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The shootings tday at Virginia Tech have a particular horror because they are close to home, the victims are like the people I know, and the context, a university, is the same as my workplace.

But the sad truth is that the grief and sadness generated today is neither more nor less than that generated daily in the publicised atrocities in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East, or the little-publicised horrors in places like Darfur and who knows where else.

What drives the human mind to such extremes? All of us experience anger and rage, but so very few of us convert that into murderous killing. When that barrier is breached, and the awful consequences are laid out for us to view, it's like being forced to confront a stinking gangrenous open sore on humanity that we most often choose to ignore.

Right now it seems large and inescapable, but the truth is that, within a few days or a few weeks, most of us who are not directly connected with the atrocity will have filed it away in our minds as something that happened to someone else. The few whose lives have been forever changed by today will not have that luxury.