – it is a blog post, not activism or ongoing work. It is really unsettling to me that this counts as news, and that it can present as news specifically by means of erasing the (women-led) work of the GCC, as your post nicely points out.

    I don’t know what to say about the Oak Ridge case beyond what others have said. I guess the question is whether there is xenophobia/racism at work (quite possible) or whether the Oak Ridge event just couldn’t compete with the self-reflexive high drama of a Batman-inspired Batman massacre. My 11 year old son and his friends were all abuzz at Aurora, unsurprisingly.

  5. This is probably obvious but I feel the need to clarify: my comment above contained criticisms of the news coverage and general public response to the proposal – it was no criticism the proposal itself.

  6. Interesting ideas and questions. Something else to consider as a possible contributing factor for the difference in coverage or reaction: one thing that I heard repeatedly after the Aurora shooting was people saying, “That could have been me, or my kids.” It seems that a lot of the general population identified with the victims, not b/c of ethnicity or culture or religion, but just b/c most of the general population goes to the movies, at least occasionally. I would like to think that the general population condemns and laments the Oak Creek shootings, but I also think that there is just less direct identification with the victims. This might translate into less of a feeling of urgency or need to blog about Oak Creek. Just a guess. Wonder what others think…

  7. @Lynn – The blog’s home base is across the pond from us. …or you pulled an all-nighter without realizing it.

    And there’s one more thing I wanted to mention about people’s reactions to Oak Creek. I really had expected a bunch of sources to be talking about how particularly disturbing it is to have a mass shooting at a place of worship, since these are places we often view as spiritual and social safe havens. …Maybe I just hang around more atheist people and blogs than I realize, though? I’m not particularly religious, and yet this aspect of the shooting really stuck out to me. (Perhaps though, that is partly because I recently attended a place of worship and reflected on how I still have a strong emotional resonance with the building and the rituals of worship even though I’ve cut most of my intellectual and social ties to the associated religion.)

    @Rebecca Kukla – I think there is a strong element of xenophobia that is keeping many people from getting too riled up about Oak Creek. Similarly, I am thinking about why people ARE getting so riled up about the boycott proposal whereas the responses (I’ve seen) to the GCC have been much more…sedated? Beyond both events just registering as “BAD” (haha that probably was the beginning of my thought process for this) I’m trying to tease apart how and why groups of people are or are not getting ‘riled up’ about certain events.

  8. Thank you for linking that! I haven’t found an effective way to follow that site (I didn’t like the email notifications) but they’ve had good stuff in the past.

  9. […] Philosophy stands out in humanities as the lone field in which gender equality remains a goal, not a reality. In the August 10th article in the National Post, Philosophy gender war sparked by call for larger role for women, we can find at best a half-hearted attempt to think though this problem. This article purports to address the “gender war in philosophy,” but in reality amounts to a thinly veiled attempt to provide fodder for opponents of affirmative action, and spends the bulk of its words assessing Eric Schliesser’s and Mark Lance’s tactics. It is surprising that so little is said about the climate for women in philosophy since a general audience can be expected to be mostly, if not completely, ignorant of this problem. (More criticisms of the article here.) […]

  10. Regarding the Oak Creek tragedy at the Sikh Temple, I note that when a prominent mainstream commentator, Fareed Zakaria, who is identified as Indian-American, wrote a blog entry on August 8th about the Oak Creek Tragedy, drawing attention to the CNN news story on it, he was attacked for plagiarism and the post was pulled. The post that was pulled said this about the Oak Creek tragedy:

    “By that definition [of terrorism] – by any definition really – the brutal killings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin was an act of terrorism. Washington should react to it as it would to any other act of terrorism, by asking what we could do to prevent further acts like it.”


    “Besides, as I’ve said before, do we really have more fanatics, hate-filled Neo-Nazis than other countries? Probably not. Those kinds of villains exist everywhere. But we do have much higher rates of gun violence than any other rich country and that’s because we have many more guns.”

    Zakaria’s blog post (“Know your gun rights history” still available on google cache, here: went on to point out that using the Second Amendment as a “barrier to gun control” is recent and the effect of lobbying by the National Rifle Association.

    This point of legal history has actually been made in very well known books written for the general public (_Out of Control_ by Mark V. Tushnet, which was reviewed by Cass Sunstein in the article “The Most Mysterious Right” that was reprinted online for free (e.g., here: ) and, the more recent book, reflecting the latest (2008) legal decisions, _Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America” _ by Adam Winkler. There was also a much blogged about youtube video of a lecture on it by Sunstein. Winkler’s book was widely reviewed, and the point about the gun lobby’s role in making the Second Amendment apply to gun control, and how recently it has been thus interpreted, widely discussed. More recently, there was a New Yorker article occasioned by the Trayvon Martin shooting by Jill Lepore (“Battleground America”), a very long, interesting and multifaceted piece in which she describes her own experience with guns, among many other things regarding guns in America. Her article contained within it, as a relatively small part of the entire article, a discussion of the legal history about the meaning of the second amendment and gun control, in which she cited both Tushnet’s book and Winkler’s book.

    Anyway, Zakaria’s blog post, were it held to academic standards, certainly should have cited sources for his recounting of legal milestones, but did not. In that blog post, he did link to an article of his in TIME called “The Case for Gun Control” in which he did cite Winkler’s book for the facts, but his description of what was laid out in Winkler’s book was very like Lepore’s.

    Then came the attack: The Media Resource Center charged, very publicly, that he plagiarised from Jill Lepore , and TIME responded, among other things, by pulling the blog post and suspending Zakaria. The suspension of Zakaria for plagiarism made headline news everywhere. The charge isn’t totally without merit, but some things make me suspect he was a target, besides the fact that this was not an especially salient case of failure to cite, among all the things that appear on blogs. First, the Media Resource Center is dedicated to proving that there is liberal bias in the media: ( ) Secondly, this charge of plagiarism was then coupled with other charges of plagiarism to try and present it as a matter of unmasking an untrustworthy commentator: of the two other charges, one was incredibly weak and, I think, actually utterly mistaken, and the other charge turned out to be a blatantly false charge (regarding the false charge, it turned out that Zakaria actually cited not only the quote he was accused of not giving a citation for, but the book from which he learned about the quote, and in both the paperback and hardback versions of his book.) Yet these charges were widely repeated, uncritically.

    So, that’s what happened when an Indian-American called attention to the Oak Creek tragedy in terms of it being a shooting at a Sikh temple.

    Zakaria has been reinstated, as of today. But, I think it is safe to say, the tactic was sucessful in drawing attention away from the points he made in his blog post.

  11. There are heroes in Sandy Hook. They are Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, a woman of Irish origin. The child, also a hero, Jesse McCord Lewis, has a touch of Native American ancestry.

  12. Now, there is a Washington Navy Yard shooting. The heroes are Arthur Daniels, a man of African origin, Gerald Eugene Read, a man of Scots-Irish origin, and Richard Michael Ridgell, a man of British origin. Ridgell’s Viking spirit remains with him due to his ancestry from Yorkshire in England and it was one time Scandinavian!

  13. Sandy Hook no longer exists. It began days after Michael T. Landsberry a hero of British origin gave his life saving a child.

  14. FYI, it’s often bad form to comment on blog posts that are over a year old. It makes moderating more difficult, and it’s much harder to gain a sense of whether the conversation is remaining coherent. It would be more helpful if you use the contact form to tell us about updates in the news that we may want to post about.

    Also, I am confused as to why you are explicitly pointing out people’s ancestry. You don’t have to respond though. I would actually prefer it if we let this thread drop. Thank you.

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