When I was informed on Tuesday morning that during rush hour someone had opened fire on passengers riding the N Train, two things principally came to my mind:
First, was there a Greek-American among the injured or even killed, as this train also serves Astoria as well as the Holy Cross and Kimisis communities in Park Slope and Bay Ridge in Brooklyn? Fortunately, this did not happen. Miraculously we did not mourn the death of any one.
The second thought was, how happy Putin must have been when he heard about this attack. He would see it as further confirmation of his theory that the West, and America in particular, is going through a period of severe decline.
I do not think this episode proves Putin’s theories. But we have to accept that American society is more violent than any other and is becoming more and more violent. I am not saying that violence is exclusive to America. But I do believe that incidents like this, like school massacres, street killings, crime in general, are desperately and unacceptably high.
There is certainly no excuse, for example, for what Frank R. James did. These people don’t deserve what happened to them, including children who take the train to their schools and the adults who commute to work and are confronted with the insanity of one or another attacker. Of course the victims are not to blame and the persons who do these criminal acts must be punished.
But today I want us to do something few will do: I want us to ask a few questions.
First, I would look this man, James in the eye – is he not human? – and ponder: what pushed him to this extreme point of insanity? What makes a person plan and commit such a crime? I do not think many will ask such a question. Instead we all jump to the point of condemning him.
Well, we have to condemn him harshly. But at the same time let us ask this of ourselves: Don’t we all have a share of responsibility when a fellow human being reaches this point?
Is this man not mentally ill and found no door open to help him with his problem?
Could this man perhaps, in his weakness, not find a way to earn his daily bread and sought revenge from the society that rejected him? Did the richest country in the world deny him a piece of bread?
These are questions that I think should concern us as members of the same society that he belongs to.
But that alone is not enough: Is it not worth taking the time to look at the ideas of some economists and others who say that the time has come for Universal Basic Income (UBI) for some kind of work?
I can already hear some responses – and I do not disagree, per se. We see the problems faced by societies where citizens consider welfare to be their natural right. And we see the progress societies make where rivalry and competition is deeply rooted.
Unfortunately the sad fact that must be addressed is that some are simply unable to keep up with the rest of us in the battles of life.
So what should we do to them? And what price are we willing to pay for it? We do know, however, in light of the above events, the cost of doing nothing. And it is not just a question of welfare programs, but of having a decent and effective mental health system – that dimension of the issue should transcend political ideologies.