Vi Hart's latest video "Feeling sad about tragedy" is about the shootings, within days of each other, of YouTuber Christina Grimmie, and then of 49 people in a gay club, both in Orlando.
I didn't know about Christina's shooting. (I didn't know about Christina.) But Vi's video felt deeply relevant to many people I care about and admire.
Vi so often says things in ways that make me wish I had thought them. I show people her video "On Gender" when I want to explain my feelings about gender identity. I've been watching her videos for years, and I've been thrilled that the internet has opened up platforms people like her can inhabit.
I don't want to be afraid for her. I hadn't much thought to be, before now. If you had asked me whether I thought she had a risk of dangerous fans, I'd have said yes, but I wouldn't have had that line of thought just sitting on my own. She's so anonymous. I think I've seen her face, in other people's videos, but I only ever see her hands in hers. I have no idea if Vi Hart is the name she goes by in meatspace.
Her refrain from the middle of this video, "I'm not supposed to be right," sends shivers down my spine. I recognize that feeling. Of wanting to be a good person, who believes in love and has faith in people, of wanting choices made from fear or distrust to be unjustified, of wanting to be rewarded for taking a risk on the good faith of other humans. I'm sure I don't know it as well as anyone who's read by strangers as a woman, though.
When Faith and I tried to write a post about Orlando for Solarpunk Press, my first pass included a lot of commentary about the media's tendency to reduce and splinter narratives, asking solarpunks to resist the encouragement to pit narratives about gun violence against against narratives of homophobia against narratives of individual disposition. This was a product of all those, and more.
Vi Hart argues here that these shootings are a product of our system's success in teaching men that violence against women won't be punished. She's right. It's also true that if these men had had less access to guns, they would have caused less damage. The Pulse shootings are also about racism, and about homophobia. Christina's shooting is also about misogyny, and about male entitlement.
I want the people I care about to feel safe. I care about Vi Hart, and it's upsetting to know that if I tried to express that to her there's a good chance it'd read as threatening.
I wouldn't blame her for reading it that way -- she's right to be cautious. There's no easy way to tell "I hope that society changes in a way that makes it safer for you and for everyone" from "I've decided that it would be okay for me to kidnap you and put you in a bunker, because there are scary people out there and I don't understand that I'm one of them."
There's no way to tell whether hypothetical-bunker-guy would turn violent when he finds out somebody doesn't want to be kidnapped so he can protect them.
This also makes me think about, and worry for, many other people I care about, who I do have an actual relationship with.
In the first episode of his new podcast, Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell talks about moral licensing as it applies to societies: how token signs of progress get treated as permission to regress in daily practice. White people who voted for Barack Obama, for example, often held themselves less accountable afterward to resist holding racist views. The fact that the Republican party followed two terms of Obama by nominating Donald Trump is a pretty good example of how this is playing out in American politics.
I know how Vi is feeling right now: the temptation to approach tragedy and crisis analytically is strong. But it doesn't work -- not on its own, anyway. We need detailed and practical exercises in empathy, individually and as communities and societies.