Pulitzer-Prize Winner Marilynne Robinson Reflects On Mass Shootings In America

The mass shooting in Las Vegas has left many of us numb and outraged at the same time. To help make sense of this moment in our country, and where to go from here, we spoke with Marilynne Robinson, a Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist and essayist during our hour confronting mass shootings.

In this July 10, 2013, file photo, Marilynne Robinson appears at a ceremony awarding her the 2012 National Humanities Medal for grace and intelligence in writing in the East Room of White House in Washington. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
In this July 10, 2013, file photo, Marilynne Robinson appears at a ceremony awarding her the 2012 National Humanities Medal for grace and intelligence in writing in the East Room of White House in Washington. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Here are some highlights from the conversation:

On The Access To Guns In Our Country

We would not have mass shootings if we didn't have weapons that make people capable of killing people in vast numbers. People act as if this were the escalation of some inevitable process, but in fact, we have, for whatever reason, God knows what reason, chosen to make available to people, for money, weapons that they have no need for in terms of their personal defense. That would be entirely inappropriate to their personal defense, unless they believe in zombie attacks or something.

On Whether Reason Has A Place In Understanding The Violence

We cannot solve these problems in terms of making sure that in our population of 350 million people, there will be no malicious people, no corrupt people, no insane people. We can't look forward to a time when that's no longer the case, but in the meantime, we do not have to fill their lives with the opportunity to act out on this scale for no reason. No reason could possibly justify the scale of the violence that's done. We should simply put the idea of reason or purpose or motive out of question. The thing is, that people who can be triggered have access to the means to do terrible destruction. We endorse that passively by allowing politics and politicians to be able to be silent to be able to evade, to people able to say, "It's premature to talk about it." 

On Generalization

We generalize from this one utterly abhorrent figure to the national character, and people seem to enjoy that and treat that as if it were a profound insight of some kind. We lose 500 or 50 or whatever American people that are enjoying a music festival and act as if the sample of the American character is a lunatic on the 32nd floor of a hotel building. 

On Weakness In Our Culture

A great deal has happened lately to let us know that people who wish the society ill, people who would like to see us decline and falter and cease to be democratic have been poisoning the atmosphere in terms of our political divisions, our racial divisions and so on. This should be fair warning to us that the kind of bitterness and absurdity we are prone to in any case is seen by intelligent adversaries as a tremendous weakness of the culture. And on the basis of that, we should reconsider the fact that we are inclined toward these hatreds.

On How Religion Has Changed

There's a strange atmosphere of sort of quasi-religion that has very effectively undercut the prohibitions in Christianity and the dominant religions against hatred, against violence, against jealousy, all these other things that fuel this toxic situation. 

On Dark Money In Politics

I don't think there's any reason to think of it in any other terms. We have these dark flows of money and they can be perfectly legal given our laws, especially, but the public is not at all aware of the fact that there is a huge stream of money that floods into our politics that basically makes a lot of individual politicians' political lives viable or not. These interests can exert power simply by "not giving this year." They can terrify the people that are under their thumbs. The thing begins initially with money. This is a huge industry with huge financial interests at stake.

On Misplaced Fear

There is the NRA which is this bizarre fungus, basically, clinging to American culture, which has been true for a long time now. They have managed to make this defense of the second amendment "rhetorically powerful" so we've been cultivating fear in ourselves. We've been fearing our own government. Then this is all triggered. The NRA can say, "they're coming for your guns, you have to vote for so-and-so." It's very effective. It works on people's fear. I'm embarrassed to realize there's so much fear that these strategies are effective, but I think if people think about the fact that they should fear for the safety of their children when their children go to a concert, that's a real fear. That's nothing about Hillary Clinton coming for your emails.

You can listen to the full hour here.


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