Horrorism: (n.)

1. Resolute political inaction in response to violence, death, and destruction.

2. A culture growing accustomed to Terrorism.


A man walks into a gay bar in Orlando and murders 49 people with a legally-purchased assault rifle.

We have a name for this.

We call it, “terrorism.”

In the days that followed, we responded in our own particular portrayals of grief – each role sickeningly familiar:

Most of us post messages of sorrow and outrage to social media. Many of those messages lead to arguments that lead nowhere. Our leaders confessed their heartache and frustration, while pundits and essayists ferreted out what’s to blame. One by one, our late-night funnymen (and woman!) added their newest statements of sorrowbewilderment, outrage, and solidarity.

The NRA, sniffing blood in the air, responded with their standard position of moral cowardice and reptilian self-interest.

That we’ve become so accustomed to this – the slaughter of our neighbors – and that our systems of government have been either unable or unwilling to muster any substantive action against it… that, I propose, requires its own term.

I call it “horrorism.”

I’ll explain…

Back in college, I had this really great Gothic Lit professor. He was born for the role. As if by mandate of the Greek muse of Irony: he was hollow-cheeked and gaunt, a morbid yet ultimately benevolent weirdo who looked entirely too much like Edgar Allan Poe. He lectured in a dreamy, faraway croak. His office was a book-strewn crypt in the basement of my campus’ oldest and most begargoyled building.

Oh, and his surname was the Italian word for dark.

All of this is true.

I was probably 19 when I took his class. Which, I’m sorry to say, was a while ago. And while most of his lectures have faded over time… one lesson sticks with me: the difference between Terror and Horror.

Now to you or me, terror and horror are pretty interchangeable. Were there some distinction to be drawn, it’d surely be a tedious and pedantic one. We can swap those terms in conversation without any major derailment of understanding. For example: as a borderline arachnophobe, it doesn’t really matter what I call the feeling I have about, say, a spider crawling up my leg – the outcome remains the same: I will rip off my clothes and set the couch on fire.

But there is a distinction to be drawn, though. And while it is predominantly a somewhat fusty, academic distinction… it’s still an important one.

Here’s the difference:

Terror comes first.

Terror is dread. It’s what we feel in anticipation of something horrible. In slasher movies, Terror is the coed reaching for the blood-smeared doorknob.

Horror is what she sees once she opens the door. It’s terror, realized. It’s what we’re left to live with once our fears have come to pass.

To paraphrase my Gothic Lit professor: Terror is the smell of a corpse in a dark room. Horror is what you see when you finally turn on the lights.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 23,965 “incidents” (by which they refer to shootings) this year.

141 of those incidents were classified as Mass Shootings.

6,149 people have been killed.

260 were children.

That gun violence of this magnitude can inflict itself on so many people without warning or reason – that it could happen to any one of us at any moment: that’s terror.

That even in the face of such unimaginable violence and sorrow – that this terror has become normalized by the feckless self-interest of our leaders, that we would rather fight about this online than see it changed in the world, that  billion dollar industries in this country thrive on the harm we cause one another, that millions of Americans would hold their desire to own a machine gun above another person’s right to not be murdered by one, that we could witness the murder of children and somehow be unmoved: that’s horror.

If we’re going to have to live with this as our new reality – I think it’s only fitting that we give it a name.

The fear of violence inflicted on us is terrorism.

But our inaction is a violence we inflict upon ourselves.

It’s time we call it what it is.


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