Pundits argue and provoke, pretending to seek wisdom from the dialectic, but they're merely in love with the sound of their own voices. Jeremiahs predict the worst, Pollyannas foresee a rosy future, and the ostrich buries his head in the sand (where insights as wise as any other may lurk).
But death happens. Terrible murders persist. Madness goes unstopped, though not undetected.
At first we listened to arguments that the political culture produced Jared Loughner. Never have so many metaphors banged together to such noisy futility. The motor-mouths who blamed their ideological opposites have quieted down, if only a little, now that it's clear that the shooter was crazy. His own scrambled grammar, now playing in the videos he produced himself, is the stuff of hallucination, delusion and split-off reality.
The misfiring wacky wires in his brain have rendered all the political pontification shallow and particularly malicious. His self-described "best friend" told reporters: "He did not watch TV. He disliked the news. He didn't listen to political radio. He didn't take sides. He wasn't on the left. He wasn't on the right."
The sound and fury that accompanied impotent political rage ought to give us pause. After every public tragedy we seek quick public solutions when what we need is thoughtful reflection. Reflection is harder when real time is measured by computer and warp speed becomes value without content.
A provocative new book asks, "Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?" We get answers, or rather speculations, from an eclectic group of scientists and philosophers, described as being at the "frontier" of their fields in such areas as biology, genetics, psychology, physics, neurophysiology and computer engineering. The answers are yes, no and maybe, but they do provoke thought. After considering their arguments, it's hard not to conclude that the Internet may not change the way we think, but it has already changed the way we react. There's a difference.